In Au vif de l'infantile (At the heart of the infantile; 1996), Florence Guignard wrote: "The basic structure at the fringes of our animality, the repository and container for our drives, libidinal or hateful as well as epistemophilic, the infantile is the 'malleable' alloy of the instinctual and structural that makes one oneself and not some other person. Irreducible and unique, and by those very qualities universal, the infantile is thus what enables our psyche to come into being, in all the developments of its psychic bisexuality organized by the Oedipus complex."
The concept of the infantile was born with psychoanalysis in the sense that Sigmund Freud's discovery of infantile sexuality caused the observation of psychic phenomena to move from the level of consciousness to the level of the unconscious. Both the child one sees in reality and the childhood one remembers elicit reflection about processes of secondarization, and neither constitutes the specificity of the infantile as it is revealed within the psychoanalytic setting itself. It was by thinking about the psychic causality of pathological phenomena that Freud discovered the infantile origins of the neuroses, and later the psychoses. In this way, he established a bridge between the actual structures of the mind—that of the adult analysand, but also that of the child in analysis—and the ways these structures have been informed, through deferred action during an infantile period that is reconstructed in analysis. Dreams are what give the most direct access to the infantile layers of the psyche, since the latter are so deeply hidden by the processes of primary and secondary repression.
In "L'expérience du psychanalyste chez l'enfant et chez l'adulte devant de modèle de la névrose infantile et de la névrose de transfert" (The analyst's experience with children and adults in terms of the models of infantile neurosis and transference neurosis; 1980) Serge Lebovici specified the organizing aspects of infantile neurosis as opposed to neurosis in children. The taking over of neurotic elaboration by infantile neurosis enables the adult analysand to develop a genuine transference neurosis. In this conception the capacity to develop a transference neurosis is based in the formation of bonding processes. The infantile is thus what expresses a stratum of mental life that is as inaccessible to consciousness as the unconscious material that resides in it, yet it serves as a nodal point that makes it possible to go back and forth between past and present.
In "L'enfant, l'infantile et la causalité psychique" (The child, the infantile, and psychic causality; 1994), Bernard Brusset uncoupled the infantile from the historical, thus differentiating between causal biography (that of the infantile) and reconstructed biography (that of the child). Thus the infantile can be assimilated into the unconscious (Agnès Oppenheimer), to the extent that the infantile is not observable, or that it is observable only in the form of reconstruction or deferred action. This view thus posits the infantile as a turning point in the reworking of primal fantasies.
Making the infantile that which is unconscious and unrepresentable opens the way for a rethinking of the work of psychoanalytic observation both of the adult and of the child by the adult: To be truly psychoanalytic, any observation must involve a dimension in which the infantile within the observer responds to the infantile of the person being observed. It is this transferential/countertransferential echo that means that one is no longer faced with the child, but rather the approach of the infantile. This involves putting into perspective both the child and the infantile within the adult, and recognizing, in the adult's "infantile" reaction, not the child he or she once was, since that child existed only for a time, but rather the infantile playing itself out within the child.
Brusset, Bernard. (1994). L'enfant, l'infantile et la causalité psychique. Revue Française de Psychanalyse, 58, 3, 693.
Guignard, Florence. (1996). Au vif de l'infantile. Paris: Delachaux and Niestlé.
Lebovici, Serge. (1980). L'expérience du psychanalyste chez l'enfant et chez l'adulte devant le modèle de la névrose infantile et de la névrose de transfert. Revue Française de Psychanalyse, 44, 5-6, 733-857.
Oppenheimer, Agnès. (1994). Enfant, enfance, infantile. Revue Française de Psychanalyse, 58, 3, 707.