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Bollas, C. (1979). The Transformational Object. Int. J. Psycho-Anal., 60:97-107.

(1979). International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 60:97-107

The Transformational Object

Christopher Bollas


In work with certain kinds of patients in psychoanalysis who hyperbolize a particular form of object seeking, and in our analysis of certain features of western culture, I think we can isolate the trace in the adult of the earliest experience of the object. The infant's first experience of the object is as a process, rather than a thing in itself, but he perceptually identifies his experience of the object (an experience of psycho-somatic transformation) with the maternal object. For this reason I have termed the first object the transformational object, as I want to identify it with the object as process, thus linking our notion of the object with the infant's subjective knowing of it. Before the mother is personalized to the infant as a whole object she has functioned as a source of transformation,

and as the infant's own nascent subjectivity is almost completely the experience of the ego's integrations (cognitive, libidinal, affective) the first object is identified with the alterations of the ego's state. This ego experience remains as an unconscious memory in the adult who relives it through his adamant quest for a transformational object: a new partner, a different form of work, a new material acquisition, an ideology or a belief. The most vivid memory of the earliest object relation occurs in the aesthetic moment when the person feels in deep rapport with the aesthetic object. Such moments are notable for their evocation of the affective memory of the earliest object relation. It is important for psychoanalysts to understand that the psychoanalytic setting and process invites the patient to remember the earliest object relation, so that a patient's expectation that the analyst will perform a transformational function is not necessarily either a wish or a resistance to the analytic work, but may, in fact, be the patient's response to the regressive invitation of the psychoanalytic space.

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