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Kubie, L.S. (1939). A Critical Analysis of the Concept of a Repetition Compulsion. Int. J. Psycho-Anal., 20:390-402.

(1939). International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 20:390-402

A Critical Analysis of the Concept of a Repetition Compulsion

Lawrence S. Kubie

Freud has looked upon the theory of the death instinct with an attitude which he himself has spoken of as one of 'tepid indulgence'. About this concept, therefore, one finds in the literature only tentative disagreement.

Closely related, however, to the idea of the death instincts is the concept of a repetition compulsion which, according to Freud, is the demarcating characteristic of these instincts. This concept presents a more revolutionary challenge to accepted psycho-analytic premises than any which Freud, or even any dissenter, has heretofore formulated. Implicitly, by denying to the pleasure principle a central and determining position in the dynamics of human behaviour, it strikes at the very foundations of the libido theory and of our basic conceptions of the dynamics of the neuroses.

Yet strangely enough this concept has been used without frank or conscious criticism by innumerable authors. Unwittingly, however, they have indicated their latent dissent, by giving to the concept such widely diverse interpretations as to render it almost meaningless.


At least in two places in Freud's early writings, the conception was foreshadowed: for example, in his parenthetical remarks about 'deferred obedience', in the analysis of Little Hans (1909), and again in the analysis of Dora (1905), in the discussion of the repetition of the first dream. It is only to be expected that, in its gradual elaboration from these foreshadowings, the concept should have undergone radical alterations; but we shall see that even in its matured form, Freud himself is not always consistent in his use of it. It would seem possible, therefore, that the concept itself may be at fault.

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