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Esman, A.H. (1989). The Shadow of the Object. Psychoanalysis of the Unthought Known: By Christopher Bollas. New York: Columbia University Press, 1987. 283 pp.. Psychoanal Q., 58:277-279.

(1989). Psychoanalytic Quarterly, 58:277-279

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

Review by:
Aaron H. Esman

Christopher Bollas is a member of the Independent Group of the British Psychoanalytical Association. As such, he has absorbed a rich mix of psychoanalytic perspectives, both "classical" and Kleinian, but the dominant influences on the formation of the point of view he elaborates in this book are, as he acknowledges, Winnicott and Masud Khan. Inevitably, then, his orientation is toward an object-relational theory, with a strong emphasis on early states as being critical formative elements and central components of the analytic experience, for both the analyst and the patient.

As a quondam (and, at times, current) professor of English, Bollas has a command of language and a flair for metaphor that lend his writing a clarity that surpasses considerably that of his mentors. The principal expression of this gift, in the present volume at least, is his coinage of the term "the unthought known," which represents the conceptual centerpiece of the work. It refers to the infant's internalization of "transformational" experiences in the mother-child relationship; experiences that constitute "something never cognitively apprehended but unconsciously known, the memory of the ontogenetic process rather than thoughts or phantasies that occur once the self is established" (p. 16). "The baby does not internalize an object, but he does internalize a process derived from an object" (p. 60). This represents, of course, Bollas's extrapolation from Freud's aphorism about the "shadow of the object" falling on the ego. It is the task of the analyst, he suggests, to permit the analysand to evoke these experiences in the "analytic space," to gain access to and communicate, at least through language, what he has at some unconscious level known but never thought.

It will undoubtedly strike many readers that this picture conforms in many of its outlines to Freud's concept of "primary repression." Bollas acknowledges this resemblance, but conceives the nature of these preverbal, precognitive mental states within the context of an interactive developmental process rather than a drive-defense psychology. In that sense his perspective approaches that of Loewald on this side of the Atlantic.

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