Representation and remembrance : on retelling inherited narratives of the Holocaust / by Anne J. Adelman.
The present study investigates the roles of symbolic representation and narrativization in the intergenerational transmission of the Holocaust experience. I suggest that it is possible to gain access to the process of the transmission of trauma by tracing the transgenerational evolution of narrative forms, dynamic themes and affective expressions. This study demonstrates that the areas of affect regulation, narrative cohesion and symbolic representation are central components of the process of transmission of trauma. Twenty pairs of Holocaust survivor mothers and their American-born daughters were interviewed in depth about their memories of the Holocaust. The narratives thus generated are examined in terms of intensity of and tolerance for affect, quality of self and other representations, and narrative cohesion. Results of the study suggest that traumatic memories are encoded differently than non-traumatic memories with regard to affect and symbolic representation, and that the narration of traumatic events leads to retrogressive shifts in these dimensions of personality organization. Further, such narrations lead to a regressive trend in the dimension of affect expression, suggesting that the reworking of traumatic memories takes the form of an inner dialogue which is not readily carried forth into the realm of dyadic exchange. Significant relationships were found between how mothers tolerate affect and how daughters express strong emotion and organize their object world. Clinical analysis of the interviews revealed three different styles of affective organization in survivor mothers, referred to as "congruent," "undifferentiated" and "distant." The quality of the mother's organization and integration of affect was found to have significant bearing on how daughters assimilate and organize their historical legacy. Finally, analysis of oral testimonies generated independently by mother-daughter pairs provides a framework within which to explore the transgenerational evolution of narrative forms. This investigation illustrates the processes of preservation, transformation and transmutation of traumatic memory. This research has implications for conceptualizations of massive psychic trauma and its impact on representational capacities, on mothering and motherliness, on emotional expressivity and modulation. In addition, I consider implications for psychotherapeutic intervention. As such, this study brings to light the healing process that can begin to unfold across the bridge of generations.
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