Patricia Stewart – Bergler’s Basic Neurosis

THE LETTER 15 (Spring 1999) pages 71-83

We have been talking here today of phantasy, and of its central place, in all its different forms, in psychoanalysis. As we know, phantasy is a signifier which immediately invokes another, which stands in a sort of antithesis to it, reality. Phantasy involves a kind of imaging that does not have a simple direct link to a current or past reality and we know that desire is implicated in its creation. In the papers which follow this one, on the false memory debate, we will no doubt hear about what happens when therapies adopt a naive pragmatic approach to technique, with insufficient theoretical underpinnings. False memory syndrome is one consequence of a confusion and a scandalously sloppy theorisation concerning the status of a patient’s discourse and the place of phantasy within it. The recent furore over false memory emphasises how important it is to continue to examine critically and develop our techniques and their underlying theoretical foundations. And it is to this question of foundations that Dr. Bergler turns in the work that I am introducing here today, which he ambitiously entitled The Basic Neurosis, first published in 1949 [this edition, 1977].

On nosology in psychoanalysis, Bergler has the following to say:

I sometimes get an impression very much as if scholars were to describe forms assumed by the sand of the desert under the influence of the desert wind and yet forget that at bottom they are after all dealing with sand. The forms assumed by the sand may very well be manifold, but if one wants to know the chemical composition of the sand, he will not be made any the wiser if in place of the formula for the

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