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Freud used "prehistory" to refer to the most remote past, the "already there," the psychically innate, and the time before the Oedipus complex. This notion, present in his writings as early as 1888, was made more explicit in chapter 7 of The Interpretation of Dreams (1900a). The idea runs through his entire work, and after 1912 (1912-1913a; 1913j; 1918b [1914]; 1985 [1915]) was transformed in a scientific quest to define psychoanalysis as an autonomous natural science of origins. Yet the notion of prehistory was also transformed into a ground for speculating and for pursuing an analogical approach.

From 1912 to 1915, a period of intensive metapsychological theorization, Freud pursued this quest in his investigations and hypotheses with Sándor Ferenczi, himself the exponent of a "metabiology." Freud also definitively broke with Carl Gustav Jung and invited first-generation psychoanalysts to explore the object of anthropology and ethnology via the clinical method of psychoanalysis (Rank, Róheim). Without ever giving up his theoretical grounding in the drives and libidinal development, Freud introduced the evolutionary views of Charles Darwin, Ernst Haeckel, Jean-Baptiste de Lamarck, Fritz Wittels, and J. J. Atkinson for two primary reasons: to give a new orientation to the problem of how constitutional dispositions relate to individual history, and to make two points of view—ontogenesis versus phylogenesis, or development versus evolution—coherent with one another.

This is a bold hypothesis, fraught with theoretical and clinical consequences in that it affirms not only the universality of the psychic apparatus and the archaic heritage of its disposition and constitution, but also the transmission of content, that is, the lived experience of previous generations. This is not a biological theory, but rather a psychoanalytic theory of the history of the facts and acts that constitute the biological.

Freud asked the reader to abandon phenomenal knowledge in order to conceive of the primal, the genesis of primordial conflict, anxiety in the developmental processes, guilt in evolution, latency, and deferred action. Freud's notions of primitive, primary, primordial, ancient, archaic, and ancestral broaden the notion of prehistory and reveal not only Freud's strong adherence to the evolutionary ideas of his time, but also a need to conceptualize a prior period that defines the subject's history and that the psychoanalytic process reactualizes during treatment. To explore the various borders encompassing the concept of prehistory, Freud entered into the domains of anthropology, ethnology, paleontology, linguistics, folklore, history of religion, and archaeology.

The notion of prehistory attempts to legitimize the systems of thought of primitive peoples, of children, and of adults to be compared, and also reorders the choices of neuroses inversely to the hypothetical phases of human mental development.

See Also


  1. Freud, Sigmund. (1900a). The interpretation of dreams. SE, 4: 1-338]]
  • [[5: 339-625.
  1. ——. (1912-1913a). Totem and taboo. SE, 13: 1-161.
  2. ——. (1913j). The claims of psycho-analysis to scientific interest. SE, 13: 163-190.
  3. ——. (1918b [1914]). From the history of an infantile neurosis. SE, 17: 1-122.
  4. ——. (1985 [1915]). A phylogenetic fantasy: Overview of the transference neuroses (Axel Hoffer and Peter T. Hoffer, Trans.). Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1987.