The classic and the romantic vision in psychoanalysis

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Psychoanalysis is characterized by a tension to be found in intellectual history at least since the eighteenth century. The classic vision of man is that of distrust of the idiosyncratic and subjective and the emphasis on the need for objectivity and rationality. In psychoanalysis this is reflected in the attitude of benevolent suspicion which seeks the traces of the pleasure principle in order to allow maturation. It is exemplified here through Freud's work. The romantic vision sees man as essentially striving for full selfhood, and mental suffering is the result of the thwarting influence of the environment. Kohut, who is taken to exemplify this vision, takes an attitude in which he seeks for the healthy striving behind the seemingly ill and perverse. He emphasizes the human need for idealization as a normal phenomenon. The tension between classicism and romanticism expresses itself in clinical problems no less than in theory. It is argued that this tension is not to be resolved, as it reflects the tension between the human ability and need for full experience and the capacity for self reflection which is essential to maturity and wisdom.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)593-610+608
JournalInternational Journal of Psychoanalysis
Issue number4
StatePublished - 1989
Externally publishedYes


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