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Melanie Klein

Melanie Klein by Julia Kristeva (European Perspectives: A Series in Social Thought and Cultural Criticism-Lawrence D. Kritzman) In this second biography in her trilogy, Female Genius: Life, Madness, Words--Hannah Arendt, Melanie Klein, Colette, psychoanalyst Kristeva analyzes the innovations of Klein (1882-1960) in child psychoanalytic practice. The author traces Klein's Jewish roots, and proposes that she furthered Freud's theory of the unconscious with insights on the positive role of motherhood in psychic development and creativity.

Klein's major divergences with Freud have been well documented. Those differences were never styled as a true rejection of his thinking, however, but as a way to complete his theory of the unconscious. While the Freudian unconscious is structured by desire and repression, Melanie Klein focused on the newborn's psychic pain, on his splitting processes, and on his early capacity for a rather limited form of sublimation. The Freudian drive has a source and an aim, but no object, while in Klein's view, the newborn's drives are directed from the outset toward an object (the breast or the mother). In Mein's world the Other is always already there, and the dramas of the early bond between the object and an ego‑with its just as early superego, which is generated by an extremely early Oedipus complex‑unfold with the horror and the sublimity of a Hieronymus Bosch painting. Freud oriented the psychic life of the subject around the castration ordeal and the function of the father; Melanie Klein, who did not ignore these realities, buttressed them with a maternal function that was missing from the founding father of psychoanalysis's theories. As a result, Mein ran the risk of reducing the Oedipal triangle into a dyad (although the couple was always present in her theory in the primary form of a "combined" parental object). At the same time, her efforts to privilege the mother in such a way hardly amount to raising the mother into some sort of cult, as Klein's adversaries have been so quick to accuse her of doing. In truth, matricide, which Klein was the first to have the courage to consider, is, along with envy and gratitude, at the origin of our capacity to think.

Freud's invention of psychoanalysis was based on transference love, although he never completely theorized it; Klein, for her part, analyzed the maternal transference that her young patients directed toward the analyst‑maternal substitute that she was, and she lent her ear to the fantasies that emerge when children play and that generate countertransference (as Klein's disciples pointed out) in the analyst herself. Dreams and language for Freud, the fantasy that permeates play for Klein: it was not only the young age of Klein's patients, who had not yet acquired language and who had not yet experienced roadblocks to speech, that demanded this new development in analytic technique. The Kleinian fantasy is at the heart of psychoanalysis for both the analyst and the patient; it is even more heterogeneous than is the Freudian fantasy, which itself is made up of both disparate conscious and unconscious elements and which the founder of psychoanalysis defined as being of "mixed blood." The Kleinian phantasy (as the Kleinians spell the word), which consists of drives, sensations, and acts as well as words, and that is manifested just as much in a child at play as in an adult who describes his drives and sensations from the analytic couch using a discourse bereft of any motor manifestations, is a veritable incarnation, a carnal metaphor, what Proust would call a transubstantiation.

This conceptual complexity is not unique to the Kleinian fantasy. As we will see, all of our author's notions prove to be ambiguous, ambivalent, and reflective of logical processes that are more circular than dialectical. Does this mean that our theorist was weak‑minded? Or, on the other hand, does it vindicate the analytic insight that, by seizing upon regression, does not even require the notion of the "archaic" in order to make repression act as a repetition or a reduplication, or even as a subtle link between the substance and the meaning that dominate our thoughts and behavior in the same way as the major signs of the unconscious?

Once Klein's thought was consolidated into a veritable school of thought, it claimed to understand the unconscious, whose inner workings it often oversimplified. Klein's detractors, in fact, went so far as to accuse her of thinking that she herself was the unconscious! And yet, if we follow the development of Mein's theories and the alchemy of her "case studies" along with the evolution of her notions, we will be amazed to discover a permanent opening of the analyst's unconscious that emerged alongside the unconscious of her patients. The relationship that ensues is one of "at‑one‑ment," to use the term that W R Bion, one of Mein's most original followers, invented based on the notion of "to be at one with." Such a relationship is not too far removed from the pain that precedes the capacity to symbolize that same pain in order to get beyond it and to re‑create that infinite fantasy known as life.

Because Mein understood anxiety, that conduit of pleasure, more deeply than did anyone else, she turned psychoanalysis into the art of caring for the capacity for thought. Attentive to the death drive that Freud had already incorporated into psychic life in his "Beyond the Pleasure Principle" (1920), Klein considered the death drive to be the primary agent for our distress, but alsoand especially‑for our capacity'to become creatures of symbols. Freud essentially taught us that the repression of pleasure generates anxiety and the symptom. Under what conditions are the anxieties that tear us apart amenable to symbolization? That is the question that Mein uses as she reformulates the analytic problem, a question that places her work‑unwittingly so since she was most notably a courageous clinician and in no way a "master of thought"‑at the heart of humanity and the modern crisis of culture…

Klein believed that the inside of the mother (which is invisible but which is thought to be filled with threatening objects, beginning with the father's penis) imposed upon both sexes the most archaic anxiety situations: castration anxiety is only apart, admittedly an important one, of the more generalized anxiety that arises from the inside of the body itself, Mein also suggested that "good" objects counterbalance "bad" ones. Finally, Klein contended that thought is what allows psychic interiority to take shape, a depth that is at first grieving, then relieving and joyful, and that it is only thing that can help us conquer our fear of this maternal interior.

From one interior to the next, and from anxiety to thought: the Kleinian topography is a sublimation of the cavity, a metamorphosis of the womb, and a variation on female receptivity. Mein transformed her closeness with an unnameable depth into a form of self‑knowledge‑before she persuaded us that this imaginary knowledge is viable for everyone, women as well as men. Through psychoanalytic interpretation, the incarnate fantasy of the maternal interior becomes a way of knowing the self psychoanalysis, and no longer faith, provides the optimal path toward self­knowledge.

With Melanie Klein, the fantasy connected to the mother lies at the heart of human destiny. In our Judeo‑Christian culture, this important revaluing of the mother should not be underestimated. The fertility of the Jewish mother was blessed by Jahwe but removed from the sacred space that harbors the meaning of speech. The Virgin Mother then became the empty core of the Holy Trinity. Two thousand years ago the Man of Sorrow, Christ, founded a new religion that lays claim to the father, without wishing to know what he shared in common with his mother. The Kleinian child, phobic and sadistic, is the inner double of this visible and crucified man, his painful inside that is consumed by the paranoid fantasy of an omnipotent mother. That fantasy is one of a killing mother who must be killed, of an incarnate representation of female paranoia in which we discovered the projected paranoid‑schizophrenia of our primitive and feeble ego. The subject is nevertheless able to free himself from this mortifying depth, provided, that is, that he can work through it indefinitely until it becomes the only value we still have: the depth of thought.

Like the analyst, but unknowingly so, the mother accompanies her child in this working through that causes him to lose herand then to use words and thoughts to make reparation to her. The maternal function takes refuge in the alchemy that relies on the loss of self and the Other to attain and to develop the meaning of mortifying desire, but only through the love and gratitude that actualizes the subject. The bond of love with the lost object that is the mother‑the mother from whom "I" distance myself replaces matricide and takes on the aura of thought. It is hardly the least striking example of Melanie Klein's genius that she used the negative to link the fate of the female with the preservation of the mind and the spirit.

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