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Kurtz, S.A. (1988). The Psychoanalysis of Time. J. Amer. Psychoanal. Assn., 36:985-1004.

(1988). Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association, 36:985-1004

The Psychoanalysis of Time

Stephen A. Kurtz, M.S.


The experience of time has been studied psychoanalytically largely through the conceptual frameworks of ego psychology and classical analysis. The implications of self psychology and Lacanian theory for understanding time experience have been relatively little explored. These implications would develop, on the one hand, from Kohut's investigations of fragmentation phenomena and, on the other, from Lacan's concept of the ego and his use of the short session. But time experience cannot be understood entirely in terms of individual histories and the psychoanalytic situation. A preoccupation with time is central to Western culture and is traceable to the social context—thirteenth-century monasticism—in which the clock was first invented.

Time enters the analytic session especially in the handling of beginnings and ends, reflecting divergent notions of the purpose of treatment. The standing of time-frame rules in the different systems defined by ego psychology, self psychology, and Lacanian theory are examined together with their underlying assumptions about the nature of reality. These metaphysical issues—no longer academic but made concretely meaningful in each session—go beyond illuminating the concept of time. Our response to them will determine both the direction of each patient's treatment and the course of psychoanalysis itself.

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