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  • Demons in the Consulting Room: Echoes of Genocide, Slavery and Extreme Trauma in Psychoanalytic Practice ed. by Adrienne Harris, Margery Kalb, and Susan Klebanoff
  • Jane Hanenberg (bio)
Demons in the Consulting Room: Echoes of Genocide, Slavery and Extreme Trauma in Psychoanalytic Practice. Adrienne Harris, Margery Kalb, and Susan Klebanoff, eds. London and New York: Routledge, 2017, 224 pages.

"In every nursery there are ghosts. They are the visitors from the unremembered past of the parents; the uninvited guests at the christening. The intruders from the past have taken up residence in the nursery, claiming tradition and rights of ownership. While no one has issued an invitation, the ghosts take up residence and conduct the rehearsal of the family tragedy from a tattered script."

—Fraiberg, S., Adelson, & E. Shapiro, V., 1975, p. 387-8

Demons in the Consulting Room: Echoes of Genocide, Slavery and Extreme Trauma in Psychoanalytic Practice emerged from the work of a consultation group and their project to understand the presence of the transmission of trauma through the analytic relationship. In therapeutic relations, trauma and its sequelae do not diminish over time. The effects of the inheritance of intergenerational and historical trauma are palpable but often indescribable. They are at once present and unknown. Like the ghosts in the nursery, trauma endures, and it creates a configuration akin to a generational and historical repetition compulsion. These are the qualities of the demons which this book investigates.

Hans Loewald (1960) famously characterized the work of analysis as the work of turning "ghosts into ancestors." In these chapters, ghosts come alive to claim "the blood of recognition." In their task to deepen their understanding of this phenomena, the editors and writers devote the first half of their book to clinical descriptions of psychoanalytic work with patients whose lives are affected by severe trauma. The second portion consists of essays which address the breaches of historical and cultural memory in the face of such trauma. These narratives, which contribute social as well as personal meanings to the volume, both mirror and magnify the clinical portion of the book. All of the contributions are both deeply affecting and personally meaningful. Each chapter presents an opportunity to witness the daunting and complex endeavors of co-existing [End Page 274] with demons and ghosts, be it through transference or the recognition of a disavowed history.

In the spring of 1917, after a recent censure of immigrants coming to the United States, the Davis Museum at Wellesley College cloaked and "shrouded" all works created or donated by immigrants. The coverings symbolically indicated the presence of the artwork and demonstrated what the museum's collection would have been like without them. The number of the covered objects was substantial. Under the black cloths, artwork was present, but unknown. As one might imagine, the African and Asian rooms contained oceans of fabric. Although the shrouds were positioned to emphasize the significant presence of immigrant art in the collections, their shapes and sizes conveyed another experience. They made the work mysterious and indescribable. The covering both hid and revealed the artists' identity at that precise moment in history.

The demons discussed in these chapters reflect what viewers saw in the Davis' exhibit. How does one come to know lives or works that have been shrouded, or history that is cloaked? The editors and authors want to know how they can understand patients who have inherited histories from ghosts. How can disinherited grief be made known if the analyst is witness to a history that cannot be told? What is the cost of a premature burial of traumatic events? And a sorrowful but significant question: "What are the limits to mourning?" The book, which is published as part of Adrienne Harris and Lewis Aron's Relational Perspectives Book Series, has a companion volume, Ghosts in the Consulting Room, which uses a similar format to explore trauma of an equivalent but somewhat different nature.

The consultation group was guided by a reading of Sam Gerson's lyrical essay, "When the Third is Dead: Memory Mourning and Witnessing in the Aftermath of the Holocaust"(2009). The essay explores the complex phenomena of "present absence," a state that occurs when...


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