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It was Melanie Klein who emphasized the importance of fantasies and playing in the process of development. In her Psychoanalysis of Children Klein brought to light that as humans we perpetually oscillate between paranoid-schizoid position and the depressive position throughout life. Klein categorized the death drive as more dominant in the paranoid-schizoid position and life-drive as more dominant in the depressive position. For Klein a successful therapeutic procedure would result in maintaining a contact with the intermediary realm between phantasm and reality. Klein’s importance lies in her acceptance and affirmation of our most primitive drives’ role throughout life. The need for satisfaction of those drives sometimes reaches to such inordinate measures that we become aggressive in the face of reality. Frustrations arise and things get worse, for we don’t know how to turn our frustrations into fuel for the life drive, and eventually fall victim to the death drive in search of omnipotence.[1]

According to Freud, as he puts it in his Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality, drives were governed by the pleasure principle and the object of satisfaction of these drives was not very important. In other words, between the drive and its objects there was no natural tie.[2] But for Klein, who prefers the word instinct instead of drive, from the beginning of life onwards instincts are connected to certain internal objects. From the beginning of life the human subject is in pursuit of object relations in the way of satisfying the instincts such as hunger and thirst.[3]

Klein’s shifting conceptualisation of the process of subject formation can be clearly observed in her analysis of the relationship between “The Early Stages of the Oedipus-Conflict and Super-Ego Formation.” Klein takes the beginning of socialization to a pre-Oedipal stage, a pre-verbal if not pre-linguistic stage, to the first year of life. When a baby is born it immediately is in the world of objects. And language, being the extension of the world, that is, being one of the objects surrounding the subject, is immediately at the disposal of the subject just like any other object. We must keep in mind, however, that from language Klein understands not only the words but also the objects such as a toy soldier, or a ball, or any other object. Now, the baby as the subject throws its toy soldier at the mother to get her attention, or to articulate that it is hungry. This action of the baby is similar to someone sending a letter to his/her lover to articulate that he/she has missed him/her and wants to have sex soon. It is in this larger context that we understand language not only as words but also as everything that is at hand.[4]

According to Freud, Lévi-Strauss, and Lacan, the formation of the subject begins with the appearance of the Name of the Father and his law prohibiting incest. It is only with the father saying, “No, you shall not desire the mother, but try to be the object of mother’s desire,” that the child experiences his first confrontation with the symbolic order. But in Klein this process is related to the development of object relations in a time where there is imaginary meaning and not symbolic meaning.

            Klein attributes great significance to the unconscious phantasmatic workings of the mind. The unconscious which for Freud and to some extent Lacan is a static state of being becomes the site of a continuity in dynamism and the time of a perpetual phantasmatic production. For Klein, the object of psychoanalysis may be the Unconscious, but the object of psychotherapy is this unconscious process of phantasm production. Klein’s therapeutic technique involves bringing the patient face to face with the Real of his/her desire. In this process very primitive and archaic aspects of the human subject are put into the spotlight.    

Early analysis offers one of the most fruitful fields for psychoanalytic therapy precisely because the child has the ability to represent its unconscious in a direct way, and is thus not only able to experience a far-reaching emotional abreaction but actually to live through the original situation in its analysis, so that with the help of interpretation its fixations can to a considerable extent be resolved.[5]

When a child creates imaginary characters, pretends that they are real and talks with them, this is considered as playing, but when an adult does the same thing he is considered to be a schizophrenic, a subject of psychosis. Schizophrenia is a term coined by Bleuler to designate a set of symptoms such as loss of memory and excessively regressive behaviour usually associated with old age. The schizophrenic experience, as understood by Bleuler, is the reliving of childhood near death in the form of a disorganizaton and loss of the pieces constituting the memory.

[…] by projecting his terrifying super-ego on to his objects, the individual increases his hatred of those objects and thus also his fear of them, with the result that, if his aggression and anxiety are excessive, his external world is changed into a place of terror and his objects into enemies and he is threatened with persecution both from the external world and from his introjected enemies.[6]

Klein describes schizophrenia as the “attempt to ward off, master or contend with an internal enemy.”[7] This theme is linked to Klein’s discussion about the dynamic of envy. For Klein, the child, not yet capable of making a distinction between what is inner and what is outer, attacks the source of possible gratification. Envy is a product of a fantasy that the breast is good all the time because it supplies the child with milk whenever he wants. When the milk is denied to the child the child believes that the mother is bad because she is withholding the source of good. The child splits the object into good and bad to save the good breast from possible damage caused by his attacks on the bad breast. Klein goes on to say that it is at this stage that the child develops a sense of external reality by beginning to see the mother as another person, and the breast as a whole object which is good and bad at the same time. This is the depressive position in which the same object has conflicting significations for the child. Understanding that he has been attacking not only the bad breast but also the source of good induces guilt in the child who in turn learns why not to be envious. Klein sees guilt as therapeutic of envy. What appears to be the illness turns out to be the source of good in Klein’s therapeutic procedure. With Klein therapy is reaffirmed as the process of reconciliation through which a rational subject is created.


[1]Melanie Klein, The Psychoanalysis of Children, trans. Alix Strachey (London: The Hogarth Press and the Institute of Psychoanalysis, 1975)

[2] Sigmund Freud, Three Essays On The Theory Of Sexuality, trans. Strachey J. (London: Hogarth Press, 1964)

[3] Melanie Klein, Envy and Gratitude and Other Works 1946-1963, (London: The Hogarth Press, 1984)

[4] Melanie Klein, The Psychoanalysis of Children, trans. Alix Strachey (London: The Hogarth Press and the Institute of Psychoanalysis, 1975)

[5] Melanie Klein, The Psychoanalysis of Children, trans. Alix Strachey (London: The Hogarth Press, 1975),9

[6] Klein, 143-4

[7] Klein, 144

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