Book Review Fed with Tears – Poisoned with Milk

by Laurence J. Gould, Ph.D. back to Book Reviews of Fed with Tears, Poisoned with Milk

Affiliation Society Board Member and Director, The Socio-Analytic Program in Organizational Consultation and Executive Coaching IPTAR (The Institute for Psychoanalytic Training and Research) NYC

Reviewing this extraordinary book poses in microcosm the same challenges the authors’ faced in producing it. Namely, capturing the complexities and nuances of experiences that are largely ineffable and fraught beyond measure – the experiences of German and Israeli psychoanalysts facing the “past in the present,” illuminated by the dark, dense shadow of the Holocaust. What emerges then is as much a meditation as it is a chronicle or report, making it, at one and the same time, intensely personal and conceptually satisfying. Can a review do justice to a book such as this? The clear answer is no – certainly not with regard to the full richness of the content – but hopefully what can be conveyed, if only partially, is the animating spirit and sensibility that gave it life. In this sense it is a story, a story refracted through the experiences of a hundred plus individuals –staff and members – who participated in what was titled “’The Nazareth’ Group Relations Conferences, – Germans and Israelis – The Past in the Present.” Erlich, in his Introduction, states the explicit aim of this enterprise: “ . . . to make a unique and significant contribution to the proliferating literature on German-Israeli relatedness in the post-Holocaust era.” (p. 15). Formulated by Miller (p. 38), one of the principal architects of these Conferences, this aim was operationalized as follows: “To provide opportunities to explore how feelings and fantasies about ‘German-ness’ and Israeli-ness” influence relations within and between the two groups in the conference.” He goes on to say, that as he saw it, “[These Conferences] . . . would express a broader aim of exploring how these issues relate to individual members’ roles both as citizens and analysts. If that were our aim we would want members to go away with both experiential learning and some conceptualiztion.” I would note here that one contribution of this volume, on a methodological level, is its brilliant, sophisticated exposition of group relations theory, and practice, and the dilemmas of applying it to a specific issue, This is a central point and worth underscoring. Namely, one of the great strengths of this enterprise is the group relations sensibility that brings to these Conferences a refreshing and illuminating antidote to the sweeping generalities about the human situation that often characterize such efforts. Rather, they provide a facilitating space for the particularities of each participant’s experience to fully emerge, and it is a pleasure to see how this guiding idea is actualized in the volume itself. Erlich-Ginor’s chapter on “The Conference Experience” and her invocation of the metaphor of “The Collage” (sub-titled “Many Voices, Many Names (p. 49),” best captures it, as she grapples with the dilemmas of both bringing to life the experiences of the Conferences and transmitting them to the reader. I do not think it would be an exaggeration to say that, as such, her approach comes as close as I know, to a model that analysts, inpresenting case material – especially in writing about cases – would do well to seriously consider. Not, to be sure, in a prescriptive or directly parallel sense, but with regard to the dilemmas she raises. To cite just a few obvious ones – whose book is this; whose experience will be privileged, and what from the wealth of material – of both self and other - will be selected (unconsciously as well as consciously) for presentation? It is, as if, on a larger, more complex canvas, she is grappling with many of the countertransferential issues that we, as analysts, continually struggle with in our work with patients. Since there is so much rich material and so many provocative ideas in this fairly slender volume (192pp), let me focus on a few that I believe are especially germane to this enterprise, as well as the larger psychoanalytic enterprise – particularly in the applied realm. The first returns us, once again to the question of mourning, or more specifically the inability to mourn and its consequences. In this context, the salient issue is how to understand what this may mean in a collective, rather than an individual context. That is, as the authors’ suggest, collectives – groups, communities, societies – carry loss, and mourn, or not, as the case may be. And that further, and consequentially, the outcomes of these processes will be a major determinant with regard to how such collectivities view themselves, and their relatedness to other collectivities. It is hardly a coincidence that a German politician would provide a succinct and apt appreciation of this fact. We must understand that there can be no reconciliation without remembrance 1  (von Weizsäcker, 1985) 1 In this context, it is also hardly surprising that in Germany, given the daunting societal task of coming to terms with the Holocaust, they coined a term Vergangenheitsbewältigung - a freightload of German morphemes which is best translated as “mastering the past” or “coming to terms with the past.” Vergangenheit means “past”; bewältigen means “to overcome” or, more to the point, “to overpower.” The whole word specifically, refers to the Germans’ post-West German President, Richard von Weizsäcker in a speech before the Bundestag commemorating the fortieth anniversary of the German capitulation (1985).war efforts to resolve their relationship with the Third Reich, and to salvage from that wreckage, what the Harvard Historian, Charles Maier, has called the “usable past.” This leads directly to several related, direct questions and themes, with a central one being: could German analysts work through their guilt in the presence of Israeli analysts? Or put another way, as the authors’ suggest, could they only work through their guilt in the presence of Israeli analysts? And what of the role of the Israeli analysts in this enterprise? What would their central emotional struggles be in the presence of German colleagues, and how might one conceptualize them, and lastly, how could these Conferences be useful to them? The emergence of such issues are the twin interwoven thematic strands that bring these Conferences to life, as each group struggles with them in the presence of the Other. And for this reviewer, and I’m quite certain for the reader of this volume as well, will be a shared sentiment that both creating and participating in these Conferences was act of great courage. And especially so, given the uncertainty that the rewards would be commensurate with the pain - not unlike undertaking an analysis itself - for both patient an analyst. The thoughtful Foreword by Archbishop Desmond M. Tutu, and the recapitulation and coda of Erlich’s Epilogue provide the fitting “bookends” of this volume, as they both invoke and contribute to the possibility that hope can triumph, even in the face of the most widely documented atrocity in human history. But, much more to the point, as displayed by the courage and creativity the authors and their colleagues. is that if one dares to hope, one must  also dare to risk. And from every possible perspective – personal, professional, and societal – this was a risky enterprise indeed, for which we can only express our gratitude.

 

Reviewed by
Laurence J. Gould, Ph.D.
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