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Malcove, L. (1933). Bodily Mutilation and Learning to Eat. Psychoanal Q., 2:557-561.

(1933). Psychoanalytic Quarterly, 2:557-561

Bodily Mutilation and Learning to Eat

Lillian Malcove

The fear of being dismembered, cut to pieces, or mutilated, has a prototype in the universal experience of learning to eat. It is in this procedure that the child sees food cut into pieces, mashed, broken up, and finally eaten. For this purpose special instruments are used, such as knives, forks and spoons, and also what appear to be the very powerful hands belonging to the mother or nurse. The child thus becomes acquainted with useful weapons, which supplement the teeth, and these weapons he soon learns to manipulate himself. Since the child's thinking is at this stage animistic, the food that he cuts and eats is endowed with attributes of human life, and can therefore easily be identified with himself or other persons. One young boy, indeed, went further and animated not only his food but the dish that contained it; he pretended that the dish walked to him and offered him the food; the dish then walked away from him and made the same offer to the stove and the toilet, which he likewise endowed with life, and which were selected not accidentally but because both of them, like the mouth, possessed a capacity for destruction. The identification of the child's self with his food, originally made possible by the animistic mode of thinking, is facilitated by fairy tales, by oral caresses and endearments, and by games improvised to expedite the feeding procedure. In these games the food is represented by the adult as an entity that can wish to be eaten or wish to eat.


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