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Fordham, M. (1977). A Possible Root of Active Imagination. J. Anal. Psychol., 22(4):317-330.

(1977). Journal of Analytical Psychology, 22(4):317-330

A Possible Root of Active Imagination

Michael Fordham, M.D., F.R.C. Psych, Hon. F.B.Ps.S.


A CONSIDERABLE literature, mostly expository, has grown up round the subject of active imagination. But little progress has been made in furthering the understanding of it for which I called in 1958. Dorothy Davidson has since made an original contribution in ‘Transference as a form of active imagination(DAVIDSON 2) and Plaut wrote interestingly on the relation between trust and imagination (PLAUT 22).

In ‘Active imagination and imaginative activity’, I suggested a difference between phantasy activity in children and active imagination in grown-ups (FORDHAM 5). I proposed a not altogether satisfactory way out of the apparent anomaly that what children displayed was suspiciously like the data recorded by mature persons. Later I approached the matter differently in ‘Active imagination, deintegration and disintegration(FORDHAM 8), in which I questioned the validity of some of its features and attempted to investigate its psychopathology further than had already been done—it had only been noted that there was a danger of a psychosis being precipitated if active imagination was begun ill-advisedly: I noted that it could be used as a shield behind which infantile affects in urgent need of attention could be hidden. As a result the imagery displayed not so much deintegrative activity as splitting and disintegration at the roots of the personality (FORDHAM 7).

A closer study of the origins of active imagination seemed called for on this ground alone but, it may be reflected, it is also unsatisfactory to be studying and observing data without some idea of how they arise in the course of development. The contents of active imaginings have been referred to the archetypal forms and have been related to the imagery of myths but the way in which the manifestations come into being during the lifetime of an individual remained obscure and it was not until Winnicott developed his theory of transitional objects and transitional phenomena, which he related to cultural experience, that the problem began to resolve itself (WINNICOTT 25).


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