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Dahl, G. (2016). Revisiting the Crisis in Freud's Libido Theory and Abraham's Concept of the Oral-Sadistic Phase as a Way Out of it. Int. J. Psycho-Anal., 97(5):1263-1278.

(2016). International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 97(5):1263-1278

Revisiting the Crisis in Freud's Libido Theory and Abraham's Concept of the Oral-Sadistic Phase as a Way Out of it

Gerhard Dahl

(Accepted for publication 26 February 2016)

The now available unabridged correspondence between Freud and Abraham leads to a re-evaluation of the significance of Abraham's work. The author proposes the thesis that clinical observations by Karl Abraham of the ambivalence of object relations and the destructive-sadistic aspects of orality have an important influence on the advancement of psychoanalytical theory. The phantasy problem of the Wolf Man and the question of the pathogenic relevance of early actual, or merely imagined traumata led Freud to doubt the validity of his theory. He attempted repeatedly to solve this problem using libido theory, but failed because of his problematic conception of oral erotics. The pathogenic effect of presymbolic traumatizations cannot be demonstrated scientifically because of the still underdeveloped brain in the early stage of the child's development. Consequently, the important empirical evidence of a scientific neurosis theory could not be provided. A revision of the theory of the instincts thus became necessary. With Abraham's clinical contributions and other pathologic evidence, Freud was, with some reservation, forced to modify his idea of oral erotics by ascribing to it a status of a merely constructed and fictive phase of oral organization. A solution was eventually facilitated via recognition of non-erotic aggression and destruction, thereby opening libido theory to fundamental revisions. Driven by the desire to develop a scientific theory, Freud initially had, in his first theory of the instincts, assumed a strongly causal-deterministic view on Psychic Function. His third revision of theory of the instincts, Beyond the Pleasure Principle including the death instinct hypothesis, considered the hermeneutic aspect of psychoanalytic theory, which had previously existed only implicitly in his theory. Further development of the death instinct hypothesis by Melanie Klein and her successors abandoned quantitative-economic and causal-deterministic principles, and instead focused on the practical utility of the psychoanalytic theory.

[This is a summary excerpt from the full text of the journal article. The full text of the document is available to journal subscribers on the publisher's website here.]

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