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Schafer, R. (1970). The Psychoanalytic Vision of Reality. Int. J. Psycho-Anal., 51:279-297.

(1970). International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 51:279-297

The Psychoanalytic Vision of Reality

Roy Schafer


The concepts reality relations and reality-testing should cover broad views of inner and outer reality, as well as the details of concrete, immediate perceptions of, and interactions with, these realities. The broad views vary among people who qualify as being generally objective, so that any absolute standard of objectivity in this regard is not tenable. These views are termed here 'visions of reality' to emphasize that they are partly subjective, or not completely disprovable, ways of looking at experience and imposing meaning on it. It is maintained that there is a vision of reality characteristic of psychoanalytic thought, and that this vision combines comic, romantic, tragic and ironic modes or partial visions. Definitions of each of these partial visions are attempted and applied particularly to pertinent aspects of the psychoanalytic process—that special reality about which analysts are most knowledgeable. The comic vision, with its emphasis on optimism, progress and amelioration of diffivulties, and the romantic vision, with its emphasis on the adventurous quest, are related especially to the curative, liberating and alloplastic emphasis in the analytic process. The tragic vision, stressing deep involvement, inescapable and costly conflict, terror, demonic forces, waste and uncertainty, and the ironic vision, stressing detached alertness to ambiguity and paradox and the arbitrariness of absolutes, are related especially to the investigative, contemplative and evaluative aspects of the analytic process. Particularly the tragic and ironic seem to be distinctive features of the Freudian psychoanalytic outlook. Resistance, transference, countertransference, empathy, and pathetic, melodramatic and masochistic colouration of analytic behaviour, are considered within the framework of these components of the analytic vision of reality. Representations

of experience and life history as being atemporal, cyclic and linear, and the significance of the compulsion to repeat are also discussed. The emerging analytic life history is viewed as a joint creation of patient and analyst—not a fiction but not simply factual either, being subject to a degree to the limitations, individualities and visions of the two participants in the analytic process. Certain valuative implications of the psychoanalytic vision are then taken up briefly, especially as they pertain to 'love of truth'.

The analytic standard of objectivity demands that we confront and contend with much unavoidable pain, uncertainty, paradox, defeat and disillusionment in our existence, which, helped by our defences, inhibitions, illusions and symptoms, we might otherwise avoid recognizing, experiencing and modifying. In this respect, the standard calls for tragic and ironic views or visions of reality. However, the impartial and elastic approach of psychoanalysis implies a more inclusive vision of reality than that provided by the tragic and ironic, in that it also appreciates and relies on the contribution of the sophisticated, controlled romantic and comic visions to adaptive strivings.

In the end, the analytic approach to inner and external reality is not only a matter of fact-finding and fact-organizing; when one steps back from the immediate and specific, this approach is a matter of vision, too.

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