Thursday, September 1, 2016

Homesickness and Cheever

Home is the place where, when you have to go there,
                                       They have to take you in   - Robert Frost

We long for the certainty of unquestioned acceptance and welcome, a feeling of home, the place where we belong, but then come to “the realization that one’s longing for home can never be met.” Brothers and Lewis (2012) expand the idea of homesickness— in self-psychology language—as “a longing to recover (or gain for the first time) a sense of certainty that the selfobject experiences upon which selfhood depends are unquestionably available.” 

What do we do when we are confronted with the painful realization that we can never go home again, if home indeed ever was? What do we do when confronted with “this painful sense of unfulfilled and unfulfillable longing for home”? Brothers and Lewis intimate that a compensatory ‘home’ can be created by patient and analyst when they come to know one another in predictable, reliable ways and by building together a shared unique language. “In a healing analytic relationship…patient and analyst develop a shared language—partly verbal, partly nonverbal—by means of which excruciating experiences of sameness and difference become bearable.” [Here, sameness speaks to the need for twinship (see post of August 28, 2016), belonging as one does when ‘at home,’ and “the need to experience difference…to experience oneself as unique, special…”] Treatment additionally offers the opportunity for mourning what was lost, what one never had, and/or what one can never have.

Familiarity and belonging allow for the creation of meaning. But the sense of certainty and of familiarity are shattered by trauma. Trauma, in turn, can lead to exile “when trauma brings with it a desperate need to experience the clarity of difference.”

While Brothers and Lewis utilize the John Cheever quote ‘Fifty percent of people in the world are homesick all the time’ , their points about longing for what never was are also aptly illustrated in the Cheever short story Reunion (1962) where the son, meeting his father with heightened anticipation after years of estrangement, comes to the painful realization over lunch that he will never have the relationship with his father that he had always longed for; his longings for connection will remain unfulfilled; his efforts futile. Many of the works of Cheever speak to a kind of nostalgia or ‘homesickness’ for lost culture and community experienced in the isolating and alienating suburbs. There is a deep pathos in Cheever’s works. So, too, in ours.


Brothers, D., Lewis, J., (2012) Homesickness, Exile, and the Self-Psychological Language of Homecoming. International J. Psychoanalytic Self Psychol. 7:180-195.

Cheever, J., (1978) The Stories of John Cheever, New York: Alfred A. Knopf; story originally appeared in The New Yorker magazine, October 27, 1962.

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