Table of Contents
We are excited to join you in reflecting on the issues of loss, mourning, and transformation. These topics hold some of the most profound and basic issues that we as humans face: issues of existence and non-existence, life and death, love and loss, human and clinical limitations. Analytic wisdom on facing and dealing with all losses (developmental steps, transitions, separations, relationship endings, injury, illness, aging, termination, and death) is rich and varied. Some of the most moving ideas about what is helpful and mutative involve the processes of interpretation, internalization, transformation, and creation. A relatively recent ontological shift reflects a fundamental commitment to the principle of being and becoming in the experience rather than epistemological exploration.
When you engage with each article, try to let yourself float into the experience the words, stories, and images spark in you. What dreams (night or day) do they engender? What pictures form in your mind? What movies, songs, poems do they call forth? What associations? Personal memories? Anything goes. Please jot down (or hold in your mind) a few of your associations. We have only assigned one article, except in the last meeting where the two articles form a whole. We’d rather we go deep and free with one paper than two.
We’d like to try to create a space for us to inch our way into what each of us feels and thinks about losses: how to best accept them, endure them, learn from them, grow from them. What, in your bones, do you feel is mutative? We would prefer, rather than a heady conversation about theory X or Y, that we ground ourselves in what each of us believes from our personal experience, our own self-reflections and analysis, clinical work, observation, these readings and our discussion. Instead of 11 individual weeks, allow yourself to think about this course as an 11-week experience. Where you start may not be where you end. How do issues of loss mingle with those of existence/nonexistence, love, and our limitations? How you felt about a reading/loss/and experience initially may shift with time and reflection and the group process. Hold on to your thoughts and feelings over time and allow yourself to revisit them as we move through the course. A reading from the first week does not have to live only in the first week. There is a musical technique where an artist loops music by recording over existing sounds without erasing them. This can lend to a beautiful layered sound. Allow yourself to loop over not only yourself but the sounds of others.
Let’s see what wisdom our individual and group unconscious sheds on these existential issues. What emotional threads emerge and carry through? How has it been to be learning from one another? What role are your taking up in this seminar? What role would you like to take? How have you taken in one another and this learning? Where do you want to go? And how do you sit with it with someone other than one’s own race, culture, background, privilege?
One major issue we’d like us to wrestle with is the question of the relative merits of epistemic knowledge and experiential knowledge in contributing to a transformative experience and a life of revelation. The philosopher L. A. Paul (2014) writes, “… Experiences, as I shall discuss them, have two ways of being transformative. They can be epistemically transformative, giving you new information in virtue of your experience. And they can be personally transformative, changing how you experience being who you are. Some experiences may be epistemically transformative while not being personally transformative, like tasting a durian for the first time. Some experiences may be personally transformative without being epistemically transformative.” (p.17)
“In a situation of transformative choice, if we chose to have the transformative experience, we simply don’t know enough about what our lived experience will be like afterwards. We lack the ability to assign subjective values to the outcomes of the act and to determine how our preferences might evolve. This has philosophical and practical implications for the way we live our lives, for as individuals who want to live rational, authentic lives, we are forced to confront the existential implications of our epistemic limitations. (p.177)
… “resolving the problems raised by transformative experience also involved valuing experience for its own sake, that is, for the revelation it brings. (p. 178)
“When we choose to have a transformative experience, we choose to discover its intrinsic experiential nature, whether that discovery involves joy, fear, peacefulness, happiness, fulfillment, sadness, anxiety, suffering, or pleasure, or some complex mixture thereof. If we choose to have the transformative experience, we also choose to create and discover new preferences, that is, to experience the way our preferences will evolve, and often, the in the process, to create and discover a new self. On the other hand, if we reject revelation, we choose the status quo, affirming our current life and lived experience. A life lived rationally and authentically, then, as each big decision is encountered, involves deciding whether or how to make a discovery about who you will become. If revelation comes from experience, independently of the (first-order) pleasure or pain of the experience, there can be value in discovering how one’s preferences and lived experience develop, simply for what such experience teaches. One of the most important games of life, then, is the game of Revelation, a game played for the sake of play itself. “(178)
Brief Tour through History
Freud’s paper, “Mourning and Melancholia,” (1917), Standard Edition, 14, 237-258 is, of course, the classic analytic paper on loss. Greatly oversimplifying, if one can mourn a loss and take the “shadow of the object” into one without self-reproach, one can avoid melancholia, depression.
As is Freud’s “Mourning and Melancholia,” Melanie Klein’s paper “Mourning and its Relation to Manic-Depressive States” is another classic paper. She explores the re-visiting of mourning each time a person experiences grief with the ensuing increase in one’s ability to trust one’s capacity to love, make reparations, and move from a position of hatred and paranoia.
Several authors update these seminal theories into a broader cultural context.
Lara Sheehi believes that a truly anti-oppressive psychoanalysis begins with Fanon, rather than Freud. Fanon, in Black Skins White Masks (1952), posits the goal is to mentalize one’s blackness without recourse to seeing oneself through white eyes. In other words, he calls for the shedding or loss of identifying oneself against a standard of whiteness. His solution was for Blacks to reject both subjugated and sadistic activity and become agents. The disasters for Blacks, then were symptoms from their enslavement; for whites, their killing their fellow man. Quoting Fanon, from Black Skins White Masks, he writes,
Why not the quite simple attempt to touch the other, to feel the other, to explain the other to myself?
Why was my freedom not given to me then in order to build the world of the You?
At the conclusion of this study, I want the world to recognize, with me, the open door of every consciousness.
My final prayer: O my body, make of me always a man who questions!” (pp.180-181).
In The Wretched of the Earth (1963) Fanon, in a move from loss, disidentification, and mediation, calls for a transformative or an emancipatory process via a reversal, a decolonization, a rejection of oppression and inevitable, rising up against violence and subjugation.
Weaving in critical race theory and building upon Freud’s and other’s conceptions of mourning and melancholia, David Eng and Shinhee Han (2019) explore what they describe as processes of racial melancholia and racial dissociation in U.S. society. Immigration, assimilation, and racialization all involve losses that are not just difficult to mourn but often socially disavowed. They contend that these dynamics are often reproduced and reenacted in the consulting room. Asian Americans either as invisible or as “model minorities,” others erased.
Ashlee Willox does for the environment what Eng and Han do for issues of immigration, assimilation, and racialization.
Still other authors braid these ideas about mourning, loss, culturally and environmentally sensitive psychoanalysis into ideas about grief, reparation, epistemological and experiential knowing, love, transformation, the ineffable, what some might call the Godhead.
Arc of the Seminar
In week one we will begin by looking at the origins of grief, its relationship to disillusioned hope and love, shame, and counterproductive defenses against hope preventing mourning. In week two we will turn to the ubiquity of grief as an ever-present companion made manifest in death. In week three we will see how to move from the loss of an actual object to the realm of the presence of the possible object. In week four we will explore grieving while Black. Week five takes up white resistance to grieving and reparations in a compelling history of chattel slavery and white’s defenses against looking at our responsibility. To some extent we might conjecture that in many respects this country and psychoanalysis find their respective origins in trauma and traumatizing. Looking at the criticality of guilt, mourning, and reparation in trauma for the achievement of a true love relationship will occupy us in week six. In week seven we explore the incalculability of endings. In an about face in week seven, the way we are moving in this country and the world now also portends the calculability of our damage to the environment and looking at ungrieveable losses. In week eight, perhaps defensively, we have positioned ourselves to contemplate the profound ontological effects of deep at-one-ment between patient and analyst with the unthinkable. In week ten we try to grapple with the possibility of an emotional truth or ultimate reality or Godhead existing beyond human consciousness. In our final session we look at how we might reach such a state.
- To challenge and expand beyond the original formulation of mourning and melancholia and evaluate how these concepts enter into the world at large especially through race and other realms of marginalization, naming two conceptual changes and two clinical manifestations of them
- To name two ways loss is related to development, love, vulnerability, reparation
- To name one aspect of our own defense against loss and cite several other defenses we have seen in the people with whom we work
- To articulate several aspects of our vulnerability working with loss and endings
- To describe your idea of the arc of ideas and experiences of what is mutative in facing loss and endings
- To name three new pieces of information about various aspects of loss, including the experience of loss and change in diverse populations
- To discern the critical differences between epistemological and ontological knowing and articulate how this enters into our work
- To develop and articulate one’s own idea of what is not only is mutative, but what leads to a state of revelation or the possible realm beyond human consciousness
Clinical Impact of the Knowledge or Skills Gained
- Analysts will have a greater ability to name, tolerate, and put into perspective their patients, and their own, feelings about defenses against loss, endings, mortality
- Analysts will be able to face their own losses, endings, and mortality with a greater sense of peace and tranquility
- Analysts will open themselves to varieties of loss including developmental, cultural, racial, minoritarian, etc
- Analysts will enact more creative responses to loss
September 9, 2022 — Hope, Disillusionment, and Recovery: Psychic Loss and Mourning
Peter Shabad conceives of mourning as relevant to any form of significant disillusionment of expectant hopes. He sees psychic losses as insidious and detrimental to development from childhood to adulthood. He is interested in how counterphobic defenses against hope, designed to circumvent future psychic losses, are a means of covering up shame rather than mourning previous traumatic experiences, thus killing desire and the possibility of a hedonic life.
Should you wish a somewhat longer summary—
Holding a strong existential sensibility, Shabad locates himself in Freud and relational theory. Our mortality determines our values and how we live life. Shame constrains development. It is the negation of life leading to self-pity, resentment, inability to assert oneself, feeling cornered, rage, genocide (via displacement and projection.) The child must be able to protest authority and complain to win freedom. Aggression is a passionate life force. Giving and receiving are recursive life forces. We all have a need to give and in having the capacity to receive we increase the desire in others to give. Parents receiving the gift of a child’s birth is a gift back to the child. It gives them a sense of belonging and goodness and can decrease their sense of guilt (which can lead to them having to stay on a deadened path).
Talking about cumulative trauma and loss, he investigates the constituents of a hedonic life or conversely an anhedonic life. The latter emerges out of traumatic loss of the mother. We can’t celebrate the joy of life. In contrast what constitutes hedonic life is the persistence of hope – especially manifest in how physical separations of parent and child are handled. He talks about the wished-for parent during separations versus the disappointing real parent. Hope springs eternal. The constant buildup of hope for the wished-for parent and the constant let-down of the real parent is the kicker. Hope and disillusionment are rubbed into an open wound. The child doesn’t learn it is better to love and lose than never hope at all. Most people are fearful of hope. People become cynical because they brace. Bracing can disown desire. Shabad wants us to own desire. It is no longer the father who is the antagonist. Now our botched handling of hope keeps hurting us. We detach from the hope. We detach from the father. Non-recognition by the mother leads to defensive detachment. The mind separating from the body is shame. “What a sucker I am.” I have to detach from my desire.
Peter Shabad, Ph.D. is Clinical Associate Professor of Psychiatry at Northwestern University Medical School. He is on the Faculty at the Chicago Center for Psychoanalysis (CCP) and Teaching and Supervising Faculty of the Chicago Institute for Psychoanalysis. He is also a Training and Supervising Analysts at the Institute for Contemporary Psychoanalysis in Los Angeles and Associate Editor at Psychoanalytic Dialogues.
Shabad, P. (2006). To expose or to cover up: Human vulnerability in the shadow of death. Contemporary Psychoanalysis, 42, 413-436
September 16, 2022 — Grief
Sandra Buechler’s central impetus is the criticality of the emotional experience of both patient and analyst for emotional change. She integrates emotion theory and interpersonal psychoanalysis. She is more open than most analysts about her own emotional life. Grief has been an enduring theme running throughout all her writing. She describes it as exquisitely as any. In this paper she develops her vision of loss as an “ever-present, ongoing human experience, concretized and made manifest by a death.” P.148.
Sandra Buechler, Ph.D. is a Training and Supervising Analyst at the William Alanson White Institute. She is a Supervisor at Columbia Presbyterian Medical Center and at the Institute for Contemporary Psychotherapy. She is a member of the editorial board of Contemporary Psychoanalysis.
Buechler, S. (2008). Grief. Making a Difference in Patients’ Lives. Emotional Experience in the Therapeutic Setting. New York: Routledge, pp137-165.
September 23, 2022 — Mourning the Possible Object
Dana Amir looks further into the actual (reality) and possible (psychic) dimensions in the experience of loss. While starting with Freud’s paper “Mourning and Melancholia,” she expands on how loss allows one to move into the realm of the possible: loss involves a return from the actual to the possible. Mourning involves not only lamenting what was lost but creating something new from that loss, or instead of what is lost from death, what comes to life from death.
Dana Amir is a clinical psychologist, supervising and training analyst at the Israel psychoanalytic society, faculty member and head of the interdisciplinary doctoral program in psychoanalysis at Haifa University. She is also an editor, poet and literature researcher. In addition to various articles, she is the author of six poetry books and three psychoanalytic non-fiction books.
Amir, D. (2008). Naming the nonexistent: Melancholia as mourning over a possible object. Psychoanalytic Review, 95, 1-15.
September 30, 2022 — Grieving While Black
Grieving While Black is the title of Breeshia Wade’s anti racist exposition on oppression and sorrow in the black community. She widens the notion of grief from something that has happened to us to something we fear, what we love, and what we aspire to. She connects sorrow to the ongoing trauma of systemic oppression.
Another article we want to call your attention to is Lynne Layton’s (2020) “Transgenerational hauntings: Toward a social psychoanalysis and an ethic of dis-illusionment.” In Toward a Social Psychoanalysis: Culture, character, and normative unconscious processes. New York, Routledge, pp. 255-298. In order to be she asks us to look at the history of whites having and doing, the raced and class ethic which haunts America and psychoanalysis.
Keeping Wade and Layton’s calls in mind, we are going to read a short story of James Baldwin, “Sonny’s Blues” (1957)
Baldwin, J. (1957). “Sonny’s Blues”, Originally published in The Partisan Review. Collected in Going to Meet the Man, New York: Vintage Books, 122-148.
October 7, 2022 — Reparation and Reparations
*The mid-term class evaluation will be conducted during this session. Please use these questions to facilitate your discussion: Midterm Evaluation 2019-02-13
This paper by Nichols and Connolly is a compelling history of chattel slavery, what Bryan Stevenson calls the persistence of the pernicious “narrative to justify slavery,” the ensuing moral injury, and white persons’ defenses against and resistance to the idea of reparations.
Bryan Nichols, Ph.D. is a clinical psychologist based in Los Angeles. He is a consultant to community-based gang prevention and intervention work which has led to the development of societal, macro-level ideas about remediating bias and multi-disciplinary collaborations.
Medria Connolly, Ph.D. is a clinical psychologist in Santa Monica, CA. Her work in the community led to her embracing reparations as an intervention to address psychosocial challenges and racial healing.
Nichols, B.K. & Connolly, M.L. (2020). Transforming ghosts into ancestors: Unsilencing the psychological case for reparations to descendants of American slavery. Paper presented at the Eastern Group Psychotherapy Society’s Work Group for Racial Equity, October 18, 2020.
October 14, 2022 — Trauma, Guilt, Reparation, and Love
Heinz Weiss traces the pathway from trauma to guilt to reparation to what it takes to have a full love relationship with another person. He rehabilitates the importance of guilt, without which there cannot be reparation. Guilt banishes moral superiority, idealization, resentment, and grievance, “the poison for the human soul.” We can cease locating the other as bad and requiring reparation to us. We cease harming the other and harming ourselves. Having ignited a process of mourning, guilt becomes a molecule stopping our projections, knitting together our sense of badness born in our resentments and kindling our remembered love. We become a whole person. The other is whole. We can hate. Therefore, we can love, as true connection requires true separateness.
Heinz Weiss, M.D. is the Head of the Department of Psychosomatic Medicine at the Robert Bosch Hospital in Stuttgart. He is also the head of the Medical Division and member of the directorate of the Sigmund-Freud Institute, Frankfurt/Main, and Chair of the Education Section of the International Journal of Psychoanalysis.
Weiss, H. (2022). Trauma and the Capacity for Gratitude
Weiss, H. (2020). Impediments to reparation: Resentment, shame, and wrath – the significance of the gaze. in Trauma, Guilt, and Reparation: The path from impasse to development. New York: Routledge, pp24-42
October 21, 2022 — Incalculability of Endings
Dodi Goldman is a lovely writer interested in Winnicott, potential space, paradox, vital sparks and the form of things unknown. In earlier papers he explores the strains related to the precarious and cyclical way in which potential space is generated in the analytic relationship. He asks us to attend to the importance of de-adaptation as well as adaptation, collision, and negotiation cycles. In another beautiful paper he plays with Winnicott’s prayer, “Oh God! May I be alive when I die.” Here he wonders whether Winnicott was yearning for a psychic space in which he could hold both life and death. He conjectures whether Winnicott’s wish was to bridge the ultimate dissociation between life and death. In this paper Goldman raises the tension between accountability and desire, treatment and experience. Pulling from literature, philosophy, Freud, Winnicott, and Bion he raises the question of the incalculability of endings.
Dodi Goldman, Ph.D. is an analyst at the William Allison White Institute and the author of several books on Winnicott and numerous articles.
Goldman, D. (2010). Parting ways. In J Salberg (Ed.) Good Enough Endings: Breaks, Interruptions, and Terminations from Contemporary Relational Perspectives. New York: Routledge, pp241-256.
October 28, 2022 — Climate Change and Loss, Grieving the Ungrieveable
Ashlee Willox, an academic outside the world of clinical psychoanalysis, looks at the effects of climate change and human and non-human loss. While contemplating human and/or non-human lives and which relationships are deemed worthy, she highlights the important question of what is considered “grieveable.” Borrowing from Judith Butler who defines grievable life as life that is deemed worthy of mourning after it is lost, she argues that life, in order to be grievable, first has to be recognized as a life and that recognition depends on how that life is framed.
Ashlee Cunsolo, Ph.D., is the Founding Dean of the School of Arctic and Subarctic Studies at the Labrador Campus of Memorial University, and a climate change and health researcher. She has an interest in the climatic, social, environmental and cultural determinants of Indigenous health, intercultural learning and dialogue, environmental ethics, and the social justice implications of social, environmental and health inequality.
Willox, A.C. (2012) “Climate Change as the Work of Mourning.” Ethics and the Environment, 17:2, pp137–164
November 4, 2022 — Ontological Implications of “Withnessing”
Ofra Eshel’s writings have explored a fundamental dimension of analytic work created by the analyst’s “presencing” (being there) within the patient’s experiential world and the grip of the analytic process and the ensuing deep patient-analyst interconnectedness or “withnessing” that may grow into at-one-ment with the patient’s innermost emotional reality of unthinkable breakdown and catastrophic psychic trauma. With profound ontological implications, she goes beyond recent analytic notions of intersubjectivity and witnessing to more radical patient-analyst deep-level analytic oneness.
Ofra Eshel, PsyD, is a faculty member, training and supervising analyst of the Israel Psychoanalytic Society and Institute. She has written extensively.
Eshel, O. (2020). “Out of the Depths I Cry to You;” Into the dark unknown – two-in-oneness. Psychoanalytic Inquiry, 40, 109-119
November 11, 2022 — Experiencing what is Lost in Words
Bion often addresses the paradoxical nature of the relationship between language and truth whereby linguistic expression is the path by which truth can be glimpsed at, while at the same time it hides and distorts it. In a trance-like state, Bion seems to try and seize the multidimensional, elusive truth through the multitude of characters portrayed in his book A Memoir of the Future. Bion drew a parallel between psychoanalytical and mystical states of mind. Mystical thinking maintains that truth is hidden from the senses, from language and from thought. It is concerned with the unknown, concealed, and zero-ness. Bion borrows words such as God and Godhead, to try and depict an emotional truth, or ultimate reality, existing beyond the possibility of human knowledge and consciousness. Throughout the Memoir the characters of P.A. and PAUL/PRIEST (representing both religion and the mystical tradition) come to realize the affinity between them.
Avner Bergstein’s paper explores this affinity, suggesting that the mutual work of analysis facilitates the development of an intuitive, mystical capacity in both analyst and analysand.
Avner Bergstein, M.A. is a faculty member, and a training and supervising psychoanalyst with the Israel Psychoanalytic Society. He works in private practice with adults, adolescents and children and has worked for some years at a kindergarten for children with autism. He is the author of numerous papers and book chapters elaborating on the clinical implications of the writings of Bion and Meltzer.
Bergstein, A. (2018). “The Ineffable.” in Bion and Contemporary Psychoanalysis: Reading A Memoir of the Future. Ed Giuseppe Civitarese, pp120-146
November 18, 2022 — Surrender
Henry Markman notes that in order to gain presence with patients we need to surrender and mourn as analysts—to give up and let go of attachments that protect yet constrict us in that they do not allow for openness to the patient’s world. This surrender allows for transformation and moments of beauty both in us and in our patients.
Henry Markman is a psychoanalyst in private practice in Berkeley, California. He is also a Training and Supervising Analyst at the San Francisco Center for Psychoanalysis. He cites many influences to his work and notes that through his 30 year of practice and teaching he has considered many and expanded on ways of being with and relating to others.
Markman, H. (2022) Moments of transformation and beauty, in Creative Engagement in Psychoanalytic Practice, pp194-216
Markman, H. (2022). “Process and non-process” in Creative Engagement in Psychoanalytic Practice, pp217-238
Butler, J. (2004). “Violence, Mourning, Politics” in Precarious Life: The Powers of Mourning and Violence, pp19-49.
Eng, D.L. & Han, S. (2019). Racial melancholia: Model minorities, depression, and suicide. In Racial Melancholia, Racial Dissociation: On the Social and Psychic Lives of Asian Americans. Durham, Duke University Press, pp34-55.
Fanon, F. (1952). Black Skin, White Masks
Freud, S. (1917). “Mourning and Melancholia” in The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud, Volume XIV, pp237-258.
Klein, M. (1940). Mourning and its relation to manic-depressive states. Int. J. Psychoanal., 21, 125-153.
Paul, L.A. (2014), Transformative Experience. Oxford University Press.
Wade, B. (2021). Grieving While Black: An Antiracists Take on Oppression and Sorrow. Berkeley, CA: North Atlantic Books