The Psychic Life of Fragments: Splitting from Ferenczi to Klein*

Abstract

The present paper starts from the reflection that there is a curious “phenomenological gap” in psychoanalysis when it comes to processes of splitting and to describing the “life” of psychic fragments resulting from processes of splitting. In simpler terms, we are often in a position to lack a precise understanding of what is being split and how the splitting occurs. I argue that although Melanie Klein’s work is often engaged when talking of splitting (particularly through discussions on identification, projection and projective identification), there are some important phenomenological opacities in her construction. I show that by orchestrating a dialogue between Melanie Klein and Sándor Ferenczi, we arrive at a fuller and more substantive conception of psychic splitting and of the psychic life of fragments which are the result of splitting. This is even more meaningful because there are some unacknowledged genealogical connections between Ferenczian concepts and Kleinian concepts, which I here explore. While with Klein we remain in the domain of “good” and “bad” objects—polarised objects which are constantly split and projected—with Ferenczi we are able to also give an account of complicated forms of imitation producing psychic fragments and with a “dark” side of identification, which he calls “identification with the aggressor”. While attempting to take steps toward imagining a dialogue between Klein and Ferenczi, I note a certain silent “Ferenczian turn” in a late text by Melanie Klein, “On the Development of Mental Functioning”, written in 1958. In particular, I reflect on her reference to some “terrifying figures” of the psyche, which cannot be accounted for simply as the persecutory parts of the super-ego but are instead more adequately read as more enigmatic and more primitive psychic fragments, resulting from processes of splitting.

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Acknowledgement

The author would like to thank Mônica Aguiar, Stephen Frosh, Giselle Galdi, Marcel Hudon, Endre Koritar and Carlos Lannes. The writing of this article was supported through a Wellcome Trust Fellowship in the Medical Humanities (Grant 200347/Z/15/Z).

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Correspondence to Raluca Soreanu.

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Address correspondence to Raluca Soreanu, Ph.D., Department of Psychosocial Studies, School of Social Science, History and Philosophy, Birkbeck, University of London, 26 Russell Square, Room 230, Bloomsbury, London WC1B 5DQ, UK.

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Soreanu, R. The Psychic Life of Fragments: Splitting from Ferenczi to Klein*. Am J Psychoanal 78, 421–444 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1057/s11231-018-9167-0

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Keywords

  • Sándor Ferenczi
  • Melanie Klein
  • splitting
  • identification with the aggressor
  • Orpha
  • teratoma
  • terrifying figures