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J., E. (1922). Applied Psycho-Analysis: Stanley Hall. Thanatophobia and Immortality. American Journal of Psychology, October 1915, p. 550.. Int. J. Psycho-Anal., 3:362-364.
Psychoanalytic Electronic Publishing: Applied Psycho-Analysis: Stanley Hall. Thanatophobia and Immortality. American Journal of Psychology, October 1915, p. 550.
(1922). International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 3:362-364
This article, 63 pages long, deals with the fear of death and the belief in a future life. The former subject is dealt with not so much as a phobia, strictly speaking, as a fear amongst normal people. Much
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of the paper, relating rather to ethical and philosophical considerations, is not of direct psycho-analytical interest, though it would be in any case of value to us on account of the extensive material contained in it, both pedalogical and folkloristic.
Hall first points out how much the psychology of death has in common with that of love, especially from the new psychogenetic standpoint. 'There is a sense in which all fears and phobias are at bottom fears of death or of the abatement or arrest of vitality, and also a sense in which all desires and wishes are for the gratification of love. The one is the great negation, and the other the supreme affirmation of the will to live'. 'The real meaning of death is not understood until puberty, both death and love show fragmentary and generally at first automatic outcrops from early infancy on'. From some 525 replies to questionnaires it appears that the first impression of death is most often a sensation of coldness in touching a dead relative, and the reaction is a nervous start at the contrast with the warmth to which the child is accustomed from contact. Then comes immobility, and the fact of prolonged absence. The accessories of death, trivial matters in connection with the coffin, funeral, etc., are especially apt to remain prominent in the memory. It is noted how often children rejoice in the fact of death, especially in respect of advantages thereby accruing, such as the partial replacement of the dead person, father or mother. 'Even in the most highly evolved emotional lives this is only a question of preponderance, for if our analysis is not mistaken, there never was a death, even of a lover, that did not bring some joy to the survivor, swallowed up though this component be in grief.' It is a pity that Hall does not make any further use of this point, which he merely notes in passing, for he does not appear to realise the bearing it has on many of the problems he raises. The same comment applies to his temporary realisation of the disbelief in one's own mortality, which, nevertheless, he clearly states: 'Death is primarily negative, privative, and, as nature abhors a vacuum, so the soul baulks at the very idea of annihilation.'
Hall, by constant reiteration, appears to lay great stress on the 'disgusting' associations of death (decomposition) as playing an important part in our attitude towards the subject. Though he does not definitely draw any psycho-analytical conclusion from this, one can see that a certain association lies near in his mind. 'The thanatophobia of the race and the repulsiveness of carrion have kept the doors of the tomb effectively locked, so that we know far more of excrement than we do of decaying bodies of men'. 'That necrophilism has its germs in infantile experience as truly as does anal-eroticism there can be little doubt'. 'How can a lover who to-day dotes and gloats upon the eyes, mouth, and every part of the body of his inamorata, next day contemplate her corpse destined to rot through a series of stages, from every one of
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which every sense would turn away with horror? To mitigate such a shock, and to save the psyche from disintegrating under it, all these vicariating, easing and defensive mechanisms have been slowly evolved. Their worth is in what they save us from, more than in what they give'. 'I am convinced that an analysis of burial customs makes it plain that many if not most modes of disposal of the dead are motivated in no small part by the impulse to repress or divert from thoughts of putrescence, and that the belief in reanimation and another life, though often evident, is far less prominent that most anthropologists, not to say all theologians, have been wont to assume.'
He does not mention Freud's view of the part played by death-wishes towards loved ones in determining a belief in the soul and aftersurvival, but discusses this on the conventional lines. 'One of the chief causes that first suggested and then made man cling with such persistence to the belief in souls was the far greater difficulty in grasping death as annihilation. The passing of the body cannot mean the end of all. Something must survive, for the mind, like nature, abhors a vacuum, and hence we have to postulate something in place of the vanished body. Thus belief in the immortality of the soul arose partly as a compensation which man's autistic nature evolved to make up for the realisation of the mortality of the body.' Similarly in connection with the fear of ghosts, he discusses the dread of their retribution 'for neglected or violated duties', without mentioning the much more potent factor of guilty wishes in the unconscious.
For those interested in the topic the article is well worth reading on account of the material therein contained, but it cannot be said that it contributes much that is original to our ideas on the subject.
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J., E. (1922). Applied Psycho-Analysis. Int. J. Psycho-Anal., 3:362-364