Instinctual Representative

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In "Drives and Their Vicissitudes" (1915c), Freud defined the drive as a "concept on the frontier between the mental and the somatic, as the psychical representative of the stimuli originating from within the organism and reaching the mind" (pp. 121-122). In "Repression" (1915d), he added that this representative must be considered as made up of two components, the representative proper, or the ideational representative, and a charge of energy, the "quota of affect" (p. 152). The vicissitudes of these two components can differ markedly. Strictly speaking, only the first is submitted to repression. Psychical life is chiefly constituted by the binding and unbinding of these two components, and the psychoanalytic cure aims at reopening this process. Freud put it this way: the instinctual representative is "an idea or group of ideas which is cathected with a definite quota of psychical energy (libido or interest). . . . [B]esides the idea, some other element representing the instinct has to be taken into account. . . . [The quota of affect] corresponds to the instinct in so far as the latter has become detached from the idea and finds expression, proportionate to its quantity, in processes which are sensed as affects. From this point on, in describing a case of repression, we shall have to follow up separately what, as the result of repression, becomes of the idea " (p. 152). Three different vicissitudes of this "quantitative factor" can be distinguished: "[E]ither the instinct is altogether suppressed, so that no trace of it is found" (p. 153)this first option leads to what Charcot called "la belle indifférence des hystériques " (p. 156). Or "it appears as an affect which is in some way or other qualitatively coloured, or it is changed into anxiety" (p. 153).

Thus there appears to be a contradiction between these two texts, in spite of the fact that they come from the same year, 1915. This contradiction was pointed out by Jean Laplanche and Jean-Bertrand Pontalis in their article on the "psychical representative" in The Language of Psychoanalysis (1967), and it is illustrated in the two passages quoted above. According to the first, the drive is a psychical "representative," while according to the second, it is "represented" in the psyche by two different components, the ideational representative and the quota of affect.

It could be said that Freud is only guilty of clumsy expression or confusion of terms. In fact, it is a matter of two different sets of difficult problems that he sought to solve in 1915. The first concerns the notion of representation, which is highly ambiguous. The second is the definition of the drive as a "frontier concept," which has never ceased to cause problems for everyone from Freud onto the point that its usage in psychoanalysis has been challenged (Widlöcher, 1986). Any possible path towards a solution must certainly reaffirm the character of the drive as an indispensable notion in the metapsychological edifice and acknowledge that it involves the "interface" between the somatic and the mental. Thus it is an intermediary phase in a sequence that runs from (bodily) excitation to the drive to representatives (ideational representative and quota of affect)a sequence in which the drive is simultaneously "representing" and "represented" (Green; David).

Roger Perron

See also: Psychical representative.


David, Christian. (1985).Á propos de la représentance de l'affect. Revue Française de Psychanalyse, 69, 3, 797-806.

Freud, Sigmund. (1915c). Instincts and their vicissitudes. SE, 14: 109-140.

. (1915d). Repression. SE, 14: 141-158.

Green, André. (1985). Réflexions libres sur la représentation de l'affect. Revue Française de Psychanalyse, 69, 3, 773-788.

Laplanche, Jean, and Pontalis, Jean-Bertrand. (1973). The language of psycho-analysis. (Donald Nicholson-Smith, Trans.) New York: Norton.

Widlöcher, Daniel. Métapsychologie du sens. Paris: P.U.F., 1986.

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Instinctual Representative

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