The Repetition Compulsion as Narrative Action:
An Interpretive Inquiry – Glenn Fleisch (1992)

The concept of the repetition compulsion (Freud, 1914; 1920) has been the source of much controversy and the subject of various interpretations throughout the development of psychoanalysis. This is due in part to the fact that Freud himself offered at least two somewhat distinct aspects to the repetition compulsion. There is confusion as to whether the compulsion to repeat is seen in the service of resistance, a powerful obstacle opposed to recovery or is the most important force toward cure. In the present paper, I will take the hermeneutic position that the repetition compulsion is not only a necessary, but is an inevitable aspect of any analytic or depth psychotherapy.

My thesis is that the compulsion to repeat, in the context of the clinical situation, and especially with more primitive or regressed aspects of the transference neurosis, can best be understood as a form of communication and of remembering. This view of the repetition compulsion is based on the idea of action as narrative, i.e. the past as embodied and enacted in the present reveals its own story. The work of analysis is therefore to attend to the entire transference field of action and interaction that is created between patient and therapist. This is often the only way that the primitive (prelinguistic, presymbolic, prerepresentational) aspects of traumatic early history can be understood and constructed.

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