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Spillius, E.B. (2001). Freud and Klein on the Concept of Phantasy. Int. J. Psycho-Anal., 82(2):361-373.

(2001). International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 82(2):361-373

Freud and Klein on the Concept of Phantasy

Elizabeth Bott Spillius

One of Freud's earliest discoveries was that in the unconscious, memories and phantasies are not distinguished—hence his abandonment of his earliest theory of neurosis, the ‘seduction’ or ‘affect trauma’ theory. From that time onwards phantasies have been of central interest. In this paper I discuss the ideas of Freud and Klein on this interesting and complex concept. Throughout the discussion of Freud's and Klein's ideas about phantasy I refer briefly to the Controversial Discussions of the British Psychoanalytical Society in the nineteen forties, in which the concept of phantasy played a central role (King & Steiner, 1991). I then describe certain more recent but minor changes in the Kleinian use of the concept. The paper concludes with brief conjectures about the use of the concept in other current schools of psychoanalysis.

Considering its importance, it is perhaps surprising that Freud did not devote even a paper to the concept of phantasy, let alone a book. His ideas on it are scattered about in the first twenty years of his psychoanalytic writings. His most explicit theoretical statements about it are to be found in his paper ‘Formulations on the two principles of mental functioning’ in 1911 and in Lecture 23 of the Introductory Lectures in Psycho-Analysis (1916). In her work with children Klein gradually developed a rather different view from that of Freud. Klein's view was explicitly stated by Susan Isaacs in ‘The nature and function of phantasy(1952) and was the central theoretical issue of the Controversial Discussions in the British Psycho-Analytical Society in 1943 (King & Steiner, 1991).

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