Review of Ghost in the Human Psyche: The Story of a ‘Muslim Armenian’ , by Vamik D. Volkan. Oxfordshire, UK: Phoenix Publishing House Ltd., 2019. 122 pp.
by Lora Heims Tessman, PhD
In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:
The troubling, worldwide resurgence of racism makes Vamik Volkan’s: “Ghost in the Human Psyche: The Story of a ‘Muslim Armenian’,” a most timely topic. How does shameful cultural history live in an individual’s psyche and influence individual psychoanalysis? Some years ago, I posited that, “for traumatized individuals, when denial of a dreaded past is replaced by remembrance, intolerable dilemmas in identification may emerge” (Tessman, 1996, p. 329). That led me to question: “under what conditions can memories also be an ally in acknowledging and facing these dilemmas?” (Tessman, 1996, p. 329). What, in psychoanalytic process, might foster the incorporation of memories in ways which counter reenactment of trauma? Ironically, it may require oscillations between two contradictory attitudes. As James Joyce expressed it:
“History is a nightmare from which I am trying to awake;” (J. Joyce. Stephen Daedelus, Ulysses), while Victor Hugo is quoted as believing that “Memory is the only paradise from which you cannot be evicted”. (Tessman, 1996, p. 329).
Psychoanalysis is singularly suited for ‘awakening’ from personal and historically induced trauma, yet fraught: Shame and terror compound the forces which engender concealment through withholding, disguise, and fear of authentic desires. Reliance on such disguises makes free communication not only difficult, but also taboo. For the analyst it becomes a delicate, but continual challenge to avoid unacknowledged dyadic repetition of such taboos<…>
Contemporary Psychoanalysis, 56(2-3):457-464, April 2020.
About the Author:
Lora Heims Tessman, PhD, is a member of Boston Psychoanalytic Society and the Institute for Psychoanalytic Training and Research in NY. Earlier she was adult and child psychotherapist and researcher at the Judge Baker Guidance Center, the Boston Floating hospital, and, from 1961 to 1992, the Psychiatric Service of MIT. She is the author of many articles and book reviews and two important books: The Analyst’s Analyst Within (2003) and Children of Parting Parents (1978). She practices psychoanalysis and supervision in Newton, Massachusetts.
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