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Yorke, C. (1999). Affects, Psychoanalysis, and Neuroscience Commentary by Clifford Yorke. Neuropsychoanalysis, 1(1):60-69.

(1999). Neuropsychoanalysis, 1(1):60-69

Affects, Psychoanalysis, and Neuroscience Commentary by Clifford Yorke

Clifford Yorke


When I was still a student, I had the temerity to speak during a discussion, at the British Psycho-Analytic Society, of a paper that touched on the subject of affects. Although I had read a good deal of Freud I was, perhaps, unduly influenced by Rapaport (1953) and others when I asserted that the understanding of affects was perhaps the weakest part of the psychoanalytic theory of the way the mind worked. No one contradicted me, and no psychoanalytic elder pointed out that a firm foundation for a psychological theory of affect already existed in Freud's writings. As my acquaintance with Freud deepened, and I began to know better, I looked back on the episode with some astonishment.

It might be thought that the uncritical reaction to my ill-judged assertion was due to a reluctance, on the part of the enlightened, to contradict a student, however callow, who had dared to take part in open debate. That is unlikely: It would surely have been more helpful to set to rights such a wrong-headed declaration. It began to dawn on me that the plain fact of the matter was that no one knew I was wrong. How can this be explained?

Solms and Nersessian are surely right when they say that Freud's theory of affects is scattered throughout an extensive literature covering some 40 years of experience and reflection, and that no single work is devoted to a full exposition of its fundamental judgments and concepts. That would certainly account for some of the misunderstandings, though not perhaps all the misrepresentations.

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