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The scenic function of the ego and its role in symptom and character formation


  • Originally published as ‘Die szenische Funktion des Ichs und ihr Anteil an der Symptom- und Charakterbildung’ in Psyche – Z Psychoanal 21, 1970, p. 325–45. Translated by Philip Slotkin MA Cantab. MITI.


The author argues that the scenic function of the ego permits the situationally appropriate representation of an unconscious, infantile configuration – that is, of a relatively stable, personality-based drive scene having the same status as latent dream thoughts. The products of conflict elaboration (symptoms, etc.) are manifested in different ways in accordance with the conditions of the relevant situation. The contents of the drive scene are created by the psychical apparatus on the basis of infantile perceptions and are revealed in screen memories. The capacity for situationally appropriate representation is apparently bound up with the mobile drive, including its narcissistic transformations. Desexualization (in the sense of neutralization) renders scenic elaboration impossible. The drive derivatives withdrawn from the scenic configuration contribute to ego organization and the formation of character traits, which no longer vary according to the situation, but can only be modified by a change in personality structure itself. It is as yet unclear whether a process of resexualization can make them amenable once more to analytic work. The form of narcissistic libido that can assume a scenic configuration is closely related to primary narcissism. Its manifestations, which may likewise emerge in situation-dependent symptom formations, appear accessible to analysis.