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Bronstein, A.A. (1992). The Fetish, Transitional Objects, and Illusion. Psychoanal. Rev., 79(2):239-260.

(1992). Psychoanalytic Review, 79(2):239-260

The Fetish, Transitional Objects, and Illusion

Abbot A. Bronstein, Ph.D.

In 1905, Sigmund Freud described in Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality how “No other variation of the sexual instinct that borders on the pathological can lay so much claim to our interest as [fetishism]” (p. 153). Freud returned on numerous occasions to the problems of fetishistic behavior in his writings—but most significantly in 1927 in his article, “Fetishism,” and again in 1938 in his brief and remarkable paper, “Splitting of the Ego in the Process of Defense.”

In 1951, D. W. Winnicott presented a paper called “Transitional Objects and Transitional Phenomena” to the British Psychoanalytical Society that was destined to become a classic in psychoanalytic literature. Like the topic of fetishes, that of transitional phenomena has been developed and elaborated by many writers in the last four decades, and the concept itself has become central in our thinking about child development as well as clinical practice.

In this paper, I shall discuss some relationships between these two concepts and the clinically observable phenomena linked to them. I will focus particularly on: (1) the role of the mother in the genesis of the infantile and childhood fetish that may evolve into an adult fetish; (2) the relationship of the infantile fetish to transitional objects and transitional phenomena; and (3) the connection between fetishes, transitional phenomena, and illusion, metaphor, and symbol formation in childhood.

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