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Borrowed from the field of embryology and derived from the Greek (amphi : "from both sides"; mixo : "mixture"), the term amphimixia refers to the fusion of gametes during fertilization and was used by Sándor Ferenczi, beginning in 1924 in Thalassa: A Theory of Genitality, as a metaphor for the fusion of erotisms, in order to propose a biology of pleasure.

This elaboration resulted from a method of working by analogies that Ferenczi called "utraquism" (a coinage based on the Latin root uterque, meaning "both of them" or "each of them"), or viewing the same thing from two opposite perspectives.

In the language of science, amphimixia refers to the fusion of male and female gametes during the process of sexual fertilization, and in Thalassa it is extrapolated to describe coitus, the moment of the fusion of eroticisms: the mutual identification of the protagonists during foreplay, followed by the dissolving of the limits of the participants' individual egos; sexual impotency is described as "genital stuttering" (p. 9); "Everything points to the fact that the urethral (i.e., ejaculatory) tendency is at work from the beginning, throughout the entire frictional process, and that in consequence an unceasing struggle occurs between the evacutory and the inhibitory purpose, between expulsion and retention, in which the urethral element is eventually victorious" (p. 8). Ferenczi continues: "[L]et us term such a synthesis of two or more erotisms in a higher unity the amphimixis of erotisms or instinct-components" (p. 9). He describes exchanges in roles, in cases of diarrhea or nervous retention of urine: "[I]n nervous diarrhoea the bowel is inundated by urethrality: while in urinary retention of nervous origin the bladder overdoes the inhibition learned from the bowel" (p. 13n). He points out that "biological science has hitherto taught us nothing about such [displacement] mechanisms as these. As effecting the transition to our assumption of organic displacement and condensation, the psychoanalytic investigation of hysteria was of service, in that it demonstrated the displacement of ideational energy upon organic activity and function (conversion) and its retransference back into the psychic sphere (analytic therapy). . . . Each organ possesses a certain 'individuality'; in each and every organ there is repeated that conflict between ego- and libidinal interests" (p. 82). With regard to female sexuality, the displacement of clitoral eroticism by vaginal eroticism is understood in an analogous way, as a displacement from low to high, as is "the tendency to blushing (the erection of the entire head) on the part of the maiden who represses sexual excitement" (p. 14). In perversion, there is a mixture of oral, anal, cutaneous, and visual eroticisms. Further, digressions into the realm of linguistics (the breaks that separate vowels from consonants being compared to certain effects of the sphincter) reveal the ambitious scope of Ferenczi's project: "to set forth my phylogenetic theory of genitality in the form of a kind of fairy tale" (1936, p. 252), but also as if "sexual intercourse . . . contains a suggestion of mnemic traces of this catastrophe which overtook both the individual and the species" (p. 254).

Amphimixia thus enables Ferenczi, in Thalassa, to complement physiopathology with what he terms a "physiology of pleasure" (p. 83), bioanalysis being defined as the "analytic science of life" (p. 93). He emphasizes the significance of regression, noting that the final agonies of death seem to present "regressive trends which might fashion dying in the image of birth and so render it less agonizing. . . . Death exhibits utero-regressive trends similar to those of sleep and coitus" (p. 95). Finally, he adopts a thoroughly modern viewpoint as he concludes Thalassa : "[W]e should . . . conceive the whole inorganic and organic world as a perceptual oscillating between the will to live and the will to die in which an absolute hegemony on the part either of life or of death is never attained" (p. 95).

Pierre Sabourin

See also: Thalassa. A Theory of Genitality .


Ferenczi, Sándor. (1968). Thalassa: A theory of genitality (Henry Alden Bunker, Trans.). New York: Norton Library. (Original work published 1924)

. (1936). Male and femalePsychoanalytic reflections on the "Theory of Genitality" and on secondary and tertiary sex differences. Psychoanalytic Quarterly, 5, 249-60.