Ed. Fiorini, Bokanowski, Lewkowicz. - On Freud's 'Mourning and Melancholia'

Book Review- Paul Schimmel

Editors: Leticia Glocer Fiorini, Theirry Bokanowski, and Sergio Lewkowicz

Series: Contemporary Freud: Turning Points and Critical Issues Pages: 240

International Psychoanalytical Association, London; 2007.

This volume is one of the IPA series ‘Contemporary Freud: Turning Points and Critical Issues’. The subject of each volume is one of Freud’s important shorter works. Freud’s original essay is reproduced along with a collection of essays, in this case nine, of contemporary critical commentary. There have been six previous volumes in the series which, we are informed in a note from the series editor, was discontinued in 2001. This volume on “Mourning and Melancholia” restarts the series. It would seem a good choice; “Mourning and Melancholia” is a work of genius, and perhaps the most important of Freud’s shorter essays.

While the nine essays in this volume are linked around the subject of Freud’s work, they are an uneven mix written from varying vertices. The reader will need to draw on his or her analytic capacity to make links in order to get the most from this book. Each essay stands alone, but the editors do not seem to have attempted much in the way of integration. Some steps in this direction are taken in the Introduction by Martin Bergman, but the book as a whole feels somewhat fragmented. This is perhaps consistent with the editors stated intention of offering perspectives from, ‘psychoanalysts from different geographical regions representing, in addition, different theoretical stances, in order to be able to show their polyphony’. I think, however, some work towards linking the parts would have made for a more satisfying book. Even the order of the essays seems haphazard. It would seem preferable to have placed those essays which attempt to interpret and explicate Freud’s text, such as Thomas Ogden’s A new reading of the origins of object relations theory, near the beginning of the book, rather than towards the end. Other essays which develop more individual, contemporary or social themes would have been best placed at the end, such as Maria Pelento’s Mourning for “missing” people, which has in fact been placed second in the book.

The individual essays themselves offer many contrasts. Jean-Michel Quinodoz, in his, Teaching Freud’s “Mourning and Melancholia” reflects on the process of teaching Freud in seminars. Quinodoz offers a useful overview of the significance of “Mourning and Melancholia” in a before and after context, and is the only author to make reference to the influence of Abraham’s thinking about depression upon this work. As such this essay would probably have been better being the first in the book, rather than where it is, the last.

Thomas Ogden’s essay is particularly good, but has been published previously. [International Journal of Psychoanalysis, 83 (2002): 767-782.] What Freud says in “Mourning and Melancholia” is far from easy to grasp and not always entirely clear. For this reason it is necessary to address at the outset, as Ogden does, the question of interpretation. For example, Ogden carefully, and reasonably convincingly, clarifies the nature of the process of splitting of the ego that he thinks Freud postulates to occur/to have occurred within the melancholic person. Ogden concludes as follows: ‘in response to the pain of loss, the ego is twice split forming an internal object relationship in which one split-off part of the ego [the critical agency] angrily [with outrage] turns on another split-off part of the ego [the ego-identified-with-the-object].’ Ogden contrasts this formulation with what he terms a ‘misreading’ of “Mourning and Melancholia” which has become entrenched and is commonly held to be Freud’s view: ‘What I am referring to is the misconception that melancholia, according to Freud, involves an identification with the hated aspect of an ambivalently loved object that has been lost.’

This is a complex and subtle distinction but potentially very important. I have always tended to assume something like the ‘misreading’, while remaining uneasy as to whether I had really understood what Freud was postulating. Ogden goes on to clarify other elements of “Mourning and Melancholia” in a similar way. It is an important starting place; without at least attempting to clarify Freud’s formulations how can we relate them to subsequent theoretical developments?

There is a very good essay Melancholia, mourning and the countertransference, by Priscilla Roth, which deals with the contemporary conception of ‘internal objects’, and the shifting nature of the experience of the ‘internal object’ in the transference/countertransference field. The essay is particularly valuable in offering detailed case material to illustrate the points Roth is making. The clinical material should also be read with Ogden’s paper in mind, as the case material can be used to think about what he is saying, and put some flesh on the bones of theory. Again, for this reason, I felt her essay would have been better placed following Ogden’s.

An essay by Roosevelt Cassorla, The analyst, his “mourning and melancholia”, analytic technique and enactment, offers reflections upon, and analysis of, an experience as supervisor. The supervisee-analyst had become involved in a ‘chronic enactment’ with the patient of which the supervisee had been largely unconscious. Cassorla explores how this came to consciousness, and the work of mourning that was necessary for the analyst to undergo, in order for the relationship with the patient to fulfill a greater therapeutic potential. This theme, of the analyst’s work of mourning, is also emphasized in Roth’s paper. Cassorla’s paper is interesting from a number of points of view.

Carlos Mario Aslan in “Mourning and Melancholia”: a Freudian metapsychological updating, also addresses the question of what Freud was actually saying, and thoughtfully challenges Freud’s suggestion that normal mourning and melancholia may be differentiated in terms of the supposed identification with/introjection of the lost object in melancholia but not in mourning. Aslan suggests that a significant object relationship cannot exist without the ‘object’ already having been introjected into the psyche, as an ‘internal object’, and the distinction between mourning and melancholia needs to be established on somewhat different terms. This seemed a reasonable starting place but I was unable to follow this author all the way in his speculations, which became particularly difficult when he introduced the death instinct as an explanatory formulation in relation to certain aspects of mourning.

‘Mourning and mental development’, a paper by Florence Guignard, is a provocative analysis on the impact of aspects of contemporary Western society, particularly the growth in communications technology, on the psychological development of the child. Guignard suggests that the immediacy and pervasiveness of such technology fosters the substitution of ‘virtual reality’ for the creative tension that would otherwise exist between the realms of reality and of phantasy/fantasy. The consequence is the avoidance of developmental tasks of mourning, and an impoverishment of the child’s mind, particularly evident in the restricted development of the symbolic capacity. Guignard observes that the latency period of childhood is all but disappearing in this cultural environment. I felt Guignard’s paper was a particularly valuable one. It is also important that psychoanalysts have an appreciation of the issues that she delineates when we come to consider the appropriate use of new technologies within our own cultures.

A paper by Vamik Volkan, Not letting go: from individual perennial mourners to societies with entitlement ideologies, has very useful research based descriptions of the phenomenology of mourning, and descriptions of variations of mourning processes, and of arrested mourning, both in individuals and in groups.

The last paper to mention is Mourning and creativity, by Maria Cristina Melgar. This title seemed full of promise which, I felt, wasn’t realised. The author’s prose style is dense and, seemingly, often impenetrable, although, as the paper has been translated from French, some clarity may have been lost in the process. For me the real difficulty with the paper was the feeling of speculation which has lost touch with life. Ogden, at the conclusion of his paper, points to the need for psychoanalytic theory to always remain ‘firmly grounded’ in ‘lived experience’.

This book is a collection of valuable essays, and for the reader prepared to do some work, the essays can be used to illuminate one another. It is well laid out, apparently well indexed and referenced, and there is an almost complete absence of typographical and grammatical errors. It is printed on quality paper, with a similarly good quality, well designed and attractive soft cover, with, of course, an iconic photograph of Freud.