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Fenichel, O. (1937). The Scopophilic Instinct and Identification. Int. J. Psycho-Anal., 18:6-34.

(1937). International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 18:6-34

The Scopophilic Instinct and Identification

Otto Fenichel


In the following paper it is not my intention to present anything fundamentally new: I have sought merely to connect and comment upon certain facts which are already familiar in psycho-analysis.

One such well-known fact is the influence exercised upon our psychic processes by the symbolic equation: to look at = to devour. When someone gazes intently at an object, we say that he 'devours it with his eyes', and there are many similar phrases. Psycho-analytical writers have been strock by this unconscious significance in one form of looking in partioular. Strachey in his paper on reading begins by examining its pathology (the inhibitions of reading and the passion for it) and goes on to show that the participation of the unconscious mind in reading always represents the idea that the sentences, words or letters read are objects being devoured by the reader. On a previous occasion I quoted in confirmation of his view the following significant lines by Morgenstern:

Korff brought out a mid-day newspaper
and anyone who read it
found himself full up. …

Another conclusion which Strachey draws is that the idea of devouring, which in the unconscious underlies that of reading, actually represents a form of sadistic incorporation, with all the qualities which we associate with other ambivalent oral incorporation-tendencies. This interpretation throws immediate light upon certain types of libidinal reading. If reading represents an act of incorporation, it explains the passion which so many pregenitally fixated persons have for reading in the water-closet. It is an attempt to preserve the equilibrium of the ego; part of one's bodily substance is being lost and so fresh matter must be absorbed through the eyes.

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