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date: 15 November 2019

Freud, Sigmundlocked

(b Freiberg, Moravia [now Příbor, Czech Republic], May 6, 1856; d London, Sept 23, 1939).
  • Richard Wollheim

Extract

(b Freiberg, Moravia [now Příbor, Czech Republic], May 6, 1856; d London, Sept 23, 1939).

Austrian psychoanalyst and collector. After studying at the University of Vienna and working first in histology, then in neurology, he spent the winter of 1885–6 in the clinic of the great French pathologist, Jean-Martin Charcot (1825–93). From Charcot Freud learnt that every hysterical symptom is ideogenic, in other words an idea plays a crucial part in its genesis. The bodily extent of the symptom corresponds not to any neuro-physiological unit but to what the idea denotes, and the symptom may be alleviated through talking out the idea, for example under hypnosis. The pathogenic idea is invariably unconscious, or inaccessible to consciousness. Over the years Freud, while maintaining a clinical practice in Vienna, elaborated and transformed this hypothesis, and out of it psychoanalytic theory emerged.

First, Freud extended the scope of the hypothesis from symptoms to bungled actions, slips of the tongue, dreams, jokes, and eventually the neurosis. Secondly, he recognized that the idea, originally held to be the core of a memory, represented a desire. Thirdly, Freud concluded that the idea was unconscious because the mind had defended itself against something unacceptable. For many years he equated defence with repression but he then admitted other mechanisms of defence, such as projection, introjection, denial and splitting. Fourthly, Freud identified the desires that provoked repression as being, ultimately, infantile and sexual. Having conceded infantile sexuality he gradually worked out an account of psychosexual development, consisting of the oral, anal, phallic and genital stages, complicated by regression. Freud’s theory of the ‘Oedipus complex’, a crucial occurrence in this development, postulated that the child, seeking the undivided sexual attentions of one parent, comes to desire the annihilation of the other, and its ‘dissolution’ through the introjection of the hated, hence feared, parent, led to a greater attention to the structure and internal functioning of the mind. In ...

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