"The world has much to learn from Volkan's way of understanding war, genocide, and entrenched and repeating patterns of destructiveness."
~ Dr. Jane Tillman, Director, Erik Erikson Institute for Education and Research
"Masterful cinematography. . . How Castelloe assembled this footage for her film and edited it in such a precise, fluent manner is an example of amazing craftsmanship."
~ Robert Quackenbush, Children's book author and illustrator
"The film has the feeling of a riveting keynote address – one that is both didactic and viscerally engaging." ~ Jan Haaken, Filmmaker and Clinical Psychologist
"An enthralling portrait of a remarkable humanitarian who deploys a cosmopolitan psychoanalysis to give new language and cure to the quintessential ailment of our time– the role of ethnic and national narcissism in fostering hatred and sectarian violence."
~ Robert Stam, University Professor, New York University
"Vamik Volkan is a singular figure in psychoanalysis and far beyond . . . every diplomat and diplomat-in-training should see this film."
~ Howard F. Stein, Poet Laureate, High Plains Society for Applied Anthropology
A Man Working for Peace Amidst Murderous Hatreds
by Don Carveth, PhD—York University, Canada
Following the election of a plutocrat, Donald Trump, to the highest office in the United States, hope is something many of us are finding difficult to sustain. Happily, Molly Castelloe has written, directed, and produced an excellent documentary film on the inspiring work of Vamik Volkan, a psychoanalyst who has sought to utilize psychosocial concepts to better understand and contribute to the resolution of severe ethnic, racial, religious, and political conflicts. Castelloe acknowledges in her own voice at the outset that it is precisely out of a desire to sustain hope for the future of her two boys that she became interested in and committed to communicating Volkan’s ideas.
The title, Vamik’s Room, refers to a space constructed for Volkan to stay in a virtually destroyed building by people appreciative of his reparative efforts. The documentary should be of interest not only to psychohistorians, psychoanalysts, and other social scientists working in political psychology, international relations, and conflict studies, but to anyone who wishes to obtain a deeper understanding of the complex psychosocial forces underlying the types of social conflict that can often lead to war, ethnic cleansing, and genocide.
In addition to providing the viewer with arresting visual images that illustrate Volkan’s key concepts, the film introduces us to the man himself. It details the traumatization of his mother and sister during the conflict between Cypriot Greeks and Turks, which set him on his path to apply psychoanalysis in the attempt to better understand collective behavior, as well as his subsequent work in diverse parts of the world to bring such understanding to bear in potentially constructive ways in zones of conflict.
While some may already possess a general intellectual grasp of Volkan’s key concepts (large group identity as a kind of second skin or pseudo-species, chosen trauma, shared trauma, transgenerational trauma, linking objects, postponed or perennial mourning, monuments, “hot” monuments that re-traumatize, reactivated trauma, entitlement ideology, time collapse, hot spots, etc.), Castelloe introduces each using a clear heading, with Volkan himself explaining the concept, combined with vivid images of cultural practices and historical events that epitomize and emotionally convey the meaning of the concept.
This film is in no way a matter of “talking heads” discoursing on abstract concepts. Instead of just “telling,” the film “shows” clearly and often dramatically the important human references of these concepts. To take but one example: the concept of “time collapse” is vividly illustrated with footage from the 600th anniversary of the battle of Kosovo, at which the Ottomans had beheaded the Serbian leader Prince Lazar, whose remains had been exhumed by the Serbs for ceremonial re-burying.
Slobodan Milosevic reactivates the “chosen trauma,” standing before a monument with the figures 1389-1989 emblazoned behind him. A clearer illustration of the effort to make “time collapse,” reactivate trauma, and thus promote “entitlement ideology” would be hard to find.
Because it so clearly explains and vividly illustrates Volkan’s concepts without sacrificing the complexity of the social and psychological phenomena involved, while also conveying the humanity of the man himself, this film will be of interest to diverse audiences ranging from high school students to social scientists, psychohistorians, and mental health professionals. Anyone interested in the dangerous pathologies of mourning and the efforts to ameliorate destructive social conflicts will benefit from this film.
~ Don Carveth, PhD, is Emeritus Professor of Sociology and Social & Political Thought at York University, past Director of the Toronto Institute of Psychoanalysis, and author of The Still Small Voice: Psychoanalytic Reflections on Guilt and Conscience (2013).