The Latin American Contribution to the Psychoanalytic Concept of Phantasy

By de Barros, Izelinda Garcia | International Journal of Psychoanalysis, December 1, 2012 | Go to article overview

The Latin American Contribution to the Psychoanalytic Concept of Phantasy


de Barros, Izelinda Garcia, International Journal of Psychoanalysis


The author argues that the ubiquity of phantasies at various levels of mental functioning is undisputed in the current schools of psychoanalytic thought; however, she demonstrates some variations in their understanding of how the psychotherapeutic access to different configurations occurs. In the process of examining and acknowledging the central role played by unconscious phantasies in his patients' symptoms, Freud gradually broadened the vernacular meaning of the German word 'Phantasie' that refers to imagination and the world of imagination, conferring on it the specific features that came to characterize its use in the psychoanalytic vocabulary. Later, the expansion of the concept derived from Melanie Klein's clinical material obtained from child analyses gave rise to important debates. The author discusses the main points of disagreement that led to these debates, as well as their various theoretical and technical implications. Psychoanalytic associations in Latin America were strongly influenced by Klein and her followers. Thus, most of their scientific writings use the concept of unconscious phantasy put forward by the Kleinian school. Taking Kleinian principles as their starting point, Baranger and Baranger made the most original Latin American contribution to the concept of unconscious phantasy with their works on the unconscious phantasies generated by the analytic pair.

Keywords: primary unconscious phantasies, countertransference, analytic pair, intersubjective field, bastions, bi-logical structures

In Freud's clinical treatment of hysteria, the supremacy of psychic reality over external reality directed his focus of interest to understanding repressed phantasies that manifest themselves in somatic phenomena. These phantasies arise from daydreams and seem to conform to a universal basic structure, amplified and inflected by each patient's individual history. These basic structures were termed 'primary phantasies', the residue of events in the origins of humanity that are deeply incorporated into our unconscious (Laplanche and Pontalis, 1968).

Furthermore, according to these authors, it is difficult to establish Freud's metapsychological formulation of unconscious phantasy in precise terms because the theory of phantasy was developed long before the structural theory and Freud did not attempt to formulate it systematically in structural terms.

In general, however, phantasies are understood in his work to be the product of the ego's fantasizing function; they are organized, structured and often highly symbolic. Their form is imposed by the organization of the ego and its defensive requirements. Once the phantasy content has been repressed, it becomes a content of potential desire. It is added to the conglomerate of repressed material, and from then on it is subjected to the primary process (Laplanche and Pontalis, 1968).

Realizing that play constitutes a specific form of communication in infancy, equivalent to dreams in adulthood, Klein developed the clinical treatment of children in accordance with the classical psychoanalytic method. Her reflections on clinical material from children in psychoanalysis, innovative at that time, led her to describe very primitive forms of phantasy, linked to bodily functions and the maternal object (Petot, 1990).

This and other conceptual developments (such as the anticipation of the Oedipus complex and the constitution of the archaic superego), along with their theoretical and technical explanations, proved controversial. One group of psychoanalysts, including Anna Freud (1991), considered the hypotheses made by the Kleinian school to be a distortion of fundamental psychoanalytic precepts.

In her paper, The nature and function of phantasy, Susan Isaacs (1948) provided a theoretical systematization of the concept of unconscious phantasy, which had previously been outlined in reflections on clinical material. It is worth noting that Isaacs's groundbreaking observations are aimed specifically at the more primitive strata of psychic life, constituted of phantasies that are correlated with bodily experiences and, in the author's words, ''determined by the logic of emotion'', recalling that ''meanings, like feelings, are far older than speech'' (1948, p. …

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