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Steiner, J. (2013). The Ideal and the Real in Klein and Milton: Some Observations on Reading Paradise Lost. Psychoanal Q., 82(4):897-923.

(2013). Psychoanalytic Quarterly, 82(4):897-923

The Ideal and the Real in Klein and Milton: Some Observations on Reading Paradise Lost

John Steiner

Extracts from Paradise Lost (Milton 1674) are presented to illustrate some ideas of mutual interest to poets and psychoanalysts. In particular, Milton portrays the distinction between the human and the divine in terms of God's perfection and omnipotence, in contrast to man's imperfections. Recognition of this difference can open a painful gap between the self and the ideal, leading to attempts to bridge it via omnipotence. Because we imbue our objects with omnipotence, a similar gap can arise between adult and child and between patient and analyst. Klein's description of the ideal good object highlights similar issues. Both Klein and Milton present the ideal as something important to internalize as a foundation for hope, trust, and belief in goodness, and both emphasize the ideal as something that can be aspired to but not omnipotently realized. Facing this distinction requires a capacity to relinquish and mourn the loss of the good object, as well as the loss of the omnipotence that made possession of it possible.

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