Moses-Hrushovski, Dr. Rina
Born in Germany 1930
Immigrated to Palestine 1939
Died Jerusalem 2007
Psychoanalytic Inquiry, 30 1-3, 2010
LANGUAGE AND MUSIC IN RENA’S LIFE AND WORK
Rivka R. Eifermann
Rena Moses-Hrushowski died on the 1st of March, 2007. A great deal of what she says in her article, and in particular in its final paragraphs, gains further meaning when understood in the context of her full awareness, while writing her article, of her illness and approaching death.
As one of her closer friends, I was asked to add a piece on Rena to be attached to her article. Although I agreed, I encountered great difficulties in carrying out the task, not only because Rena writes about her hesitations in exposing her private life publicly, but because, like her, I have found “the fine distinction between the ‘intimate’ and the ‘personal’” hard to maintain in writing about her. I finally chose to writing from a stance in which I feel most at home. This article is an attempt to listen to and comment on the music, language and choice of words in Rena’s article. As I deeply believe and attempt to show, this was a major theme in Rena’s life and work.
In her opening statement Rena tells us that when writing in English she faces an obstacle related to her difficulties with languages in general. She traces the roots of these difficulties to her experiences of the “Kristallnacht”, which put an abrupt end to her life in Germany and led to her emigration with her immediate family to Israel, when she was eight years old. Rena points out, that a lifelong outcome of this move was, “the loss of my mother tongue”; moreover, she has never since felt at home in any language, feeling as though she were always “living in a hotel”. Notwithstanding this ever-present difficulty, when invited to write for this issue of the Psychoanalytic Inquiry, she welcomed the opportunity since, as she put it, “it is often through writing that I come closest to myself, becoming crystallized in my thinking and being”. It is as if she wished to grasp, through “com[ing] closest” to herself, the unfathomable “nightmarish horror”, of the Kristallnacht—a continual presence in her inner world—while at the same time also wishing to become crystal clear, not only in her thinking, but in her whole “being”. Considering the burden of meanings that “crystallize” seems to carry for Rena, it is perhaps not surprising that Rena repeats the expression—when referring to her habit of keeping work diaries—saying that writing helps her “crystallize” her thinking.
On reading Rena’s article it soon became apparent to me that it comprises two distinct styles or stylistic features. In part—especially in its section on “deployment”—the article is organized and structured, including titles, subtitles and an internal division which clarify, organize, even crystallize the ideas presented; yet the larger part of the article is written in a more or less associative flow, moving from one topic to another with little formal differentiation. Parallel to this freedom from, or might I say lack of organization, Rena’s English is irregular, at times plainly incorrect, so that I, for one, have gained the impression that Rena has relied on the editor’s discretion as to whether to correct it or leave it, indeed perhaps to leave her as she is. Perhaps, I thought, she wants to be known, recognized and remembered as someone who has irrevocably lost her language and this, an important part of her identity, is not to be erased, purified or cleaned up. Words fail in the context of such a terrible breech in the continuity of her life and being. This is a loss that cannot fully be overcome. Yet words are necessary and, paradoxically, have been useful to her in structuring and ordering her life and in the crystallization of her life’s work.
Albeit with the aid of words, Rena repeatedly points out how restricted words and their meanings can be when deprived of the music and of the range of non verbal-cues that accompany them. She goes into great detail regarding the diversity of facets other than words that enter into her clinical work. It seems that her life experiences have made her particularly sensitive to the meanings of non-verbal expressions and, in particular, sound, both enriching and compensating. In her work, Rena says, “[M]uch of my attention is given to the tone of voice, the timbre, rhythms, inflections, variety of melodies and other non-verbal signs that are transmitted with the verbal text and touch deeper layers of my mind.” She adds that as she listens to the words, she tries to match their emotional tones and melody with the words spoken, and as she gradually identifies the extant “feeling state” she often plays it back to the patient, thus creating the bedrock for “emotional insights” in the patient as well as herself. Elsewhere in the article Rena writes of how she immerses herself in her patients’ inner life and feelings, listening to the “music, tone, volume, accent, melodies”. And when discussing her sensitivity to patients who express themselves in a language not their own, she again points to the invaluable contribution of listening to the music of charged words expressed in the patients’ mother tongue, even as the words themselves are not understood by her.
Rena traces her sensitivity to the music of words to her love of music, especially vocal, and links the importance of music in her clinical work to her participation in her school’s choir, perhaps the highlight of her school life. She comments, “music in the school was light in the darkness”. She remembers the choir leader, a teacher who was “a musician and producer”, and she takes the trouble to translate his name for her English readers, “Bar Zimra (namely ‘son of songs’)”. Remarkably, Rena’s (Renate’s) name is pronounced and spelt Rina in Hebrew, which means, song and singing, as well as joy. Her article suggests that she could fully identify with her well-chosen name.
Various further threads in her article link to her interest in, and sensitivity to the music that resonates in her patients’ words. All threads appear to relate to satisfaction and delight which she derived, since early on in her life, from music, and, in particular, from the sound of the human voice making music. It is striking that when she specifies various pleasurable but diverse activities that she shared with each of her parents, singing is the one activity that appears in both descriptions.
Not surprisingly, therefore, Rena heard, and trusted in the unconscious expression of her inner singing voice. In the context of discussing aspects of her own personal analysis, Rena remarks that she always needed to feel the validity and truth of interpretations offered to her. She illustrates, “[O]ne source of conviction that such and such an interpretation felt true to me was when a specific song came up, which I unknowingly was humming”, a song that, in content and mood, emotionally confirmed an interpretation that, until then, remained intellectually convincing at best.
Rena continued to enjoy vocal music throughout her life and engaged in it, as listener, as well as in singing with others, and also on her own. On her deathbed Rena asked to hear her daughter sing to her a moving song by Tchernichovsky, a Hebrew poet, the core theme of the song being the belief in the spirit of Man and its future growth.
There are indications in Rena’s article that her special sensitivity to sound extends beyond music (in its broad sense, as used by her). Perhaps toward the approaching end of her life in particular, every sound came to have special value for her. In the final paragraph of her article, she quotes Rabinowich as though speaking on her behalf, saying, “my days now, every sound, every experience are like a new thread”—as though, perhaps, of all possible experiences, it is the experiencing of sound that alone deserves special, explicit note.
Nonetheless, the sounds associated for Rena with the “nightmarish horror” of the Kristallnacht are sounds of unfathomable terror and destruction. Rena writes of the horrific experience she has been through when hiding in a cellar, “beneath the noises of the tumult above, noises of destruction of whatever the hooligans were breaking”. Deprived of the sense of safety that might have been afforded by her parents’ protective presence, in their absence, hiding with her brother and a distant aunt, she was subjected to the threatening sounds of devastation coming from above; a shocking and humiliating accretion to what she had already experienced on that nightmare-like day, when suddenly and inexplicable she was deprived of the right to enter “our school” and upon returning home was confronted with a barred door. I found no further direct statements in Rena’s article related to sounds of violence and the threat of violence that they evoke. Yet Rena’s description of, and preoccupation with, the deployed personality, with its authoritarian, rigid stance and defensive mobilization, powerfully echoes the horrendous threat.
Could it be, then, that music, as created and discovered from within (her singing voice), came to be an important source of comfort, refuge and compensation in the face of terrifying sounds of violence from without?
Could it be then, that in this article Rena tells her story, both in the article’s content and in its form; of having lost her mother-tongue, home, and school, but also of having managed to re-find and recreate a new internal and external home and school (of psychoanalysis) for herself?
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Moses-Hrushovski, R. (1992). Transference and Countertransference—From Deployment Against Feelings of Loss—through Psychotic Regressions—to a Better Capacity to Feel and to Mourn. Int. J. Psycho-Anal., 73:561-576. […]