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Erikson, E.H. (1980). On the Generational Cycle an Address. Int. J. Psycho-Anal., 61:213-223.

(1980). International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 61:213-223

On the Generational Cycle an Address

Erik Homburger Erikson


This address expands on some themes of the human life cycle in its intrinsic relation to generational cycles—which, in turn, are experienced, at any given time and place, in the context of wider world events, whether these seem dominated by metaphysical, evolutionary, or historical perspectives. Especially in periods of acute cultural change (and thus, of epidemiological variations in psychopathology) all this must be significant also for transferences and countertransferences observable in psychoanalytic work. In this context, it is instructive to review psychoanalytic theories, too, in the light of their historical origins, and this especially in regard to the significance they allocate to various stages of life. Psychoanalysis, for good clinical reasons, always returns to the earliest and most

obscure developmental risks. This trend must be complemented by a systematic emphasis on those developmental strengths which count in intergenerational actuality. The address reasserts (and illustrates) the contextual importance of the developmental principle of Epigenesis and then concentrates on psychosocial Generativity, (the adult preoccupation with progeny, products, and ideas) as well as its negative counterparts, Stagnation and Rejectivity. It suggests that a theory of psychosexuality demands the assumption of Procreativity, an instinctual drive (reinforced by ancient tradition) which under present conditions of otherwise mandatory birth control, may be repressed or rationalized away. Quantitative changes in libidinal life always call for sublimation in some qualitative ethos—here, the worldwide concern for all children chosen to be born. In conclusion, Oedipus Tyrannos is briefly reviewed as a generational tragedy beginning with a parental rejection on oracular grounds, and ending with a procreative hubris which imposes a generative curse on the whole polis. The relation of this dramatic play to childhood play is briefly pursued. Finally, the address returns to transference as implying an unconscious appeal for the healing of the generational dialogue.

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