Ideational Representative

views updated


The ideational representative is one of the two components of the instinctual representative (the mental expression of the instinctual drive), the other being its charge, or "quota" of affect.

It was essentially in his 1915 articles brought together under the title "Metapsychology" ("Instincts and Their Vicissitudes," "Repression," and "The Unconscious") that Freud dealt with these issues. The ideational representative can be conceptualized as a mnemic trace of old perceptions. Strictly speaking, repression affects only this portion of the instinct; accordingly, it can be rendered unconscious, but can later return to consciousness in disguised form, with new, "innocent" associations, when, under the pressure of the instinctual drive, it manages to cross the barrier of censorship (this is the "return of the repressed"). Because of this, ideational representatives undergo constant transformations, during which they can again take on the charge of affects that had become "empty" at the time of repression. The other component of the psychic expression of the instinctual drive, the "quota of affect," is not subject to repression; it can be "suppressed" (that is, undergo a quantitative attenuation that may go as far as nullification), undergo a qualitative change in nature (be felt differently), or be transformed into "free-floating" anxiety.

Of course, questions about what becomes of ideational representatives thus rejected "into the unconscious" have been raised: Are they really voided of affective charge there? Do they also, in the unconscious, undergo transformations in such a way that they change from there? Such issues quickly reach the point of unknowability, since it is not possible to talk about them except on the basis of returns of the repressed. Undoubtedly, then, from a perspective that is too exclusively topographical, the danger is to reify the agencies of the psyche as "contents" (a notion implicit in the expression "in the unconscious") and to wonder about the status and fate of ideational representatives conceived as discrete elements that preserve their individuality and that can be traced. This trap can be avoided by returning to the very basis of the definition of the instinct, that is, the primacy of the economic, and by examining the conflictual dynamics at work in the transformations in question.

Roger Perron

See also: Hallucinatory, the; Representative; Psychic representative; Scotomization.


Green, André. (1999). The fabric of affect in the psychoanalytic discourse (Alan Sheridan, Trans.). London and New York: Routledge. (Original work published 1973)

. (1995) La Causalité psychique. Entre nature et culture. Paris: Odile Jacob.

Laplanche, Jean, and Jean-Bertrand Pontalis. (1973). The language of psychoanalysis. (Donald Nicholson-Smith, Trans.). London: Hogarth. (Original work published 1967)

Le Guen, Claude, et al. (1986). Le refoulement (les défenses). Revue française de psychanalyse, 50,1