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Brearley, M. (2005). Making death thinkable Franco De Masi London: Free Association Books. 2004. 157 pp.. Int. J. Psycho-Anal., 86(5):1493-1497.
(2005). International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 86(5):1493-1497
Making death thinkable Franco De Masi London: Free Association Books. 2004. 157 pp.
Review by: Michael Brearley
In this short book, De Masi tackles the most central issue about death: how can we face the fact of our own mortality? It is one of those questions that have a very different feel when put in the first-person singular than in any other voice. My death is or seems to be unthinkable in a way that yours, his, theirs, or even ours, are not. To use Wollheim's distinction between central imagining and peripheral imagining (1984), we cannot previsage our own deaths centrally, that is, as if experiencing it, since the premise of what is imagined conflicts with the act of imagining it. Nor, of course, can we learn from or work through the experience of dying, since we are not there to learn from it, whereas we can work through, and mourn, the experience and the meaning of someone else's dying. We do not lose everything when we lose someone we love. When we die, we lose everything, including our selves. This is why, De Masi says, ‘death is located beyond all thinkable experience’ (p. 22). ‘Yet’, he continues, ‘if this is so, what do we mean by the “fear of death”, what is our representation of death, what is it that torments us?’ The author also raises other important psychoanalytic issues related to death—the death of others, the difference between panic and anxiety, issues around the death drive, the mid-life and late-life crises, psychoanalysis for older patients, and many others. De Masi describes his thoughts in the book as ‘meant as an invitation to others, and in the hope that it might be possible through the sharing of ideas to free ourselves partially from the mystery and pain of solitude vis-à-vis death’ (p. 26). I applaud this effort; his book will make us think. It is good to have so many issues brought together in this stimulating way.
De Masi's thesis is that this combination of unimaginability and impossibility of working through makes the prospect of one's own death, with its fact of the dissolution and cessation of one's self, a source of inevitable, intense, even psychotic, anxiety. Death is
inscribed in our internal world as a psychotic disaster, a state of disintegration of one's personal identity which is not easy to conceptualize or tolerate. The representation of death evokes that same nameless dread which overwhelms the psychotic at the time of loss of psychic integration (p. 24).
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