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Grotstein, J.S. (1982). The Spectrum of Aggression. Psychoanal. Inq., 2(2):193-211.

(1982). Psychoanalytic Inquiry, 2(2):193-211

The Spectrum of Aggression Related Papers

James S. Grotstein, M.D.

Aggression, having long suffered the handicap of being Libido's younger sibling in psychoanalytic theory, found itself cast in Libido's innocuous clothing for virtually the first two decades of this century. Slowly but surely it seems to have emerged as an entity in its own right, only to face a second problem in delineating its truer nature. When he first formulated it as a separate instinctual drive, Freud (1920) immediately went to its destructive aspects and designated it the death instinct. Had he gone to the more innocuous and generally all-inclusive term “aggression,” perhaps its acceptance in psychoanalytic theory would have been smoother. Aggression, the more general term and the one preferred by Parens as his unit of study, seems to have appealed more to psychoanalysts generally than has the death instinct. The term aggression seems to cover within its penumbra a spectrum of meanings ranging from cruelty, meanness, sadism, hatred, and viciousness to enthusiasm, exploration, and activity—and vast numbers of meanings in between.

Parens deserves our gratitude for his devotion in conducting a longitudinal research program on 12 infants and their mothers in whom aggression and its vicissitudes were subjected to his painstaking “microscope” for almost a decade.


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