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Balsam, R.H. (2000). Siblings in the Unconscious and Psychopathology: Vamik D. Volkan, M.D. and Gabriele Ast, M.D. Madison, CT: Int. Univ. Press, 1997. 184 pp.. Psychoanal Q., 69(1):178-180.

(2000). Psychoanalytic Quarterly, 69(1):178-180

Siblings in the Unconscious and Psychopathology: Vamik D. Volkan, M.D. and Gabriele Ast, M.D. Madison, CT: Int. Univ. Press, 1997. 184 pp.

Review by:
Rosemary H. Balsam

Vamik Volkan has collaborated with Gabriele Ast from Munich, Germany, to address the important issue of the role of the sibling in intrapsychic life. They have produced a stimulating and lively text, containing many case histories that show the sibling presence deeply etched within the fantasy life of individuals. The book describes constellations of fantasies which the authors find emblematic of the roles that siblings play in relation to the patient and his or her own developmental issues, as well as the internalized, reflected dynamics of the parents and other members of the family.

The authors do not comment on their rationale for the shape of the chapters. In this respect, the book as a whole is hard to follow. (This randomness is actually announced on the book jacket, which entices the reader with a sensational, if playful, but seemingly unconnected, list of contents—from “womb fantasies” to “Easter neurosis”!) An approach to the book is to view it as a kaleidoscopic perception of the dynamic meanings of all the possible sibling-related fantasies that these enthusiastic and imaginatively gifted authors could detect in these patients. The theoretical orientation is ego psychological, with an enhanced appreciation of object relations components and exquisite attention to separation-individuation issues.

The authors make clear their appreciation of Anna Freud as opposed to Melanie Klein. However, when a writer renders primitive fantasies as aptly as is done here, or is so cognizant of even the intrauterine fantasy of a child's wish to displace the paternal phallus from within the maternal womb, or the child's rageful desire to eviscerate the maternal body, I wonder why a debt to Klein cannot be acknowledged. She was the first to draw sustained attention to such primal fantasies, even if, as an ego psychologist, one disagrees with her premise that they are inborn. Volkan and Ast—individually, together, and with other collaborators—have an abiding interest in the infantile psychotic self, as evidenced by their work on “wider-scope” patients, borderline states, and the “psychotic core.”

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