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Grotstein, J.S. (1990). Nothingness, Meaninglessness, Chaos, and the "Black Hole" II—The Black Hole. Contemp. Psychoanal., 26:377-407.

(1990). Contemporary Psychoanalysis, 26:377-407

Nothingness, Meaninglessness, Chaos, and the "Black Hole" II—The Black Hole

James S. Grotstein, M.D.


THE "BLACK HOLE" IS AN EXPERIENTIAL term which has recently become frequently mentioned by patients suffering from primitive mental disturbances, especially during attachment disruptions (object loss or disappointment) or gaps in treatment (between regular sessions, holiday or weekend breaks, and cancellations). The patients' usage of the term seems to convey a sense of a catastrophic discontinuity of self, of falling over the abyss into the void. It frequently designates a phantasy of their inner mental geography, connoting a picture of a disrupted landscape with a sudden, unexpected confrontation with a cliff, abyss, or hole which seems to be pulling one over its edge. One of the most frequent statements made by these patients is that they "have no floor, " by which they


Presented as the Harry Stack Sullivan Award Lecture on the Annual Scientific Day of the Sheppard and Enoch Pratt Hospital, Towson, Maryland, April 8, 1989. This is the second of a three-part article.— Ed

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Contemporary Psychoanalysis, Vol. 26, No. 3 (1990)

1 The first mention of the "black hole" occurred in British Indian history. In 1750 the Nabob of Calcutta, Suraj ad Dowlah, captured the British East India Company garrison at Fort William and imprisoned hundreds of them in a small armory during one of the hottest nights in Calcutta's history. One of the fortunate survivors described the ordeal in his diary and termed it "the black hole of Calcutta, " thus making a constant conjunction between the "black hole" and claustrophobia.

2 The reader is referred to Ostow's (1986) "Archetypes of Apocalypse in Dreams and Fantasies, and in Religious Scripture" for an indepth study of apocalyptic phenomena.

12 A preliminary version of this contribution was presented to the William Alanson White Institute New York City, N.Y. March 3, 1989. I once again would like to give my gratitude to Drs. Mardi Horowitz, Mortimer Ostow, William Rickles, Harold Searles, Frances Tustin, and to Professor Andrew Fraknoi (astronomer).

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