Academic journal article International Journal of Psychoanalysis

Understanding Freud's Conflicted View of the Object-Relatedness of Sexuality1 and Its Implications for Contemporary Psychoanalysis: A Re-Examination of Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality

Academic journal article International Journal of Psychoanalysis

Understanding Freud's Conflicted View of the Object-Relatedness of Sexuality1 and Its Implications for Contemporary Psychoanalysis: A Re-Examination of Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality

Article excerpt

Introduction

The nature of the role of the object in Freud's thinking is one that has always been subject to question and debate. Emphasizing his ideas on primary narcissism and autoerotism many have stressed that Freud regarded the relationship to the object as something that evolves developmentally. Freud's "amoeba metaphor", first introduced in his 'On narcissism' (1914), is often adduced in this context. He writes:

Thus we form the idea of there being an original libidinal cathexis of the ego, from which some is later given off to objects, but which fundamentally persists and is related to the object-cathexes much as the body of an amoeba is related to the pseudopodia which it puts out. In our researches, taking, as they did, neurotic symptoms for their starting-point, this part of the allocation of libido necessarily remained hidden from us at the outset. All that we noticed were the emanations of this libido - the object-cathexes, which can be sent out and drawn back again.

(p. 75)

According to this view of Freud, he maintained that counter to how things may have seemed at first, the individual is not inherently object-related. He is determined by his instincts, but the object is not integral to the instincts and it is not towards the object that the instincts are necessarily directed. Rather the individual enters into relationship with objects through their gradual cathexis with libido and their subsequent internalization. Those who hold this view include both critics and supporters of the position ascribed to Freud (e.g., Relational psychoanalysts and Ego psychologists alike). Freud's comments on the object in his 1915 'Instincts and their vicissitudes' provide similar evidence of his upholding this view.

Originally, at the very beginning of mental life, the ego is cathected with instincts ... At this time the external world is not cathected with interest ... but, in consequence of experiences undergone by the instincts of self-preservation, it acquires objects from that world.

(pp. 135-136)

In contrast, there are those who maintain that Freud considers object-relatedness to be inherent and primary; an integral aspect of the instincts.2 Two senses of primacy come into play here. Some refer to a temporal primacy, arguing that the individual according to Freud is object-related from the start and that his positions on narcissism and auto-eroticism must be interpreted in light of this primacy as certain forms of relatedness; for example, auto-eroticism should be regarded as a reproduction of an earlier object-relationship with the mother (Heimann, 1952, p. 145).3 Others refer to primacy in the sense of significance. They allow for the idea that Freud indeed posited unrelated states, but maintain that his ideas in this regard were secondary to the opposite position that he held on the individual being inherently and originally object-related. Melanie Klein among others seems to maintain this view, openly acknowledging that there is tension in Freud's thinking on this matter (1952, p. 52). She writes: "As regards auto-erotism and narcissism we meet with an inconsistency in Freud's views ... Freud had not yet arrived at a final decision". She goes on to state that her differences are therefore not so much with Freud, but with Anna Freud who took up only the non-object-related side of Freud's thinking.

Those who hold to the object-related view of Freud's thinking readily adduce in its support the centrality that Freud ascribes to the Oedipus complex, its interpersonal dynamics, and pre-historical origins. The Oedipus complex is grounded in the idea that the individual comes into the world already identified with objects from what Freud refers to as "his own personal prehistory" (1923, p. 30). This is a relationship, which Freud explains

takes place earlier than any object-cathexis. But the object-choices belonging to the first sexual period and relating to the father and mother seem normally to find their outcome in an identification of this kind, and would thus reinforce the primary one. …

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