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Modell, A.H. (1971). The Origin of Certain Forms of Pre-Oedipal Guilt and the Implications for a Psychoanalytic Theory of Affects. Int. J. Psycho-Anal., 52:337-346.

(1971). International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 52:337-346

The Origin of Certain Forms of Pre-Oedipal Guilt and the Implications for a Psychoanalytic Theory of Affects

Arnold H. Modell

It is puzzling that psychoanalysis does not yet possess a satisfactory theory of affects, for it is through this medium that the psychoanalyst orientates himself in his daily work; it is his own response to the patient's affects that permits him to assign significance to that which he observes. When a theory has failed to develop in spite of abundant sources of primary data, we suspect that there is something wrong in its basic assumptions.

David Rapaport's paper, 'Psychoanalytic Theory of Affects' (1953), has remained the most complete and authoritative statement concerning the historical development of the theory of affects in psychoanalysis. He discerned three phases in Freud's use of the affect concept. In the very early days of psychoanalysis Freud did not distinguish affects from instincts. Later, when Freud had a theory of instincts, the affects were understood as drive representations, i.e. they were considered to be instinctual derivatives, serving as safety valves for drive cathexis. In the final phase of affect theory, a phase coincident with Freud's 'Inhibitions, Symptoms and Anxiety', affects were considered to be ego functions. They were, in Rapaport's words, no longer safety valves but a use of signals by the ego.

Now this is all familiar to us. We know that psychoanalysis developed primarily, though not exclusively, as a theory of individual rather than group psychology. We know that Freud's observations of the affects accompanying hysterical symptoms provided the 'objective' data for the origin of psychoanalysis itself (the 'subjective' data were, of course, Freud's own deepening self-analysis).

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