Absence, translated literally into English, as a lack of sense, translates into German as a lack of “beingness”. Indeed, absence hovers between these two connotations, since often no meaning can be made of an absence, and one’s sense of being can be put at risk during a profound experience of absence. Absence lingers in the gaps, the fractures, the silences and shadows of one’s life, its experience is not to be confused with an individual’s acute pain of loss about an object. Freud alluded to this when he famously wrote in Mourning and Melancholia (1915/1917), “The shadow of the ego fell upon the object.” It is in the dark rays, in the in -between world between the ego and its lost objects, that absence finds its place and casts its shadows.

Sam Gerson (2018) captures this distinction most poignantly when he writes that “the quest for the second and third generation of Shoa artists was no longer so much directed at the remembrance and recording of the past, but at the necessity of creating something where there had been nothing, a hole, an empty core at the middle of the psyche. Instead of a loss that has been transmitted, it was now an absence that was being passed on … absences create a never-ending necessity of contending with unrepresented experience and sensibility.” (p. 18) When absence cannot be symbolized into a loss, it risks to remain an unending and enduring tragedy.

Jeanne Wolff Bernstein, Ph.D. is the past president, and supervising and personal analyst at the Psychoanalytic Institute of Northern California (PINC), San Francisco. She is on the faculty at PINC and at the NYU Post-Doctoral Program for Psychoanalysis and Psychotherapy. She was the 2008 Fulbright-Freud Visiting Scholar of Psychoanalysis at the Sigmund Freud Museum, Vienna. She is a member and on the Board of the Wiener Arbeitskreis für Psychoanalyse and works now as a psychoanalyst in Vienna. She has published numerous articles on the interfaces between psychoanalysis, the visual arts and film. She is currently working on her book on Edouard Manet, Enframing The Gaze.