Friday, October 30, 2009

Relational Psychoanalysis and Community Redevelopment

At USF Day Institute on Engaged Scholarship and Community Redevelopment, University of Buffalo Professor Henry Taylor served as keynote speaker. Dr. Taylor’s emphasis on the solving of problems of “distressed urban communities” and the “sprawling urban metropolis” resonates with contemporary psychoanalytic theory. Professor Taylor noted that any one social problem can only be resolved in relation to the total environment. Underperforming inner city schools, for example, can only improve when rebuilding efforts address the unsafe neighborhoods, limited familial resources, poor nutrition that affects attention spans, bitterness, and hopelessness that form the social context of the school.

Neil Altman’s pivotal thinking about the application of psychoanalytic practice to public health clinics relies on the relational perspectives of Fairbairn, Mitchell, Greenberg, Bollas and Ogden. Though Altman’s focus is on the therapeutic setting, several issues can be extrapolated to analytic consulting work in distressed urban environments.

Psychoanalysis had long relegated the poor to the position of the “analyzable” in a way that broke down along social class values. Poor people were seen as preferring affiliativeness versus rugged individualism; as suffering from limited verbal intelligence which increased the likelihood of destructive acting out in the therapy; and as focusing on here-and-now problems of hunger and physical safety rather than on unconscious fantasy and symbolization.

Contemporary psychoanalysis had moved beyond the rigid stratifications of ego psychology that discriminated against patients based on their ability to tolerate the frustration of analytic abstinence, the eruption of anxiety from the growing awareness of the drives and drive derivatives and ego ‘defects’ such as inability to delay gratification; a profoundly class-based evaluation procedure.

Though Altman credits Fred Pine with widening the scope of ego psychology, relational psychoanalysis offers more. For Pine, (in a break from ego psychology) the relationship between the analyst and patient is mutative. When the patient has the experience of the analyst as reliable, nonjudgmental, capable of helping the patient name and distinguish feeling states cures and this is independent of the patient's use of the insight developed through therapy.

Relational analysts offer several insights that can be extrapolated to apply to community problems. Relational approaches to community trauma and despair can offer community members ways to think and be-in-relationship with each other such that they can learn to make situations less anxiety provoking. Community demands to solve concrete problems can be taken at face value and away from pathological judgment. The ensuing countertransference that develops while working in distressed communities can be a method for feeling one’s way into the community’s internal (i.e. emotional) world. Psychoanalysts can assist community groups in increasing their ability to manage anxiety provoking situations and away from a reliance on constant crises and chaotic reactions that show themselves in therapy as frequent missed appointments, coming to therapy only in times of crisis, and an over-focus on concrete, bread and butter issues. Consulting with community groups in distress affords members access to ways of thinking about bread and butter issues that promotes an understanding of what these may be symbolizing for the community.

Altman, N. (1993). Psychoanalysis and the Urban Poor, Psychoanalytic Dialogues, 3, 29-49.

Pictured are Gary Lemons, Ph.D., Department of English, USF; Nagwa Dajani, M.D., Ph.D. College of Medicine and Lycia Alexander Guerra, M.D., President, TBIPS and TBPS at the USF Day Institute.

Monday, October 19, 2009


In continuing “A Day with James Fosshage” on October 10, 2009 at the monthly program meeting of the Tampa Bay Psychoanalytic Society, Dr. Fosshage advocated for an approach to dreams different from the way Freud, or even Jung, might conceive of dreams. Fosshage noted that Freud saw dreams as wish fulfillments, to protect against waking (guardian of sleep), and to discharge instinctual energy. To function in these ways, wishes and instincts must be disguised if they are to guard sleep, and so Freud divided the dream into manifest content and latent content, the latter which fell under the scrutiny of dream analysis, a chaotic endeavor said Fosshage. Jung, noted Fosshage, saw dreams as an attempt to correct or compensate for the conscious state, particularly when the conscious ego state deviates from the Self. Others (Fromm, French; Greenberg) have noted the problem solving nature of dreaming. Kohut saw self state dreams as an attempt to restore self consolidation from fragmentation and dissolution. Stolorow and Atwood refer to dreams as the guardian of psychological structure.

Fosshage agreed with those who emphasize the dream functions of development of psychological organization (and self consolidation) and memory consolidation. He noted that dream mentation, just as in waking, can reinforce, transform, or develop patterns of organizing experience. He enumerated the many similarities of waking and dreaming mentation: Both organize and integrate memory into data, leading to increased adaptation; both use imagistic and verbal encoding; both regulate affect and problem solve. Furthermore, reverie and REM activity both occur in wakeful and dreaming states. He reminded us that REM deprivation leads to psychological disorganization, compensated somewhat by daytime reverie/REM activity. Dreaming and waking states differ in that waking utilizes more often explicit thinking and verbal processing, while dreams utilize imagistic processing more often, as well as have more access to unconscious processing.

If dreaming states serve an organizing function, and dreams are not simply defensive, then distinguishing between manifest and latent contents is no longer a useful demarcation. Classical dream analysis, deciphering the latent meaning from the manifest dream, is, then, no longer the goal. Instead, Fosshage encouraged the therapist to listen to the patient’s experience, to encourage the patient to fill out the narrative (What were you feeling when [this] was happening?), and to inquire about themes and issues in the dream and their applicability to those in waking life. He discouraged assuming a transference component to the dream unless the therapist is in the dream or referenced when telling the dream. In general, Fosshage encouraged therapists to look for evidence within the dream, not to our theories, for our ideas about the dream. Likewise, Fosshage does not see dreams as shifts in self states, but rather, they show the transformative process at work. He cited his previously published Case P as an example.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Film "FACING WINDOWS:" An Additional Perspective

"Facing Windows" certainly speaks to the importance of retaining memory of the Holocaust, as exemplified by the character Davide who, with dementia, sometimes is unaware or does not remember the present, but vividly remembers experiences of 1943. In "La Finestra di Fronte" (literally 'Front Window'), seen on October 11, 2009 as part of "Fears of Difference: A Film Series on the Diversity of Holocaust Experiences" there are two additional points I wish to highlight.

One is that this beautifully rendered film (director, Ozpetek) illuminates the emphasis by psychoanalyst Jessica Benjamin on the importance of recognition, recognition of the other as a separate agent of desire with a separate center of subjectivity, recogniton as a requirement for intersubjectivity. Intersubjectivity requires a respect for this difference in subjectivity, a respect, as Shel Wykell, the clinical speaker at yesterday's film, so aptly put when he said that the Holocaust epitomized the failure of human beings to know, love, and connect with one another, while "Facing Windows" is about the capacity to know, love, and connect. To see another person (as Giovanna was eventually able to see her husband Fillipo, and perhaps saw him, as if for the first time, when she got the new perspective of viewing him in their apartment with their children from her lover's window across the way), to know another and not turn away, is an act of love. [This is one component that makes the psychoanalytic dyad of analyst and patient sufficiently loving, as James Fosshage would say, sufficient enough to reorganize old traumatic organizing patterns].

Davide helped Giovanna reconsider the capacity for intersubjectivity and for love when he envied it, "It must be so beautiful to watch love grow, to help it change, to protect it from the passage of time." Davide, having been deprived of this by the death, in a concentration camp, of his own lover, a death for which he felt guilty, was made the more tragic when we, as Davide did, recognize that the choice to save others in the Jewish ghetto over his lover Simone was motivated, in large part, by Davide's desire for recognition and acceptance from his community as a gay man. The failure of recognition and respect for difference, and Davide's attempts to gain it from others, haunted him for the rest of his life.

Not to belabor the obvious metaphorical use of 'window,' but it is through windows that we sometimes see the world and others. It is through seeing others that we better see ourselves. But looking out at the other, without recognition of the 'true self' (Winnicott), is what the lover Lorenzo offered, and it was insufficient. Looking at the other as 'other' yet refusing to recognize/respect the right for a different subjectivity than ones's own and looking at the other as 'other' and failing to recognize what is common between us, is what homophobes and antisemites do, and is what the Nazis exemplified. Failure to recognize the other as me, or me in the other, or even me as me, is, in part what "Facing Windows" portrayed, but, moreover, it was about the redemptive capacity to see (recognize).

The second point is about personal agency, and the opportunity to feel effective, to have an effect on the world. When Davide exhorted Giovanna to "demand a better world," it is this agency, this daring or courage, which helped Giovanna make choices to pursue a career of her own interest and to protect the love for, and the love from, her family through the passage of time.

What comes to mind is Ghandi's exhortation; "Be the change you want to see in the world (agency)." I also think of Ghandi's "I want the freedom for the full expression of my personality (recognition)."

Sunday, October 11, 2009

"Demand to Live in a Better World:" Moving Beyond Alterity in "Facing Windows"

Facing Windows, directed by Ferzan Ozpetek is a film won the David di Donatello awards (Italy's Oscars) in 2002. According to Dr. Patrizia LaTrecchia, Facing Windows: is ‘a love letter to the city of Rome’. Rome, the film’s protagonist, is revealed through its dark past as well as its dynamic present, rather than through its touristy sites which we all know. It is a city with many layers hidden from the casual observer: the Jewish Ghetto around the isola Tiberina, Ponte Sisto, and the area around Trastevere.

The film has two story lines that develop along two alternate time lines: there is a story with a mystery that happened in 1943, the darkest days of the war when racial laws were passed that created the Jewish Holocaust in Italy; and an intense love story, a passion that takes place in the present and that leads to an exploration of love as one of the most powerful and also disruptive forces known to man. Love is the driving force behind these two stories. The suspense in the mystery story is interwoven with the romance of the love story just like the collective and personal memories are intertwined in the narration.

Dr. La Trecchia pointed out that Facing Window’s is one of the few films of the Jewish experience in WWII that was made outside the decade of fascism. She named other films of note: The Garden of the Finzi Continis, Life is Beautiful and Sky is Falling.

The thrust of the film is discovering of history and the recovery of the mind. The absences of the story of Jews in Italy results from the overshadowing of the Jewish community by the dominant Catholic community and the now increasingly secular Italian cinema. But ultimately, it was fascism that forced Jews into a position of alterity and would exercise an impact on Jewish filmmaking in Italy.

Dr. LaTrecchia explained that there have been calls for reshaping the collective memory of the Italian people to prevent erasures and amnesia culminating in the Day of Memory in Italy in January.

She described for the audience the main character, Giovanna, as she transitions from a woman who is speechless and denies and ignors past events to one who takes part in the collective memory of the Italian community. By the story’s end, she vows to tell the story and can ‘see’ and ‘understand.’

Sheldon Wykell, MSW, LCSW asked the question, “Why is the a Holocaust film” since it does not resemble films like Shoah or Schliner’s List. He locates the answer in the biography of the director. The openly gay film director who was born in Turkey in 1959 and lived in Italy since 1977, explores the theme of the outsider. In the film, the “others” include the Jewish community in Italian culture, the black neighbor ,and David’s gayness and how he was treated as a young man. In his remarks, Mr. Wykell demonstrated how difference plays a role in how we treat each other.

Using a relational psychoanalytic framework, Mr. Wykell, stressed the importance of being seen and seeing others. In Facing Windows, seeing someone does not make for real contact. Giovanna is enamored with Lorenzo until she sees her family in the window adjacent to her home and longs to return to her family. The relationship with the most significance in the film was that of Giovanna and David. At the beginning of the film, Giovanna is having a hard time relating to people. She is angry most of the time and one point of resentment is that she had no parents in contrast to Fillipo having a mother who could offer assistance to the struggling family.

As for David, Mr. Wykell observed that a part of him had never been fulfilled and he cared very much about being a father to a little girl, especially a spiritual daughter who is also a pastry chef. Mr. Wykell cautioned against getting caught up in stereotypes. If we are going to connect he noted, we have to be open to who a person is, and not who we think they are. David is a caring man and proves it through all the cakes he can make to nourish other people.

Both David and Giovanna take care of others, to their own detriment. In his lucid momemtns he regrets having sacrificed his lover to recoup his own honor with his people and hence sacrificing his own happiness; he warns Giovanna against making the same mistake. Through her connection to David, she is transformed and can relate in a way that was impossible for her before.

In a final answer to his question, “Why is this a Holocaust film?” Mr. Wykell concluded that the film is about people’s ability to love each other and to connect and truly see each other. “What could represent a complete failure of that, then the Holocaust?”
Audience members asked the following questions:

What could we attribute Fillipo’s crying to? While one audience member felt that he was concerned about losing his meal ticket, the majority agreed that he was overwhelmed by his wife’s new ability to connect with him.
Other questions included: “Why would the director wait so long to unveil the reason for the murder at the end of the film?” Why would a Turk become interested in making a film about Jews and the Holocaust, since it is easier to write from who you are? Is there any significance to the two running scenes, the first at the beginning of the film and the second toward the end of the film?

Audience members raised the following issues:

The special relationship David and Jonnathan invoked in the film is not an accident.

The saying “never forget” is invoked through the film when Giovanna opened the windows and the past began to inform her. In denial, we shut out and close our mind to reality. By the end of the movie, Giovanna has developed the capacity to tell David that he is with her, thus stating the theme of the movie that those not physically present are with us and help with the process of grieving and going on.

One audience member found the film’s ending to be optimistic. With Giovanni’s daughter seeking to make her mother proud at the personal level, to the historical level in which the Italian community remembers what went before, to the developmental milestones of a) David’s love of his people versus love of his individual partner; b) Giovanna’s love of her family versus the love of Lorenzo; to the concrete achievements of the characters with Fillip getting on the day shift and Giovanna becoming a pastry chef—the film signals growth and transformation.

Patrizia La Trecchia is Assistant Professor of Italian and serves as Director of the Italian Program at the University of South Florida in Tampa, FL. She received a Ph.D. in Italian Studies and Comparative Literature from the University of Pennsylvania. Her research interests include film studies, cultural studies, migration studies, Italian-American studies, and the impact of globalization on cultural representation of Italian identity. Her works include publications on Italian and European film, music and globalization, Italian literature and theatre, and audiovisual translation. In 2009, she published a film study textbook on the film Il Postino [The Postman]. She is completing a book-length manuscript on the idea of the Italian South, focusing specifically on the representative case study of the contemporary city of Naples. Her articles on Italian and European film, popular culture and globalization, theatre, food and identity, modern and contemporary Italian literature, audiovisual translation, and migration have appeared, or are about to appear, in Communication and Critical/Cultural Studies, Studies in European Cinema, Cinemasessanta, Italian Americana, Rivista di Letteratura Italiana, Studi sul Settecento e l’Ottocento, and Perspectives: Studies in Translatology.

Sheldon Wykell, MSW, LCSW graduated from the Jane Addams School of Social Work at the University of Illinois Chicago. While at the Jewish Family Service in Chicago he directed Chicago office of HIAS, the immigrant resettlement program that historically has sponsored and managed the resettlement of Jews in America for over 100 years including before, during and after the Holocaust. He is the former Executive Director of Jewish Family Service of Sarasota-Manatee and former Director of a program for child-on-child sexual abuse for the Child Protection Center in Sarasota. He has 35 years in the field of clinical social work and social services administration. His clinical practice includes work with a wide range of clients in individual and group therapy including couples, families, children, elderly, and chronically mentally ill. Currently in private practice in downtown St. Petersburg.


James Fosshage, PhD, spent Saturday, October 10, 2009 at the Tampa Bay Psychoanalytic Society, Inc. (TBPS). A portion of the afternoon was dedicated to his paper, "Searching for Love & Expecting Rejection: Implicit & Explicit Dimensions in Cocreating Analytic Change," (2007. Psa Inquiry. 27:326-347).

Classical aspirations to neutrality, abstinence, and anonymity have been replaced with the recognition that an analyst’s subjectivity inevitably intrudes into the analytic space, making unachievable, these three traditional pillars. One might then ask about the aspect of responding to invitations to subjectivity.

Fosshage noted that when an analyst offers, in a “moment of meeting” (Boston Change Process Study Group), a genuine and authentic response to a patient’s declaration of love, instead of interpreting such declarations, a loving relationship can be co-created. A sufficiently loving relationship leads to changes in traumatic organizing patterns. Furthermore, these changes bring about a decreased activation of the old organizing patterns. Likewise, they increase a patient’s ability to move more quickly away from activated traumatic organizing patterns.

Old organizing patterns recede and are replaced in the foreground by the newer, more vitalizing, relational patterns experienced reliably in the analytic dyad, and co-created both via implicit and explicit communications. Feeling loved and respected contributes to a new feeling about self and about self-with-other. Since love is one of the feelings expectably engendered in a close, intimate relationship, though in the analytic relationship unrealizable in certain aspects (e.g. the prohibition against sexual contact), love, if not made explicit in the analytic dyad, can become tantalizingly unbearable.

Transformation then, Fosshage said, is achieved through the co-creation of new organizing relational patterns, not the least of which is co-creation of a sufficiently loving relationship.


The early morning “Conversation with James Fosshage” which began "A Day with James Fosshage, PhD" October 10, 2009, at the Tampa Bay Psychoanalytic Society, Inc. (TBPS) previewed some of Fosshage's ideas about implicit and explicit communication, learning, and knowing, and their applicability to the clinical situation.

Cognitive Psychology’s learning theories about implicit procedural (riding a bike, playing tennis) processing was expanded to the relational sphere, implicit relational knowing, by the Boston Change Process Study Group (BCPSG), which includes Lyons-Ruth and (Daniel) Stern. While appreciating that the BCPSG is beginning to rethink privileging the implicit over the explicit for what is mutative, Fosshage emphasizes the interaction between both, and sees the implicit emotional context and the explicit verbal as powerfully mutative, words having to be backed by the emotional processing. This idea sparked TBPS member, William Upshaw, MD, to state that being [perceived as] genuine [occurs] when the implicit and explicit are matched.

Fosshage described three modes of listening: Kohut’s empathic mode of listening from within the patient’s perspective; other-centered listening which encompasses what it feels like for the analyst to be in relationship with the patient (e.g. the analyst finds herself experiencing listening to the patient as delightful or loathsome); and listening from the analyst’s self perspective, where the analyst’s subjectivity enters.

Of interest, too, was Fosshage’s description of a comprehensive interpretation. Rather than including elements attributed to the id, ego, and superego, or even to past, current, and transferential aspects, Fosshage stated that a comprehensive interpretation would include empathic listening, other-centered listening, and the analyst’s self perspective. Contrasting himself to the interpersonalists, who privilege making explicit how it feels to be with the patient, Fosshage said he starts with empathic listening and takes cues from the patient as to whether increased expression of the subjectivity of the analyst is invited (e.g. a patient might ask, “Are you angry with me?’).

Later in the day, Fosshage discusses invitations to subjectivity that have to do with love, and how he responds to such invitations, such as when a patient states "I love you," or asks "Do you find me sexually attractive?"

Saturday, October 10, 2009

A Relational View of Tyler Perry’s Character, Madea

Tyler Perry’s movies top the opening weekend box office statistics for highest grossing films. His book, Don’t Make a Black Woman take off her Earrings is a New York Times best seller. As of today, Perry’s message board had 1,207,673 postings.

Fans credit him with being someone they can look up to; as providing experiences in his movies that make them feel less stressed and uplifted. His work reaffirms their spirituality. His fans embrace him as a survivor like themselves who suffered deprivations and abuse at the hands of relatives.

Norma L. of Toronto, writing on Perry's board, says “as a black woman, I can see myself in Madea.” Madea is the fictional character developed based on women in his family who were strong and independent in his New Orleans’ community. These 'Mother Dears' were tough, but also were big-hearted and are idealized in Perry’s character. They have the capacity to rescue community members from a fate of ‘writhing in eternal pain’* [in the form of drug abuse, prostitution, jail, poverty, hunger and loneliness].

With critics, journalists, and academicians looking askance at his creative productions, his appeal to African Americans begs for explanation. Having attended a day long lecture given by James Fosshage, a self psychologist and NYU instructor in the American Relational Psychoanalytic track, I began to think about Madea as offering an implicit relational experience that fulfills his fan's desires for empathic connection and mirroring.

Fosshage’s model of mind presents the idea that thought first occurs in images and contains more affect and captures more meaning than does the verbal formulation and expression. Because his plays tap so many imagistic modalities: auditory (songs), very (staging and costuming), somatic (laughter, sadness, outrage as physical stimulations), he is communicating with his audience, right brain to right brain.; thereby conveying a deep sense of empathy.

Through Perry’s and the audience’s reverie, they come to agree that Madea understands. Madea mirrors African American women back to themselves as responsible, single, devout yet suspicious of religious folly. They are individuals saddled with responsibilities but no real power and an all too frequent history of abandonment and betrayal. No one is going to exploit the 6’1” Madea. It is through the imaginative joining with Madea that African American women get the revenge or justice that may elude them in real life.

For Fosshage, growth occurs through identification and through the use of idealizing selfobjet representations. In Madea, we have Perry identifying and idealizing the aunt who could aggressively intervene in his moments of abuse. The audience does the same, in turn, using Perry in this way.

In short, he is part of his fan base’s ongoing transformative process in which their existing internal relationships with their self image is being reworked toward a feeling of being effective in the world and achieving a sense of personal and spiritual justice.

From Fosshage, October 10, 2009, presentation to the Tampa Bay Psychoanalytic Society.

Friday, October 9, 2009


The stunning announcement this morning that the new President of the United States Barack Obama has been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize "marks," per French President Sarkozy, "America's return to the hearts of the people of the world." Obama's abilitry to recognize the inevitability of rupture and of repair gives Obama a place in the hearts of modern psychoanalysts.

Obama brings hope and respect for dialogue. While columnist David Brooks of the New York Times, among others, may complainingly ask: [but] "Can he make a decision?" I think this query overlooks the rabbinical tradition of aspiring to see both sides. As Lewis Aron writes in The Tree of Knowledge: Good and Evil: "an argument that threatens to resolve a controversy is considered a difficulty [kushia], while one that restores the controversy is called a solution [teruz]!" To have circumspection, to see both sides and to hold both in tension, is one of many things which makes Obama a postmodern president. To fall on one side of the discussion can prematurely foreclose further dialogue. Obama, like an effective psychoanalyst, seeks to keep the dialogic process ongoing. Even had he not dedicated himself to an era of international cooperation on nuclear arms, respect for, and endeavoring to, keep open the dialogue, for that alone, I think he deserves the Nobel Prize. Obama does us proud.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

In His Site, We Are All Precious: Intersubjectivity, Unconscious Fantasy and Tyler Perry's Disclosure of His Childhood Abuse

"People are suffering unspeakable, horrific horrors and they live with those secrets that tear them up inside." Terrie Williams author of "Black Pain: It Just Looks Like We're Not Hurting," applauding Perry for publicizing his childhood history of abuse.

Yesterday, Tyler Perry revealed that as a child he had been seduced by a male church member and also by the mother of a playmate. He was randomly and viciously beatened by his father who also berated him for his love of reading as well as his skin color which was perceived to be too dark. His paternal grandmother washed him in ammonia to cure him of his ‘germs’ in her protest over his treatment by a physician for allergies.

His revelations are part of a media campaign to publicize the film Precious, based on the novel, Push by New York poet Sapphire, herself a victim of childhood abuse. The story is about a pregnant teen who suffers unspeakable and protracted verbal, emotional, physical, and sexual abuse by her mother and her mother's boyfriend. She is barely literate and full of self-hate. But it is a story meant to inspire and like all Perry's undertakings, she is a woman who is rescued from descending into the abyss.

Raised by a seemingly sadistic adoptive mother, Perry’s father was an alcoholic and child molester in addition to being a brutal husband and father. Perry’s mother emerges as a shadow of a person in this first person narrative, appearing to blithely return to and remain with a husband who hounded her at every relentlessly.

Perry and his mother sought protection and solace from an aunt who he recalled threatening his father with a pistol after a particularly fierce beating. It is this aunt who seems to be the woman who fueled his imagination of the gun-toting, wise-cracking, matriarch, Madea. Madea rescues fallen women and children in peril in Perry's wildly successful plays and top grossing movies (e.g., Diary of a Mad Black Woman, Madea's Family Reunion, Madea Goes to Jail, and I Can Do Bad By Myself). Madea is short in New Orleans' lingo for ‘Mother Dear.’

My interest in Perry's character, Madea, lies in the area of his unconscious fantasies. He credits his childhood coping strategy of dissociation with saving him. ". . . in my mind, I left. I didn't feel it anymore, just like in PRECIOUS. How this girl would leave in her mind. I learned to use my gift, as it was my imagination that let me escape."

Where did Tyler go when he left his abuser? Did he go to his aunt's or did he image becoming his aunt? One approach to understanding an artist is to consider their creative works, products of their internal world.

In his movies, mothers are weak, evil, or absent. It is the hardy Madea who must step in to save the day for all involved.

Her ways are far from conventional and give free reign to what Kohut would have called, the archaic grandiose-exhibitionistic self. While Madea can break the laws of gender and heteronomativity, she does so to corral the wayward young women back into the law of the father--to a life free of drugs, prostitution, selfishness, and ultimately to an acceptance of Christ and heterosexuality.

"I owe the little boy that I was in my life." Tyler Perry

The intersubjective approach developed by Robert Stolorow and George Atwood proposes that psychological development takes place in the interactive space of two or more subjectivities. Out of these interfaces grows the psychological structures of the unconscious: the prereflective, the dynamic, and the unvalidated.

The prereflective unconscious contains the organizing principles that form and provide a narrative theme of our experiences. The dynamic unconscious contains all those experiences that are not permitted expression in any form since they would be perceived as damaging the necessary ties between the child and the caretakers. With great difficulty, the contents of the dynamic unconscious can be made conscious.
The unvalidated unconscious, on the other hand, is the repository of the unarticulated aspects of the self because they fell prey to the experience of never having evoked affirming responses from the environment and caretakers.

The unvalidated unconscious fantasies in an intersubjective context arise when according to Stolorow and Atwood, “powerful affective experiences fail to evoke adequate validating responses from the surround. In such instances, the concrete sensorimotor images of the fantasy serve to dramatize and reify the person's emotional experience, conferring upon it a sense of validity and reality that otherwise would be absent. An analogous function may be served by certain types of enactment through which a person attempts to articulate experiences that could never be encoded symbolically.”

This is the role that Madea plays in the creative life of Tyler Perry. He has an endless stream of plays and movies that in the intersubjective frame is an archaic grandiose-exhibitionistic fantasy. I think this because as a person with a background of childhood trauma, it would be reasonable to conclude that when he strove for “excitement, expansiveness, pride, efficacy, and pleasure in himself” these were rebuffed and did not generate validating responses from the environment.
Madea can be seen as an introject, rather than a true self articulation. Madea is an incorporation of his aunt’s qualities out of a need to maintain a connection to his idealized protector. It is an effort, the intersubjectivists wouldsay, that the constant recreation of the Madea character is an attempt to sure up a weak ability for sustaining self-affirmation.

"The artist is the daydreamer for the community...." Jacob Arlow

Thousands of African Americans have stood in long lines to see Tyler Perry's morality tales. His plays easily draw tens of thousands in a single weekend. In heavily African American communities such as Detroit, his films would be shown on 12 screens in a single multiplex.

What accounts for this appeal, when journalists lambast his stereotypes and lack of depth?

Jacob Arolow's thoughts hold sway, "Out of his own daydreams and conflicts, the artist creates a work capable of evoking unconscious fantasy in members of the audience." Tyler's story evoked through Madea is a collective story of loss love, betrayal, abandonment, homeless, hopelessness, exploitation but also of imagined community, salvation, redemption and a better tomorrow.

Stolorow, R.D. and Atwood, G.E. (1989). The Unconscious and Unconscious Fantasy: An Intersubjective-Developmental Perspective. Psychoanalytic Inquiry, 9:364-374.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

“Shielding the Flame”: Marek Edelman, Commander in Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, Dies at 90

"Dr. Edelman was one of a handful of young leaders who in April 1943 led a force of 220 poorly armed young Jewish men and women in a desperate and hopeless struggle against the Germans." *

The armed resistance was included breify in the film Korczak and speaks to the oft-stated question about Jews passively going to their deaths, not fighting back. Dr. Edelman rejects such dualisms and hierachies of courage which give special status to the armed resistance saying, it was much more courageous to go to one's death in silence.

*A version of this article appeared in print on October 3, 2009, on page A21 of the New York edition. To read on line, click here.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

The Genocide in Me: A Documentary

Vamik Volkan characterizes the intergenerational transmission of trauma as the psychological DNA that passes down from those who originally experienced the trauma but were not able to process it adequately, to their descendents who are then impelled to attend to the defeat, loss and humiliation of the earlier generation.

This is the context of the life of filmmaker, Araz Artinian, who is torn between loyalty to her community’s traumatic past and her desire to open her life to people and experiences of her own generation. The demands of her family and community are to sustain an Armenian identity which is dramatically walled off from odars, literally strangers or foreigners.

Her family’s experience of the 1915 Armenian genocide at the hands of the Turks has held them hostage for more than 7o years. In some instances, it has even alienated them from other survivors. For example, Araz’s grandmother was pejoratively known as ‘the tricolor woman’ because she wore the colors of the Armenian flag on her head and her waistband. She was the object of ridicule by her neighbors. Such was her conviction of the necessity for remembering the atrocities of the past that she named her son, Araz’s father, ‘The Revenge of the Armenians’* and admonished him to never forget his identity.

Trauma destroys time, Robert Stolorow once told a patient. Stolorow was grounding his thinking in the idea that the present contains both the future and the past. “Experiences of trauma become freeze-framed into an eternal present in which one remains forever trapped.” Araz says as much in her statement “everything that happens in my life, goes back to 1915.”

The family enacted prohibitions to avoid losing their identities. They imposed these on the children, forbidding mixed marriages and insisting on observance of cultural markers. Araz’s family restrictions became ‘absolutisms’ which Stolorow defines as beliefs that are not open for discussion. Absolutisms constitute a na├»ve realism that allow us to experience the world as predictable and stable. Trauma, a major loss of innocence yields a rupture between the traumatized and those that are not; namely because the traumatized have first hand experience outside the boundaries of everyday normality.

Stolorow proposes that the isolating estrangement felt by survivors stems from a conviction that the traumatized and ‘normals’ live in separate and unbridgeable worlds. Araz wants to exit the ‘ghetto’ of her existence to open herself to others, to difference. She desires to do this while staying connected to an identity she described as ‘more than herself;’ This is an instance of what Stolorow would call “the contexuality of our sense of being and of the intersubjective contexts in which it can be lost and regained.”

Stolorow, R. (2007). Trauma and Human Existence. New York: The Analytic Press.
*Vrej-Armen Artinian. (photo: Ian Oliveri © InformAction Films inc. & Twenty Voices)