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James, M. (1966). Comment on the Paper by Drs Axelrad and Brody. Int. J. Psycho-Anal., 47:230-235.

(1966). International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 47:230-235

Comment on the Paper by Drs Axelrad and Brody

Martin James


The contrast then is as follows: In the phase of infant-mother symbiosis distress is inappropriate. What is appropriate is body-ego development leading to body-ego secondary narcissism (? auto erotism) omnipotence, and enjoyment of primary process and magical fulfilment. The metapsychology of this is given in Winnicott's papers on the transitional object, the anti-social tendency and hostel theory (1953), (1956). When dosed incidents of anxiety become appropriate, mental ego development starts with decathexis of aspects of the object, concept formation, the capacity for delay, reality testing and secondary process. None of this is appropriate in the symbiotic phase. It is appropriate to ego formation proper and it is worth remembering that it can influence superego development.

Put briefly in conclusion: Members of the British Society have for long had a special interest in therapeutic access to areas of the personality determined in the pre-oedipal phase, and this has led to a greater awareness and interest in the sort of work that Axelrad and Brody have done in studying developmental processes by direct observations in this phase. It was Melanie Klein's work which forced the issue of early ego formation upon us in the way that Brenner's word 'fantasy' caused Axelrad and Brody to insist on pre-ego pre-anxiety distress as different from anxiety proper. Klein saw the problems of infant development as largely built-in and relatively speaking unaffected by handling and environment, as the out-and-out constitutionalists sometimes seem to do. By contrast, Winnicott and Balint, in line with Ferenczi, stressed the environmental part of the infant-mother unity and saw the therapeutic task as related to it. In different sectors and different ways they have created a bridge of theory and technique between classical defence analysis at the oedipal level and earlier phases. Whether it works or not is something that I hope more analysts will come to test.

The whole theme is current: apart from Balint's 'The Three Areas of the Mind' (1958), we would refer to Stone's book, The Psychoanalytic Situation(1961), the Symposium on 'The Widening Scope of Psychoanalysis' (Stone et al., 1954), Searles's Nonhuman Environment(1960) and Smirnoff's review of Lidz's book (1964) on family factors, to mention a few of the publications on borderline schizoid states. Finally, it has been Khan's contribution to stress, clinically, first, the mutuality of infant and mother and the collusion of factors in the disturbed infant-mother relationship and, second, how aspects of the infant's adaptation come to represent the mother's distortion of reality and become internalized structural parts of the infant's character and mode of adaptation. He has shown how later such traits and their genetic origin can be seen best, perhaps only in the transference.

Welcoming this paper by Brody and Axelrad, I should like to know whether the authors find these questions which they have provoked in me of value to their approach and a complement to their reasoning.

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