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Burnham, D.L. (1996). Loss And The Reparative Capacity Of Imagination: The Case Of August Strindberg. Contemp. Psychoanal., 32:115.

(1996). Contemporary Psychoanalysis, 32:115

Loss And The Reparative Capacity Of Imagination: The Case Of August Strindberg

Donald L. Burnham, M.D.

AUGUST STRINDBERG'S LIFE was permeated by loss. When he was twelve, his mother died of tuberculosis. Earlier, four infant siblings had died. Later, his own first child died two days after birth. The failure of three marriages and loss of contact with the children of these marriages profoundly depressed him.

His losses engendered a lifelong sense of separation and alienation. He was an "outsider" (Wilson, 1956) who, though fiercely and defiantly proud of his singularity and difference from the crowd, yearned ceaselessly for a respected place in the social order, for communion with his fellow beings. In his isolation he felt himself to be a cursed outcast, a homeless wanderer, like the Wandering Jew (Anderson, 1965) or the Flying Dutchman. Loss of community was a torment and a dominant force throughout his life.

Still another loss was the failure of reality to match his ideals for himself, his relationships, and the world at large. Endless cycles of ideal-real disparities and disillusionments plagued him. As he put it, he "sought heaven and found hell" (Strindberg, 1968b). In a reference to life after death, "on the other side, " he said, "… everything there is just as we in youth, when we are happy and trusting, imagine life to be. That is called the ideal, but it is probably the memory of a better life we left, when we were born into this, below" (Strindberg, 1987).

The phrase "imagine life to be" is pivotal here, for it was with his prodigious imagination and creative capacities that he struggled to cope with his losses. With his imagination he could create ideals, he could invent persons, including alternative selves, and worlds (Auden, 1968) ; (Berger, 1977) ; (Bruner, 1988) ; (Furbank, 1970) that would compensate for and repair the deficiencies and defects of actual persons and worlds. With his imagination he could "re-write" what happened to him; he could


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Contemporary Psychoanalysis, Vol. 32, No. 1 (1996)

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