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Segal, H. (1978). On Symbolism. Int. J. Psycho-Anal., 59:315-319.

(1978). International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 59:315-319

On Symbolism

Hanna Segal

This communication falls into two parts. In the first part I give a short account of work which may be well known to some of you but not to all. In the second part I hope I am developing a little further the trend of thought started in 1957 in my paper, 'Notes on Symbol Formation'.

The concept of unconscious symbolism is basic and crucial in psychoanalytical theory and practice. The understanding of unconscious symbolism is the key not only to the understanding of dreams and symptoms, but to all unconscious communication. We come to know the unconscious by its symbolic expression. Most of the time, however, we use the unconscious symbolism rather like Monsieur Jourdain spoke prose, taking it for granted, and symbol formation, its inhibitions and pathology, are not subject to much detailed study.

In 1916, partly pressed by the necessity to differentiate the psychoanalytical view of symbolism from that of Jung, Jones (1916) wrote his major paper on symbolism. In it he defined what he called true unconscious symbolism in the following way:

i. A symbol represents what has been repressed from consciousness, and the whole process of symbolization is carried on unconsciously.

ii. All symbols represent ideas of 'the self and of immediate blood relations and of the phenomena of birth, life and death'.

iii. A symbol has a constant meaning. Many symbols can be used to represent the same repressed idea, but a given symbol has a constant meaning which is universal.

iv. Symbolism arises as the result of intrapsychic conflict between the 'repressing tendencies and the repressed'.

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