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Sigmund Freud

The concept of privation is essential for Freud.

In The Future of An Illusion, he writes:

"For the sake of a uniform terminology we will describe the fact that an instinct cannot be satisfied as a 'frustration,' the regulation by which this frustration is established as a 'prohibition' and the condition which is produced by the prohibition as a 'privation.'"[1]

Later in the same essay, he defines more specifically the drive-wishes that result from privation: incest, the pleasure in and wish to murder, and cannibalism.

Melanie Klein

Melanie Klein and Jacques Lacan are the main authors to have taken up this concept.

For Klein, privation is the basis for the paranoid position.

"Persecutory anxiety, therefore, enters from the beginning into [the baby's] relation to objects in so far as he is exposed to privations."[2]

"Feelings of frustration and grievance lead to phantasying backwards and often focus in retrospect on the privations suffered in relation to the mother's breast."[3]

All feelings of privation or frustration originate in the subject's relationship with the mother, specifically with the maternal breast.

These feelings are also articulated with persecution and fragmentation anxieties.

Jacques Lacan

For Jacques Lacan, archaic persecution or fragmentation anxieties are to be deduced from castration anxiety and are not its precursors.

Privation is what is inscribed in the Real and reveals its nature.

Privation corresponds to the "hole" in the Real; it is the basis of the Symbolic Order, and the agent who deprives is always Imaginary.

Lacan's answer to the question concerning what is actually being deprived is that

"It is especially the fact that the Woman does not have a penis, that She is deprived of it. The very notion of privation, so tangible and visible in an experience such as that one, implies the symbolization of the object in the real. For in the real, nothing is deprived of anything. Everything that is real is sufficient unto itself. By definition, the real is full [plein]. If we introduce the notion of privation into the real, it is to the extent that we can already symbolize it adequately, or even completely. Indicating that something is not there means supposing its possible presence—that is, introducing into the real, in order to recover it and hollow it out, the simple symbolic order."[4]

The reversal effected by Lacan, as compared to authors inspired by Klein, is striking, and it is the basis for his claim of making a rigorous return to Freud.

However, his was a return to a particular Freud: In Freudian thought, while woman is indeed deprived of a penis, the male child is just as deprived of the breast.

Although woman can aspire to replace what she lacks by bearing a child, man must replace that which he has been deprived of with "spiritual nourishment," or thought.

  1. Freud, Sigmund. The Future of An Illusion. p.10
  2. Klein, 1932/1952b, p. 199
  3. Klein, 1952a, p. 265
  4. Lacan, Jacques. Le Séminaire. Livre IV. La relation d'objet, 19566-57. Ed. Jacques-Alain Miller. Paris: Seuil, 1991. pp.237-270