Tag Archives: consciousness

zeigeist: hegel’s phenomenological history making

Notoriously complicated and oblique in content and form, G.F Hegel’s work on the topic of history is one that inspires much philosophical and historical curiosity. Indeed, many elements of the Hegelian phenomenological theory of history point to various conclusions on the nature of history itself, yet unlike many other models of historical interpretation it devotes itself entirely to the study of human consciousness as the sole indicator of human historical activity. As this paper elucidates, Hegel’s marriage between philosophy and history is an inexorable one; as human beings are capable of rational and retrospective thought we create an irresistible and infinite series of syntheses from the past into the present. For the most part, the assumption of moral progress, or change is expected as the typical historical outcome, yet as Hegel’s phenomenological view of history explores, the notion of human progress is but a myth: rather than evolution, human beings throughout history merely change, and create paradigmatic shifts in collective consciousness which cannot be measured by moral or any other human tools of progress.









While the study of human history may be largely viewed as an interpretive, subjective arena of study, Hegel asserts that the phenomenological reality of world history is an empirical-type reality, and the phenomenological apparatus is but the “continuum with historical consciousness,”an actuality that can be affirmed by logic. The axiom of history encompasses the development, then subsequent realization of the Spirit’s consciousness of freedom. According to Hegel, “freedom develops itself into a world and leads us directly to the phenomenon of history,” which is the fundamental relation between human consciousness and the historical realization of it as a phenomenon which transcends and lives with the Idea, or the truly essential. A philosophical approach to history is crucial in our understanding of human beings, as it emphasizes the dialectic within which forgetting, recollecting and subjugation together synthesize the totality of historical thoughts from the past into the present.

In other words, the phenomenological goal is to universally synthesize all aspects of human consciousness, regardless of their historical time and place, and to achieve a dialectical reconciliation with an ultimate form of self-consciousness and actuality.

One of Hegel’s central issues in The Phenomenology is the notion of human progress as evidenced by the process of understanding history. According to the doctrine of inevitable progress, many analyses of Hegel’s work falsely point to the conceivability of history as a strictly purposive movement forward. However, and as George Dennis O’Brien points out, the direction is dialectical and circular: “the spirit of a People is a natural individual; as such it blossoms forth, is strong, declines and dies… in the realm of the spirit there is essential change and progress.”

 This passage elucidates the distinction between natural change and the human world which is made intelligible by the dialectical process of history; for Hegel, history cannot be understood as the progress of a natural species but rather the intellectual movements within the historical process itself.

Similarly, in Van der Dussen’s analysis of Collingwood’s approach to history, Collingwood’s philosophy of history bears some dialectical resemblance with Hegel’s view of the world spirit, and the notion of moral progress. Dussen writes that “history is concerned not with ‘events’ but with ‘processes’; that ‘processes’ are things which do not begin and end but turn into one another.”

 In this way, many of the problems of history arise from the misconception that there is some form of idealism in the past which is attainable, but in actuality the past is not an objective reality – rather it is an intrinsic relation to the historian. This notion is furthered by Collingwood and Hegel’s shared idea that moral progress cannot be appropriately fleshed out by historical thought as it pertains to an idealistic, ethical outlook on human nature. Dussen notes the similarity between Hegel and Collingwood on this matter and writes that “societal progress is associated with institutional progress… Part of our moral life consists of coping with problems arising not out of our animal nature but out of our social institutions, and these are historical things, which create moral problems only in so far as they are already the expression of moral ideals.”

 Rather than looking to history as a documentation of human moral evolution, Hegel and Collingwood’s theory of history as a process illustrates the point of contingency in relation to matters of morality; as new ideas of morality replace the old it is impossible to pass judgement on the common consciousness and belief system which held the old beliefs in place. 

Futhermore, the Collingwoodian view of memory supports Hegel’s dialectical philosophy of world history as he argues that history has an implicitly synthetical structure consisting in memory, freedom, and knowledge. While many historical textbooks may focus on specific events, dates, or places of historical interest, Hegel’s view of history as an organic, dialectical synthesis of the past and present is a far more convincing model of our pluralistic universe. Collingwood shares this view of the synthesis of human intellect, as Dussen points out that an historical series is much like Hegel’s dialectic: “For mind in general… this accumulation is called experience; for consciousness, it is called memory; for a social unity, it is called tradition; for knowledge, it is called history.”

 One should note that the use of the word ‘mind’ is interchangeable with ‘spirit’ – a concept which both writers allude to heavily in the discussion of historical process and progress. In other words, the historical process of accumulating world spirit and past ideas is fundamental in our pursuit of understanding our present historical stage, as the present is dialectically contingent on the ideas and past historical memory. Van der Dussen illustrates this point very clearly by making the philosophical links between Collingwood’s views on human progress as an unattainable ideal notion through history with Hegel’s conception of the dialectic as a medium of recollecting past knowledge in order to further our understanding of the present.

According to Hegel, this may be established through a collective synthesis of iconoclastic, revolutionary or widespread dogmas which typify historical epochs. As O’Brien succinctly writes: “the passion which moves history is a passion to possess the freedom of others…. sprit – self-consciousness – reason.”

 Since history is highly reflexive, individual, and dependent on self-consciousness, Hegel believes that this can be realized as zeigeist, or the spirit of the time. Zeitgeist is essentially an anthropomorphic construction of a world historical individual: culture heroes who impress their passion, individuality and ideas upon a society. According to Hegel, only these people possess the passion to inspire historical revolution and change, and eventually influence the structure of the State, which is the object of world history. Hegel describes how the historical world individual fits into the dialectic of the historical process which in turn clarifies the object of history itself. The interest of Reason in its absolute form, compounded by passion and self-reflexivity altogether create the organic totality which is the sum of zeigeist: “the product of the world historical individual is in turn something uniquely individual: a people… the aim of history, the end of historical making is the spiritual individual… the definite object of world history proper.”

 Thus while a clear understanding of contemporary views of human nature are imperative within the historical dialectic which Hegel puts forth, it does not necessitate some conception of progress of moral evaluation as part of the historical process in turn. Rather than witnessing the historical process as some evolutionary transformation, Hegel’s dialectic posits a view of this process as one which is based on human understanding and cyclical-type shifts in collective thought.

John H. Nota disagrees very strongly with this assertion, and claims that Hegel’s view of history is based on a purely rational conception of human progress. While the general form of the dialectic is thesis-antithesis-synthesis, Nota claims that the world spirit can only be realized within this dialectic if and only if “strife” exists. He explains that zeigeist reacts to a “preman,” or some form of adversity, and only this conflict can substantiate the dialectic in order to realize the “being-in-and-for-itself of the spirit in complete freedom.”

 While Nota clearly explains the historical process and mechanisms of the historical dialectic, the claim that strife is a necessary condition is unnecessary. While the master-slave dialectic has been appropriated by Marxist, materialistic interpretations, Hegel’s historical dialectic differs because it is based on the process, not the actuality of historical knowledge. In other words, it is the being-in-and-for-itself of the spirit which actualizes history, not an actual historical event.

Similarly, Hegel’s notion of the historical world individual indifferently refers to the the Idea which is determined as freedom, or the Idea of freedom. Joseph McCarney invokes a similar idea in relation to the mechanics of the historical dialectic, but asserts that the same strife which perpetuates the machine of history. Using an analogous metaphor of building a house, McCarney discusses the scope of cunning of reason which the world historical individual embodies. He writes that the historical dialectic of reason, passion and change is the same active process of house-building, in that the cunning of reason in relation to the Idea of freedom is to create “as much darkness as light,”

 which suggests the notion of an independent, purposive, and transcendent subject in relation to history. Such is the role of freedom, according to Hegel, as it is the freedom of the world historical individual who relates the Idea and passions which in turn influences and modifies the spirit of the people. 

However, one should note that Hegel’s conception of freedom is far more complicated and vast in scope, particularly in relation to the topic of world history. At a causal level, Hegel’s notion of freedom in relation to history is falsely construed; if history is non-empirical and deterministic according to the inevitable forces of the dialect, then it logically follows that freedom is not purely metaphysical either. While physical laws may necessarily exist, the history of human beings is restricted to an epistemological, strictly mind-related study. On the other hand, Hegel’s interest in the dialectic and the role of the zeitgeist is arguably the negation of such supposed freedom: “the great events, the major social changes… they are caused and indeed necessitated; they are the effects of vast impersonal forces in the face of which the individual is powerless.”

 While Hegel’s conception of freedom ostensibly offers an alternative solution to the problems of human beings existing in an universe governed by necessary laws, there is a contradiction within this very notion of freedom and its relation to the world historical individual, as it appears as if these fluxes for historical change are inevitable socializing forces. 

Daniel Berthold-Bond makes a similar complaint, and asserts that Hegel’s dialectic necessarily lends itself to a cosmological, eschatological end of the world. This is realized by his interpretation of the dialectic as a self-referential model of progress, where the end of one age signifies the beginning of another epoch in world history. He sets up this argument by establishing what he considers to be a significant point of ambiguity within Hegel’s notion of the end product of the dialectic. While Hegel alludes to a grand scheme of self-realization, self-actualization and the reconciliation of the world’s spirit through the synthesis of the past and the present, Berthold-Bond notes that this idea suggests a final end, a conclusion or completion in history. He describes how Christian times are emblematic of this relation between the dialectic and its end, and claims that the meaning of world history becomes fulfilled against itself, embodied by Jesus himself. The following passage reveals Berthold-Bond’s position entirely, and is worth quoting at length:

“…there is no historical hope for man, but that the redemption and salvation of man will occur at the End of history, or “beyond history” – that Hegel’s vision of the consummation of the Christian telos departs. For Hegel, God’s revelation is intrinsically historical. Hence “the history of the world,… the process of development and realization of spirit, is the true theodicy, the justification of God in history… He is manifest and revealed in the course of human history.”


In his phenomenology, Hegel refers to the Idea of history as some realm of truth whereby the spirit of history is self-recognized within its own dialectical existence, yet Berthold-Bond interprets this as a moment in time “where spirit has fulfilled its eschatological design: the realization of its freedom and the attainment of its complete knowledge of itself.”

 It is worth noting that this Christian perspective of the Hegelian historical dialectic does bear considerable resemblance with the reconciliation of history with its absolute self- knowledge, the overcoming of alienation, and the general concept of attaining an ideal.

However, while Berthold-Bond aptly points out an ambiguity central to Hegel’s historical doctrine, one should note the very obvious problem in his interpretation of Hegel’s ‘end.’ The  religious perspective is not compatible with the Hegelian concept that history eventually reconciles with the Idea, whose end goal is not directed at a reconciliation with God, but something more anthropocentric and secular, and divinely intellectual. The self-realization of the historical dialectic and its existential significance is quite a departure from Berthold-Bond’s eschatological interpretation: he views the Idea as the end of human civilization, where the realization of God dismantles the entirety of our hopeless history of the world. In other words, he assimilates the concept of zeitgeist as a consummation of the infinite end of knowledge of the world with some type of prophesied armageddon. This is quite different from the Hegelian view of knowledge, as he claims that “Without Thought [history] has no objectivity; thought is its fundamental definition. The highest point of a people’s development is the rational consciousness of its life.”

 From a phenomenological perspective, Berthold-Bond’s  interpretation is but a mere misunderstanding; Hegel has no visions of the end of the world, but rather a view of history which eventually attains a level of self-comprehension powerful enough to sum up the truth of the world’s spirit. 

Thus, the ultimate goal of history irrevocably points to the development of human consciousness, but not in a progressional or evolutionary way. Michael Forster supports this assertion in his study of Hegel’s reason in history, pushing the notion that different shapes or species of consciousness that contain distinctive “interdependent conceptions and concepts of self, objectivity, representation” emerge from the activity of the dialect and becomes characteristic of a particular period of human history. While philosophy may gravitate towards an epistemological or metaphysical analysis of the reasons why  beliefs, values, and our general understanding of the universe changes in time, history is the literal representation and source of explanation for these changing forms. As Hegel’s phenomenological view of history suggests, historicity itself is a grand, threefold process of dialectical activity whereby an understanding of world history can only be accomplished through the sensitivity of historical self-consciousness. Consciousness, self-consciousness and reason as primary elements of the historical dialect are not a progressive succession, rather they are atemporal and exist within all historical epochs but as different modes of zeitgeist. Since history is evidential of these changes in the species of consciousness, Forster convincingly states that history and philosophy share the same “cognitive talents” which are crucial in our understanding of our perpetually dialectical shifts in consciousness.

Another alternative interpretation of the primal elements of the triadic dialectic that is put forth advocates the hermeneutical aspect of Hegel’s philosophy. Gallagher writes that “human consciousness consistently forgets what it has learned on the basis of its historical experience,”

 insisting that forgetfulness, oblivion and recollection is the actual realized triadic historical process.  In his phenomenology, Hegel often actualizes the synthesis of two opposites within dialectical structures, emphasizing the overturning and defeat of the two which perpetually seek to maintain this cyclical, eternal motion. It is interesting to note that from the hermeneutical perspective, the word being (sein) is embedded within German word for consciousness (bewubtsein), indicating the dialectically inherent relationship between the subject and object of language which is the only means to historical communication, and the process of becoming throughout historical self-consciousness. Hegel writes that the goal of history is the same goal of self-realizing consciousness: “finally, when consciousness itself grasps its own essence, it will signify the nature of absolutely knowledge itself.”

 This, he claims, is the result of language and the intrinsic temporality and slipperiness it possesses. Zeigeist moves in this way as well – as the shape of consciousness adapts there is a need to cogitate, conceptualize, re-cognize – and so forth. 

Thus it is clear that the relationship between philosophy and history as a means to analyzing the course of human consciousness is by no means a simple one. As posited by Hegel’s phenomenological account of consciousness and its historical nature, the triad that synthesizes consciousness, self-consciousness and reason is the same apparatus that universalizes the totality of historical thoughts from the past within the present. This is but one outlook on the philosophy of history, and while it is advantageous in universalizing the totality of history through syntheses which induction fails to grasp at, it is an interested place to further the discussion of the relation between the nature of history and the philosophical process. 

Works Cited:



Barnard, F.M. Reason and Re-Enactment in History and Politics: Themes and Voices of Modernity. Québec: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2006.

Forster, Michael N. Hegel’s Idea of a Phenomenology of Spirit. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1998.

Fulbrook, Mary. Historical Theory. London: Routledge, 2002.

Gallagher, Shaun. Hegel, History and Interpretation. New York: State University of New York Press, 1997.

Hegel, G.W.F. Phenomenology of Spirit. Trans. A.V. Miller. Oxford University Press, 1977.

Hegel, G.W.F. Reason in History: A General Introduction to the Philosophy of History. Translator, Robert S. Hartman. New Jersey: Prentice-Hall Inc., 1997.

Inwood, Michael. Hegel. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1985.

McCarney, Joseph. Routledge Philosophy GuideBook to Hegel on History. London: Routledge Press, 2000.

Nota, John H. Phenomenology and History. Chicago: Loyola University Press, 1967.


O’Brien, George Dennis. Hegel on Reason and History: A Contemporary Interpretation. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1975.

Berthold-Bond, Daniel. “Hegel’s Eschatological Vision: Does History Have a Future?” History and Theory. Vol. 26. (February 1988): pp. 14-29

Van der Dussen, W.Jan. “Collingwood and the Idea of Progress” History and Theory. Vol 29. (1990): pp. 21-41


Death, Violence, and Melancholy: A Klenian Analysis of Loss in Kafka’s The Metamorphosis and Proust’s “The Intermittencies of the Heart”

In many human relationships, the emotional and psychological consequences of loss are extremely poignant. Much like psychoanalytic texts attempt to define the parameters of human emotion in the realm of loss, literature often portrays the subtle analysis of this delicate component of the human condition. In Marcel Proust’s work “The Intermittencies of the Heart,” the loss of a loved one encourages introspective action in regards to the specific components of loss which are most painfully felt, in the forms of recollection and involuntary memories. On the other hand, Franz Kafka explores the violence and indifference of a disease overcoming the emotions of conventional mourning in his work The Metamorphosis. Although the spectrum of affects as a result of loss are distinctly varied in the two works, they share many similarities with Melanie Klein’s theory of the depressive position, and the fear of loss which is embedded in every relationship. Ultimately, Proust and Kafka highlight many of the essential tenets of Klein’s psychoanalytic theory as the underlying forces behind each varied reaction to loss.

Melanie Klein’s methodological account of the depressive position is a complex theory which analyses human relationships based on the fundamental rift between external and internal objects. In mature relationships, Klein asserts that depressive anxiety stems from “generous and altruistic feelings that are devoted to the well-being of the object,”1 yet this is attained through a characteristic process of projective identification, the splitting of the object, and the partial idealization of the divided parts of the individual. 

The concept of projective identification is the Freudian idea that in some cases, the process of self-identification is based on projection and introjection of the other. Although Klein references the infant and mother relationship as the impetus for the depressive position, these psychoanalytic phenomena occur in the adult characters created by both Kafka and Proust, which will be discussed shortly. Since the child depends on the mother’s breast for milk, and therefore survival, the breast is separated from the mother, and the splitting process has begun. According to Klein, there is a critical shift in the consciousness of the individual when they convince themselves that their mother is not the perfect, benevolent being they believed her to be, but rather a imperfect object. By this reasoning, hostile affects are produced, since the child now struggles with the goal of unifying the opposing qualities of their mother as a whole object.

Much of the hostility that resonates in Kafka’s The Metamorphosis is due to this fundamental rift between the internal and external conceptions of Gregor, and his family’s projections which no longer apply to their son. Since Gregor does not look like himself, but rather is trapped within the body of a large insect, the act of projection is a futile endeavor, since the internal and the external realms are confused. In this way, Kafka disguises the reality of loss by creating a graduated version of it; Gregor is still himself, but is found in the body of another being. For this reason, the family no longer sees Gregor as the whole object, but an imperfect one. Eventually, the transformation is so extensive that they treat his condition as a fatal disease, and react to the loss accordingly.

The theory of object relations is an equally integral analysis of the subconscious in which Kafka and Proust highlight, as both characters experience a similar analysis of internal and external parts from which projection and introjection react against. According to the Kleinian doctrine of the depressive position, concern for internal objects which are interjected into the ego of the individual gives rise to the anxiety they are susceptible to – the fear of the loss of the external object. In other words, external objects are subsumed internally by the individual who then “play[s] with these figures inside”2  themselves, creating a situation where they have introjected certain characteristics, or ideals of the person with whom they share a relationship. The individual feels emotionally invested and even dependent on the external object, because of the internalized values they have brought within themselves.

Although this idea is derived from Klein’s speculations of how the ordinary infant both despises and adores the mother’s breast from which he is fed, the depressive position maintains credibility in mature relationships as well. The argument that depressive anxiety stems from the fear “lest objects should die” is an extremely convincing tenet of Klein’s psychoanalytic theory, and is cogent in this investigation of the effects of loss in literary situations.

In Proust’s work, the pain of loss as a result of the influence of introjection are very clearly seen. The protagonist does not mourn for the pain his grandmother felt from her sickness, but instead is bombarded by the pain of his own loss. This is largely due to the introjection of his grandmother within himself, instilling the memory of her –  the object of his loss. He admits to the reader that he “clung to the minute in which my grandmother had stooped over me. The self that I then was, that had disappeared for so long.”3 

From this simple phrase, it can be argued that the introjection of his grandmother’s memory is an idealized internalization of not only his grandmother, but another version of himself which the memory invokes. In this way, the affect of mourning is triggered and maintained by the loss of the external object within the character’s ego, because his grandmother’s absence is directly linked to the internalization of her memory.

The balance of projection and introjection, then, is proceeded by the stage when the “ego maintains separation of the good and the bad in the object and in itself.”4 This is a dialectical idea which encourages the unification of the good and the bad objects within a relationship, to view the other as a whole object, not in parts. For our character in Balbec, the glimpses of his grandmother and the recollections he has does not seem to fit this psychoanalytic template perfectly. Rather than viewing his grandmother as a whole object, he remembers her imperfectly and incompletely, although his “involuntary recollection” is precise and detailed. For example, when bending over to remove his boots, he suddenly remembers her “tender, preoccupied, disappointed face,”5 and then elaborates on the pain of his sudden realization of loss. 

Since the act of bending over to untie his boots provoked this recollection, Proust seems to suggest that there is a vicarious element to the art of mourning the death of a loved one. The Kleinian analysis of the effects of loss also agrees with this interpretation, since by definition the process of introjection and projection are extremely self-centered and self-engendered tendencies. This is very evident in Proust’s work, when the character admits that he only truly remembered his grandmother through his own pain,6 using his own, introjected ideals of his grandmother within himself. Similarly, he notes that “the dead exist only in us, it is ourselves that we strike without respite when we persist in recalling blows that we have dealt them.”7 This honest confession truly brings the depressive position into light, since our character reflects the same form of anxiety and pain in not being able to recall the memory of his grandmother as a whole object, but rather as an external object which he has introjected.

On the other hand, Kafka adopts a slightly different approach in his analysis of the role of introjection. For the Samsa family, Gregor’s transformation is handled like a debilitating disease which afflicts the family as a whole, and Kafka illustrates the disease at absurd lengths. By depicting the sick Gregor as a giant insect, different affects are produced than the tender, sentimental aches for Proust’s recollected grandmother. Rather than this alternative reaction to the loss of a loved one, Gregor’s family ostensibly becomes increasingly removed from the process of projective identification, since they no longer recognize him. According to Klein, the relationship between Gregor and his family exemplifies the destruction of the whole-object relationship, since “the good object that is lost is the internal object,”8 and Gregor no longer has the appearance of the internal object he once represented. Instead, the family reacts violently and without hope of recovery, because they are no longer able to identify him as a whole object within which they may project themselves into. For Kafka, the loss of Gregor is incomplete, since his family is unable to mourn accordingly by introjecting, and thus identifying with the “lost actual person,”9  because of the fundamental incongruity between the appearance the reality of Gregor’s body and personality.

For Proust, the recollection of the late grandmother recalls the questionable appearance and reality of a ‘phantasm’ –  awakening from a receding dream. Similarly to the dynamics between Klein’s definitions of phantasy versus fantasy, these transcendental qualities found in both Kafka and Proust’s works, particularly in relation to the temporal framework that each text deals with. While Klein asserts that “unconscious phantasies” can result in violence and aggression, Kafka and Proust yield different affects. 

For Kafka, the phantasy is grounded in the surrealist representation of Gregor’s dreaming and waking sequences; nearly all of Gregor’s transformations occur in his sleep. His reactions to his physical changes are manifested in his consciousness, which plays out like a fantasy in the narrative.  For example, Gregor’s initial reaction to his metamorphosis does not immediately yield aggressive or violent affects, but rather involve the bewilderment of his new body, and his concern to return to work. While Gregor does not react according to the Kleinian description of the unconscious phantasy, his actions and adamant obligations to work “all the more harder and diligently”10 appear to have the texture of surrealist, dreamlike fantasies.

On the other hand, the fantastical aspects of Proust’s work are highlighted by the complex narrative, and the manipulation of time. More specifically, the speaker relates all of the events of his visit to Balbec using a nexus between a distal account of the past, and his consciousness of the proximal events which he relates in past tense. The layering of memory upon memory structurally reinforces the Kleinian interpretation of the work, since the arrangement suggests a similar structure to the relationship amongst object relations. In other words, the constant building up of recollection, integrated into the narrative of the text is very similar to the notion of viewing things not as a whole, but in parts.

In many ways, Gregor’s body as the metamorphosis in the physical sense may be directly paralleled to the Kleinian schema of splitting and introjection. Furthermore, the physical aspects of Gregor’s metamorphosis may be considered literal applications of  Klein’s theory of projective identification. Rather than an inherent hostility towards the physical changes of his body, Gregor’s quiet and introspective fascination with his new body thematically represents “the metamorphosis” as  the developing ego which divides the unity of the individual. In other words, the changes in his body reflect the philosophical question of the duality of the body and the mind; Gregor evaluates the newfound changes with curiosity, as his metamorphosis bleeds together the realms of the internal and external objects of his new existence. For example, Gregor awakes at twilight and assesses his situation in an objective, unemotional tone: “still groping with his antennas, which he was only now learning to appreciate… he actually had to limp on his two rows of legs.”11 The deadpan, factual tone which Gregor adopts metaphorically represents the Kleinian doctrine of splitting – of Gregor from his own body. In this way, Gregor’s ego is in the process of dividing, but this division is made literal in view of the Kleinian interpretory framework.

According to Klein, the act of splitting, particularly involving the ego, can require support from projection and introjection, and can result in a character who is “depleted and rendered limp.”12 This is seen very clearly in Gregor’s attitudes towards his new body, which he eventually accepts as his own. As mentioned before, the split between his body and his mind is of fundamental significance, as it represents the conscious divide between the internal and external components of his identity. However, the lack of substantial changes in Gregor’s personality throughout the story reinforces the importance of the body in terms of self-identification, and the projected ideals of his character onto the expectations of his family. Before consuming his first meal of garbage, Gregor ponders whether or not he has become “less sensitive,”13 which directly relates to Klein’s theory that a divided character questions themselves due to the splitting of the ego. In this way, Gregor himself sees the problem in this division. While he still maintains the personality he has always had, the appearance does not support the reality of his new body.

While Gregor may be adapting to his new body without any apparent changes in his personality, the process of projective identification occurs through his family’s reaction of his metamorphosis. The violence and aggression are clearly exhibited by his family members, particularly the father, who are attempting to reconcile their idealized projections of Gregor, which fundamentally clashes with the reality of his newfound physical body. Although Kafka takes a very surrealistic path to explicate the possible reactions to loss, both writers appear to agree with Klein’s conditions for the depressive position in general, and the reality of introjections.

A similar account of clashing projections in the face of loss is also explored by our character in Balbec, who now realizes and understands his grandmother’s actions prior to her death. Once disappointed by her vanity in posing for a photograph, he now perceives the significance of this memory. While Gregor’s family loses hope of his recovery and acts out with threats and avoidance, the protagonist in Proust’s story mourns for the fact that he does not have the ability to ease the pain of the suffering she felt prior to her demise. In this way, Proust highlights one alternative to the process of mourning: “more than the sufferers’ own consciousness of their pain, they bring blind to that tragedy of their existence which pity sees.”14 In this way, both alternatives to the question of reparation are surfaced to the forefront. While Gregor’s family may represent the superego driving the subject through threats and punishment, Proust illustrates the concern to repair the loss of the object as “an act of love out of sadness.”15 

While Klein maintains that aggression is the conventional manifestation of the concern for the loss of an introjected object, Herr Samsa ostensibly reflects this in a way that is both repulsive and intriguing. Gregor notes that from the first day of his transformation, his family no longer cared for him in the usual warm manner, but would “only tolerate”16 him. More evident reactions to Gregor’s transformation are his father’s violent acts of discipline, which illustrate the potential for violence after the loss of a loved one. For Kafka, the apple which rots in Gregor’s back serves as the metaphorical representation for the painful affects created by both introjective and projective acts. Since Gregor no longer appears to be son he once was, the father feels a sense of loss. The apple itself represents the pain of failed projections; the father has now assumed the role of provider, and Gregor is now devoid of any significance to the family. 

Thus the relation between human beings and the suffering caused by the loss of a loved one vary because the range of emotions produced can be either aggressive or tender. As Kafka’s story is interpreted in the Kleinian psychoanalytic tradition of object relations, the object of loss is mediated by aggression and punishment, whereas Proust illustrates the sadness and vicariousness associated with the death of a loved one. Despite the different affects produced from loss, both writers examine the complexity of object relations, and the fear of loss which infiltrates the psychic reality of every individual, resulting in either hostility or a profound melancholy which can never be fully resolved.


Works Cited:

R.D Hinshelwood, “Depressive Position.” In A Dictionary of Kleinian Thought (Free Association Books, 1989)

Hinshelwood, Robert and  Robinson, Susan. Introducing Melanie Klein. Cambridge: Icon Books UK, 1997.

Kafka, Franz. The Metamorphosis and Other Stories. Translator, Donna Freed. New York: Barnes & Noble Classics, 2003.

Proust, Marcel, “The Intermittencies of the Heart.” In Sodom and Gomorrah, volume IV of In Search of Lost Time (Modern Library, 1999). Translated by C.K. Scott Moncrieff and Terence Kilmarin, revised by D.J. Enright.