I N E X H A U S T I B L E G R I E F
The goal of psychoanalysis is, broadly, to claim as one’s own
the power of one’s feelings.
—Nancy Chodorow, The Power of Feelings
The dominion of the objective being in me, the sensuous out-
burst of my essential activity, is emotion, which thus becomes
here the activity of my being.
—Karl Marx, Economic and
Philosophical Manuscripts of 1844
Psychoanalytically speaking, any form of life will tend to gener-
ate a fantasy of what it is to get outside that life.
—Jonathan Lear, Happiness,
Death, and the Remainder of Life
In Marion Roach’s Another Name for Madness a daughter cares for her
mother. In ‘‘At the End of the Line,’’ a beautiful prose poem by the French
psychoanalyst J.-B. Pontalis, a son reflects on his relationship to his mother.
But here there is no impulse to inform readers. Here the aesthetic is not
psychological realism but that of a poetic meditative mode, one with its
roots in the routines of everyday life. ‘‘At the End of the Line’’ was published
in 1986 when Pontalis was sixty-two and his mother was, by my count,
ninety-two. The final essay in his book Love of Beginnings, ‘‘At the End of
the Line’’ moves e√ortlessly—as if by free association—from anecdote to
memory, from memory to the figure of another old woman (one lost to old
age), and from her death-in-life to a transformational fantasy involving his
mother. The mundane technology of the telephone serves as the literal
device of attachment between the two, with the narrative set in motion by a
simple phone call from his mother. It concludes with a vision of the
restoration of harmony between them, one that seems to emerge out of the
very act of remembrance and writing itself. Created is an oneiric psychic
space in which a vision of mother and son appears with the two of them