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Bonaparte, M. (1939). A Defence of Biography. Int. J. Psycho-Anal., 20:231-240.

(1939). International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 20:231-240

A Defence of Biography

Marie Bonaparte

We have all observed that, among our acquaintance, there are some people who keep practically all the letters they receive and others who throw them almost all away. I say 'practically all' and 'almost' because the phenomenon is seldom absolute. Nevertheless, some people are on the whole inclined to destroy all their correspondence, others to preserve it all.

There appears to be some connexion, although a rather loose one, between the nature of this tendency and the propensity to be a good or bad correspondent. People who faithfully answer all their letters, who take the written exchange of thought seriously, have usually a higher opinion than others of the value of paper covered with writing. But there is nothing absolute about this, so that other antagonistic tendencies may supervene to counteract this general connexion. The tendency to preserve letters seems far more closely linked to the habitual behaviour of the correspondent with regard to the preservation or destruction of possessions in general. Abraham has associated the opposed tendencies to 'let go' or to 'hold back' with the primitive anal erotism of the infant and its two phases of free excretion and sphincter retention. At any rate, some people fill their drawers with all the things that they have once used, and indeed with anything that comes into their hands, even after it has become useless, while others go to the opposite extreme and very quickly throw into the waste-paper basket, the dustbin or the fire, everything which is no longer in actual use. The letters received by these progressive individuals form no exception to the rule; in their passion for what is new, for things to come, in their contempt for the past, these people throw practically every communication they receive, after having read it, into the waste-paper basket or the fire.

A vital impulse lurking in the depths of each of us, which induces us to spurn yesterday in favour of to-morrow, urges on these destructive beings. For the impulse which drives life forward aspires to destroy yesterday in order to make way for to-morrow; the autumn leaves must rot on the ground before spring can turn it green with grass.

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