views updated May 08 2018


Archaic is the term used in psychoanalysis to refer to an aspect of the psyche that was organized in the distant past and which contrasts with a new or more evolved organization. The term is used in two specific senses. For Freud the term served essentially to refer to a phylogenetic heritage that involved a way of thinking (1933a [1932]), the requirement of a superego (1923b), or an anxiety associated directly with a prehistoric reality. Freud's theoretical advances did not affect the nature of the archaic understood in this sense. For Melanie Klein the archaic increasingly refers to that which is not reworked by the development of the depressive position, becoming a synonym of sorts for the pregenital.

These two meanings of the archaic do not always intersect. Freud saw in our phylogenetic heritage something underlying the id, a kind of strata of the psyche whose influence on the remainder of the psyche was only partial or nonexistent. Through the superego, the ego draws on the experiences of the past stored in the id (1923b). But as far as the magical functions of thinking were concerned, Freud considered the resurgence of an ancient mode of communication such as telepathy, which operated in communities of insects and which can still be actualized in crowds (1933a [1932]). One form of "archaic" thinking, Freud claimed, can still be found in dreams, specifically their symbolism. He also associated a number of infantile desires, including oedipal desires, with a "phylogenetic heritage." In 1925 Freud noted that the horror of incest and the reality of castration imposed by a leader on his rivals date back to prehistoric times (1925j).

This concept of the archaic is not found in Melanie Klein, for whom the term was far more important than it was for Freud. For Klein the term is always associated with ontogenesis. As Klein's work reached its maturity, the term came to refer to the anxieties and defenses that crystallized during the formation of the paranoid-schizoid position (1946). The archaic is therefore contrasted with what it is not: the binding associated with the constitution of the depressive position.

What place can be given to the archaic within a conception of psychic life in which everything is a reworking of something else? Doesn't the activity of deferred action bar access to those so-called archaic strata of the psyche? This brings up the question of the association between the archaic and the actual or present. André Green (1982) situates the problem of the observation of the archaic within this context. This observation can only be illusory because the archaic always appears to us in a transformed state. Whether or not this involves regression, "what is brought to the surface is not the faithful record of a prehistory," wrote Green. Putting aside the wish to lift the veil on certain occasions, as Freud suggested with his metaphor of archeological excavations that would allow us to discover buried strata of psychic life, wouldn't it be possible to assign to the archaic an influence ranging from what is most proximate to what is untouchable by definition, for in order to reach it we would have to return to the zero point of time and space, to what is most distant? This would revitalize the interest in direct observation of the infant, which is currently burdened with the reputation of being an observation of the archaic.

Jean-Michel Petot (1982), in his study of the archaic in the work of Melanie Klein, warns of the confusion between the "deep" and the archaic. For regressing to an archaic state that would otherwise need to be addressed in actuality is equivalent to creating a field of psychic depth that only the work of mourning associated with the depressive position can be used to bind and, consequently, put in perspective. In this sense the archaic could be said to be contemporaneous with temporal creation itself.

ClÉopÂtre Athanassiou-Popesco

See also: Archaic mother; Idealizing transference; Identification; Myth of origins; Nonverbal communication; Operational thinking; Phylogenetic Fantasy, A: Overview of the Transference Neuroses ; Pictogram; Prehistory; Primal repression; Primitive; Projection and "participation mystique" (analytic psychology); Self-object; Telepathy; Totem and Taboo .


Freud, Sigmund. (1923b). The ego and the id. SE, 19: 12-59.

. (1933a [1932]). New introductory lectures on psycho-analysis. SE, 22: 5-182.

Green, André. (1982). Après-coup, l'archaïque. Nouvelle revue de psychanalyse. 26, 197.

Klein, Melanie. (1975). Notes on Some Schizoid Mechanisms. In The writings of Melanie Klein (Vol. III, 1946-1963, pp. 1-24). London: Hogarth Press, (Reprinted from International Journal of Psycho-Analysis 27 (1975), 99-110.)

Petot, Jean-Michel. (1982). L'archaïque et le profond dans la pensée de Melanie Klein. Nouvelle Revue de psychanalyse 26, pp. 253-272.


views updated May 18 2018

ar·cha·ic / ärˈkāik/ • adj. very old or old-fashioned. ∎  (of a word or a style of language) no longer in everyday use but sometimes used to impart an old-fashioned flavor. ∎  of an early period of art or culture, esp. the 7th–6th centuries bc in Greece.DERIVATIVES: ar·cha·i·cal·ly adv.


views updated May 29 2018

1. Primitive.

2. Marked by the characteristics of an earlier period, e.g. Aeolic capital compared with the Ionic Order.


views updated May 09 2018

archaic XIX. — F. archaïque — Gr. arkhaïkós, f. arkhaîos ancient; see -IC.
So archaism XVII. — modL. — Gr.