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Symbiosis and Separation: Towards a Psychology of Culture

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Symbiosis and Separation lays the foundation for a psychoanalytic theory of culture and politics by focusing on how objects in the external world symbolize infantile objects and fantasies. Culture, Dr. Koenigsberg suggests, facilitates the break with infantile love-objects by representing reality as a realm that contains omnipotence and the possibility of unlimited gratification. Infantile fantasies of omnipotence are replaced by the dream of being bound in a symbiotic tie to one’s culture. Society performs developmental functions, facilitating the displacement of psychic energy onto cultural ideals and objects.

Koenigsberg develops a psychoanalytic theory of nationalism. Separation from the mother is experienced as mutilation of one’s body—the loss of self. One binds to one’s country to recover a part of the body experienced as lost. Nationalism seeks restoration of bodily wholeness (“Hitler is Germany, just as Germany is Hitler”). The body politic symbolizes the dual-unity of self and Other contained within a single object. Identification with one’s nation, subsequently, may be experienced as oppressive, leading to a struggle for liberation. Koenigsberg illuminates our ambivalent attachment to cultural objects, which simultaneously enhance and diminish the self.

Table of Contents
  1. The Dual Nature of the Human Ego
  2. The Conversation Process as a Response to Separation
  3. The Denial of Separateness
  4. Internalization
  5. The Struggle for Separateness
  6. The Fantasy of Merger as a Source of Anxiety
  7. Conflict and Ambivalence Surrounding Separation-Individuation
  8. The Transitional Object and the Struggle to Separate
  9. Culture as a Transitional Object
  10. The Bodily Roots of the Symbol
  11. The Bodily Roots of Culture
  12. Repression

I have read Symbiosis and Separation with great interest and have found it to offer a very thoughtful and perceptive analysis of the interplay of unconscious phantasy and cultural phenomena.

—Thomas Ogden, M.D., author of The Matrix of the Mind

I read Symbiosis and Separation with a good deal of excitement. By different routes, Koenigsberg and I have lighted upon the same central springs of psychic activity. Much of my clinical work confirms his insights and theories. His findings have much in common with my own, but he carries them very creatively into the social science field. I was very impressed by this fascinating book.

—Frances Tustin, author of Autism and Childhood Psychosis

During the course of the past few decades psychoanalysis has become increasingly aware of the psychodynamic dimension of nations, groups and leaders through such works as Freud’s Group Psychology and the Analysis of the Ego, Wilhelm Reich’s Mass Psychology of Fascism, Ernest Becker’s Escape From Evil, and most recently Richard Koenigsberg’s Symbiosis and Separation.

—M.D. Faber, author of Culture and Consciousness

I am very much intrigued by Koenigsberg’s psychoanalytic theory of culture. I find a strong element of truth in what he has expressed. I want to emphasize the great pleasure I experienced in reading this book and finding it so thought-provoking.

—Bernard L. Pacella, M.D., former President of the American Psychoanalytic Association

About the Author

Richard Koenigsberg is a psychologist and historian, considered a leading authority on Hitler and Nazism. His influential book, Hitler's Ideology, has been called "the best critical analysis of Hitler's thought." His keynote addresses on warfare and genocide include presentations at the Church Center of the United Nations, the United World College, the Colloquium on Violence and Religion, and at the Annual Holocaust Conference.

He is Director of the Library of Social Science, a firm devoted to the development and promotion of significant scholarship. His Ideologies of War website is a highly regarded online platform which publishes work by the most prominent authors in the field--and has attracted a world-wide audience.

His other books include Nations Have the Right to Kill and The Psychoanalysis of Racism, Revolution and Nationalism. He holds a PhD in Social Psychology from the Graduate Faculty of the New School for Social Research.