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Desire, Pain and Thought: Primal Masochism and Psychoanalytic Theory
Marilia Aisenstein | Translated by Andrew Weller
IPA & Routledge / Softcover / Jun 2023
9781032054643 (ISBN-10: 1032054646)
price: $56.50
98 pages
In Stock (Ships within one business day)

Desire, Pain and Thought presents a new perspective on primal erotogenic masochism, which Marilia Aisenstein regards as the core of psychoanalytic theory.

Aisenstein distinguishes between pathological masochism – the active search for pain – and primal erotogenic masochism, which she believes develops in early childhood. Desire, Pain and Thought explains that the formation of this response in a child is essential to the survival of the individual and the development of resilience. Aisenstein skillfully and convincingly uses her deep understanding of metapsychology and her mastery of Freud’s seminal papers to demonstrate that thought is one of the manifestations of desire which implies a painful renunciation of the object of desire. By moving away from its pathological, negative connotation to a more positive one, the book presents an understanding of masochism as "the guardian of life".

Desire, Pain and Thought will be essential reading for psychoanalysts in practice and in training.


"This intensely contemporary book defends a subversive idea: primary erotogenic masochism constitutes the nucleus of our ego, an early stage where Eros and Thanatos join forces and embrace. To convince ourselves of this, it was necessary to appropriate what is beyond the pleasure principle, to prove that the analytical session is "an act of the flesh", to imbibe literature and cinema, to philosophize with Tertullian, Spinoza and Hannah Arendt, to take as a "patient" the fictional character of a Nazi officer, or a journalistic investigation into the war in Rwanda, albeit not without revealing our organic intimacy as psychoanalysts. Some try, not enough, not really, but Marilia Aisenstein has done it with writing that is as rigorous as it is vibrant." – Julia Kristeva, Psychoanalyst, essayist, novelist and Professor Emeritus of the University of Paris.

"Desire, pain and thought" is a remarkable and much needed book, not only for new and seasoned psychoanalytic readers but also for all those interested in better understanding how the human mind works. Marilia Aisenstein is one of our main psychoanalytic thinkers, and she shows masterfully how to blend theory, clinical examples and different expressions of culture, and the evolution of the process of thought. The presence of primal masochism and it’s different levels and is central to human existence. I strongly recommend the reading of this book. Aisenstein conducts us with elegance and erudition through the labyrinths of pain till the pleasure of thinking." – Cláudio Laks Eizirik, Training and supervising analyst, Porto Alegre, Professor Emeritus of Psychiatry, Former President of IPA

"In her characteristic lucid style, Marilia Aisenstein brilliantly delves into the concept of masochism, leading to the discovery of "primary erotic masochism". This ground-braking idea becomes a "guardian of life". It brings a complexity to understanding masochism that is essential for all analysts". – Fred Busch, Author of Creating a Psychoanalytic Mind, and A Fresh Look at Psychoanalytic Technique.

"The question of masochism represents the navel of psychoanalytic theory: this is the profound premise of Marilia Aisenstein’s book, whose imaginary interlocutors are Michel Fain, Benno Rosenberg and André Green. We are taken on a voyage guided by the creativity and psychoanalytic sensitivity of the author and stimulated by her masterful knowledge of literature and philosophy, as well as by her commitment to the clinic. The author emphasises the crucial importance of a masochism "guardian of life", which binds destructiveness and is at the root of the capacity for thinking. She suggests that pain is at the source of desire, which leads to thought: "thinking is an act of the flesh" that requires transformation into language. The structure of desire is masochistic, as desire is inconceivable without cathecting waiting. After reading Marilia Aisenstein, pain, desire and thought become intrinsically linked . With her extensive experience of working with traumatized and psychosomatic patients, she offers us a new way of thinking about the various forms of the destruction of thought-processes, from the clinic to social processes." – Rosine Perelberg, Training Analyst, past President of the British Psychoanalytical Society

Table of Contents:

Series editor’s forward


Introduction: primal masochism: the navel of psychoanalytic theory

1. The enigma of pain

2. The birth of desire

3. Tiredness: a masochism "in the feminine"

4. When masochism is lacking

5. Thinking: an act of the flesh

6. On the destruction of thought processes

7. Submission and thought

Annex: On primary erotogenic masochism, an imaginary dialogue with Benno Rosenberg


About the Author:

Marilia Aisenstein is a training and supervising psychoanalyst of the Hellenic Psychoanalytical Society and the Paris Psychoanalytic Society. She is a former president of the Paris Society and of the Paris Psychosomatic Institute and editor and co-founder of the French Review of Psychosomatics. She has written both chapters and books, mainly on psychosomatics and hypochondria, transference, pain and destructiveness, and over 150 papers in French, Greek and English, which have been translated into Spanish, German and Portuguese. She received the Maurice Bouvet Award in 1992.

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