The Play of Missed and Mistaken Substitutes

Martin Buber

Existentialist Martin Buber taught that I-THOU relation is a healthy and fulfilling human relations and I-IT is the most destructive one. I-IT relations results in the objectification of a human being.  In several ways we find that our consumerist and the materialist society has objectified humans and reduced them to things that can be used and thrown away. Politics of today seem to be defined by the I-IT model as citizens are reduced mere voters.  This objectification of the people to a position of being only voters is further taken to a stage that seems to further reduce the person to a partial object. The voter then becomes voter of a particular party by being a follower of a religion, caste region or all of it in our society. Perhaps a detour into what has been greeted as object relations theory within the field of psychoanalysis might assist us to understand the indignities that our people suffer for being political citizens in our country.  Maybe, we require the theory of partial objects of English psychoanalyst Melenie Klein to come to some understand of the plight of a voter in our country as well as creatively and responsively generate a response to these indignities that afflict a voter in our country. 

Klein teaches that an infant sees the milk giving breast of the mother as a good object. She points out that the child reduces the mother to the milk giving breast.  This means the infant reduces the mother to a partial object. When the breast gives milk than the breast is good and when it does not give milk it is a bad.  The good breast exists when the needs of the infant are fulfilled causing feelings of love towards it while the bad breast exists when it does not satisfy the needs of the infant causing a desire to destroy it. Based on these favourable / unfavourable partial objects, the child makes the mother-other distinction. Child thus learns to distinguish her mother from the stranger. Several psychoanalysts agree that the mother-other distinction is prior to the self-mother distinction. This means our ability to see others as different precede our ability to see ourselves as different. Klein teaches that the way the infant internalizes these relationships determine how it will relate as an adult with the self and its other. The breast becomes the primordial( first, pure and the original) partial object that is being somehow substituted as good or bad depending on how it satisfies the needs of the adult all his and her life. 

Klein recognizes that the infant synthesizes the partial objects into whole and complete objects as the infant’s ego develops. But several thinkers like Deleuze encourage us to read partial objects without stable boundaries operating into our adult life. There may be several ways that may enable one to indentify the existence of partial objects in adult life. Often, it is said that the lust one may develop towards another person is located on the face, colour, shape, walk, body, sexual organs etc that may have a strong impact on the person. This means most often sexual attraction is rooted through the construction and projection of partial objects. That is, the person is not just reduced to an object but becomes a partial object.  Thus, the loved erotic object is a partial object.  Staying within this train of thought on the role of partial objects in our life, we can try to understand the difficult and complex relation of the self and its outside. Both Freud and Lacan teach that  an inner sense of a lost object drives us to find a substitutes. Klein seems to suggest the milk giving breast is the primordial lost object that we seek to substitute.

Having seen Klein’s notion of partial objects, we may be empowered to discern how we are rendered partial objects as well we also make others partial objects of our desire. In the political arena, a voter is continuously constructed as a partial object.  The politics of division based on caste, religion and region that is plaguing us for a long time is a continuous construction of partial objects that are set into a simulacrum (symbolic chain of substitutes) of conflict.   This construction of partial objects converts us into vote banks.  Indeed, the political parties seem to present to us the lost primordial object/ the milk giving breast of love and we seem to gravitate towards it without much critical reflection.  The primordial partial object being our first  love object, we mindlessly embrace that which claims to substitute it.  Thus, we can see how Hindutva politics, the politics of Goykarpon, Bhaujan politics, or even all inclusive secular politics become the substitutes for the original love object, the lost milk giving breast of our mother. Unfortunately, we mistake the substitute for the original. Maybe we need to critically access this mindless submission to substitutes.  

Staying with this discourse on the dynamics of the partial objects in politics, we may get a profound insight in the hue and cry over the article as well as the report of the fact finding committee of the Church on desecration. It appears that both our media and some sections of the political establishment construe them as partial objects.  But these partial objects are bad; they stand for the primordial bad object, the breast of the mother that does not give milk. Unfortunately, the infant within us is angry about his/ her need being not fulfilled. The sense of dissatisfaction seems to have blinded us to the fact that democracy allows each and everyone freedom of expression. We seem to have forgotten that breast that gives milk as well as the breast that does not give milk belongs to the same mother.  We have fetishized an article and report of fact finding committee and become like infants crying for milk. Although, the said article seems to be congruent with the main stream liberal discourse in the country about the ruling regime, but being given the status of a partial object, it acquired wings of being the official view of the Church, when in fact it was at best the view of an individual catholic.  The same maybe said about the report on desecration, although in this context the relation is more complex. Church is not a monolith but is catholic and hence remains open and all embracive. 


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Hypocrisy is the tribute that vice pays to virtue.

- Fr Victor Ferrao