The Shadow of the Object

Preface to the Anniversary Edition (Routledge, 2017) of The Shadow of the Object: Psychoanalysis of the Unthought Known, by Christopher Bollas:

“During our formative years, we are continually “impressed” by the object world. Most of this experience will never be consciously thought, but it resides within us as assumed knowledge. In this influential work, Christopher Bollas terms this “the unthought known,” offering radical new visions of the scope of psychoanalysis that expand our understanding of the creativity of the unconscious mind and the aesthetics of human character.

The Shadow of the Object integrates aspects of Freud’s theory of unconscious thinking with elements from the British Object Relations School. Aspects of the unthought known—the primary repressed unconscious—emerge during psychoanalysis as a mood, the aesthetic of a dream, or in our relation to the self as other. Within the unique analytic relationship, it becomes possible, at least in part, to think the unthought—an experience that has enormous transformative potential.

First published in 1987, The Shadow of the Object remains a classic of the psychoanalytic literature written by an original thinker. The concept of the unthought known has influenced many areas of study, including literature, psychology, and the arts.

Christopher Bollas is a Member of the British Psychoanalytical
Society and the Los Angeles Institute and Society for Psychoanalytical Studies”

From: Signs for the Times – Symbolic Realism in the Mid-Victorian World (1984), by Chris Brooks:

“…The semantic paradox in this passage and in Little Dorrit (1855-57) is irresolvable. It is that implied in ‘being nobody’ or ‘being nothing’, where ‘nobody’ and ‘nothing’ preclude being altogether: ‘“Little Dorrit?She’s nothing”’; ‘Maggy counted as nobody, and she was by’. The novel’s play between being and non-being is caught perfectly in a syntactico-semantic organisation which simultaneously asserts and denies the existence of an active subject. The effect is to imbue the verbal stuff of the novel with an analogue to the frustration and entrapment that are the novel’s theme. The construction ‘being nothing’ is a linguistic snare which catches the reader between two mutually exclusive, but simultaneous, propositions – to be and not to be. Positive and negative chase each other round a verbal and semantic maze that is founded in ambiguity. The negative principle that informs the Little Dorrit world determines the very language in which the novel exists, just as it determined the novel’s original title, ‘Nobody’s Fault’.

Hopes for deliverance from the Circumlocution world focus, of course, upon Amy Dorrit. Yet, despite her extraordinary capacity for love, her sense of responsibility and the care she expends on an uncaring family, the narrative of her moral agency is a narrative of defeat. She cannot rescue her father from his own illusions; although she becomes a mother to ‘Fanny’s neglected children’ and ‘a tender nurse and friend to Tip’, she cannot save the one from Society nor the other from the Marshalsea…

(The prison became known around the world in the 19th century through the writing of Charles Dickens, whose father was sent there in 1824, when Dickens was 12, for a debt to a baker. Forced as a result to leave school to work in a factory, Dickens based several of his characters on his experience, most notably Amy Dorrit, whose father is in the Marshalsea for debts so complex no one can fathom how to get him out.” (Wikipedia))

…Her marriage has no effect on the world at large; after all, as Ferdinand Barnacle says, ‘“the Genius of the country…tends to being left alone”’. Amy’s centrality to the novel, however, is not primarily a function of her ethical efficacy, but rather of her understanding, of a comprehension of the real more profound than that of any other character. Amy can both recognise and confront the fact of imprisonment, seeing the spikes and shadow of the Marshalsea not only as the dominant reality of her own life, but also as the metaphoric dominant in the lives of the people around her.

The shadow of the wall was on every object. Not least upon the figure
in the old grey gown and the black velvet cap, as it turned towards
her when she opened the door of the dim room.
‘Why not upon me too!’ thought Little Dorrit… (I, 21, P. 245)

She felt that, in what he [Mr Dorrit] had just said to her, and in his whole bearing towards her, there was the well-known shadow of the Marshalsea wall. It took a new shape, but it was the old sad shadow.
(II, 5, p. 478)”

“During the course of the film, we come to love Little Dorrit and Arthur Clennam (who is a good man and a very lonely one). We see all their difficulties. We know all of their fears. We identify with all of their hesitations. When they are finally able to bring themselves to admit that they are in love, it is a joyous moment. And when old Dorrit comes to the time when he must die, Guinness plays the scene with the kind of infinitely muted pathos that has you wiping your eyes even as you’re admiring his acting craft.” (Roger Ebert)

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