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Spero, M.H. (1993). Phallic Patheticness. Int. J. Psycho-Anal., 74:519-534.

(1993). International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 74:519-534

Phallic Patheticness

Moshe Halevi Spero


The characteristic of patheticness in the case of a young female victim of child abuse has been presented, underscoring the phallic quality of this trait and its root distinctiveness from the tragic character. Many patients, historical figures, and other individuals are prematurely judged as tragic when, in fact, we are reacting uncritically to the impact of their profound patheticness, at a point when, more often than not, such patheticness has not yet

reached its lowest ebb, when it is still not too late to transform mute resignation to the neurosis of tragic fatalism into a more heroic deployment of destiny (Bollas, 1991pp. 31-4). Phallic patheticness, in fact, represents a higher psychical achievement by virtue of its transient quality and its propensity to enable basic, if conflictual object-relationships and the recovery from psychic trauma. To be sure, many individuals with advanced personality structures have introjected into their personal value system a sense of the tragic, an identification with the tragic, or a special proclivity toward the tragic aspects of life, but this in and of itself does not render such individuals tragic, nor do they typically evoke in others the inner experience of maximum catastrophe or calamity. It is argued that the distinction between pathetic and tragic psychic structure can be clarified through carefully interpreted countertransference.

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