Torok and Abraham, Introjection vs. Incorporation

Building on Freud’s “Mourning and Melancholia”, “Introjection vs. Incorporation” critiques Freud and Melanie Klein by exploring the origin of “fantasy”, which they define as the opposition to reality. There are two broad ways of dealing with fantasy: Introjection is “casting inside”, the subconscious replication of attitudes or beliefs, and/or the development of metaphors to understand and deal with a loss. Incorporation is the “fantasy of nonintrojection”: the wish to incorporate the other into the self, so as not to have to deal with loss. This is tied to the “refusal to mourn” Freud notes when talking about melancholy; like incorporation is a refusal to introject loss, melancholy is a refusal of mourning.

Torok and Abraham’s project in this chapter is distinguishing between introjection and incorporation, “as we would
distinguish between metaphoric and photographic images, between the acquisition of a language as opposed to buying a dictionary”. Introjection means moving from literal to figurative loss, while incorporation refuses this and remains literal. Incorporation occurs because an object which cannot be communicated has been lost; unable to speak or name the loss, the individual can’t introject it. “Inexpressible mourning erects a secret tomb inside the subject” (130). In summary, introjection is necessary and desirable, incorporation is not. If introjection is the metaphorization of loss, incorporation is anti-metaphor; it destroys the capacity of words to be figurative.

In the second half of this essay, they move on to critiquing Freud’s argument in “Mourning and Melancholia”. Incorporation seeks to repair the ego object in the sufferer’s memory, when the object has done something horrible; as they can’t divest from this object, neither can the melancholic from their respective object, and in both cases the ego destroys itself. They argue that the only state in which incorporation can be revealed to the outsider, taken out of its “crypt”, is in manic-depression, an idea which comes from Freud. They disagree with Freud’s origin of melancholia as being in the unconscious and based on aggression towards the love-object, and are drawn instead to his imagery of melancholics hiding a wound. Melancholy only happens when the ambivalence towards the love object has no (“real”) cause, when prior to the loss things were good and there was actually no ambivalence; in a way, melancholy makes its bearer travel back to that time. Additionally, melancholy does not happen when the “crypt” is intact. It must be shaken by a hint that the loss has really happened, and then melancholy ensues. They then go on to note that the “phantom object” that exists for the melancholic does not hold aggression towards them, but loves them; preserving this (and therefore preserving the ego) becomes the highest priority.

I am continually interested in metaphors of interfacing with the world that relate to digestion, and incorporation provides another one: ” in order not to have to “swallow” a loss, we fantasize swallowing (or having swallowed) that which has been lost” (126). They give the example of a child learning to request food through language: “Introjecting a desire, a pain, a situation means channeling them through language into a communion of empty mouths. This is how the literal ingestion of foods becomes introjection when viewed figuratively” (128). Literal becomes figurative, and the loss of the mother as a permanent extension of the child is successfully dealt with. Failure to engage in language becomes the failure to introject; like Freud’s melancholic, engagement with others is key.

They go on to talk about mouth work and necrophagia (!) as ways of dealing with loss and avoiding incorporation, which it seems is to be avoided at all costs. Necrophagia is anti-incorporation because it is physically removing the possibility for incorporation, and denial of the loss, to occur: the body is gone. I am not clear why in this particular situation the absence of the body would prevent incorporation, when in others it doesn’t, but it is an interesting thought. Again, this makes me think of the disputation between the body and the worms, and makes me wonder if there are examples of medieval poetry where people think about eating their loved ones in order to make something therapeutic happen. I also think about the Cannibal of Qemer, which is concerned with preventing the injestion of people (albeit people who are not connected to the cannibal and don’t need to be introjected).

This essay was a lot more pleasing to read than Freud for me and has some stunning phrases (cryptophoria, for example, the state of having a fantasy of incorporation that turns into a psychic secret). However, I am left with the same feeling of unease at the way it speaks about the subjects of psychoanalytic therapy, maybe even moreso than with Freud.