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Fiumara, G.C. (1977). The Symbolic Function, Transference and Psychic Reality. Int. R. Psycho-Anal., 4:171-180.

(1977). International Review of Psycho-Analysis, 4:171-180

The Symbolic Function, Transference and Psychic Reality

Gemma Corradi Fiumara

In a psychoanalytic perspective, whereby all forms of pathology are rooted in the disturbed development of early object relations, I believe that a deeper study of the genesis of the symbolic function is essential and vital to a closer understanding of ego development. Moreover, in the same clinical perspective, the distinguishing feature of analytic therapy is the effort to recreate a process of conception, birth and growth, whereby inhibiting and disastrous vicissitudes (to the extent to which they can be reproduced in transference) can be worked through and development restored.

Freud (1925a) says: 'symbolism is not a dream-problem, but a topic connected with our archaic thinking—our "basic language' …" (p. 135). Focusing in fact on the 'basis' of our language, the term 'symbol' will be used in a much wider sense throughout this paper than that ascribed to it by Jones (1916). I shall attempt here to explore the way in which the development of the infant's capacity (or incapacity) to symbolize finds its expression in the transference. Since the development, failure or impairment of the capacity to symbolize is so vital in ego development, I believe that this capacity has equal importance in the replacement of an early neurosis by a transference neurosis. I should like to note, parenthetically, that I use the concept of transference as emotionally and theoretically inseparable from the concept of countertransference.

As the development of the capacity to symbolize is one of the major achievements of the depressive position, symbol formation is inextricably interwoven with the experience of separation and frustration.

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