From instinct to self: a psychoanalytic exploration into a Fairbairnian understanding of depression through a dialogue with my imaginary Virginia Woolf
This thesis explores a psychoanalytic understanding of depression from the perspective of Fairbairn’s object relations theory, something Fairbairn did not himself undertake. Highlighting the historical and political contexts of the development of psychoanalysis in Fairbairn’s time, I underline the marginalization of Fairbairn’s theory, which I attribute primarily to his lifelong endeavour to challenge the orthodoxy of the time: instinct theory. I chart a theoretical trajectory from the instinct theory (Freud, Klein) to object relations theory (Fairbairn), to contextualise my argument for the potential of Fairbairn’s theory. My argument aligns with Rubens’ (1994, 1998) view that an extension of Fairbairn’s theory beyond what Fairbairn himself originally proposed on the subject of depression is not only advantageous but also necessary. The Fairbairnian understanding of depression at the heart of this inquiry is illustrated through my personal engagement with psychoanalytic theory and framed by my subjective experiences and interpretations. Contending that theory requires personal voices to make sense and be relevant, I engage creatively and personally using the method of letter-writing to an imaginary companion - Virginia Woolf. The Virginia Woolf I construct and with whom I engaged in the research process is based on factual information about Virginia Woolf along with her published texts. In this process I blur the boundary between the real Woolf and my imaginary Woolf. Troubling the edge of reality and fantasy, I use the Woolf of my imagination to stage a process of getting to know Woolf personally, working to develop a trusting relationship and engaging her in a conversation about theory. My letters to Virginia Woolf trace an unfolding dialogue in which we tell and hear each other’s most intimate stories, once unthinkable and unsayable. The letters trace the transformation of my own understanding of the nature of depression, and through them I seek to establish a line of theoretical argument about depression running through the claims of Freud and Klein before turning to the Fairbairnian version of object relations theory. In so doing this thesis complicates psychoanalytic knowledge of the nature of depression, and argues that, framed in Fairbairn’s system, depression can be understood as an actively organised psychic manoeuvre to defend against changes to the endopsychic structure. In other words, and as elaborated through the letters constructed in this thesis, I argue that depression can be understood as a defence against the disintegration of a particular sense of self sponsored by internal object relationships.