The Freud Museum


Freud's Objects

Freud’s Objects

This section contains information about some specific objects in Freud's collection. The following points should be born in mind:

(1) The word 'object' is an important one in psychoanalysis. Love objects, hate objects, phobic objects, fetish objects, internal objects, part objects and object representations – the concept of 'object' is now one of the key terms of psychoanalysis.

It was first used by Freud to describe one of the components of the sexual instinct. He says:

"Let us call the person from whom sexual attraction proceeds the sexual object and the act towards which the instinct tends the sexual aim."

Subsequently the word has been used to describe representations of significant figures (or parts of them) which the child internalises to build up his psychic structure. Mother-objects and father-objects, the 'good breast' and the 'bad breast'. Benign and nourishing 'internal objects' strengthen and support us in life, while malevolent internal objects are destructive of our sense of well-being and psychic equilibrium.

(2) In Fetishism, the object reveals another function. The sexual fetish protects the fetishist from some particular anxiety associated with sexual expression. By relating to a thing rather than a person, the fetishist puts himself 'in control'. 'Fetish' is also the word used to describe magical objects from 'primitive religions' that offer protection to the believers. They are often made of animal parts or are representations of animals.

Question: Can the Christian cross be regarded as a fetish? What about the communion wafer? What other fetishes can you think of that belong to 'modern' religions?

Can you find Freud's collection of small phallic amulets from ancient Rome in one of the cabinets in the study?

(3) Most of the objects included here are figures of one sort or another. However, there is also a collection of Egyptian and Roman glass vessels, a varied collection of jades, bowls, vases, belt hooks, table screens and so on. Freud says that classification is the first step in any scientific endeavour, and it is worth thinking about how the collection as a whole might be classified into different types of objects.

What different kinds of classification are possible?

(4) It might be tempting to separate the objects into those which appear to 'mean' something, and those which have a purely 'aesthetic' value. Visitors and students often say 'perhaps he just liked them' as the final word on the subject. Psychoanalysis does not take the notion of an ineffable 'taste' as the final arbiter on these issues. What did he like about them - the colour, form, size, texture? What other similar examples can we think of - children's toys (do you remember collecting 'My Little Ponies', 'Polly Pockets', 'Ninja Turtles' or toy soldiers?), pets (why do different people like different types of dog, for instance?), or clothes, or cars? Can we use our own feelings to think about what Freud might have felt?

(5) To reiterate the above: The relationship to an object always involves two aspects: (a) some kind of satisfaction and pleasure (Freud would say 'the satisfaction of a wish'), and (b) the warding off or mitigation of anxiety, a form of 'reassurance'. This second point is often not obvious, but think about children's interest in dinosaurs, for instance, and even children's games. The psychoanalyst DW Winnicott said:

"Whereas it is easy to see that children play for pleassure, it is much more difficult for people to see that children play to master anxiety, or to master ideas and impulses that lead to anxiety if they are not in control."

See also Freud's description of his anxiety dream about his mother dying and being carried into the room by vulture-headed figures - was his collection of antiquities an attempt to mitigate that anxiety by taking control over these terrifying figures from the past?

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