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The terms "autoplastic" and "alloplastic" serve to distinguish changes internal to the subject from work carried out on the external world. Sándor Ferenczi proposed the word "autoplastic" in an article on hysterical materialization (1919/1926). Citing Freud's description of hysteria as a caricature of art, Ferenczi added, "Hysterical 'materializations' . . . show us the organism in its entire plasticity, indeed in its preparedness for art. . . . The purely 'autoplastic' tricks of the hysteric [may well be] prototypes, not only for the bodily performances of 'artists' and actors, but also for the work of those creative artists who no longer manipulate their own bodies but material from the external world" (p. 104).

Freud adopted these terms when clarifying the similarities and the differences between neurosis and psychosis (1924e). "Expedient, normal" behavior, he wrote, combines features of both disorders, for it "disavows the reality as little as does a neurosis, but . . . then exerts itself, as does a psychosis, to effect an alteration of that reality." But it "does not stop, as in psychosis, at effecting internal changes. It is no longer autoplastic or alloplastic " (p. 185).

These seldom used notions might arguably serve a useful purpose in describing the analytic process: in their asymmetrical way, the two protagonists in treatment are engaged in an unending struggle between changing the other and effecting internal change.

Steven Wainrib

See also: Hysteria.


Freud, Sigmund. (1924e). The loss of reality in neurosis and psychosis. SE, 19: 180-187.

Ferenczi, Sándor. (1926). The phenomena of hysterical materialization: thoughts on the conception of hysterical conversion and symbolism. In his Further contributions to the theory and technique of psycho-analysis. London: Hogarth Press. (Original work published 1919)