Lene Auestad

(CITATION: Please refer to this text as:
L. Auestad, (2017) “Introduction” in L. Auestad ed.
Shared Traumas, Silent Loss, Public and Private Mourning,
Karnac/ Routledge, pp. xv-xxxi.)

(Google books has made this introduction available as a preview here)

This book aims to question the junctions of the private and the public when it comes to trauma, loss, and the work of mourning, notions that, it is argued, challenge our very notions of the individual and the shared. It asks, to paraphrase Adorno: What do we mean by “working through the past”? How is a shared work of mourning to be understood? With what legitimacy do we consider a particular social or cultural practice to be “mourning”? Rather than aiming to present a diagnosis of the political present, this volume instead takes one step back to pose the question of what mourning might mean and what its social dimension consists in.


Silent losses and communicability

Mourning can be thought of as a private endeavour, so familiar it seems hardly pathological, writes Freud. During mourning, the ego withdraws from the world. It re-visits the different aspects of the lost object, approaches it from a series of different angles. When reality testing has shown that the object no longer exists, it demands that one’s attachments to the object be withdrawn. This is only done bit by bit, slowly and painfully, as “Each single one of the memories and expectations in which the libido is bound to the object is brought up and hyper-cathected, and detachment of the libido is accomplished in respect of it” (Freud, 1917e, p. 245). Darian Leader (2008) compares this work to the process leading up to Cubist artworks resulting from the combination and reshuffling of the conventional image of a person. Thus there is an aspect of mourning that confronts us with fragmentation, of the object mourned and of the experience of mourning. The chapters in this book question, in various ways, the act, experience, and results of mourning in terms of their possible or impossible completions. In a letter to Ernest Jones, Freud questions the source of the pain involved in the work of mourning, and his answer conveys how one struggles against the acknowledgement of the loss:

One has to bring recognition of the reality principle to every single point of the libido, and this, in fact, is in agreement with your formulation: against one’s own will. […] one then has the choice of dying oneself or acknowledging the death of the loved one, which again comes very close to your expression that one kills this person. (Freud-Jones 1993, pp. 652-)

Mourning only happens under great protest. I can remember seeing my mother in the street, after she had died – and after my father had died, expecting it to be him at the other end of the phone line when the phone rang. A mad moment of wild hope, of immense joy, collapses a second later, with the thought that you will never see them again, never talk to them again. But this “never” is far too brutal to be handled, too cruel to be contemplated, and so you throw it aside, and continue as if searching for the lost person, renewing the hope that the next time they might turn up. This search and this questioning continue in dreams.

It very commonly happens that in dreams of this kind the dead person is treated to begin with as though he were alive, that he then suddenly turns out to be dead and that in a subsequent part of the dream he is alive once more. […] It eventually occurred to me that this alternation between death and life is intended to represent indifference on the part of the dreamer. […] This indifference is, of course, not real but merely desired; it is intended to help the dreamer to repudiate his very intense and often contradictory emotional attitudes. (Freud, 1900a, p. 431)

While dreaming is a form of internal communication, a dialogue, or a battle with unconscious parts of oneself, in question here is communication with others, and its social and political conditions. Leader suggests that mourning, however private, requires other people; a loss requires recognition, a sense that it has been witnessed and made real:

Freud saw mourning as an individual task, yet every documented human society gives a central place to public mourning rituals. Loss would be inscribed within the community through a system of rites, customs and codes, ranging from changes in dress and eating habits to highly stylized memorial ceremonies. These involved not just the bereaved individual and their immediate family, but the much larger social group. (Leader, 2008, pp. 7-8)

In reflecting on Freud’s, Abraham’s, and Klein’s ideas of mourning, he remarks on the peculiar absence in these psychoanalytic accounts of a social dimension; they appear to dispense completely with the role of other people. Mourning is portrayed as an intensely private process, where individuals are left alone with their own grief:

In his important 1965 survey Death, Grief and Mourning, the anthropologist Geoffrey Gorer drew attention to this omission, pointing out that every documented human society has mourning rituals which involve public displays. Besides funeral rituals, even dress codes could reveal that someone had been bereaved, whom they had lost and how long it had been since the loss. […] These outward signs would help to inscribe the mourner within a shared, public space. (ibid., p. 72)

The author comments on the age-old practice, now abandoned in this part of the world, of hiring professional mourners for funerals:

As the professional mourners lamented and bewailed the passing of the dead, the mourners could access their own private grief. The public, ostentatious display of others was necessary for them to enter their own grief. […] Without this artificial distance, the mourner remains in the same space as the dead, rather than being able to situate their loss within a different, more symbolic space. (ibid., p. 77)

The very fact of the artificiality of the professional mourners’ grief, is the point, lent a distance to their display of affect, which distinguished it from the sorrow of those closer to the mourner and to the one who had died. Thus this public framework is one that allows for the articulation of private grief, for the expression of one’s private mourning. Gorer had argued that the mass slaughter of the First World War brought about profound changes, leading to the decline of public mourning rituals in the West. The number of deaths, and the number of people who had lost their loved ones, was more extreme and concentrated than in earlier warfare; thus the scale of the losses made the work of mourning seem insurmountable: “What sense would it make for a community to mourn each dead soldier when the corpses were hardly even countable?” (Leader, 2008, p. 72) In many African societies the AIDS epidemic has led to a more recent similar decline in mourning rituals, the number of dead making traditional practices impossible to maintain. Perhaps, reflects Leader, the I is built up not just through our experience of losses but through our registration of them – the losses need to be represented. This opens up the question of the meaning of such representation.


Public mourning

Mourning can be conceived as a social effort that binds communities together. Conversely, if we think of how Freud reminds us of our tendency to recoil from any activity that causes pain, how there is “a revolt in our minds against mourning”, we can also conceive of a refusal to mourn as a tie between communities. The Federal Republic of Germany, wrote Alexander and Margarete Mitscherlich (1975), rather than succumbing to mass melancholia, avoided self-devaluation as a group by breaking all affective bridges to the immediate past:

Only a patient whose symptoms cause him suffering greater than the gain he gets from repression is willing to relax, step by step, the interior censorship preventing the return to consciousness of what has been denied and forgotten.[…] But here we are asking that this therapy be carried out by a society which, at least materially, is on the whole better off than ever before. Therefore, it feels no incentive to expose its interpretation of the recent past to the inconvenient questioning of others. (ibid., p. 15)

Their formulation is reminiscent of Elliot Jacques’ (1955) hypothesis that one of the primary elements that bind people into institutionalised association is the motivation to defend against depressive and paranoid anxieties. In the same tradition, Menzies Lyth (1990) described how a social defence system might not only fail to alleviate but itself increase anxiety. What was insufficiently analysed was how inequalities of power structured this situation (Auestad, 2011). The aspect of asymmetry with regard to who may speak, appear, and become objects of shared mourning, has been further highlighted in Judith Butler’s reflections on the public sphere as “constituted in part by what cannot be said and what cannot be shown” (2004, p. XVIII). In that context she referred specifically to the conflation of critiques of Israeli policies with antisemitism. Acknowledging a debt to the work of the Mitscherlichs, Butler stated in an interview:

After 9/11, I was shocked by the fact that there was public mourning for many of the people who died in the attacks on the World Trade Center, less public mourning for those who died in the attack on the Pentagon, no public mourning for the illegal workers of the WTC, and, for a very long time, no public acknowledgment of the gay and lesbian families and relationships that had been destroyed by the loss of one of the partners in the bombings. Then we went to war very quickly, Bush having decided that the time for grieving is over. I think he said that after ten days that the time for grieving is over and now is time for action. At which point we started killing populations abroad with no clear rationale. And the populations we targeted for violence were ones that never appeared to us in pictures. We never got little obituaries for them. We never heard anything about what lives had been destroyed. And we still don’t. (Aloni & Butler, )

Drawing on Sandor Ferenczi’s writings on trauma, Michael Balint argued in Trauma and Object Relationship (1969) that the structure of trauma has three phases. In the first phase, the child is dependent on the adult and is in a primarily trustful relationship. In the second phase, the adult, either once and suddenly, or repeatedly, does something highly exiting, frightening, or painful. The trauma is only completed in the third phase, when the adult acts towards the child as if nothing distressing or painful had happened, thus depriving the event that took place of its reality. Since what happened has not been acknowledged, not recognised, it continues to exert an influence in the present. It is this situation Adorno addressed in The Meaning of Working through the Past:

The question “What does working through the past mean?” […] follows from a formulation, a modish slogan that has become highly suspect during the last years. In this usage “working through the past” does not mean seriously working upon the past, that is, through a lucid consciousness breaking its power to fascinate. On the contrary, its intention is to close the books on the past, and, if possible, even remove it from memory. (Adorno, 1998b, p. 89)

This political and ethical evasion is closely connected to an epistemic one: “surely one must assume that there is a relation between the attitude of ‘not having known anything about it’ and an impassive and apprehensive indifference” (ibid., p. 89). The lack of recognition goes hand in hand with a wish, a will, and even a demand to forget what was done. In this way, the violence done in the past continues to be performed in the present. When perpetrators of wartime atrocities enjoy impunity after the war, Elisabeth Rohr reflects, traumatisations will amplify. “Tolerating impunity on a political level supports the impression that victims are guilty themselves, and therefore responsible for their own suffering.” (2012, p. 176) Jenyu Peng’s chapter in this book further emphasises the importance of the public recognition of historical reality to the victims’ reconstruction and to reparation. In the context of the aftermath of genocide, Stanley Cohen (2001, pp. 126-131) describes three variants of denial: literal innocence (“the atrocity never happened”), not knowing (“I did not know about it”), and forgetting (“it was so long ago, I have forgotten whether or to what extent I did anything”). At stake here is not only protection against individual guilt. By silencing testimonies of its assaults, a majority may keep the idea of the goodness of their nation or social unit intact. As Sara Ahmed puts it in a different context: “The organization becomes the subject of feeling, as the one who is easily bruised or hurt.” (2012, p. 147) Thus the ones who identify a violence performed are represented as being the problem – to a social unit that aims to forget, those who remember are seen as thorns in the flesh of the social fabric.

“In psychoanalysis lies freedom, or at least the potential for freedom” (2011, p. 164), writes Jonathan Sklar in pointing towards the need for reflection on the traumas of European history in analytic thought and practice. The author compares the reconstructed city of Warsaw, recreated so as to have covered up all signs of its near total destruction, to a delusion “applied like a patch over the place where originally a rent had appeared in the ego’s relation to the external world” (p. 166). The collective work of mourning may contribute to the construction of narratives, and to the writing of history. In this sense, memorials, works of art, monuments, public ceremonies, or other discursive practices, as long as they are not sentimentalised, exemplify scars or seams on social tissues. It is worth questioning both how something or someone is represented, and who is represented/who is rendered invisible or silenced.

Loss, when conflated with absence, is often called upon operate in power discourses. The full unity and homogeneity of the body politic is often posited as lost, disrupted, or polluted by others (LaCapra, 2001). However, one may argue that this putative unity in fact never existed, it is an absence. It points to the fundamental socio-political problem that Jean-Luc Nancy (1991) describes as being in common, without common being. Thus, the conflation of absence and loss can become an alibi for nationalistic discourses, foundational philosophies, and fundamentalist ideologies that posit past utopias and paradises lost. This conflation leads to unmournability, for it touches on the sphere of ontological absence, and can provide testimony of melancholic mechanisms operating behind otherwise convincing cultural, social, political, or individual agendas. Such cultural attempts and failures at “working through” are the concern of the contributors to this volume, who question the descriptive and normative features of completed and uncompleted mourning.


Time and afterwardsness1

The mind incorporates distinct dimensions other than linear temporality.2 Individuals as well as societies revise past events at a later date and return to past events in order to understand the present. In the paper on screen memories, Freud described two different movements: the screen memory is “pushed forward” when the earlier memory is used as a screen for a later event, and it is “retrogressive” when a later memory functions as a screen for an earlier event (1899a, p. 320). Experiences are only understood in retrospect, and we often reach for a past event to reflect on a more recent occurrence. “Just as it took World War II to ‘remember’ the lessons of World War I, so it took the experience of Vietnam to ‘remember’ the lessons of World War II, including the psychiatric lessons of the Holocaust.” (Leys, 2000, p. 15) We could think of this situation as one where one event covers up or conceals the other, an earlier one covering for a later one or a later one for an earlier one; or as making use of one event in order to understand the other, as the mourning of one loss revives earlier losses. As in Winnicott’s (1974) formulation, the catastrophic political scenario which functions as a negative regulative idea, what must not happen is what has already happened. The specific “X” in varieties of the political slogan “Never again X!” is a historical traumatic event, that which must not be repeated. The notion of afterwardsness (après-coup) makes clear how earlier memory-traces are reorganised in the light of the present – the past and the present interact so as to bring forth a new meaning, one which could arise only later (Freud, 1918). This happens specifically to what it has been impossible in the first instance to incorporate fully into a meaningful context. The traumatic event is the epitome of such unassimilated experience.

In one of the most memorable descriptions in the history of psychoanalysis, Karl Abraham recounts how he took his father inside him after the latter’s death, an experience which led him to question Freud’s (1917e) distinction between mourning and melancholia:

Towards the end of the previous year my father had died. During the period of mourning which I went through certain things occurred which I was not at the time able to recognize as the consequence of a process of introjection. The most striking event was that my hair rapidly turned very grey and then went black again in a few month’s time. […] For I had seen my father for the last time a few months before his death, when I was home from the war on a short leave. I had found him very much aged and not at all strong, and I had especially noticed that his hair and his beard were almost white […] My recollection of my last visit to him was closely associated with this impression. (Abraham, 1988, pp. 437-438)

Following on from the exchange between Freud and Abraham, and from Ferenczi’s work on introjection, Nicholas Abraham and Maria Torok have described fantasmatic incorporation, where the object is settled in the I to compensate for the failed introjection (1994, ). When denied acknowledgement and introjection,

we are reduced to a radical denial of the loss, to pretending that we had absolutely nothing to lose. […] Inexpressible mourning erects a secret tomb inside the subject. […] Sometimes in the dead of the night […] the ghost of the crypt comes back to haunt the cemetery guard, giving him strange and incomprehensible signals […] or subjecting him to unexpected sensations. (Abraham & Torok, 1994, p. 130).

Such phantoms haunt future generations and influence political motives and social movements to come.

This links with Haydée Faimberg’s (2005) work, an author who has explored how, in “the telescoping of generations”, which always involves three generations, one carries alienated identifications with intrusive parents linked to their history and death.

A neglect of historical consciousness is characteristic of Western society today, a lack of reflection on relations between past happenings, past events, and the present. The past is rarely brought up in conversations, reflective retrospection is very rarely on the agenda. New technologies have increased our access to information enormously, and contemporary society places a high value on being up to date and incorporating more and more new information at the cost of memory. Furthermore, it is a sign of status to signal to other people that one is very busy, that one has no time to spare. Eva Hoffman reflects on the impacts such attitudes have on human relationships:

Coming to know another person calls for a certain affective energy and sustained attention; for the willingness to travel into the inwardness of another person, to probe behind appearances, to let empathy follow its own unpredictable temporal pathways. Intimacy can rarely fit into sound-bite intervals, and it rarely happens on schedule. (Hoffman, 2009, p. 176)

Similarly, mourning requires sustained attention and a willingness to let one’s mind travel beyond its usual horizon. It is a massively inefficient process, one that has no regard for external success. In today’s busy and instrumentalised society, focused on instant gratification or definable goals, there is little space for remembrance, retrospection, and mourning. A lack of time to reflect and a lack of access to critical alternative perspectives of past events may have paved the way for today’s fundamentalisms, where idealised, mythical narrations replace realistic and nuanced historiography. In so far as the past has not been worked through, the violence it initiated carries on, unreflectively, in the present.


About the chapters

This book was conceived on the basis of a Psychoanalysis and Politics3 conference with the same title, held in the rooms of the Swedish Psychoanalytic Society in Stockholm in March 2012. We were following a thread of thought that had begun with problems of social exclusion and the politics of representation and continued engaging with contemporary neo-nationalism and xenophobia, reflections which have resulted in two previous books published by Karnac (Auestad, 2012, 2014). In retrospect, it can be seen that we were also working through a traumatic racist attack on the conference series by the organisation it first belonged to, stemming from an accusation that “these people are not Nordic, neither genetically nor intellectually”, and supported by many. These events led to the setting up of Psychoanalysis and Politics as an independent organisation, which has held conferences internationally since then. The Stockholm conference was the first out of several symposia with the same title that continued to explore shared traumas and social manifestations of (non-)mourning.

The opening chapter, by Hannah Zeavin, “War games: mourning loss through play”, focuses on the re-enactment of wartime trauma by veterans through war play – child’s play that resurfaces in soldiers after they have returned home from combat. The author argues that public American memorialisation works to strip trauma and loss of its historical and lived referents. Public memorials codify the erasure of trauma, both of the soldier and those he fought. Therefore, those who lived through such trauma find it a necessity to interrogate sites of commemoration in order to redress their history in private. In discussing Kim Jone’s performance pieces Rat Piece and War Maps, outsider artist Michael D. Cousino’s Vietnam War dioramas, and Mark Hogankamp’s miniature wartime village of Marwencol, she explores how this specific form of re-enactment constitutes a gesture of political resistance to the public culture memorialising such events.

Lene Auestad’s chapter, “Public memory and figures of fragmentation”, questions some public memorials of the Holocaust in relation to trauma, especially in its aspects of physical suffering, and to the possibility or impossibility of mourning. It begins by reflecting on the potential functions of art in this context, and relates this to the phenomenology of trauma, mainly as described by Ferenczi. Three sculptures or installations are discussed in relation to their communication to the spectator as an embodied, physical being: Anthony Gormley’s chairs in Oslo, Peter Eisenman’s memorial in Berlin and Rachel Whiteread’s memorial in Vienna. These sculptures, it is argued, are not mimetic in the sense of depicting something recognisable. Rather, the spectator is the one who is put in the position of doing the mimesis, as the monuments evoke some of the sensations – physical and mental – related to trauma. These sculptures, it is argued, turn the spectator into an object in relation to them, constituting a relation to something that does not relate back, as if speaking to someone who neither listens nor answers.

The main objective of Emil Fackenheim’s 1982 work To Mend the World is to lay the foundations of a post-Holocaust Jewish thought. Jonathan Davidoff’s chapter, “To mend the world – trauma, mourning, and containment ”, engages with this work’s confrontation with the possibility of collapse of Jewish, Christian and secular philosophies that results from the reality of Auschwitz and what was lost therein. It outlines the impact of what was irremediably lost in the Holocaust and what can be repaired and clung to that may serve as the means to survive the abyss left behind. He concludes by interrogating the scope of Fackenheim’s work as a philosophical act of individual and shared mourning.

Edna Mor’s chapter, “Holocaust survivor mothers and their daughters – the intergenerational mourning process as a journey in search of the mother”, investigates processes of intergenerational transmission. Mothers who were young girls during the Holocaust and were separated from their parents for a long period of time or forever continued to live and develop, but the place which had contained their emotional and physical relations with their parent remained a vacuum. This vacuum formed in the psyche of the mother left its imprint on her children. The mothers’ and daughters’ therapists were interviewed separately, enabling the author to independently look at these relations from the mothers’ and the daughters’ points of view. When the survivor mother makes room for her daughter in her painful past, it is argued, a bridge of intimacy is constructed that brings the vacuum inside them and between them to life with emotions and memories. Such healing has ramifications for future generations.

In “Unable to mourn again? Media(ted) reactions to German neo-Nazi terrorism”, Steffen Krüger reads the 2011 media discourse on right-wing terrorism in Germany in the context of media and communication as well as psychoanalytic theory. In what popular German media had crudely termed the “Doner Murders”, eight people of Turkish and one of Greek origin were killed between 2000 and 2006. A trio calling themselves “National-Socialist Underground” were found to be behind at least two nail-bomb attacks on immigrant areas in Cologne, in addition to the killing of a police officer in 2007 (a second survived heavily wounded) – Europe’s biggest unsolved series of murders so far. Drawing on Alexander and Margarete Mitscherlich’s classic, the chapter raises the question of whether Germany’s media-political culture has still not gained the ability to mourn – to mourn its victims, as well as itself, in order to integrate Germany’s past as a continuous presence into its reasoning and actions.

Margarita Palacios’ chapter, “Politicising trauma – a post-colonial and psychoanalytic conceptual intervention”, argues in favour both of radicalising a social constructionist perspective (violence is always associated with processes of displacement of meaning) and of embracing paradoxically at the same time a notion of a “non-relational” space (or non-symbolisable space) of the experience of the death drive. Trauma (in the case of political violence), she argues, relates to the impossible knot of becoming in “the hands of the enjoying other” a purposeless thing (a “what” as opposed to a “who”) that can be cut and burned, penetrated and disposed, and at the same time – always and inevitably – never becoming just that. Trauma points to the experience of inhabiting the mute death drive as an object of enjoyment of the other, and consequently, to the existential struggle of neither giving up to the demand of the other (of entering in a logic of an intersubjective sadomasochistic arrangement), nor giving up meaning and symbolic life altogether. The author argues that the existential counterpart of trauma is not found in the positions either of the understanding witness or in the silent witness, but only in the figure of the anxious witness – as only this witness can account for the affect (i.e., anxiety) that has triggered the acting out of the violent event in the first place.

How is mourning carried out and what forms of grieving does it prescribe when the trace of the lost object remains alive and when the attachment to what is lost is not dissolved despite the recognition of the loss? Nayla Debs’ chapter, “Ongoing mourning as a way to go beyond endless grief: considerations on the Lebanese experience”, considers this question in the context of the Lebanese society, where collective and individual lives have been marked by a series of losses caused by repetitive wars and the abrupt changes they have installed. By addressing different experiences of grief, the chapter sheds light on multiple forms of working through, thus questioning a normative reading of the Freudian model that establishes a clear distinction between mourning and melancholia. Drawing on Freud, Laplanche, Derrida, and Butler, the author points to the importance of unfinished mourning as the condition of its success, a condition that preserves the otherness of the trace and prevents its loss (the loss of the loss), allowing the formation of an “unencumbered” memory open to the future through ongoing mourning.

In “When the ‘comfort women’ speak: traumatic memory, recognition, and healing”, Jenyu Peng examines the trauma of the sex slaves of the Japanese Imperial Army during the Pacific War, some of whom, after half a century of silence, started to reveal their suffering in the 1990s. With the help of feminists and human rights activists, they have attempted numerous lawsuits to urge the Japanese government to pronounce an official apology, in vain. As Ferenczi indicated in the case of childhood sexual assaults, the denial of the adult/abuser effectuates the after-effect of traumatisation (Nachträglichkeit). The fact that the Japanese right-wing majority fails to face the post-war responsibility aggravates the grief for the victims, and extinguishes their slight hope for reparation. The research on psychotrauma related to human violence shows that the recognition of historical reality is crucial in victims’ reconstruction. Based on a fieldwork of clinical anthropology with Taiwanese former “comfort women”, this chapter describes the healing settings offered by an international network of NGOs, and discusses the nature and function of psychoanalytical settings for victims of violence.

In “Trauma, mourning, and memory in three plays by Ariel Dorfman”, Jean-François Jacques examines individual and collective responses to trauma resulting from political violence through three plays by the Chilean playwright and author Ariel Dorfman, “The Resistance Trilogy” (comprising “Death and the Maiden”, “Reader”, and “Widows”). These plays are set against the backdrop of the Chilean dictatorship of the 1970s and 1980s. In “Death and the Maiden”, Dorfman depicts three characters that each personifies a different response to the resurgence of the demons of the traumatic past: retribution, denial, and forgiveness. In “Reader”, the truth about the past is prevented from emerging because of a curtain of censorship that deprives access to personal and collective memory. In “Widows”, the wish of women to mourn the bodies of their husbands washed ashore is confronted by an intense desire for truth and justice. By making use of the thoughts of the American psychoanalyst Doris Brothers, Daniel Siegel, and Judith Herman, the author discusses the questions raised by Dorfman’s plays about the conditions for individuals and society to mourn their past and restore trust in the future.

What was the difference between the people who gave Clement Atlee’s Labour government the electoral landslide to build a welfare state and a million new homes, and the people who chose Margaret Thatcher’s Conservatives from 1979-1997, with their programme of radical privatisation? This question is raised by Jane Frances in the final chapter, “Victory and defeat: from Beveridge to Thatcher without tears”. After 1918 Britain’s military dead were grimly honoured with the construction of explicitly non-triumphalist memorials built in prominent sites in every city, town, and village across Britain. The 1939-1945 war saw each new and terrible development turned, for reasons of popular as well as military morale, into something positive: Dunkirk, the Blitz, the Home Front. Upon victory came newsreels of liberated concentration camps, but not new war memorials: the names of the British military dead were added to the lists of names on the already existing Great War memorials. The author argues that, unlike the 1979 electorate, the 1945 electorate, who voted overwhelmingly Labour immediately after the 1939-1945 war, would have included many people born before the Great War of 1914-1918. The article focuses on the impact of these two world wars on British society, and draws upon attachment research to argue that a terrible mismatch between private loss and public mourning shaped a generation, leading to reduced social concern. The analysis contends that the political and social “will of the people” is at least partly shaped by people’s experiences of war, trauma, and loss, the failure of public and private mourning, and the transmission of the emotional consequences of these experiences to subsequent generations.



  1. I follow Jean Laplanche in translating Nachträglichkeit as “afterwardsness”, which is closer to the original and captures the two directions involved (see Caruth & Laplanche, 2001).
  2. Rosine Perelberg (2008) lists seven dimensions of time in Freud’s work: development, regression, fixation, repetition compulsion, the return of the repressed, the timelessness of the unconscious, and après-coup, referring to the latter concept as providing a “general illumination” in his framework.
  3. Psychoanalysis and Politics is an international and interdisciplinary conference series, founded in 2010. The series aims to address how crucial contemporary political issues may be fruitfully analysed through psychoanalytic theory and vice versa – how political phenomena may reflect back on psychoanalytic thinking. Perspectives from different psychoanalytic schools are most welcome. We emphasise room for discussion among the presenters and participants, thus the symposium series creates a space where representatives of different perspectives come together, participating in a community of thought (



Abraham, K. (1988). A short study of the development of the libido, viewed in the light of mental disorders. In: Selected Papers of Karl Abraham. London: Maresfield Library.

Abraham, N., & Torok, M. (1994). The Shell and the Kernel. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.

Adorno, T. W. (1998). The meaning of working through the past. In: Critical Models. Interventions and Catchwords. New York: Columbia University Press.

Ahmed, S. (2012). On Being Included. Racism and Diversity in Institutional Life. London: Duke University Press.

Aloni, U., & Butler, J. (2010). Judith Butler: As a Jew, I was taught it was ethically imperative to speak up. In: Haaretz, 24 February. [last accessed 17 July 2016].

Auestad, L. (2011). Splitting, attachment and instrumental rationality. A re-view of Menzies Lyth’s social criticism. Psychoanalysis, Culture & Society, 16(4): 394-410.

Auestad, L. (2012) (Ed.). Psychoanalysis and Politics: Exclusion and the Politics of Representation. London: Karnac.

Auestad, L. (2014). Nationalism and the Body Politic: Psychoanalysis and the Rise of Ethnocentrism and Xenophobia. London: Karnac.

Balint, M. (1969). Trauma and object relationship. International Journal of Psychoanalysis, 50: 429-435.

Butler, J. (2004). Precarious Life. The Powers of Mourning and Violence. London: Verso.

Caruth, C., & Laplanche, J. (2001). An interview with Jean Laplanche. Postmodern Culture, 11(2). [last accessed 17 July 2016].

Cohen, S. (2001). States of Denial. Knowing about Atrocities and Suffering. Cambridge: Polity.

Faimberg, H. (2005). The Telescoping of Generations. Listening to the Narcissistic Links between Generations. London: Routledge.

Freud, S. (1899a). Screen Memories. S. E., 3: 301. London: Hogarth.

Freud, S. (1900a). The Interpretation of Dreams. S. E., 4-5. London: Hogarth.

Freud, S. (1917e). Mourning and Melancholia. S. E., 14: 239. London: Hogarth.

Freud, S. (1918). From the History of an Infantile Neurosis. S. E., 17: 3. London: Hogarth.

Freud, S./ Jones, E./ R. A. Paskauskas, Ed. (1993). The complete correspondence of Sigmund Freud and Ernest Jones 1908–1939. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

Hoffman, E. (2009). Time. London: Profile.

Jacques, E. (1955). Social systems as a defence against persecutory and depressive anxiety. In: M. Klein, P. Heimann, & R. E. Money-Kyrle (Eds.), New Directions in Psycho-Analysis. London: Maresfield.

LaCapra, D. (2001). Writing History, Writing Trauma. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press.

Leader, D. (2008). The New Black. London: Hamish Hamilton.

Leys, R. (2000). Trauma: A Genealogy. London: University of Chicago Press.

Menzies Lyth, I. (1990). Social systems as a defense against anxiety: an empirical study of the nursing service of a general hospital. In: E. Trist & H. Murray (Eds.), The Social Engagement of Social Science Vol. 1: The Socio-Psychological Perspective (pp. 439-462). London: Free Association Books.

Mitscherlich, A./ Mitscherlich, M. (1975). The Inability to Mourn: Principles of Collective Behavior. New York: Grove Press.

Nancy, J. L. (1991). The Inoperative Community. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press.

Perelberg, R. J. (2008). Time, Space and Phantasy. London: Routledge.

Rohr, E. (2012) Traces of trauma in post-conflict Guatemala: theoretical reflections on the effects of trauma on social organisation. In: L. Auestad (Ed.), Psychoanalysis and Politics: Exclusion and the Politics of Representation (pp. 173-195). London: Karnac.

Sklar, J. (2011). Landscapes of the Dark. History, Trauma, Psychoanalysis. London: Karnac.

Winnicott, D. W. (1974). Fear of breakdown. International Review of Psychoanalysis, 1: 103-107.


(CITATION: Please refer to this text as:
L. Auestad, (2017) “Introduction” in L. Auestad ed.
Shared Traumas, Silent Loss, Public and Private Mourning,
Karnac/ Routledge, pp. xv-xxxi.)

(Google books has made this introduction available as a preview here)