"Outline of Psychoanalysis, An"

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"An Outline of Psychoanalysis" was never completed. Freud, returning to an earlier project of providing an overview of psychoanalysis, began writing it in Vienna in 1938 as he was waiting to leave for London. By September 1938 he had written three-quarters of the book, which was published in 1940, a year after his death.

Composed of three sections, the "Outline" opens with a description of the psychic apparatus, including its spatial organization and differentiation into agencies. The ego, which develops through contact with the outside world, attempts to reconcile the needs of the id, the superego, and reality. The id represents the hereditary past, the superego, tradition. Drives, which are basically conservative and located in the id, represent somatic needs for the psyche. Eros and the destruction, or death, impulse, whether antagonists or combined in biological functions, are the two fundamental impulses.

The libido is the energy of Eros. The libido of the ego is characterized by its narcissistic mobility toward objects. The sexual function, whose somatic sources are the erogenous zones, undergoes a two-phase development process, including a latency phase. The infantile period, which is later forgotten (infantile amnesia), is characterized by the succession of the oral, sadistic-anal, and phallic phases in both sexes. A genital phase of instinctual integration completes sexual organization at puberty. The realization of normality depends on quantitative factors.

Psychic processes can have three qualities: conscious, preconscious, or unconscious. The first two are related to the ego, the last to the id. The ego receives perceptions whose originsexternal or internalit distinguishes by testing them against reality. The id is formed of primitive and repressed contents. The difference in psychic qualities is primarily a function of the laws of energy that govern the processes: primary, with free energy in the case of the id, secondary, with bound energy in the case of the ego. A sleep impulse drives the ego to return to the life of the womb, with a weakening of the anti-cathexis of the ego; studying dreams can help us understand the laws of the primary process.

Analysis assumes an alliance between the "fundamental rule" of the analysand and knowledge and discretion on the part of the analyst. Transfer, the true driving force behind analysis, can help in a "post-educational" process. The strengthening of the ego is combined with the difficult work of removing various forms of resistance, with those arising from the defusion of impulses being the most difficult to resolve.

Neurosis, which has no specific causes, is associated with the traumatic effects of early infancy and education on an ego that is not fully formed, the two-phase nature of human sexuality, and partially repressed impulses. The first object is the mother, the "first seductress," the prototype of all subsequent love relationships. The Oedipus complex and the castration complex are organized differently depending on sex, with fantasies helping to perpetuate bisexual conflicts and identification (psychic bisexuality). Unlike the id, the ego, in contact with the outside world, understands the reality principle and self-preservation by signaling our anxiety. The child with an immature ego represses its sexuality and the Oedipal complex out of fear of losing the love of its parents, who provide its security. Even during psychosis, a part of the psychic apparatus can maintain a normal relationship with reality, reflecting a split in the ego. This split, which arises from a denial of perception, is observed in the fetishist or during development when the growing child is faced with the requirements of reality.

In neurosis, the habitual conflict is distinct, from a topographical point of view, pitting the ego and the id against one another. After the age of five, we see the emergence of the superego, the heir to the Oedipus complex, resulting from the child's identification with the parents. An intermediary between the ego and id, the superego represents the past of the child's civilization, an exterior world that is converted into an internalized past.

For Freud the "Outline" introduced no new insights, an opinion shared by Ernest Jones. The text illustrates Freud's constant reference to an economic point of view, with an emphasis on quantitative factors. It focuses on an examination of the ego and deepens his understanding of splitting. Eros, the agent of union, reunites sexuality and love, and the object is here given a predominant place.

Christian Seulin

Source Citation

Freud, Sigmund. (1940a [1938]). "Abriss der Psychoanalyse," Internat. Zschr. Psychoanal. Imago, 25, pp. 7-67; G.W. , XVII, 63-138; An outline of psychoanalysis. SE 23: 139-207.


Jones, Ernest. (1953-1957). Sigmund Freud: Life and work. London: Hogarth Press.

Nunberg, Hermann. (1950). A commentary on Freud's "An Outline of Psychoanalysis," Psychoanalytic Quarterly, 19 (2), 227-250.

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