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Partial object

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French: objet partiel
Melanie Klein
Child Development

According to Melanie Klein, the infant's underdeveloped capacity for perception, together with the fact that he is only concerned with his immediate gratifications, means that the subject begins by relating only to a part of a person rather than the whole. The primordial part-object is, according to Klein, the mother's breast. As the child's visual apparatus develops, so also does his capacity to perceive people as whole objects rather than collections of separate parts.

Sigmund Freud

While the term "part-object" was first introduced by the Kleinian school of psychoanalysis, the origins of the concept can be traced back to Karl Abraham's work and ultimately to Freud.

Partial Drives

For example, when Freud states that partial drives are directed towards objects such as the breast or faeces, these are clearly part-objects.

Penis

Freud also implies that the penis is a part-object in his discussion of the castration complex (in which the penis is imagined as a separable organ) and in his discussion of fetishism.

Jacques Lacan

The concept of the part-object plays an important part in Lacan's work from early on.

Object-Relations Theory

Lacan finds the concept of the part-object particularly useful in his criticism of object-relations theory, which he attacks for attributing a false sense of completeness to the object.

In opposition to this tendency, Lacan argues that just as all drives are partial drives, so all objects are necessarily part-objects.

Kleinian psychoanalysis

Lacan's focus on the part-object is clear evidence of the important Kleinian influences in his work.

Partiality

However, whereas Klein defines these objects as partial because they are only part of a whole object, Lacan takes a different view. They are partial, he argues, "not because these objects are part of a total object, the body, but because they represent only partially the function that produces them."[1]

Biology

In other words, in the unconscious only the pleasure-giving function of these objects is represented, while their biological function is not represented. Furthermore, Lacan argues that what isolates certain parts of the body as a part-object is not any biological given but the signifying system of language.

Partial Objects

In addition to the partial objects already discovered by psychoanalytic theory before Lacan (the breast, the faeces, the phallus as imaginary object, and the urinary flow), Lacan adds (in 1960) several more: the phoneme, the gaze, the voice and the nothing.[2] These partial objects all have one feature in common: "they have no specular image."[3] In other words, they are precisely that which cannot be assimilated into the subject's narcissistic illusion of completeness.

Objet petit a

Lacan's conceptualization of the part-object is modified with the development around 1963-4 of the concept of objet petit a as the cause of desire. Now each partial object becomes an object by virtue of the fact that the subject takes it for the object of desire, objet petit a.[4]

From this point on in his work, Lacan usually restricts his discussion of part-objects to only four:

  1. the voice,
  2. the gaze,
  3. the breast and
  4. faeces.

Quotes

"Partial object" is Kleinian term that "has never been subjected to criticism since Karl Abraham introduced it."[5]

See Also

References

  1. Lacan, Jacques. Écrits: A Selection. Trans. Alan Sheridan. London: Tavistock Publications, 1977. p. 315
  2. Lacan, Jacques. Écrits: A Selection. Trans. Alan Sheridan. London: Tavistock Publications, 1977. p. 315
  3. Lacan, Jacques. Écrits: A Selection. Trans. Alan Sheridan. London: Tavistock Publications, 1977. p. 315
  4. Lacan, Jacques. The Seminar. Book XI. The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psychoanalysis, 1964. Trans. Alan Sheridan. London: Hogarth Press and Institute of Psycho-Analysis, 1977. p. 104
  5. Lacan, Jacques. Écrits: A Selection. Trans. Alan Sheridan. London: Tavistock Publications, 1977. p. 283, 687