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  • Writer's pictureRony Alfandary

An Exile in the Room: A Clinical illustration and a Literary Footnote

This paper was first published in Vol 22(1) of Psychoanalytic Social Work


In this paper, I shall describe the case of Dan, an Israeli citizen in his late thirties, born and bred in Argentine. I shall focus upon some psychological effects of exile as played out and repeated in the transference, leading to an instance of an articulation of his Human Idiom (Bollas, 1989). During the course of his therapy, through the working of elements in the transference paradigm, it became possible that Dan's existential gloom and despair, accompanied by various physical symptoms, were the traces of the imprints of his exile from Argentine. Those traces were linked to the articulation of deeply buried sensations and once recognized allowed him to explore instances of unresolved mourning. The mourning process thus resumed allowed him to regain his positive. In conjunction to this, I shall describe the impact that Julio Cortázar's (1914-1984) posthumously published book Diary of Andrés Fava (2005) had upon him. The reading of that book served Dan and me as an unconscious object. This object could be represented by Ogden's (2004) term The Analytical Third, and was a part of the therapeutic relationship where he was able to discover, express and elaborate upon his unique idiomatic sense of self.

Keywords: Idiom, Exile, Transference, Literature


I will try and show in this essay a particular instance of counter-transference work. The work described relates to a patient whose predilection turned out to be related to his being exiled years before he turned to seek help. Relying upon Bollas' (1989) concept of The Human Idiom, I will show how that concept played a significant part in my mind. My awareness of the concept facilitated my ability to allow myself to be used as an object in a way that brought the object of exile into the foreground and thus to allow some significant change in the way the patient viewed himself.

Before describing in some detail particular moments in the course of the weekly psychotherapy of Dan, I will discuss briefly some theoretical consideration of the term exile. It is a term laden with many diverse meanings and numerous political and cultural references, almost to the point of banality and over-use. The Oxford Book of Exile states, for example that: "Each one of us is an exile: the thought is a hackneyed one, but it still retains a little force. We are exiles from our mother's womb, from our childhood, from private happiness, from peace, even if we are not exiles in the more conventional sense of the word." (p. vii). The conventional sense Simpson (1995) refers to is the dictionary's definition, as is stated in the Concise Oxford Dictionary (1982): "Exile is a state of being expelled or long absence from one's native land (lit. or fig)." (p. 338).

The term is evidently riddled with individual and collective connotations revolving around the moving, uprooting, resettlement and deportation of single and multiple groups of people. There are some alternatives that can be used to describe that momentous shift in one's link to one's place of origin and belonging, such as emigration, moving away, travelling and in Hebrew Aliya, denoting specifically the act of Jews immigrating into the modern state of Israel.[1] Each term carried within it different connotations, telling at times a different story.

Nevertheless, I claim that narratives of exile, be it individual or collective, self-inflicted or enforced, may have at least one factor in common, which is the change in one's relation to one's place of birth\residence\belonging. That change can be described as traumatic or as liberating, and of course perhaps a mixture of the two polarities. The short study which follows of relevant psychoanalytical writings on the subject, aims to highlights some crucial aspects of the exile event as an illumination to the clinical story which I will unfold later on.

It is almost not possible to mention the issue of exile within a psychoanalytic context without referring back to Freud's own exile from Vienna in 1938, an individual exile which signified both the exile of the psychoanalytical movement and perhaps also the human and cultural catastrophe which caused it. As Gay (1988) reports in his biography: "Freud had come to England, as he had said, 'to die in freedom." (p. 629) Freud's experience of exile reflects and resonates on the centrality of the exile experience in the 20th century. It was an exile both from his native land as well as a figurative exile from his psychoanalytic project. As Gray (1988) has argued, one of Freud's aims in his psychoanalytic project was to scientifically find salvation for man's tortured soul. He hoped that using the rational means of analysis would facilitate that. In a way, his exile and flight from the Nazi's evil forces of irrationality, was a bitter proof to the futility of his universal claims. As Steiner (1989) argued in his analysis of the correspondence between Ernest Jones and Anna Freud during the exile years in London, Freud's personal peril highlighted exile as the hallmark of our time, serving us both as a reminder of the darkest times as well as a warning. A warning regarding the fragility of our sense of freedom which can be shattered easily either by external or internal circumstances. Once that sense of freedom is lost, one cannot but try to regain it. Freud had to be exiled away from his beloved native land in order to maintain his freedom. Paradoxically, of course, he was no longer able to enjoy a true sense of freedom once his links to his native lands were severed. Exile granted him physical freedom but at a cost.

Exile and Psychoanalysis

Psychoanalytic literature is not rife with reference to the state, or situation, of exile. Being primarily a term used to describe one's cultural and social bearings vis-à-vis one's relation to one's homeland, the term of exile can be easily misconceived as relating only to concrete, earthly circumstances and therefore not an obvious target for psychoanalytic investigation. Nevertheless, it is a potent term, central to one of psychoanalysis' most prevailing metaphors – the Oedipal Complex. The theme of being exiled, and the symbolic and concrete consequences of that exile, resonates throughout that myth.

There are many and diverse interpretations as to what is exile. On the one hand, the term can be used to describe the situation of an individual persecuted away from his homeland into exile in foreign lands, where he finds a haven to protect his life and freedom. On the other hand, it can describe the psychic state of an individual feeling greatly at odds within the confines of his own culture and homeland, choosing to live away from his place of birth. In between these two points, lie many variants of the phenomena, as I shall describe in the following passages.

Leon and Rebecca Grinberg's (1989) seminal work on migration and exile provides a vast and in-depth account, which brings together the psychological experiences of migration and exile in relation to emotional development. The Argentine-born Grinbergs, themselves having lived on three different continents, focus upon the sense of near-trauma and upheaval which is the mundane psychic material that exiled and migrating people deal with. What is being transformed, in their opinion, for better or for worse, is one's sense of identity. Resting upon a Kleinian perspective, they evaluate the ambivalence which exile or migration is bound to evoke and re-enact.

"Idealizing all new aspects and experiences in the society that has taken him in while at the same time devaluing the people and places he has left behind, regarding them as persecutory. Through such dissociating he avoids the mourning, remorse and depressive anxieties which would otherwise be aroused and intensified by the migration, especially if it was undertaken voluntarily." (p. 8)

Denford (1981) offers a rather more positive psychoanalytic perspective on the issue of exile. Relying mainly upon Winnicott's terminology, he views exile as one expression of the human capacity for mobility. Mobility is described as an important element in man's adaptive capabilities. Moving away from, and returning to one's home, is seen as part of the human endeavor to explore the growing relationship both between one's self and the environment, and also in relation of one's sense of identity. Despite the positive outlook on moving away as an expression of asserting the individual's sense of independent and discreet identity, Denford does not romanticize exile. He does not fail to explore the hardship encountered by the exile facing solitude, estrangement, different language, the prospects of unemployment and .

Furthermore, examined by the perspective offered by Searls (1960), the experiences of separation and its consequences provide some of the elements facilitating maturation of the human capacity for both creative loneness and significant relationships with others. The human complex structure and content of his personality is paralleled with his ability to hold himself separate from the significant others with whom he is in relationships. At the same time, it is common knowledge that an enforced separation or one which finds the subject developmentally unready, can cause psychological damage and even trauma. It is a question of timing and degree.

The question arises as to the severity of such separateness in the case of exile. If the event of exile, be it forced or voluntary, is experienced as a tearing apart rather than as moving away, it is perhaps wiser to contemplate exile as traumatic, severing the time and space continuum and forming psychic lesions. In such a case, one is expected to exhibit symptoms which will testify that the injury caused by the event of exile has not produced creative and developmental gains.

Veering slightly away from the clinical and developmental perspectives offered by psychoanalytical authors, exile is described as an existential condition which is perhaps the hall mark of modern life. To cite just one of the many philosophical explorations of the concept, Kant's (1963) assertion regarding the natural connection between one's personal identity and relying upon one's sense of belonging to a homeland. Arendt (1990) explored that assertion further to describe the exile as an individual who challenges that connection. What can be viewed as mostly common to all such instances is the destabilizing effect of the exile event, where what has been perceived as natural, i.e. one's sense of belonging, temporary as that might be, is being challenged and even severed by the act of the exile. That sense of natural belonging undergoes deconstruction as Barthes (1972) described in his book Mythologies.

For her, the exile challenges just that seemingly natural connection between the individual and his country. Being an exile allows the individual to expose, and be exposed, to what is unique as well as what is common. Notwithstanding the painful aspects of being an exile, it can be perceived as a state whereby the individual is carving out a territory for himself. The new territory the exile finds himself in, literally, bears of course strong ties to the one he has left behind. His experience of the new territory is both as new and at the same time as saturated by traces of the one he has left behind. What can be viewed as mostly common to all such instances is the destabilizing effect of the exile event, where what has been perceived as natural, i.e. one's sense of belonging, temporary as that might be, is being challenged and even severed by the act of the exile. That sense of natural belonging undergoes deconstruction as Barthes (1972) described in his book Mythologies.

Considering the nature of the Freudian concept of Repetition Compulsion (1900), I suggest that the exiled individual will simultaneously finds and rediscover himself in his new habitat. In a sense, he will recreate his old territory in the new one, synthetizing the old with the new. Whether he was forced away from his native land or chose to leave it, he will find that he carried it within him like a seed. Once settled in a new land, it will grow and root itself in such a way enabling the diligent observer to examine its origins. What are the expressions of these uprootings and re-seedings? How do they appear in language?

Every person is located at a given place at any given moment where he is conducting a meaningful interaction on many levels. There are some peaks and nadirs during the flow of life that are charged with a particular personal narrative significance, elevating their status in the history of that person. Such moments occupy a residual posture and have a heavier leaning on the process of shaping one's existential circumstances and the reflective processes these bring about. These moments can be peaks as well as nadir moments but usually bears a direct relationship to one's creative ability to feel an autonomous and meaningful human. By the articulation of these moments by language, they can become speech acts (Austin, 1975).

Using the term speech acts places my argument in a different philosophical context to the Existentialist one provided by the reference to Arendt and Kant. Austin (1975) defines speech acts as an utterance that has performative function in language and communication. For example, the proclamation "I do" uttered as part of the wedding ceremony, is a perlocutionary speech act. These are not just words but words which have performative and even legal repercussions. I suggest a wider definition of the term: speech acts are in essence attempts to recover what has been lost through language.

I claim that speech acts as uttered within the context which exile creates, enables the individual to give expression to inner sense of loss and transform it into his own personal idiom (Bollas, 1989). While evolving around a nucleus of loss, these acts can also become redemptive and empowering. The curative potency they hold varies greatly from one individual to another, depending upon the unique circumstances pertaining to the nature and maturity of the links the individual had to his place of belonging, the particulars of the exile event and the developmental status of that individual.

Furthermore, Bhabha (1992) describes that moment when the Homely becomes estranged as a key moment in modern culture. What has been lost, that which has been familiar, now clears a space for the new, which is in effect the hybrid product of the encounter between the old and the new, mediated by loss. Referring to Walter Benjamin's claim regarding the way the focus upon the past makes that moment a present, Bhabha (1992) interprets the significance of the transient nature of the sense of belonging. "I had time to experience both a sense of familiarity and one of alienation, measuring stability against change, past against present tense." (p. 143) Such an ambivalent description portrays the nature of exile as I see it – both oppressive and liberating. Putting aside cases of severe physical oppression, exile can be either, dependent upon the individual's disposition and agility in translating his inner state into words, speech acts.

In the following pages I shall describe a particular example of a case of an exiled individual whose starting position did not enable him to explore his exile in a creative way. The changes to his personal circumstances due to the change of residence were such that they brought him into a state of near mental collapse, unemployment and marital difficulty. It is the ambivalent sense of freedom I referred to when discussing Freud's exile, which brought Dan, an Argentinian-born Israeli man in his thirties, to seek therapy. During the course of therapy and through the repetition of the exile event in the transference, he was able to work out some of his troubled and unresolved feelings, using amongst other things, the media of literature as a lever. And so, his sense of personal freedom was perhaps not entirely restored but was given a second chance, or in other words, a new home.

A case of exile

Dan arrived one afternoon to an appointment he made over the telephone a few days earlier. When he rang to inquire whether he could make an appointment, he sounded cheerful. He inquired whether I was the same person as the author of an article concerning writing and psychotherapy. I responded briefly and affirmatively and he sounded pleased and reassured. After putting the phone down, I made a note to myself of his soft accent which I could not quite place. I thought that was odd as I usually found it easy to identify people's accent quite accurately. I wondered whether I was getting rusty or perhaps an act of attempted disguise was at hand. I also considered the possibility that his knowledge of my own accomplishment, and my joy at that, "blinded" me to other issues. With that state of mind, slightly paranoid, I opened the door at the appointed hour and shook hands with Dan.

Dan was a very tall man with a beaming face. Immediately upon seeing him, taking visual note of his height, and hearing his soft Argentinian accent, which I recognized this time, I was reminded of Julio Cortázar. Cortázar was an Argentine writer whose work I loved and read throughout my life. At first, I considered this to be a counter-transference experience, whose meaning will become clearer later on as and if the therapeutic relationship would develop. I was puzzled as to why I was only able to recognize his accent upon seeing him. I considered the possibility that this was an example of what Freud probably would have suggested as belonging to unexplored aspects of my subjectivity and therefore needed to be handled with care before being placed in the transference paradigm. Having had that association in the past in reference to other Argentinian men, I was careful not to ignore the possibility that I was protectively identifying this with Dan, without yet being open enough to his own state of mind.

It was only much later that I began thinking that this might be an experience of the kind described by Bollas (1989) in his Forces of Destiny book as signifying "The patient's spontaneous use of the analyst as an object"? (p. 2) Bollas' use of the term "use of the analyst" is of course his own expansion of the Winnicott (1971) term "use of the object". It refers to the baby's emerging ability to view his mother's subjectivity in a more objective way. Once the baby is able to perceive his mother as a real subject, a real person with her own needs etc., and not just as a care-taker whose sole object is to look after him, he has gained a significant developmental step. He is able to perceive her as a subject such as he is. Bollas refers to the process whereby the analyst allows himself to be used by the patient in a similar manner to the way that the mother allows herself to be used by the baby. In the context of Dan's therapy, it meant we were re-living some significant moment of his early development without yet being fully aware of it complete dimensions.

His hand shake was firm and warm and lingered ever so gently, as if waiting for my signal before releasing his grip. I note these very early impressions not just as a prelude to what followed but also as containing information regarding stages of attunement and pre-verbal signals echoing our unconscious to unconscious communication (Freud, 1915). These signals were already showing the connection established between us, showing the work of the unconscious communication. It was left up to me to interpret those signals, which, as I will show later, took me a while. In Freud's (1915) own words, which in my opinion manifest all the options I have described though in a hinted and condensed manner:

"All the acts and manifestations which I notice in myself and do not know how to link up with the rest of my mental life must be judged as if they belonged to someone else: they are to be explained by a mental life ascribed to this other person. Furthermore, experience shows that we understand very well how to interpret in other people (that is, how to fit into their chain of mental events) the same facts which we refuse to acknowledge as being mental in ourselves. Here some special hindrance evidently deflects our investigation from our own self and prevents our obtaining a true knowledge of it." (pp. 169-170)

When Dan began to speak, after a minute or so of hesitation, during which he looked around my office, lingering his gaze upon the rows of books lining one of the walls, his voice had a slightly different quality. It was no longer the soft caressing wave that I heard over the phone. An edge was present and I could also tell from his minute restlessness that he was being more careful now that he began to talk in my presence. It was as if the actual encounter with me introduced an element of stress, putting himself on his guard, guiding him to measure his words more carefully, reining in his initial enthusiasm and what seemed initially as his good spirits. I was reminded of Bollas' (1989) words concerning the human idiom. The term the human idiom is quite an elusive term but as it is central to this essay, I shall describe my understanding of it before proceeding. In the opening page of Forces of Destiny (1989), he writes: "Human idiom is that peculiarity of person(ality) that finds its own being through the particular selection and use of the Object. In this restricted sense, to be and to appropriate are one". (p. iii) Bollas described the idiom as a quality, potential or aspect of the individual that is not hidden within him as a secret script waiting to be discovered. The human idiom is the articulation of the essence of the individual which is allowed to be expressed given the good-enough parenting environment. In some acknowledged ways, it is a variation on the true self term that Winnicott immortalized into our professional jargon. But it differs from it in at least one significant sense. The moralizing true\false dichotomy is absent. Instead, the concept of language is portrayed as a crucial platform through which human articulation is performed.

I could feel that during those very first moments of the meetings with Dan, I was being invited to experience alternately both Dan's unique idiom and also aspects of his defense system. I was thus placed in a somewhat vacillating position, having to make quick decisions as to what my response should be. I later understood that state as representing Dan's inner state of emergency, of living on the edge, of signaling to the world his sense of insecurity and even alarm.

Dan spoke of deep sense of dissatisfaction in his life. He has been working in a job that he considered to be menial and of low status. He was married to a woman whom he felt no longer loved him. His two daughters have grown up and left home some years ago. He said he thought he was experiencing "an ordinary late mid-life crisis". That last remark was uttered with self-derision. He continued: "Who doesn't complain about his wife, his job, life in general, at my age? It's pathetic. Thankfully, I no longer live in Argentine so I don't have to fear complaining about the government."

These issues occupied Dan's therapy during the first few months. Apart from relating his daily preoccupations concerning the mundane travails of his life, he told me of his family hasty immigration to Israel during the late 70's when they had to flee their home in Buenos Aires in fear for their lives, as did most of the Jewish community. I began to notice the same shift in affect when Dan was talking about what was going on in his current life and when he was remembering his life previous to the move to Israel. On one level, he viewed the move to Israel as a blessing and as an act which saved his life, as was signified by the Hebrew word Aliya. And yet, there was a lingering undertone which suggested another layer. Dan affect changed noticeably and quite consistently whenever he spoke about his current situation. When he related his aggravation concerning his wife's lack of understanding, her judgmental attitude towards him, he sounded bitter, harsh and forlorn. It was as if he gave up hope. His affect was quite similar whenever we discussed his situation at work or his relationships with his children. I was experiencing him as addressing a paternal figure in me, seeking guidance and console in a world he felt had betrayed him.

On the other hand, at the times he reminisced about his childhood in Buenos Aires, his affect would change quite dramatically. His eyes would assume a dreamy gaze as if he was watching some event occurring far far away, or deep inside him. The change also affected his voice. His voice would become deeper and deeper and his accent would be more pronounced. While talking about his childhood, his friends and family events, he seemed happy. I found myself listening to his tales with awe. He required almost no response from me. It was easy to see I was allowing myself to be the loyal audience he lacked in his daily life in Israel. His stories grew more and more intimate, confiding in me details of very moving moments in his life. I was struck by the accuracy and abundance of details of his tales. He had an extraordinary sense of detail and was able to recapture whole scenes and bring them back to life in the sessions. I was slowly following his mental journey back to his homeland, reconstructing with him the lost scenes of childhood.

While there was no actual change in Dan's current life situation and his marital and occupational difficulties remained objectively the same, the manner of reporting about them indicated that his subjective experience has altered. Both in terms of volume and in terms of affect, he seemed less perturbed and burdened by the demands that his daily chores placed upon him. Dan commented upon this himself. Many months were spent discussing how that was possible. During those months, Dan often said that he felt he no longer needed therapy as he was feeling much better. He felt he had come to terms with his situation and though "nothing has changed, I no longer suffer". We discussed the prospects of ending the therapy but Dan continued to express his need to continue our weekly sessions. There was no faltering in his showing up for his sessions, and he kept his payments regularly and on time. I felt satisfied with the way Dan's therapy was going. I thought of the process in positive terms, proving yet again that the talking cure does work…

After a while, I began puzzling as to what use Dan was making of me and the therapy process. During the fourth year of therapy, his enthusiasm grew from session to session. He spent less and less time talking about the issues that troubled him at first and was mainly concentrating on what seemed to be a focused attempt to relive his past in Argentine. His memories grew more vivid and alive. He questioned his relatives concerning details he was not sure about. He re-established contact with old childhood friends and even dedicated considerable effort on tracking down some lost friends. He told me of parties he organized in his house to which he invited the "Argentine Mob" as he called his friends and associates from Buenos Aires.

A turning point occurred after a holiday break followed by absence due to Dan being sick. As we were meeting once a week, it meant we did not meet for a month. That was the longest break we have had. During the break, we communicated through the phone to try and arrange the next meeting. Dan was not feeling well for two weeks. When we did finally meet again, he appeared perturbed. During the first session upon his return, he reported that his existential pains have returned. Thus at least it appeared during the first third of that session. The atmosphere was heavy and I wondered whether his recovery of previous months was a sham. For a few moments, I was having serious doubts concerning the validity of my occupation and its claim to bring about substantial and lasting emotional change. I found myself thinking that if a mere absence of four weeks caused such heavy regression, than what was the point? Was he and me with him, doomed to a lifelong dependency? Was it not possible for him to internalize the good benefits of the interaction and built upon them ego strengths to be used at times of such crises?

As I was thinking these thoughts, he reported feeling worse again. He said he had realized the therapy cannot, and should not, continue forever. He realized that he found it depressing to have to experience losing the safe place he found in my clinic. He described the actual room as a haven for himself in a sense that was even stronger than the safety he felt at home. It was not just the emotional holding and attention that he received that made it feel like a haven, but the physical, concrete dimensions of the room which became embedded for him with layers of significance. As the minutes passed, I could see that he was feeling better again and I commented upon it, feeling somewhat relieved but also dubious as to the durability of that positive outcome of the session. We shook hands again at the end of the session upon his initiative, something that has not happened since the very beginning of the therapy. I wondered about that. I wondered whether he felt the need to re-establish that initial, non-verbal contact with me which seemed to be threatened so deeply by my absence.

On a following session, he related a dream. This was not an unusual procedure for him, but both the timing and the content of the dream were unique. He started telling the dream almost as soon as he walked through the door, as if he had to share it with me but also as if he were afraid that he would lose it. I felt that I had to be very attentive and hold the dream like a treasure. In the dream he described reaching my clinic after a very long journey which involved travelling overseas. The journey took him several days and he had to change flights, as well as to board several trains in between. Each such boarding, taking off and landing, involved the sense of being lost and having to ask for assistance along the way. He used repeatedly the verb the return in the dream in many different contexts. The dream itself was something he felt he had to struggle to return to during the narration of its content, as it seemed to be slipping away from him as he was delivering it to me. "And then I arrived. But you weren't here." He concluded and stayed quiet for a very long time. Though I was moved by the dream and by the chain of associations it evoked in my mind, I felt I had to remain quiet to see when he returns from the silence he took upon himself. I was in reverie.

As I was waiting, I was reminded of a short story by Cortázar (1979), The Southern Thruway which described an incident where a traffic jam goes on for days. During that long stay, the passengers begin to experience hallucinations and imagine that the scenery is shifting around them while they remain stranded on the road.

When Dan bean speaking again, returning as it were to the room, he seemed in possession of a deep insight. He interpreted the dream himself. He began describing my clinic as the home he has once been exiled from as a young boy. My absence felt just like that. Though it was rational, though he knew it would end through my communications with him in the interim, he feared that it was going to happen again. Though he was able to acknowledge the symbolic significance of the dream, he was also experiencing real anxiety and was relieving those moments of exile. I began to appreciate that the familiar feeling he was experiencing while telling me his childhood memories, revoked in him the sense of belonging that was severed by his immigration (Aliya) to Israel. While the therapy went on, he was able to feel at home again. The sense of well-being which that evoked facilitated the subjective improvement in his current life, and even brought about the creative upsurge in his social life. The threat of the end of the therapy during my absence was experienced as a repetition of the exile event.

Coming Home - Again

Dan brought the following extract to my attention on the session following the one with the dream I have just described. In his posthumously published book Diary of Andrés Fava (2005), the Argentine exiled author Julio Cortázar, describes, in a form of a diary, the thoughts of a young man, presumably Cortázar himself, contemplating the event of exile.

"What they haven't seen yet is that they're carrying on, but the milieu, little by little, is being taken away from them. Like an imperceptible removal, a house that loses its furniture piece by piece, its curtains, its paintings, while the life of its inhabitants continues with no possible variation." (p. 49)

During the following months, he realized that the source of his recent unhappiness was the understanding that what had helped him in therapy can be taken away from him. He became aware that the source of his unhappiness which brought him to therapy was not the daily difficulties but rather the tearing apart at his source of well-being that being exiled has caused him.

The facilitating environment that the therapy offered him recreated within him the well-being that he had associated with his childhood and with the good-enough parenting he had experienced. It was as if the process of telling stories about his childhood has helped to regenerate, recuperate and create a good-enough sense of belonging. He again used one of Cortázar's quotations to support his case. "To write: sublimate, surrogate, substitute… It's almost a cliché now, we know it all too well, in other words, we forget it. Might it not be time to better analyze this brilliant truth of psychology? Truth is always a valid system of relations." (p. 14) finding in Cortázar's words both solace and inspiration, both an audience and an oracle, Dan talked about the power of words to transform his life. Without referring to it, he was describing Cortázar's words as speech acts, as words loaded with significance far beyond their symbolic meaning. He was thinking of certain sentences that he remembered as transformative.

Dan realized that the improvement in his feelings was a result of his being able to both recreate his initial belonging to Argentine, as well as come to terms with the harsh emotions associated with the exile from it. Once that insight was possessed by him, he was able to deal with the impending ending of the therapeutic relationship with ample emotional responses. The process of mourning that was thus began during the last year of his therapy, allowed him to transform his melancholy into mourning, in Freud's (1917) words:

"Mourning is regularly the reaction to the loss of a loved person, or to the loss of some abstraction which has taken the place of one, such as one's country, liberty, an ideal, and so on." (p. 243)

The process of mourning which characterized Dan's last few months of therapy before we parted ways took on many paths. Once he realized how deeply anxious he was vis-à-vis the prospects of losing the safe place he had in my presence, he was able to re-experience the loss of that safe place he had prior to his departure from Argentine. He became aware of the anger he stifled towards parents whom he secretly blamed for not being strong enough to overcome the persecution they experience during the regime of terror in Argentine. He recalled several moments when his father seemed to be on the verge of a collapse, hiding it from him by a jovial and masculine manner. Another memory was that of returning home from school when he was only 11, finding his mother in a state of anxiety and then going into her bedroom, emerging only once his father returned from work. It was a matter of weeks from that moment until they left Argentine.

Dan was amazed to discover that even though he was fully aware and remembered many details from that period, including many details about the political situation in Argentine and the circumstances that made them leave, it was only during the course of therapy that he began to feel the emotions associated with those incidents. It was during that time that he began to read Cortázar again. The reading of Cortázar's work for the second time, the first time having been in Argentine, was a home-coming for him. During the intervening years, the memory of Cortázar's texts sunk into the same oblivion that his emotions sunk into. Re-reading Cortázar was like re-reading his emotions.

It was then that I was finally able to put into perspective my initial thoughts when I first met Dan. The fact that I was flooded than with thoughts concerning Cortázar was not just an ordinary instance of the transference paradigm. I suggest that Cortázar's work served as a The Analytic Third (Ogden, 2004) between Dan and me, thus allowing the unconscious communication that served as the basis for the therapeutic process. As Ogdan (2004) wrote, The Analytic Third can be viewed as resulting from the reverie that the therapist allows himself. "I believe that a major dimension of the analyst's psychological life in the consulting room with the patient takes the form of reverie concerning the ordinary, everyday details of his own life (that are often of great narcissistic importance to him)" (p. 184). I suggest that it was my reverie upon Cortázar in the particular context of Dan's preoccupation, in conjunction with Dan's original interest in the text, which allowed for this instance of The Analytic Third to be formed.

Cortázar and his work, which have existed as an object for me, were used in an unconscious way by Dan. It was Cortázar who served as the platform for the unconscious to unconscious communication between us, enabling both Dan to feel at home and for me to be used by him as an imaginary home. That sense of being-at-home, which received no explanation during most of his therapy, became threatened during my absence and revealed how precarious being-at-home really was. Having accepted that sensation without subjecting it to transference interpretation, I was able unconsciously to serve as a facilitating environment for Dan's engagement with his exiled state to emerge. Dan's evocation of my interest in Cortázar's writings at the very beginning, which remained unanalyzed , unspoken about and un-understood throughout the course of therapy, placed me in a position where he was able to use me as an object and gradually bring to the forth aspects of himself which remained deeply buried. The crisis of my absence, which re-evoked for Dan the crisis of his exile and the repression of his associated emotions, allowed him to begin a process of mourning, thus revealing to himself and to the world, creative powers embodied through his interest in the texts of Cortázar, which had served him as transitional objects during his adolescence.


Could it have been any other piece of text other than Cortázar's that have made that specific connection between Dan and myself? Or was there something specific in Cortázar's text which served as the platform through which Dan was able to use me as an object and articulate that aspect of his personal idiom? This question cannot but remain unanswerable. It is not a matter of truth but rather of truth seeking and interpretation.

In terms of unconscious to unconscious communication, it was Cortázar's text that served to bring about that aspect of Dan's particular idiom into play. At the same time, without my own particular interest in Cortázar's writing, I would perhaps not have allowed myself the sense of playfulness and ease-at-mind which his appearance, and the associated evocation of Cortázar in my mind, generated in me.

Put in another way, it is possible to think of that unconscious to unconscious communication as a dialogue, a unique exchange depending on both participants. In Gadamer's (2004) words: "The horizon of understanding cannot be limited either by what the writer originally had in mind or by the horizon of the person to whom the text was originally addressed." (p. 396)

Unconscious preconceptions brought into play by the exiled individual through the use of objects have been described by Kristeva (1991). In her book Strangers From Ourselves, Kristeva (1991) defines the driving psychic force of the exiled individual as his secret wound. The exile carries his existential state buried deep underneath layers of functionality. Troubled by the daily experience of alienation, he strives towards distancing himself from that wound. Mostly, this is successful and exiles are able to adjust. But when they don't, and according to Kristeva, adjustment is not necessarily such a desired developmental goal, the wound shows itself in the subject interactions with the world and through a certain disability he carries. Often, he expresses his wound through particular metaphoric uses of objects, forming attachments which seem to be peculiar without the knowledge of their purpose.

I think that Dan usage of Cortázar's work was an example to such an attachment. The figure of Cortázar's was well-known in Argentine during Dan's adolescence and since. Having left himself his homeland and settled in Paris as a result of being persecuted by the authorities, Cortázar can be seen as an exile who was able to address his secret wound openly. Furthermore, his preoccupation with it became one of the major subject matters of his work. He expressed that not only through overt writings about political issues, though he did that too by writing about Cuba and the Sandinista revolution in Nicaragua and through his work in various U.N. committees. More relevant to this discussion is the fictional world he created through his short stories, novels and poems where he established a fictional homeland often populated with figures which could be described as imaginary friends to his protagonists.

Dan used Cortázar in such a way as to articulate a part of his idiom through his relation to me in the room. My own thoughts concerning Cortázar upon first seeing Dan were evidence to the unconscious communication which took place between us. His almost immediate sense of being-at-home in my presence was a testimony to a rapport which was threatened and severed when a break in the continuity of the therapy repeated and gave expression to his secret wound of having been exiled. Experiencing that crisis not just as a crisis occurring in the transference but an articulation of an instance of his particular idiom, facilitated for Dan an opportunity to come to terms with and then mourn the event of being exiled with his family from Argentine.


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[1] The Hebrew word Aliya is deriving from the root word which signifies moving to a higher place. Jewish immigration into the land of Israel is conceived as an act which is more than physical and has specific national connotations of returning to the land from which the Jewish people have been exiled from.

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