Representation of Affect

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The term representation of affect can be defined as that which constitutes the medium for the affect's expression, in a sense serving as its vehicle in mental dynamics.

This expression, which is found in some psychoanalytic texts, is nevertheless of dubious value for metapsychology as it was expressed in Sigmund Freud's 1915 texts brought together under that title. In those texts he clearly established that instinct, situated at the "frontier" between body and mind, is expressed in mental dynamics by means of two components: on the one hand, the ideational representative, and on the other, an energy charge, the "quota of affect" (Affektbetrag ), whose fate can be distinct. This energy change, when it is temporarily without a representational support, can be qualitatively transformed into various emotions (fear, pleasure, anxiety, etc.) and, under certain conditions, can cathect ideational representations awaiting the arrival of such a charge that will embody and validate them. This is the case, for example, when anxiety "without an object" (that is, without a conscious object) becomes focused on a clearly identifiable phobogenic object; this process was clearly demonstrated in the case of "Little Hans," related in "Analysis of a Phobia in a Five-year-old Boy" (1909), whose castration anxiety was found to be embodied in horses.

Thus, if we speak about representation of affect, it is in the sense in which a traveling salesman "represents" a product, delegated by his or her employer to perform this function for the clients (in this analogy, the instinct would be the employer, and consciousness would be the client). This usage of the term can be deemed to be congruent with one of the terms used by Freud to denote representation, Repräsentanz, which has precisely this meaning of "delegate," "deputy," or "representative" in the commercial sense.

Roger Perron

See also: Psychic representative.


Freud, Sigmund. (1909). Analysis of a phobia in a five-year-old boy. SE, 10: 1-149.

. (1915c). Instincts and their vicissitudes. SE, 14: 273-300.

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

. (1915e). The unconscious. SE, 14: 159-204.

Further Reading

Caper, Robert. (2001). The place of affect in the representational world. International Journal of Psychoanalysis, 82, 597-600.

Slade, Arietta. (1999). Representation, symbolization, affect regulation between mother and child. Psychoanalytical Inquiry, 19, 797-830.

Steiner, Riccardo. (2001). Affect in psychoanalytic theory: Andre Green on affect and representation. International Journal of Psychoanalysis, 82, 877-900.