The Foundations of the Psychoanalytic Theories of Freud, Klein and Bion Compared

Authored by: Michael Rustin

The Routledge International Handbook of Psychoanalysis and Philosophy

Print publication date:  November  2022
Online publication date:  November  2022

Print ISBN: 9780367276454
eBook ISBN: 9780429297076
Adobe ISBN:


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This chapter will consider the differences and continuities which characterised the development of psychoanalytic theory in the tradition initiated by Sigmund Freud and subsequently developed by Melanie Klein and W. R. Bion. It will describe the evolution of Freud’s model of the mind from one based on his early work as a neurologist, in which the accumulation and discharge of psychic energy is seen as its primary organising force, to one, following his seminal paper Mourning and Melancholia, in which a concept of the mind and its connection with others through identification with others becomes central. It will demonstrate that Klein’s model of the mind, as one shaped by its (mental) relation to what she called objects, which were unavoidably at times both loved and hated, developed from this later phase of Freud’s writing, many of whose presuppositions (e.g., the formative role of both love and hatred and of the life and death instincts) she continued to uphold. The chapter will go on to describe the way in which Bion’s work extended and deepened some of Klein’s crucial insights: for example, in his understanding of the infant-caregiver relationship in which the maternal role is to “contain” the infant’s projections of anxiety, and in this way facilitate his or her mental development, and in his development of Klein’s conception of a fundamental “epistemophilic instinct”. This became in Bion’s thinking the addition of a third fundamental disposition, an innate desire for knowledge and understanding, to set beside the innate impulses to love and hate. Finally, the chapter will note the contributions of psychoanalysts, including Ronald Britton, Michael Feldman and John Steiner, who have extended these ideas in their study of narcissistic or “borderline” states, and brought a renewed focus on the Oedipal situation in this tradition.

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