“It has been almost two years since we were waiting for you to take action. We expected you to not be just a viewer,” Shegofa Shahbaz wrote to the UN. But because she wasn’t sure the UN would read a letter written by a nineteen-year-old college student sent on behalf of all the Afghan girls whose lives have been shattered, Shahbaz sent it to ROOM, hoping we might publish it, hoping it might find its way to the UN. Of course we will publish it, we told her. We will publish it in English and Dari so that other Afghan girls might find strength and hope through these words that they might be heard—that they will be recognized.
The chorus of interlocking voices heard in ROOM 2.23 echoes [Albert Camus’s] experience of suffocation, exile, and threat while challenging us to revisit the “notions of our existence” and make new use of what we find.
There is a “deep and somber unity” when the different impressions of our senses enter into “correspondence.” So writes the French philosopher Gaston Bachelard in his seminal book The Poetics of Space. It is this “correspondence” that allows us to receive and transform the immensity of the world into the intensity of our intimate beings. There is an intimate “everydayness” that runs through all the essays in ROOM 10.22. And much as residual impressions from the day are transformed nightly into dreams, the synergy of these writers forms an unsettling social dreamscape.
“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.