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Rogers, R. (1990). The Shadow of the Object Psychoanalysis of the Unthought Known by Christopher Bollas New York: Columbia University Press, 1987, 283 pp., $14.00 paper. Psa. Books, 1(4):472-480.

(1990). Psychoanalytic Books, 1(4):472-480

The Shadow of the Object Psychoanalysis of the Unthought Known by Christopher Bollas New York: Columbia University Press, 1987, 283 pp., $14.00 paper

Review by:
Robert Rogers, Ph.D.

Freud casts a long shadow. A particular instance takes form in the shadow metaphor of the title of Bollas's book, an image drawn from the place in Freud's essay on mourning and melancholia where he speaks of the shadow of the object falling upon the ego. Besides using the passage as an epigraph, Bollas returns to it once again in stating the subject matter of his work: “The chapters that follow all focus in one way or another on the human subject's recording of his early experiences of the object. This is the shadow of the object as it falls on the ego, leaving some trace of its existence in the adult” (p. 3). Bollas remains silent about the focus on psychic structure and other metapsychological issues reflected in Freud's observation. Instead Bollas expropriates the rhetorical force of the passage and broadens the implication of Freud's metaphor so as to make it applicable to all traces of parental objects in the subjectivity of their offspring—an inexact but surely legitimate extension of Freud's meaning.

The most distinguishing features of this book are the author's expressive facility and the success with which he operates at the interface of theory and practice. Again and again throughout the book, Bollas manages to articulate complex problems and situations in ways that enhance understanding, especially when it comes to expressing in words the nonverbal or preverbal experiences Bollas refers to as “the unthought known.” Even more characteristic of this book is that, while it is neither a treatise on object relations theory nor a series of clinical presentations, it makes the best of both realms by moving easily and creatively back and forth between them.

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