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Hartmann, E. (1990). Repetition and Trauma: Towards a Teleonomic Theory of Psychoanalysis: By Max M. Stern. Hillsdale, NJ: The Analytic Press. 1988. Pp. 169.. Int. J. Psycho-Anal., 71:368-369.

(1990). International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 71:368-369

Repetition and Trauma: Towards a Teleonomic Theory of Psychoanalysis: By Max M. Stern. Hillsdale, NJ: The Analytic Press. 1988. Pp. 169.

Review by:
Ernest Hartmann

In this short but ambitious work, Stern makes a valiant effort at a very difficult task. He wishes to integrate psychoanalytic views of human development, mastery of trauma, etc. into a 'teleonomic' (goal-directed) theory of evolution, based on Monod's concept of 'autonomous morphogenesis'—summarized by Stern (p. 142) as:

A living being's structure owes almost nothing to the action of outside forces, but everything, from its overall shape down to its tiniest detail, to "morphogenetic" interactions within the object itself. It is thus a structure giving proof of an autonomous determinism: precise, rigorous, implying a virtually total "freedom" with respect to outside agents or conditions—which are capable, to be sure, of impeding this development, but not of governing or guiding it, not of prescribing its organizational scheme to the living object (pp. 10–11).

Monod's view bridges the 'innate' and the 'acquired':

When behavior implies elements acquired through experience, they are acquired according to a program. That program is innate—that is to say, genetically determined. The program's structure initiates and guides learning, which will follow a certain preestablished pattern defined in the species' genetic code.

This goal is elucidated only in Stern's last chapter. The building blocks of human psychic development which he wants to use are not always made entirely clear. One central emphasis is Stern's equation of teleonomy or morphogenesis, at the psychological level, with gradual mastery, which involves 'attributing meaning to one's own states of tension'.

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