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Kleinian psychoanalysis

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School of Psychoanalysis

Kleinian psychoanalysis is the name given to the school of psychoanalytic theory that has grown up around the pioneering work of the Austrian psychoanalyst Melanie Klein (1882-1960).

Melanie Klein

Born in Vienna, Klein settled in England in 1926 and remained there for the rest of her life.

Kleinian psychoanalysis first began to emerge as a distinctive school of psychoanalytic theory during the 1940s in opposition to the group which gathered around Anna Freud after the latter's move to London.

However, it was not until after the war that other analysts began to become known as "Kleinians" and to develop a substantial body of Kleinian thought.

These analysts included Hannal Segal, Herbet Rosenfeld, Wilfred Bion and (later) Donald Meltzer.

Jacques Lacan

Along with the two other major non-Lacanian schools of psychoanalytic theory (ego-psychology and object-relations theory) Kleinian psychoanalysis forms a major point of reference for Lacan against which he puts forward his own particular reading of Freud.

Lacan's criticisms of Klein are therefore important to understanding the originality of his position.


While it is impossible to mention all of these criticisms here, some of the most important of them may be summarized as follows.

Such an approach is a misconception, argues Lacan, since it fails to take into account the symbolic structure that underpins all imaginary formations.
For Lacan, all debate on the precise dating of the Oedipus complex is futile, since it is not primarily a stage of development but a permanent structure of subjectivity.
(Insofar as the Oedipus complex can be located in time, Lacan would not locate it as early as Klein does.
Thus while Klein seems almost to deny the existence of a preoedipal phase, Lacan argues that there is one.)
  • Closely connected to the preceding point are Lacan's differences with respect to "Melanie Klein's encroachments into the pre-verbal areas of the unconscious."[2]
For Lacan, there are no pre-verbal areas of the unconscious, since the unconscious is a linguistic structure.
  • Lacan criticizes Klein's interpretive style as being particularly brutal.
In reference to the young patient ('Dick') whom Klein discusses in her paper on symbol formation, Lacan remarks that "she slams the symbolism on him with complete brutality."[3]

Other Schools

However, to portray Lacan as entirely critical of Klein would be to oversimplify the matter.

For while Lacan's disagreements with Kleinian psychoanalysis are at least as great as his disagreement with ego-psychology and object-relations theory, his comments on Klein are not characterized by the same dismissive tone which is evident in his acerbic criticisms of analysts from these other two schools.

He certainly regards it as superior to ego-psychology.

He also states that Melanie Klein is certainly more faithful to Freud than Anna Freud regarding the theory of transference.[4]

In his pre-1950s writings, there are many allusions to Klein's work on the mother-child relationship and the various imagos that operate in fantasy.

After 1950, Lacan praises Klein for emphasizing te importance of the death drive in psychoanalytic theory and for developing the concept of the part-object (though Lacan's formulations on this concept different greatly from Klein's).

See Also


  1. Lacan, Jacques. Écrits. Paris: Seuil, 1966. p. 728-9
  2. Lacan, Jacques. "Some Reflections on the Ego", Int. J. Psycho-Anal., vol. 34, 1953: p. 11
  3. Lacan, Jacques. The Seminar. Book I. Freud's Papers on Technique, 1953-54. Trans. John Forrester. New York: Nortion; Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1988. p. 68
  4. Lacan, Jacques. Le Séminaire. Livre VIII. Le transfert, 1960-61. Ed. Jacques-Alain Miller. Paris: Seuil, 1991. p. 369