“Nowadays, I am acutely aware of the power of transgenerational trauma that has come to life in new circumstances. I feel like it’s getting scary to speak openly. This is what was passed down to me from my ancestors from the USSR, what the people already lived during the oppressive Stalin years.”
Shock occasions change. Five years ago ROOM flashed into being as an immediate response to the 2016 US election. Psychoanalysts who had never written before felt compelled to write. ROOM has remained a participatory community platform, grounded in a psychoanalytic understanding of how change happens. Each issue archives a new moment. Each is a “working-through” of that which has already passed. But now we are struck anew. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine occurred during the final weeks of production of this anniversary issue. Still, the questions posed by the contributors in ROOM 2.22 are eerily prescient and speak collectively for all of us. Each looks toward a future none can envision.
“Ever since college, I have had only one goal: to become minister of education and change the system in Afghanistan […]. I have worked so hard to reach this goal. Every night before going to sleep, I imagined myself in a ministry chair as secretary of education, but now I find myself imprisoned in the corner of a room.” With “tears in (her) eyes” a psychology student from Kabul University recalls August 15, 2021, the day her “palace of dreams” was shattered.
“An urgent sense of the possible contributed to my pursuit of psychoanalytic training over a decade ago, back when CO2 levels were still below 400 ppm. At the time, my analyst and my own analysis were introducing me to an unanticipated world of depth, beauty, and tolerable terror from which I rarely wanted to surface.” So begins Susan Kassouf’s essay, “A New Thing Under the Sun.” Kassouf quickly recognized that her new profession did not lend itself to thinking about the “more than human” environment, let alone climate catastrophe. “There was no useful language to describe what I was sensing,” she writes, so she creates the word she needs. Elaine Zickler understands Kassouf’s drive to find the right words.
“Radical openness does not mean that we empty our minds but that we open our minds to the prospect of losing the understandings to which we are attached.” So begins An Interview with Anton Hart. To be fair, though, perhaps “loosening attachments” when face to face with the trifecta of fascist racism, COVID, and environmental extinction may be near impossible. It’s a big ask if, in the midst of existential terror, we are holding on for dear life.
For Freud, nearing the end of his life, the fateful question for the human species came down to whether and to what extent our cultural development would succeed in mastering the disturbance our aggressive and self-destructive instincts inflict upon our communal life.
Psychoanalysis, art, and poetry make visible and expand the boundaries of our psychic reality and so the world. But what happens when those boundaries fracture? When we are on top of each other and oceans apart? When days merge and space contracts? When inner and outer reality converge on a pixilated screen? Just this. We must create a new path forward.
“To be stupefied,” Jared Russell explains in his provocative essay Stupidity, “is to regress in the face of the unexpected, to have one’s critical faculties paralyzed.” The contributors to Room 2.20 may be terrified and even heartbroken in the face of the unexpected, but they are not stupefied.
We have lost our grip on any shared sense of reality. Post-Truth philosophers provide cold comfort, telling us we haven’t really lost anything; we have, in fact, gained understanding that reality has never been there to grip. And the deconstructivists tell us that the credibility of any source (and we can include the post-truth philosophers here) is up for grabs. Any way you turn it, truth is subjective and personal. Truth is what we agree upon. Truth is tribal. ROOM 10.19 weaves together a few psychoanalytic truths. We do not hold these truths to be self-evident. Psychoanalytic truths are hard won.
Democracy, psychoanalysis, and Room share a powerful connection. They were created to contain and facilitate the many voices that comprise (and conflict with) our polities, ourselves, and, in the case of Room, the space between ourselves and our societies. This is not coincidental. As Jill Gentile explains in her book Feminine Law, Free Speech, and the Voice of Desire, there is a resonance between the method of free association underlying the work of psychoanalysis and the right of free speech which is the bedrock of democracy.