views updated Jun 11 2018


The concept of the object in psychoanalysis proves to be an enigmatic one, because of its mobile and polysemic aspect and constantly changing character; there always remains an unknown zone that nurtures the object-cathexis and is therefore necessary for its continuation. The object in psychoanalysis is constituted of fluctuating impulses of unconscious, preconscious, and conscious cathexes, that are exchanged on a reciprocal basis. The object is neither a thing or a person, nor the fantasmatic content or a bodily zone of that person, although it relates to these throughout the analytic work. The concept of the object is a tool of understanding for the analyst and a notion that would become meaningless if it were studied as an independently existing entity. It is the unconscious element that lends some continuity to the cathexis of the various kinds of representations that are evoked by the patients' words, provided that the analyst constructs this continuity through the bi-vocal melody to which he is listening. The term object can be used only from the moment when analytic work is possible, however early this may be (Diatkine, 1989).

There is a polysemy to the term object, as it flows into the part-object; the total, narcissistic, internal, and external objects; the self-object; the object relationship; object choice; and others. This semantic richness reflects the complexity of the connections to other people in the psyche; it also can lead to confusion.

In his study of the drives ("Instincts and Their Vicissitudes," 1915c), Sigmund Freud explores a connection between the object and the drive: the drive excitation comes from inside the organism (pressure) and it corresponds to a need that is assuaged by the satisfaction (aim of the drive). The object is therefore the means by which the drive can attain this aim. Freud already emphasizes, however, that the object is the most valuable element of the drive and also that is it not intrinsically connected with it; the link is therefore something that has to be constructed. He adds that the object is not necessarily an unfamiliar object; it can be anything that is susceptible to cathexis, including therefore the subject's own body through the forms of auto-erotism (object-cathexis, narcissistic cathexis).

Between 1905 and 1924, Freud described a series of pregenital stages that are to be understood less in genetic terms than as something defined by partial (or component) drives; the satisfaction of each is linked with an erogenous zone (oral, anal, phallic), and thus also by their corresponding oral, anal or phallic object relationship. The concept of "part object" was introduced by Melanie Klein, but the concept of the "part" already exists in Freud within the "partial drive" concept. The object choice that unifies the sexual life under the aegis of genitality and orientates it definitively towards others does not therefore occur until puberty.

Freud went to on distinguish between two types of object: an object that relates specifically to the drive (a person, part of a person, a part-object, a fantasmatic object) and a total object, an object of love or hatred. At the very beginning of psychic life, the external world, the object, and what is hated are identical (the object emerges in hatred). When, following the purely narcissistic stage, the object is recognized as a source of pleasure, it can become an object of love, being loved and incorporated into the ego. In "Instincts and Their Vicissitudes," Freud writes that the terms "love" and "hatred" should not be used for the relation of drives to their objects but reserved for the relations of the total ego with the objects. The concept of "object choice" (object choice or narcissistic object choice) thus refers to the object of love or hatred and not to the object of the drive.

When Freud refers to the libido of the ego as opposed to the libido of the object, the object in this expression is understood in the restricted sense of an external object that does not include the ego; furthermore, it nevertheless clearly transpires that Freud generally focuses on psychic reality and the intrapsychic in his metapsychological theory. His theory of anaclisis required nothing more from the object than its necessity for ensuring self-preservation; here it was the child who was "responsible," based on the satisfaction of their bodily needs, for developing auto-erotisms in order to prepare for their existing and future sexuality. However, Freud was evidently well aware "that there is no such thing as a baby without a mother" (as Donald Winnicott was later to say) when he wrote in The Ego and the Id, albeit in a footnote: "The effects of the first identifications made in earliest childhood will be general and lasting. This leads us back to the origin of the ego ideal; for behind it there lies hidden an individual's first and most important identification, his identification with the father in his own personal prehistory (Perhaps it would be safer to say 'with the parents'; for before a child has arrived at definite knowledge of the difference between the sexes, the lack of a penis, it does not distinguish in value between its father and its mother). This is apparently not in the first instance the consequence or outcome of an object-cathexis; it is a direct and immediate identification and takes place earlier than any object-cathexis" (1923b, p. 31).

How then should we understand the relation between the parents, or those who perform this function, as people, as against the father or mother as "objects" used in the psychoanalytic work? The psyches of mother and father clearly play an essential role in the creation of the human being's representational system from the very beginning of life. By conferring a meaning on the very young child's activity, the capacity for "maternal reverie" (Wilfred Bion) does not introduce this meaning into their psyche, but rather harmoniously or discordantly modulates stimulations and "calming" attitudes or temporary abandonments that are constructed by the child. The meaning given by the mother produces another meaning in the subject, each of which becomes interconnected in a process that is as complex as the process that gives rise to the bi-vocal melody in the analytic treatment.

Following on from Freud and Karl Abraham, Melanie Klein, in her study of archaic states of functioning, attributes to the psyche from the outset a primitive ego (self), an external-internal boundary, a (part) object and the capacity for splitting and projecting; like Freud, she uses footnotes to take account of external objects. With reference to Sándor Ferenczi, she notes that it may be that complex mechanisms (living organisms) cannot continue as stable entities independently of the influence of external conditions. When these conditions become unfavorable, the organism disintegrates. "Integration and adaptation to reality depend essentially on the infant's experience of the mother's love and care."

Donald Winnicott, a contemporary of Klein and a highly innovative author who theorized the bond between object and subject, attributes prime importance to the object's response in the creation of this vital illusion to be shared between mother and child, namely the transitional space, of which the transitional object is only one of the signs. The "use of the object" is at the heart of this author's concerns and he gives precedence to the access to subjectivation, "first being," over the economy of drives. For him, this hallucination occurs in response to the increase in tension, always independently of the reality of the object; the problem of primary binding (that is, the object's binding of the hallucination or the drive excitation) arises as follows: if the object is absent, the drive excitation and the hallucination are dealt with either by evacuative discharge or by a mode of binding and fusion in statu nascendi, primary masochistic binding. It is essential that the object's absence or separation (creating the excitation) should not continue for a period that exceeds the subject's capacities to re-establish through the hallucination the psychic continuity that is necessary to the sense of continuity of being. If, on the contrary, the object is present and if its response is "granted" to this hallucinatory process, it instigates the "created-found" aspect of the object and the transformation of the hallucination into an illusion. The threat that will inevitably be posed to the primary illusion (the lover's censure, decrease in primary maternal concern) then triggers an upsurge of destructivity connected with distress and rage at the object's lack of attunement. It is here that Winnicott introduces a further element into the theory: whereas classically the object was discovered in hatred as a result of frustrations, Winnicott accords a primordial position to the object's response in the child's symbolization process. To be discovered, the object has to "survive" the destructive activity and has to allow itself to be "used." Winnicott refers here to three fundamental characteristics of object response: an absence of withdrawal, a lack of reprisals or retaliation, and a capacity to be manifestly creative and vital.

It is the object's response to the destructivity, through the gap that it creates against the background of its primary adaptation to the subject's needs and thus through a support that is introduced, that opens up the field of experience through which the complex process of symbolization will begin. The concept of the "good enough mother" is thus defined in its connection with the object's pre-symbolizing function.

More recently, with reference to Winnicott, René Roussillon (1997) has sought to explore in more depth what he refers to as the object relationship that can allow representational activity and symbolization. He established symbolizing objects of the "malleable medium type" as a term by describing the qualitative characteristics of the relationship of primary attunement, and formulated a preliminary outline of the future attributes of the symbolization apparatus (hardness/malleability, indestructibility, tangibility, transformability, sensitivity, availability, reversibility, loyalty, and constancy).

Melanie Klein's successors developed in new directions and reassessed her premises, including in the field of object relations and of projective identification as a primary mode of exchange. Esther Bick introduced the concept of adhesive identification and "psychic skin," but it was principally Wilfred R. Bion who created new models for the relationship between two psyches. He defined the relationship between container and contained, and then analyzed this relationship using a complex mathematical system. During the maternal reverie, the alpha function psychically processes the beta elements, drives, and drive-derivatives that the child is unable to assimilate individually, in order to enable them to process these psychically, and then to introject this function itself. This is very much a theory of psychic transmission.

In France, Maurice Bouvet made Freud's concept of the object relationship the main focus of his work, exploring it in more depth between 1948 and 1960 and developing it into a true concept. He and his students studied the object relationship in clinical practice (addressing hysteria, phobia, obsessional neurosis, and depersonalization) and went on to address the subject-subject relationship: the dual and reciprocal object relationship existing between ego-subjects. Addressing psychopathology in terms of the psychic object provides some ways of gaining a new perspective on the structural approach and produces a better understanding of difficult cases.

French psychoanalysts have preferred to address the successive description of the two psyches to account for the way in which the mother's psyche contributes to the child's psychic constitution. Denise Braunschweig and Michel Fain theorize "the lover's censure" (1975), in which the mother's experiences during pregnancy, her experience of childbirth, and the experiences relating to the almost total erotism with the newborn give way retroactively to the fantasmatic elaboration of an incestuous erotic fulfillment in which the unconscious oedipal bedrock is evident. This conflict leads her to convey a censure to the child in a prelude to the fantasmatic life of the human being, in order to protect the child from the desire of and for the father, a two-fold desire that incorporates both the desire for her as a woman and the desire for the father's penis in the child's unconscious. The confused perception of these psychic realities then imposes on the mother the necessity of duping the child.

Jacques Lacan holds a distinctly opposing view, with his structural theory of the contribution of the symbolic register and of language as an organizer of the psychic; for him, there can be no discussion of drives that does not establish a "circuit of the drive" passing through the other; using a different term from that of the object, this big Other/little other demonstrates the theoretical shift from the intrapsychic to the interpsychic. Following on from Lacan, Piera Aulagnier, with the "violence of interpretation" refers to the foundational violence that the "word-bearer" exerts over the infant and reintroduces temporality and a subject, the I, which is re-evaluated with reference to Lacan's emphasis on the subject of the unconscious to the detriment of the ego. With his theory of the child's "seduction" by the mother's "enigmatic signifiers" as the origin of psychic life, Jean Laplanche does not restrict the object's contribution to language but extends his theory to the object's drives. In a different way, Didier Anzieu returns, through his metaphor of the "skin ego," to a theory of a psychic formation based on the mother's care and cathexis that is close to Esther Bick's theory of "psychic skin."

With his concept of "fantasmatic interactions," Serge Lebovici, who took a particular interest in early mother-infant relations, provides an analytic version of the concept of interaction, which is too often influenced by objective reality. This is where Daniel Stern diverges from psychoanalysis: Although we may accept his concept of "emotional attunement," his convictions regarding a neurophysiological evidence of perception lack the subtlety of Winnicott's "created-found" and the importance of cathexis and hallucination for access to perception in Freudian theory. Let us further mention the originality of Christopher Bollas with his concept of the "transformational object": the object is identified based on what the child feels is modifying his experience of the self. Rather than being perceived as an object, the mother is experienced as a process of transformation.

For several authors, the need for the object to be inaccessible is a central focus of concern. For Jean Guillaumin, the object in psychoanalysis is postulated and targeted through the insistence of the drive but never actually given: We apprehend it as such only through our sense of that aspect of it which remains concealed to us. The rhythm of the mother's absence-presence and Winnicott's holding and handling can allow the experience of the hallucinatory satisfaction of desire theorized by Freud as an experience that establishes the drive orientation towards an object. However, the concept of the object corresponds to the experience of non-fulfillment because when it is found, attained, and mastered, it ceases to have any clinically observable psychic existence. This evident fact is irksome because it constitutes a paradox for logical thought; the nature of the total object can be described as something that necessarily includes a component of otherness that eludes the subject's control. This point is explored in more depth by Klein, who makes it the main focus of her essential reflections on the depressive position.

According to André Green, the concept of the object inevitably creates some philosophical difficulties, namely the impossibility of defining an object other than for a subject that constitutes it as an object and is constituted by it. This paradox is insurmountable. Subject and object are reciprocal terms: eliminating the object always means eliminating the libidinal subject and sexuality. According to Green, who therefore maintains the Freudian model, the object is primarily an object for the drive. However, there is an essential and constituent asymmetry between the pole of the subject (Green refers to the "ego-subject" because object and drive lead to the concept of the ego rather than of the subject) and the pole of the object in any consideration of the relationship with the other that introduces the third or "the other of the object." As concerns the link between the external object and the internal object: Whatever its indisputable reality (objective, objectal), the external object remains unknowable and it is only ever possible to work with its representatives. Psychoanalysis has nothing to say about this, unless it is by including a displacement in terms of function; if the object is described in these terms, it becomes possible to consider every process as an object.

André Green introduced the concept of the "objectalizing function": if the ego is characterized by certain appropriations of the object (incorporation, introjection, and beyond this, every form of internalization and identification), it transforms the status of the object with which it enters into a relationship, but above all it creates objects itself based on drive activity. What corresponds to the objectalizing function, an expression of the sexual drive, is its opposite and its negative: a disobjectalizing function, an expression of the death drive. Symbolization is placed here in the service of destructivity as the dramatization is transformed into an actualization. The disobjectalizing function operates to withdraw from the object the cathexes that are attached to it or even to move the object cathexes towards the narcissistic cathexes, narrowing the field of otherness.

In the United States, Otto Kernberg draws extensively on object-relations theory, which he regards as a supplement to ego-psychology and drive theory. He subscribes to Heinz Hartmann's theory that the ego defines the attitudes and intellectual processes that allow secondary-type mental activity, but there are many points of convergence between the views of this theorist, who has focused particularly on narcissistic disorders, and the European currents of psychoanalytic thought. For Kernberg, object relations are not a style of interaction with others but a mode of fantasmatic organization and a form of imaginary relationship with an object that is sustained to a greater or lesser degree by the perception of others. To the extent that every fantasmatic object relationship involves an imaginary relation between a self-representation and an object-representation, Kernberg argues that these object-relations become constituent of the personality and contribute to the person's individual development. Thus narcissism can no longer be considered simply as the return of the drive to the subject but as an internalization of a set of self-representations and representations of others that comprise intrapersonal relational systems. The general self-representation results from these partial representations; Kernberg takes up the description of the "grandiose self," a term introduced by Heinz Kohut (1974), which is concealed behind apparent signs of depression and inferiority feelings. However, whereas Kohut conceived the narcissistic organization of these patients as the result of a fixation at an archaic developmental stage of narcissism, Kernberg regards it as the result of a poor differentiation of the psychic agencies, in which the grandiose self is a cluster of idealized and internalized object-relations, poorly differentiated self-representations, and pathological representations of the ego ideal. It thus certainly entails a combined pathology of the id, ego, and superego, that is mainly due to the excessive burden of the archaic aggressive drives. In this respect, Kernberg is closer to Melanie Klein than to Kohut; he has less confidence in the reparative value of psychotherapy than in the interpretation of archaic conflicts of ambivalence.

According to Jean Guillaumin (1997), a substantial, if not interminable, amount of work remains to be done on the question of the subject and the object. The anxiety surrounding experiencing oneself as a subject and being considered as a subject, which are preconditions for subject-object differentiation, is so intense in early experiences that it can only be checked by an auto-erotism of anxiety that can very naturally develop into a form of masochism, which thus becomes a matter for sharing and communicating with others on a minimal basis of a joint denial of difference. The sharing of the subject's anxiety with two or several individuals creates silences, attacks, and complicities in lack that seem to be the most authentic form of relationship between human beings (Angélo Hesnard).

Nora Kurts

See also: Abandonment; Addiction; Alienation; Allergic object relationship; Amae, concept of; Ambivalence; Anaclisis/anaclictic; Antilibidinal ego/internal saboteur; Asthma; Autism; Bizarre object; Cathexis; Childhood; Counter-identification; Counterphobic; Cruelty; Dead mother complex; Depersonalization; Depression; Depressive position; Drive/instinct; Ego; Envy; Envy and Gratitude ; Externalization-internalization; Female sexuality; Femininity; Fetishism; Hatred; Idealization; Identification; Internal object; Libidinal stage; Lost object; Love-hate-knowledge (L/H/K links); Manic defenses; Mastery, instinct for; Maternal; Melancholia; "Mourning and Melancholia"; Narcissistic withdrawal; Object a ; Object, change of/choice of; Object relations theory; Orality; Pain; Paranoid position; Paranoid-schizoid position; Partial drive; Passion; Pictogram; Primary object; Projection; Psychosexual development; Quasi-independence; Reparation; Rivalry; Self-hatred; Self-object; Splitting; Splitting of the object; Subject; Sublimation; Substitute/substitute-formation; Symbiosis, symbiotic relationship; Symbolization, process of; Transference relationship; Transitional object; Transitional object, space; Transitional phenomena; Turning around upon the subject's own self.


Bouvet, Maurice. (1967). Œuvres psychanalytiques, t. I, La Relation d'objet: névrose obsessionnelle, dépersonnalisation. Paris: Payot.

Diatkine, René. (1989). lntroductionà une discussion sur le concept d'objet. Revue française de psychanalyse, 53, 4, p. 1037-1043.

Freud, Sigmund. (1915c). Instincts and their vicissitudes. SE, 14: 109-140.

. (1923b). The ego and the id. SE, 19: 1-66.

Green, André. (1995). La mort du moi et le destin des objets: Objet de la perversion, objet de la quiétude. In Propédeutique: La métapsychologie revisitée (pp. 279-284). Seyssel: Champ Vallon. (Orignal work published 1989)

Guillaumin, Jean. (1997). D'objet, sujet devenir. Revue française de psychanalyse, 61 (2), 497-508.

Kernberg, Otto. (1989). Narcissistic personality disorder. Philadelphia: W. B. Saunders.

Klein, Melanie. (1967). Essais de psychanalyse (M. Derrida, Trans.). Paris: Payot.

Roussillon, René. (1997). La fonction symbolisante de l'objet. Revue française de psychanalyse, 61 (2), 399-413.


views updated May 18 2018


Object is a term derived from the Latin obiectum, meaning what is thrown against and signifying anything that confronts another, generally a knowing subject. Among scholastics, the object is what specifies a knowing power or a science. see faculties of the soul; science (scientia). A distinction is commonly made between the formal object (obiectum formale ), or the aspect under which the thing is related to the knowing power or habit, and the material object (obiectum materiale ), or the thing itself abstracting from this relation; the formal object is further divided into the obiectum formale quod, or the precise aspect that is known, and the obiectum formale quo, or the way in which (or the means by which) it is known. In moral science, object is frequently used to designate the goal or purpose of human action; in this meaning it becomes synonymous with end.

Among modern thinkers, object is opposed more directly to subject and thus takes on a more epistemological connotation; its main use is to designate the content or term of knowledge. Some employ it to distinguish the content of thought from the act of thinking (L. Lavelle); others make it synonymous with the thing-in-itself as this exists independently of being known (G. Marcel). The main problem of phenomenology and of some forms of existentialism is that of bridging the gap between subject and object in the knowing process; realist philosophers provide such a bridge in the notion of intentionality (see objectivity).

Objective is a derivative of object and takes on somewhat the same connotations in different philosophical systems. In idealism, something is objective if it constitutes a proper object of thought; in realism, and in ordinary linguistic usages, a thing is objective if it is extramental and independent of the conditions imposed by the knower. Knowledge is said to be objective if it is impersonal and universally acceptable, and a person is said to be objective if he abstracts from his particular feelings, tastes, and prejudices and restricts himself to areas of common agreement. Objectivism, when used by philosophers, is opposed to subjectivism; it may be a synonym for realism or for positivism, depending on the option of the user.

See Also: epistemology; knowledge, theories of.

Bibliography: p. foulquiÉ and r. saintjean, Dictionnaire de la langue philosophique (Paris 1962) 485490. a. lalande, Vocabulaire technique et critique de la philosophie (8th ed., rev. and enl. Paris 1960) 695703. a. guzzo and v. mathieu, Enciclopedia filosofica, 4 v. (VeniceRome 1957) 3:9901002. j. m. baldwin, Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics, ed. j. hastings, 13 v. (Edinburgh 190827) 9:440441; ed., Dictionary of Philosophy and Psychology, 3 v. in 4 (New York 190105; repr. Gloucester 194957) 2:191193. r. eisler, Wöterbuch der philosophischen Begriffe, 3v. (4th ed. Berlin 192730) 2:275332.

[b. a. gendreau]


views updated May 21 2018

ob·ject • n. / ˈäbjəkt/ 1. a material thing that can be seen and touched: he was dragging a large object small objects such as shells. ∎  Philos. a thing external to the thinking mind or subject.2. a person or thing to which a specified action or feeling is directed: disease became the object of investigation. ∎  a goal or purpose: the institute was opened with the object of promoting scientific study. ∎  Gram. a noun or noun phrase governed by an active transitive verb or by a preposition. ∎  Comput. a data construct that provides a description of something that may be used by a computer (such as a processor, a peripheral, a document, or a data set) and defines its status, its method of operation, and how it interacts with other objects.• v. / əbˈjekt/ say something to express one's disapproval of or disagreement with something: [intr.] residents object to the volume of traffic | the boy's father objected that the police had arrested him unlawfully. ∎  [tr.] archaic adduce as a reason against something: Bryant objects this very circumstance to the authenticity of the Iliad.PHRASES: no object not influencing or restricting choices or decisions: a tycoon for whom money is no object.DERIVATIVES: ob·ject·less / ˈäbjəktləs/ adj.ob·jec·tor / əbˈjektər/ n.


views updated May 14 2018

object A term loosely used to describe an identifiable component of a software system or design, now more commonly applied to a component that is in some sense self-contained, having an identifiable boundary. In object-oriented design, objects are the basic components from which the model of the system to be implemented is constructed.

In object-oriented programming, the term has a more precise definition. An object is an instance of a component comprising data structures and procedures (called methods) for manipulating the structures. These methods are activated by messages sent to the object, and the interior structure of the object is entirely hidden from any other object (a property called encapsulation). Objects are derived from a template, and the collection of objects that are instances of a particular template are said to form a class. A particularly important feature is inheritance, which allows new classes to be defined in terms of existing classes, inheriting some or all of the properties of an existing class. Some systems implement multiple inheritance, which allows a class to inherit properties from more than one parent class.

See also object-oriented architecture, object-oriented language.


views updated May 23 2018

OBJECT. A major functional element in the structure of CLAUSES, present in any sentence with a transitive verb. With verbs that can have two objects, the indirect object generally refers to the recipient of what is denoted by the direct object. In I sent my bank a letter (Subject/Verb/Object/Object), my bank is the indirect object, a letter the direct object. In the equivalent I sent a letter to my bank, some grammarians regard to my bank as also an indirect object. Pronouns in any object position must take their object forms, as with I and they in Please send me them. Despite the closer position of the indirect object to the verb in I sent my bank a letter, with most verbs it is the indirect object that is more easily omitted: I sent a letter, not *I sent my bank. Exceptions include pay (You can pay me), teach (She teaches the top class), and tell (You can tell me, if you wish), where such direct objects as the money, French, and the news are omitted. In such constructions, some grammarians see the retained object as the direct object, while others see it as the indirect object.


views updated May 17 2018

object (from classL.) †objection, obstacle XIV; (from medL.) something presented to the sight or observed XIV; (gram.) XVIII. — L. objectum, sb. use of the pp. of obicere throw towards, place in front of, f. OB- + jacere throw.
So object vb. bring forward in opposition or as a charge XV; †exhibit, expose XVI. f. object-, pp. stem of L. obicere or — L. objectāre. objection XIV. — OF. or late L.; hence objectionable XVIII. objective †material; pert. to an object of consciousness XVII; (gram.) XVIII; dealing with what is external to the mind XIX. — medL. objectīvus.


views updated May 23 2018


As a verb, to take exception to something; to declare or express the belief that something is improper or illegal.

As a noun, the thing sought to be accomplished or attained; aim; purpose; intention.

One might, for example, object to the admission of particular evidence at a trial.

The object of a civil suit, for example, might be to be compensated in the form of damages for an injury incurred.