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Constable, L. Janowitz, N. (2009). Preface. Am. Imago, 66(3):269-276.

(2009). American Imago, 66(3):269-276


Liz Constable and Naomi Janowitz

Years after the death of his beloved daughter Sophie, Freud showed Hilda Doolittle a charm that he wore on his watchband, stating as he pointed to it, “She is here” (Doolittle 1956, 77). It would be hard to imagine a more dramatic example of a lost object that is not lost. In Freud's poignant gesture, the deceased person, now transformed, has become part of the mourner's life. The charm (object permanence) is juxtaposed with the timepiece (the passing of time).

As the essays in this special issue of American Imago argue, Freud's gesture is emblematic of the interrelatedness of psychic and social responses to loss. Although Freud initially posited an apparently firm distinction between mourning and melancholia, this premise is called into question not only by his own later work, and that of other psychoanalysts, but especially by contemporary approaches to the workings of remembering and forgetting.

Freud could baldly ask Marie Bonaparte, “Why should a thing that emanates from man endure on that account, when everything in the universe must perish?” (qtd. in von Unwerth 2005, 177). This might seem an odd question coming from the man who worked while seated at his desk surrounded by his collection of antiquities, lost objects that had been recovered from the ground. Yet Freud insists to Bonaparte that it would be incorrect to exempt humans from being part of the natural world and its unending change. In the natural world, he points out, birth and death are facts of life, and this finitude endows the world with beauty: “A flower that blossoms only for a single night does not seem to us on that account less lovely” (1916, 306). His example seems contrived, since no matter how much we may enjoy a flower, we know that in the next season new flowers will grow to replace the ones that die. We do not value them as individuals.

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