Primary and Secondary: An Alternative Approach via Freud

  • Robin Jarvis


A theory of the modes of functioning of the psyche has clear potential significance for the understanding of the reading process and of practices of interpretation — activities that engage the mind in complex and compulsive ways. Freud was continuously engaged in the construction and revision of such a theory from his earliest work through to The Ego and the Id. A constant feature throughout this extensive labour of self-revision was the binary character which Freud ascribed to the workings of the mind: much else in his theoretical writings is closely tied to the hypothesis that psychical life comprises two principles or processes, each with its distinct mechanisms and aims. It is only in very recent years, however, that the full ramifications of Freud’s account of the primary and secondary processes — the most inclusive and useful terms — have begun to emerge. I shall have occasion to refer to some of this work in due course. To begin with, it seems best to return to those texts in which Freud develops his ideas at greatest length and identify the most troublesome (and suggestive) areas. I should point out that I am not assuming any absolute validity for these ideas.


Primary Process Secondary Process Reality Principle Pleasure Principle Perceptual Identity 
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Copyright information

© Robin Jarvis 1991

Authors and Affiliations

  • Robin Jarvis
    • 1
  1. 1.Bristol PolytechnicUK

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