Academic journal article International Journal of Psychoanalysis

Freud's "Selected Fact": His Journey of Mourning

Academic journal article International Journal of Psychoanalysis

Freud's "Selected Fact": His Journey of Mourning

Article excerpt

"Insight such as this falls to one's lot but once in a lifetime", wrote Sigmund Freud in his preface to the 1932, third English edition of The Interpretation of Dreams (1900, xxxii). Freud's masterpiece documented overwhelming evidence for the symbolic meaning of dreams, and set out the metapsychological formulations that would become known as his "topographical" theory of mind. However, Freud was not one to be satisfied with "once in a lifetime" and would continue to produce works offering startling new insights into the human mind. One of these texts would be Mourning and Melancholia, published in 1917. This transformative paper offered an outline of a new metapsychology, and marked a "paradigm shift" in the still young discipline of psychoanalysis; a shift that would constitute the basis for what Meltzer has termed "the Kleinian development" (1978), and, as Ogden (2005) has identified, contained the origins of contemporary "object relations theory".

Freud coined the term "metapsychology", presumably as an allusion to metaphysics, to refer to his psychological metatheory; his attempt to abstract an overarching theory of the mind. In 1915 he began writing a series of papers, originally intended to be a book, that would come to be known as the papers on metapsychology, and which seemed to reflect a wish to review and clarify existing theoretical formulations. As biographer Peter Gay has noted, having written his planned 12 papers, Freud seemed to become dissatisfied, "holding back, apparently unable to master some lingering dissatisfaction" (1988, 367). The first three papers, Instincts and their Vicissitudes (1915a), Repression (1915b) and The Unconscious (1915c), were duly published in 1915. Freud's mood for reviewing and reiterating his theory then moved, around the end of 1915, to his composition of the Introductory Lectures on Psychoanalysis (1916-17). However, his preoccupation remained his book on metapsychology (Gay 1988, 369), and a further two of the 12 papers were published in 1917, but then no more. One of these two was Mourning and Melancholia, written early in 1915. The remainder of the original 12 papers were almost certainly destroyed by Freud.

While it is grouped with the other metapsychological papers, Mourning and Melancholia stands alone, because in it Freud not so much reviews and clarifies existing theoretical concepts, but embarks on a new direction of exploration. Gay speculates that Freud destroyed the remaining seven papers in the series because, "The foundations that Freud had intended to lay down definitively for his adherents and against his rivals were shifting in his hands" (1988, 373). Although Gay does not link his assessment to Mourning and Melancholia, of the surviving metapsychological papers this is the one which opens up a new direction of inquiry and conveys this sense of shifting foundations. Rather than being grouped with the other papers on metapsychology, Mourning and Melancholia is more appropriately grouped with several other short papers written in 1915: The Disillusionment of War and Our Attitude towards Death, published together as Thoughts for the Times on War and Death (1915d), and On Transience (1916). Read alongside Mourning and Melancholia these three papers offer insight into Freud's emotional experience at the time, and suggest further understandings of his new direction.

The present paper will attempt to link shifts in Freud's thinking and theory to his personal emotional journey. It will be argued that Freud's insights into the nature of melancholia and of mourning were accurate and transformative, because they were grounded in his personal and transformative experiences of mourning. Three rather different experiences of mourning will be considered in terms of their impact on Freud's theory and thinking, up until 1915. First, Freud's abandonment, in 1895, of the highly mechanistic and concretized metapsychology of his Project for a Scientific Psychology. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.