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Karlsson, G. (2004). The conceptualisation of the psychical in psychoanalysis. Int. J. Psycho-Anal., 85(2):381-399.

(2004). International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 85(2):381-399

The conceptualisation of the psychical in psychoanalysis

Gunnar Karlsson

This article aims to clarify the psychoanalytic conceptualisation of the psychical, which includes a discussion of the relationship between consciousness and the unconscious. The unconscious is conceived of as being on the border between the so-called ‘ego's conscious intending’ and a rudimentary body-ego experiencing. Phenomenological ideas on the essence of consciousness are used in order to help delineate the crucial differences between consciousness and the unconscious. Only consciousness is characterised by an awareness of itself, that is; self-consciousness. Furthermore, consciousness is characterised by an intentional, synthesising capacity, whereas the functioning of the unconscious, in its most radical form, is the opposite of the intentionality of consciousness. It is argued that the unconscious presupposes certain pre-sexual processes, in the form of a body-ego's formation of continuity, coherence and wholeness. The body-ego belongs to the sphere of consciousness/self-consciousness, even if self-consciousness is only given implicitly in the body-ego and not as a fully fledged ego cogito. Attention is drawn to neglected issues in psychoanalytic theorising, namely self-consciousness and the constitution of existence. The importance of this neglected area for the psychoanalytic process is illustrated with clinical examples.

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