- Series: Maresfield Library
- Paperback: 110 pages
- Publisher: Routledge (December 31, 1989)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0946439613
- ISBN-13: 978-0946439614
- Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.5 x 9 inches
- Shipping Weight: 6.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 1 customer review
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,378,605 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Thalassa: A Theory of Genitality (Maresfield Library) Paperback – December 31, 1989
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About the Author
Sandor Ferenczi (7 July 1873 - 22 May 1933) was a Hungarian psychoanalyst, a key theorist of the psychoanalytic school and a close associate of Sigmund Freud whod latter wrote that Ferenczi made "all analysts his students", a fitting tribute to a towering figure of psychoanalysis. In 1910, at Freud's suggestion, Ferenczi proposed the founding of the International Psychoanalytic Association, and in 1913 founded the Hungarian Psychoanalytic Society. In 1916 he underwent a brief personal analysis with Freud, and in 1918 was elected president of the International Psychoanalytic Society. Ferenczi's early contributions to psychoanalysis have been so fully assimilated that their origin is often forgotten, although his later writings, which were more speculative and deviated from Freudian orthodoxy, have been less widely accepted. He is acknowledged to have been a gifted therapist. He proposed a number of innovations in technique including at first these centered on the so-called "active" technique, while his later study of reactions of disappointment and mistrust that the child suffers in his relationship with his parents inspired a few of his pupils, notably Alice Balint (1949), to investigate early parent-child relationships.
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Any attempt at analysing the `human condition' might well begin with morphogenesis (the growth and development of form). In this respect, 'Thalassa' (the Greek word for sea or ocean) may be the `darkest' of all psychoanalytic studies, and perhaps to many, the most `repugnant' in that it goes further and deeper than any other down a path of investigation that has long since been carefully scotomised by 'mainstream' psychology. Freud described the work as "the boldest application of psycho-analysis that was ever attempted" ('Totem and Taboo' (1913)). Why, in the heat of summer, do we all cluster by the seaside, as naked as the customs of the age will permit? What do we seek? What do we secretly long for? Could it be to `merge with one another and return to the source from whence we came' (Olaf Stapledon: 'Star Maker')? All our primate relatives live as far from the ocean as they can - but the densest human habitations are often found by the sea's edge. We are the only living `sea ape'.
The original Hungarian edition (Budapest, 1929) bore the title: 'Catastrophes in the Development of the Genital Function: A Psychoanalytic Study'. Formal catastrophe theory was not to appear until after the publication of René Thom's seminal paper of 1954. If human psychology is an emergent property of morphogenesis, the centrality of Thalassa in any investigation of the origin of human mental structures is evident.
In this surprisingly brief and concisely-written study (107 pages), Ferenczi combines the evolutionary theories of Lamarck with a re-assessment and reinterpretation of Haeckel's `laws' of recapitulation within a dual temporal perspective: 1) the morphogenetic trajectory of the germ cell, from the monoblast through the process of fertilization to the egg, followed by that of the embryo through the process of birth to an extended period of dependency on the human environment and 2) the period extending from the synthesis of organic life on Earth through the ice ages of the Quaternary era (c. 2.588 ± 0.005 million years ago) to the emergence of anatomically modern humans. For every forced evolutionary adaptation (e.g. the transition from sea to land) there is a corresponding emotional abreaction which seeks to conserve the essence of the abandoned state (the desire to `return to the womb' where the developing embryo was still preserved in an aqueous environment).
Taking `catastrophe' to mean 'critical points of developmental discontinuity' (as in René Thom's Structural Stability and Morphogenesis), Ferenczi draws parallels between critical points in the development of the embryo (ontogenesis) and the evolution of the human species (phylogenesis), summarising them in a synoptic table on p. 69. The partial repression and re-enactment of these traumatogenic (for the organism) critical points are found in the stages of erotic foreplay, in coitus itself and in various manifestations of sexual impotence or frigidity, while the orgasm itself serves a traumatolytic (i.e. annealing or `releasing;) function. Ferenczi extends the concept of 'amphimixis' (the union of different gametes to form the zygote) to explain the emotional `convergence' of the various bodily organs onto the genitalia during the act of coitus. Most important of all, Ferenczi demonstrates how both the coital climax, and sleep itself (whether post-coital or `regular') mark a return to the maternal womb - and, by extension, to the sea from which we once emerged. In this light, the Freudian `Oedipus complex' acquires a quite different and far deeper meaning.
First written in 1915 and published as 'Thalassa. Versuch einer Genitaltheorie' (Leipzig-Vienna, 1924) with the English version appearing only in 1938, 'Thalassa' offers more than merely historical interest. If we were to consider the viewpoints of the various psychoanalytic schools, not as competing theories, but as different perspectives on the human condition, 'Thalassa' may indicate the possibility of a common theoretical substrate. Through a methodology called `utraquism' (> Lat. `utraque' - `from both sides') the study proposes a `bioanalytic' approach to the study of human condition, an approach which seeks to nullify the perceived schism between biological and mental life. In so doing, Ferenczi provides psychoanalytic support for what is called today the 'continuity thesis' that stresses an evolutionary continuity between inert and sentient matter on the one hand (see Iris Fry's The Emergence of Life on Earth (2000)) and on the other, life and mind (see Froese T. & Di Paolo E. A. (2009) `Sociality and the Life-Mind Continuity Thesis' in Phenomenology and the Cognitive Sciences 8 (4), pp. 439-63). 'Thalassa' foreshadows later psychosomatic studies such as Norman O. Brown's 'Life Against Death' (1985), and links up with similar hypotheses proposed in the works of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, Yves Coppens, D'Arcy Thomson, André Leroi-Gourhan, Stephen Jay Gould, Stuart Kauffman, Konrad Lorenz, Jean Petitot, Wolfgang Wildgen and of course, René Thom, all of which converge towards the continuity thesis. It is a useful foundational text for all those engaged in researching this thesis.
Regrettably, 'Thalassa' is no study for beginners - some psychoanalytic sophistication is definitely required. The language is not always easy and may seem somewhat archaic for the modern reader, but the ideas clearly identify the `core' of the evolutionary matrix within which we are embodied - something we would do well to bear in mind in planning trajectories into the future.