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Midgley, N. (2003). Infantile Sexuality and Attachment Daniel Widlcher (ed.) Susan Fairfield (trans.) New York: Other Press, 2001. 166 pp., £29.99. J. Child Psychother., 29(2):259-261.

(2003). Journal of Child Psychotherapy, 29(2):259-261

Infantile Sexuality and Attachment Daniel Widlcher (ed.) Susan Fairfield (trans.) New York: Other Press, 2001. 166 pp., £29.99

Review by:
Nicholas Midgley

Peter Fonagy, the only British-based contributor to this collection of essays translated from the French, begins his chapter with some thoughts on leaving the narrow confines of the British Isles and travelling to Europe. ‘One is shocked’, he writes, ‘by waiters being friendly to children late at night in Italian restaurants, surprised by the remarkable linguistic competence of the Swedes and the Dutch, and stunned by the theoretical virtuosity of French intellectuals’ (p.55). Needless to say, it is the last of these experiences that this collection of papers offers the reader, although whether we are left stunned or numbed may depend on one's personal tastes.

The collection begins with Daniel Widlöcher's paper, ‘Primary Love and Infantile Sexuality: an Eternal Debate’, and proceeds with seven chapters each written as a commentary on Widlöcher's thesis. Widlöcher's paper (not easy to summarize) begins by revisiting the 1937 debate between Vienna and Budapest on the primacy of object love (Balint) and the status of primary narcissism (Freud). He argues that this debate, for historical reasons, never really took place, and that when the debate was revisited with the emergence of attachment theory, the ‘solution’ offered failed to deal adequately with the concept of infantile sexuality, reducing it to a mere ‘behavioral schema’ (p. 13).

Widlöcher proceeds by revisiting Freud's ideas about autoerotism, primary narcissism and libidinal drives, and then offers his own position. He argues that the real task facing psychoanalytic theory today is to ‘distinguish infantile sexuality from primary love’ (p. 19), the latter seen as a biologically-based, innate programme (equivalent to Bowlby's attachment-seeking behaviour), while infantile sexuality concerns ‘the pure subjectivity proper to fantasmatic activity’ (p. 19).

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