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Twemlow, S.W. (2000). Selving: A Relational Theory of Self Organization. Irene Fast. Hillsdale, NJ: Analytic Press, 1998, 183 pp.. Psychoanal Q., 69(2):417-419.

(2000). Psychoanalytic Quarterly, 69(2):417-419

Selving: A Relational Theory of Self Organization. Irene Fast. Hillsdale, NJ: Analytic Press, 1998, 183 pp.

Review by:
Stuart W. Twemlow

Although Freud's pre-1900 writings utilized a concept of ego close to the contemporary idea of the self—i.e., the experiencing, intentional individual in actionstructural theory quickly displaced the broader concept of ego with the tripartite theory of mind. Thus the idea of self was for a long time relegated to the dustbin of dry philosophical reasoning, until recently rescued by Kohut. Since Kohut has contributed to our literature, defining, redefining, and exploring the concept of self have become almost an obsession, particularly of the relational and intersubjective schools within psychoanalysis. In this brief theoretical text, Irene Fast, a psychologist in the clinical practice of psychoanalysis, proposes a redefinition of the concept of self. Shifting the fundamental definition of self from noun to verb—i.e., from self as a mental structure with a desiccated and difficult-to-imagine, impersonal construction, to the intentional, active concept of selving—Fast sees the self as coming into being through its actions and intentions (self as agent). She writes that “thinking, feeling, and acting are not what our self does, but what our self is” (p. 6).

Unfortunately, this book lacks strong clinical material and tends to repeat the same all-too-brief vignettes. Although the ideas are quite original, they warrant a much more detailed clinical explication—in a later work, one would hope. Eight chapters systematically advance the theoretical notion of the dynamic I-self, situations in which the individual, in primitive mental states, lacks a focused sense of I-ness, and what is called less primitive, first-person experiencing.

Fast feels that the problem with the self in psychoanalytic theorizing began with Hartmann's proposition that the ego should be retained as a term for a structure of the mind, with the self as self-representation, what Fast calls the me-self. These concepts are heavily influenced by William James; furthermore, with a philosophical tinge, they are remarkably reminiscent of the Buddhist concept of consciousness as seen to exist only when there is something to be conscious of: Buddha taught that there is no arising of consciousness without conditions. Consciousness is named according to the condition through which it arises.

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