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In The Shell and the Kernel, published in 1978, Maria Torok and Nicolas Abraham attempted to provide a revised metapsychological approach to their concept of the phantom. The work, which is presented as a collection of older or unpublished articles, is in fact the second volume of Anasémies, the first volume of which appeared in 1976 under the title The Wolf Man's Magic Word: A Cryptonomy.

Anasémies is a relatively difficult theoretical-clinical work, "a psychoanalytic and transphenomenological space" with an important introduction by Jacques Derrida, "FORS: Les mots anglés de Nicolas Abraham et Maria Torok." The work is one that signaled a fecund period of reflection about the processes of transgenerational transmission as they were initially addressed by psychoanalysts and later reconsidered by child psychoanalysts, especially from the point of view of so-called developmental psychoanalysis.

In the second volume of Anasémies, chapter four is devoted to the concept of the "crypt" and chapter six to the "work of the phantom in the unconscious and the law of ignorance." The following lines appear at the head of the chapter: "The phantom is the work in the unconscious of the inadmissible secret of an Other (incest, crime, illegitimacy). Its law is the obligation of ignorance. Its manifestation, as anxiety, is the return of the phantom in bizarre words and acts and symptoms (phobic, obsessive, and so on). The phantom's universe can be objectivized in fantastic stories. There then occurs a particular affect that Freud described as the 'uncanny."'

By reworking and somewhat demetaphorizing the concepts of incorporation, identification, crypt, and phantom, Abraham and Torok arrive at the following formulations: "The phantom is also a metapsychological fact. That is, it is not the dead that haunt us but the gaps left in us by the secrets of others. Although the phantom is not associated with the loss of an object, it could (therefore) be the result of a failed process of mourning . . . The phantom of popular belief merely objectivizes a metaphor that operates in the unconscious: the burial in the object of an inadmissible fact . . . . The phantom is a formation of the unconscious, which is peculiar in the sense that it has never been conscious—and with good reason—and which results from the passage—whose mode remains to be deter-mined—of the parent's unconscious to the child's unconscious . . . . The phantom who returns to haunt is the witness of the existence of death buried in the other. . . . By extending our ideas about the phantom, we can see that, in all likelihood, the 'phantom effect' is attenuated during its transmission from one generation to another, ultimately extinguishing itself."

These comments illustrate the drama of the "cryptophoric" subject and the dialectic that arises between incorporation and identification, to the extent that the fantasy of incorporation can play a role as a factor of identificatory refusal through the maintenance of the metapsychological status quo. Abraham and Torok's The Shell and the Kernel concludes with a study of Hamlet's ghost.

These essays are part of a line of research that has developed in France through the work of authors such as Alain de Mijolla, Haydée Faimberg, Jean-José Baranès, and Jean Cournut, who have assumed critical positions with respect to the theory of the phantom and suggested other approaches to so-called transgenerational phenomena. The work of Abraham and Torok was continued by Serge Tisseron, Didier Dumas, and Claude Nachin.


See also: <a href="">Abraham, Nicolas</a>; <a href="">Cultural transmission</a>; <a href="">Inter-generational</a>; <a href="">Secret</a>; <a href="">Torok, Maria</a>.


  • Abraham, Nicolas. (1968). L'écorce et le noyau. Critique,249.
  • Abraham, Nicolas; and Torok, Maria. (1972). Deuil ou mélancolie: introjecter-incorporer. Nouvelle Revue de psychanalyse, 6, 111-122.
  • ——. (1986). The Wolf Man's magic word: A cryptonymy. (Nicholas Rand, Trans.) Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. (Original work published 1976)
  • ——. (1994). The shell and the kernel: Renewals of psychoanalysis. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. (Original work published 1978)
  • Dumas, Didier. (1985). L'Ange et le fantôme: introductionà la clinique de l'impensé généalogique. Paris: Minuit.
  • Mijolla, Alain de. (1981). Les visiteurs du moi, fantasmes d'identification, confluents psychanalytiques, 2d. ed. Paris: Les Belles Lettres.
  • ——. (1987). Unconscious identification fantasies and family prehistory. International Journal of Psychoanalysis, 68, 397-403.