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Wisdom, J.O. (1984). What is Left of Psychoanalytic Theory?. Int. R. Psycho-Anal., 11:313-326.

(1984). International Review of Psycho-Analysis, 11:313-326

What is Left of Psychoanalytic Theory?

J. O. Wisdom


The assessment of what may be generally acceptable in Freud and psychoanalysis divides into several areas:

1. Early psychological Freud with additions by later writers; and psychoanalysis proper and the unconscious. It is noted that while Freud's early psychology is directly testable, psychoanalysis in its developed form is not.

2. The theory of the unconscious as an evolutionary question. This diverges to the problem of the Darwinian survival value of the unconscious. Social change both presupposes stability and requires divergence from existing thought—some adoption and identification with previous ways as well as breaking away from them. To accommodate these two poles, at least a deep preconscious is a prerequisite, and probably the unconscious as well. This would be to prevent the ultimate clash between identification and unilateral independence, to keep them split off from one another. From Lorenz it is conjectured that ritualization contains an unconscious structure; and that society is founded on unconscious ambivalence.

3. Freud's topological model is seen to answer to common experience in some ways, but object-relationship and non-object-relationship appear to

lie uneasily together. A version of Fairbairn's revision is given.

4. This is primarily concerned with later, clinical hypotheses. Child development and mainly the Oedipus complex are discussed.

5. The field is reviewed and it is stressed that psychoanalysis has no permanent identifiable form. It is concluded that Freud's fundamental contributions lie in his theoretical work, which is seen as a philosophy and psychology of man—i.e. that man is an ambivalent animal.

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