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Weiss, H. (2017). Unconscious Phantasy as a Structural Principle and Organizer of Mental Life: The Evolution of a Concept from Freud to Klein and Some of Her Successors. Int. J. Psycho-Anal., 98(3):799-819.

(2017). International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 98(3):799-819

Unconscious Phantasy as a Structural Principle and Organizer of Mental Life: The Evolution of a Concept from Freud to Klein and Some of Her Successors

Heinz Weiss

(Accepted for publication 16 August 2016)

Starting with Freud's discovery of unconscious phantasy as a means of accessing his patients' internal world, the author discusses the evolution of the concept in the work of Melanie Klein and some of her successors. Whereas Freud sees phantasy as a wish fulfilling imagination, dominated by primary process functioning and kept apart from reality testing, Klein understands phantasies as a structural function and organizer of mental life. From their very beginnings they involve object relations and gradually evolve from primitive body-near experiences to images and symbolic representations. With her concept of projective identification in particular, Klein anticipates the communicative function of unconscious phantasies. They are at the basis of processes of symbolization, but may also be put into the service of complex defensive operations. The author traces the further evolution of the concept from the contributions of S. Isaacs, the theories of thinking proposed by W.R. Bion and R. Money-Kyrle, Hanna Segal's ideas on symbolization and reparation all the way to the latest approaches by R. Britton, J. Steiner and others, including the understanding of transference and counter-transference as a ‘total situation’. Points of contact with Freud are to be found particularly in connection with his concept of ‘primal phantasies’. In the author's view, the idea of the transmission and communicative potential of unconscious phantasies enabled these authors to overcome the solipsistic origins of drive theory in favour of a notion in which unconscious phantasies both set down the coordinates of the inner world and form and reflect the matrix of inter-subjective relations.

[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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