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Hoffer, P.T. (2005). Reflections on Cathexis. Psychoanal Q., 74(4):1127-1135.

(2005). Psychoanalytic Quarterly, 74(4):1127-1135

Brief Communication

Reflections on Cathexis

Peter T. Hoffer, Ph.D.

The publication of Bruno Bettelheim's Freud and Man's Soul (1983) ushered in a wave of criticism of English translations of Freud's works, and, in particular, of James Strachey's monumental Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud (Freud 1955-1974). It is not my intention here to revive in all its complexities this ongoing debate, which has abated in intensity over the past decade, or to suggest ways of modifying the existing translation, but rather to reexamine and perhaps shed new light on one aspect of the controversy that has been cited in many of the commentaries: namely, Strachey's use of the word cathexis. In his trenchant critique of the Strachey translation, Bettelheim cites the choice of cathexis as

…but one example of a mistranslation of Freud's carefully chosen language into gobbledygook English. What American psychoanalysts refer to as cathexis is designated in German by the verb besetzen and the noun Besetzung. These two words, in the sense in which Freud used them, simply mean to occupy and occupation. Freud gave these terms a special meaning within his system to indicate that something—an idea, a person, an object—is being or has been invested with a certain amount of psychic energy, which has become fixated there. [1983, p.

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