American Imago 62.4 (2005) 389-393
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Peter L. Rudnytsky
Psychoanalysis, in its essence, is a science of the individual. Much excellent work, to be sure, has been done both on mass psychology and on group analysis, but even when the focus is on larger entities, the psychoanalytic scholar or clinician will never lose sight of the uniqueness of each human being who makes up that collectivity and in whom the meaning of whatever is experienced ultimately resides.
Precisely by virtue of its probing of the psychic depths, however, psychoanalysis renders its practitioners acutely aware of the extent to which all of us are shaped by larger social forces, and that our personal inkblots are but specks on an infinitely vaster canvas. And it is to what Dante, following St. Augustine, called in the Paradiso "the threshing floor that makes us so fierce" (l'aiuola che ci fa tanto feroci)—that is, to the scars of history—that this issue of American Imago is devoted.
We begin with a paper by three colleagues from Croatia, Slavica Jurcevic, Ivan Urlic, and Mirela Vlastelica, who report their research on a truly horrifying topic—mothers whose sons had been killed in action during the Balkan War of the 1990s but whose "mortal remains have decomposed beyond visual recognition" and whose identities could be determined years later only through DNA analysis of the exhumed skeletal fragments. On a theoretical plane, the authors take up "the psychodynamics of the mourning process" under such traumatic circumstances—building, in part, on Vamik Volkan's concept of "linking objects"—but the heart of their paper lies in the transcripts of the testimonies of six of the twenty-six bereaved mothers interviewed by Jurcevic whose sons had been identified in this gruesome fashion. There could scarcely be a more poignant example of how social identities collide with individual psyches than the broken narratives of these ordinary Croatian mothers, whose resort to denial and dissociation is a concrete manifestation of their historical scars. [End Page 389]
We are still in the first decade of the twenty-first century, but the early indications are that—abetted by population growth, technological advances, and continuing destruction of the natural world along with accelerating climate change—it will continue the tragically escalating spiral of violence that made the twentieth century the most catastrophic in all human history. In "Loss as Vanished Form: On the Anti-Memorial Sculptures of Horst Hoheisel," Ellen Handler Spitz contemplates the work of a contemporary German artist whose mission it has been to create "memorial art that is self-consciously anti-memorial," and thereby to keep at bay the amnesia that always threatens to descend over "the terrible fate of the Jews of Europe, particularly of his own city of Kassel," during the Third Reich. As Spitz informs us, Hoheisel's artistic journey is on one level a deeply personal attempt to come to terms with the legacy of his father, who was "welcomed as a hero" by his compatriots when he was released in 1953 from a Soviet prison, though to his son he was both an "abandoning father" and a "guilty Nazi." But Hoheisel's anti-memorials—an inverted fountain, a light illumination with the words "Arbeit macht frei" projected on a single occasion onto the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin, and the like—succeed only by evoking a resonance in the minds and hearts of the members of the public who behold them. For Spitz herself, her essay is a moving tribute to the power of art to begin to narrow what was once an "impassable chasm" between Jews and their would-be exterminators. If the ordeal of the former Yugoslavia is but one cautionary reminder of how difficult it remains for "the work of memory" to "go forward hand in hand with the thrusting forces of life in the twenty-first century," Spitz by her own example gives us grounds for optimism that at least some of the wounds of the twentieth are gradually being healed.
One of Hoheisel's earliest memories is of the "gurr-gurr-gurr" he would hear emanating from a pigeon house when...