Abraham, Nicolas (1919-1975) (International Dictionary of Psychoanalysis)
Nicolas Abraham, a psychoanalyst and philosopher, was born on May 23, 1919, in Kecskemet, Hungary, and died on December 18, 1975, in Paris. He came from an educated family, and his father was a rabbi and printer. After spending his childhood in Hungary, he studied philosophy in Paris. He worked in the Department of Aesthetics of the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (French National Center for Scientific Research) during the 1940s and 1950s and was trained in analysis at the Psychoanalytic Society of Paris. He worked closely with Maria Torok, who continued their research activity after Abraham's death.
Between 1959 and 1975 Abraham's work contributed to the renewal of psychoanalytic theory and practice. Together with Maria Torok he introduced several key concepts of contemporary psychoanalysis: the family secret, transmitted from one generation to the next (theory of the phantom), the impossibility of mourning following the emergence of shameful libidinal impulses in the bereaved before or after the death of someone (mourning disorder), secret identification with another (incorporation), the burial of an inadmissible experience (crypt). In The Wolf Man's Magic Word (1986) and The Shell and the Kernel (1994), Nicolas Abraham explored the ravages of trauma and the other enemies of life, and his discoveries flesh out Freud's theories and help expand the limits of analysis.
Abraham's clinical experience forced him to modify some of the fundamental assumptions of Freudian theory (oedipal fantasies, the castration complex, the death impulse) and isolate hitherto unknown sources of human suffering. The principle of trauma that emerges, trauma that arrests spontaneous self-creation (or introjection in the sense defined by Sándor Ferenczi in 1909 and 1912), constitutes the fulcrum around which these discoveries were organized. Abraham also redirected the focus of classic psychoanalysis, centered on libidinal conflicts, to the possibility of psychic development and discovery that can be realized at any age, as well as to the obstacles to such development encountered in catastrophes such as social shame, war, mourning, racial or political persecution, hate crimes, and concentration camps.
In France, Abraham's work constituted a third way between orthodox Freudianism and Lacaniansm. Overcoming various forms of resistance, it has achieved worldwide recognition and has been translated into English, German, and Italian; translations into Swedish, Hungarian, and other languages are currently underway. His influence can be found in the growing interest of contemporary psychoanalysis in the transgenerational point of view and in the analysis of the singular traumas of the individual within the family environment.
NICHOLAS RAND AND MARIA TOROK
See also: Introjection; Phantom; Torok, Maria; Secret.
Abraham, Nicolas, and Torok, Maria. (1986). The Wolf Man's magic word (Nicholas Rand, Trans.). Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. (Original work published 1976)
. (1994). The shell and the kernel: Renewals of psychoanalysis (Nicholas Rand, Trans.). Chicago: University of Chicago Press. (Original work published 1978)
Ferenczi, Sandor. (1968). Transfert et introjection. O.C., Psychanalyse I (Vol. I : 1908-1912, pp. 93-125). Paris: Payot. (Original work published 1909)
. (1968). Le concept d'introjection. O.C., Psychanalyse I (Vol. I : 1908-1912, pp. 196-198). Paris: Payot. (Original work published 1912)
Rand, Nicholas, and Torok, Maria. (1995). Questionsà Freud: du devenir de la psychanalyse. Paris: Les Belles Lettres.