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Isaacs, S. (1948). The Nature and Function of Phantasy. Int. J. Psycho-Anal., 29:73-97.

(1948). International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 29:73-97

The Nature and Function of Phantasy

Susan Isaacs

INTRODUCTION

A survey of contributions to psycho-analytic theory would show that the term 'phantasy' has been used in varying senses at different times and by different authors. Its current usages have widened considerably from its earliest meanings.

Much of this widening of the concept has so far been left implicit. The time is ripe to consider the meaning and definition of the term more explicitly.

When the meaning of a technical term does become extended in this way, whether deliberately or insensibly, it is usually for a good reason—because the facts and the theoretical formulations they necessitate require it. It is the relationships between the facts which need to be looked at more closely and clarified in our thoughts. This paper is mostly concerned with the definition of 'phantasy'; that is to say, with describing the series of facts which the use of the term helps us to identify, to organize and to relate to other significant series of facts. Most of what follows will consist of this more

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1 A chapter from a book in preparation jointly with Paula Heimann, Melanie Klein and Joan Riviere.

2 In a contribution to the British Psycho-Analytic Society in 1943, Dr. Ernest Jones commented with regard to this extension of the meaning of 'phantasy': 'I am reminded of a similar situation years ago with the word "sexuality". The critics complained that Freud was changing the meaning of this word, and Freud himself once or twice seemed to assent to this way of putting it, but I always protested that he made no change in the meaning of the word itself: what he did was to extend the conception and, by giving it a fuller content, to make it more comprehensive. This process would seem to be inevitable in psycho-analytical work, since many conceptions, e.g. that of conscience, which were previously known only in their conscious sense, must be widened when we add to this their unconscious significance.'

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