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The concept of privation is essential for Freud. In The Future of An Illusion (1927c), 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"' (p. 10). 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 and Jacques Lacan are the main authors to have taken up this concept. For Klein, privation is the basis for the paranoid position. She writes: "Persecutory anxiety, therefore, enters from the beginning into [the baby's] relation to objects in so far as he is exposed to privations" (Klein, 1932/1952b, p. 199). And elsewhere: "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" (Klein, 1952a, p. 265). 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.

In "L'archaïque et le profond dans la penséedeMelanie Klein" (The Archaic and the Profound in Melanie Klein's Thought; 1982), Jean-Michel Petot discusses the constant slippage between the terms privation, deprivation, and frustration in Klein's work. He clearly shows Klein's difficulties with these notions, as well as the role played by Ernest Jones's translations of the German term Versagung.

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 presencethat is, introducing into the real, in order to recover it and hollow it out, the simple symbolic order" (1956-57).

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.

Luiz Eduardo Prado de Oliveira

See also: Amnesia; Child analysis; Deprivation; Disintegration, feelings of, (anxieties); Subject's castration; Feminism and psychoanalysis; Frustration; Forgetting; Primary need; Real, Symbolic, and Imaginary father; Schizophrenia; Weaning; Unary trait.


Freud, Sigmund. (1927c). The future of an illusion. SE, 21: 1-56.

Klein, Melanie. (1952a). On observing the behaviour of young infants. In Melanie Klein, Paula Heimann, Susan Isaacs, and Joan Rivière (Eds.). Developments in psychoanalysis (pp. 237-270). London: Hogarth.

Klein, Melanie. (1952b). Some theoretical conclusions regarding the emotional life of the infant. In Melanie Klein, Paula Heimann, Susan Isaacs, and Joan Rivière. (Eds.). Developments in psychoanalysis (pp. 198-236). London: Hogarth. (Original work published 1932)

Lacan, Jacques. (1956-57). Le séminaire: Livre IV, La relation d'objet (pp. 237-270). Paris: Le Seuil.

Petot, Jean-Michel. (1982). L'archaïque et le profond dans la pensée de Melanie Klein. Nouvelle revue de psychanalyse, 26, 253-272.

Further Reading

Shengold, Leonard. (1989). Soul murder: The effects of childhood abuse and deprivation. New Haven: Yale University Press.

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pri·va·tion / prīˈvāshən/ • n. a state in which things that are essential for human well-being such as food and warmth are scarce or lacking: years of rationing and privation | the privations of life at the front. ∎ formal the loss or absence of a quality or attribute that is normally present: cold is the privation of heat.

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