ABSENCE can take many forms – it can mean the non-presence of a person or an object, or, in the figurative sense, a state of mental reverie or rapture. It is well known that the physical presence of a person does not guarantee their being there in their minds. But the imaginary, too, ultimately requires a material manifestation to be discernible: perceptible impulses that are recorded by the sensory organs and lead to psychological sensations, answering to the external influences like an inner echo – and sometimes generating corresponding oscillations for a certain time, an exchange sustained by feelings.

It is first and foremost this ability to establish mental-emotional links between the outside and inner worlds that shapes the individual as a social being and helps it find its place in its world. Taking a closer look, this capacity also encompasses the possibility to link past events to present ones, to remember, or to retrace the experience of others.

This power of the human psyche also was an essential premise in the reconception of the Sigmund Freud Museum in 2020: fully in line with the guiding principle “envisioning in order to see”, we exposed wall paintings in the exhibition rooms, placed historical photographs, and consciously flagged empty spaces that bear witness to the family’s fleeing from the Nazis in 1938. These curatorial and architectural interventions literally dis-cover the remains of a past world that, over time, had disappeared or been painted over, and which now, reconstructed in our imagination as pure representation, claims our heedfulness and attention.

However, the marginality of the relics not only motivates us to complete them before our mind’s eye; above all, it moves into focus what is no longer present, what is lost. Yet the staged visibility of absent people and things neither obscures nor conceals – on the contrary, it allows us to see past events and fates more clearly that even today are felt as individual and collective experiences of loss.

Thus, the not (or no longer) present is immanent to the genius loci of the place Freud used to work at, the Berggasse in Vienna, just as it is to the science of psychoanalysis: it is here that its founder dedicated himself to this science for nearly half a century, aiming to study the realities of the unconscious that mostly escape reason and, if at all, only surface incompletely.

Although according to Freud we are denied complete and comprehensive insight into the inner affairs of our mental apparatus, it nevertheless makes sense to engage with the absent that so insistently acts on our being – and this is why the members of our scientific advisory board address ABSENCE in the following texts. For their beautiful and interesting text and image contributions that approach this year’s annual focus in so many facets we would like to express our gratitude to the following people:

Jeanne Wolff Bernstein (Wiener Arbeitskreis für Psychoanalyse), Herman Westerink (Radboud University Nijmegen), Lisa Appignanesi (King's College London), Oleksandr Filts (Danylo Halytsky Lviv National Medical University), Rubén Gallo (Princeton University), Gohar Homayounpour (Freudian Group of Tehran), Victor Mazin (East-European Institute of Psychoanalysis St. Petersburg), and Spyros D. Orfanos (New York University).


Monika Pessler

Sigmund Freud Museum Vienna