“The lightning has shown me the scars of the future.”
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.
“What has really happened to us?”
“What am I called upon to do?”
“What do we do when there is no hope?”
“What is at stake for our future, our children? What kind of society do we want them to live in? What kind of people will they become? How will they live their lives?”
“Where do we belong? Where is our home or place? How do we see ourselves in this world?”
These are some of the questions posed by the mental health professionals, academics, poets, theologians, and artists in this anniversary issue. Each is looking toward a future none can envision.
In her essay Speaking the Impossible, Rockwell calls upon the poets and philosophers to help deepen our appreciation of what it takes to grasp what we are going through. The work of a poet and of the analyst, Rockwell believes, is to absorb the rawness of reality without judgment, contradiction, or correction before even attempting to metabolize and digest its significance. In his essay, It’s History, Kyrie Mason asks if it is even possible to “take in history’s impenetrable scale without being overwhelmed?” Mason concludes that parts must always be withheld or arbitrarily left out. Jorgelina Corbatta describes how a part of her history was “hidden in plain sight” for decades in The Day I Learned I Was a Woman of Color. She revisits two harrowing migrations, her analysis, and a long academic career spent analyzing the writings of “…intellectual pariahs traveling around the world, looking for a home to replace the (home) that expelled them. Societal shifts brought” on by the pandemic and by George Floyd’s murder gave Corbatta access to her personal history as one of a woman of color.
From across the world and from another angle, Fang Duan’s A Celebrity Family Saga: Psychotherapy Shatters the Chinese-Speaking World shows how seismic cultural repercussions can also occur when personal histories and political histories surface and collide. Duan shares the story of Chinese power couple Lee Jinglei and Wang Leehom to illustrate the transformative power of one woman’s experience in psychotherapy to impact a nation. Lee Jinglei’s “newly developed voice of conscience” touched the hearts of tens of millions of people by offering a vision of “harmony and restitution through the deconstruction of old cultural ideals.”
Remembering Lydia is also an homage to the power of a single woman and the impact her raised voice had on the future of her entire village. Looking back over half a century, Jeanne Parr Lemkau recalls her days as a Peace Corps volunteer. “[Lydia] was sunbaked and wrinkled beyond her forty-seven years, always in a dress that was ragged and worn but freshly pressed with an iron she heated on a wood fire.” A fence had been mounted that blocked Lydia’s village from having access to clean water, but Lydia “knew where a fence should not be.” There are reasons Lemkau is remembering Lydia today. “If Lydia, born into crushing poverty that she could never escape, could use the full force of her personality to take down an unjust fence,” she thinks, “what am I called upon to do?”
That question, “What am I called upon to do?” is writ large against the accumulated traumas we are collectively experiencing. It is a through line in this issue.
For Christina Nadler and Loren Sobel, it is the crisis of the pandemic that has occasioned a deeper understanding of what, as analysts, they are called upon to do. In (Re)Locating Analytic Space, Nadler says she does miss in-person sessions, often desperately, but “that loss and desperation must not be merged in our minds with the medium through which the work is conducted. Tele-analysis is not the problem,” Nadler has learned. “The pandemic is.” Rather than a weakness, Nadler has embraced virtual work as a rigorous challenge as she begins her first year of analytic training. The pandemic has posed a different challenge and a different kind of loss for Loren Sobel. In Circling he turns a terrifying airplane trip into an allegory for “how massive, how unfathomably traumatic, this pandemic storm has been.” As the plane Sobel was on dramatically reascends to avert a crash landing, “each individual’s seemingly solitary world gave way to a collective sharing. Suddenly we were all very aware of one another. It felt like all of us—together—became one body unit, contained and situated within the rattled fuselage.” When he is at last able to return to work in his office, Sobel is overcome by the depth of connection he feels, along with an intense sense of loss. “A grief surely of the time but not solely belonging to this time.”
For LaMothe, the question “What am I to do” is quite literally an existential one. Hope in the Anthropocene Age is “situated against the backdrop of the current and looming disasters linked to the climate emergency.” If hope is linked to the desires, needs, and visions of society, which LaMothe argues it always is, then in the Anthropocene Age, capitalism, nationalism, and a new imperialism have shaped and distorted hope itself. For LaMothe, the slow accretion of horrors that anthropocentrism has wreaked upon the earth and our civilization lends particular poignancy to the question “What would I do if the world were to end tomorrow?” Drawing on Hannah Arendt and Martin Luther, LaMothe concludes that what is required is a new vision for the future, founded not on hope but on “radical care for other human beings, other species, and the earth…”
While we can’t see the shape of our future, nor grasp the enormity of its scars, this most recent horror points once again to our need for a place of care: for democracy, for reason, and for ourselves.
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