Disappearing Persons

Shame and Appearance

By Benjamin Kilborne

Subjects: Literary Criticism
Series: SUNY series in Psychoanalysis and Culture
Paperback : 9780791452004, 204 pages, December 2001
Hardcover : 9780791451991, 204 pages, December 2001

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Table of contents




Oedipal Shame and the Origins of Appearance Anxiety
Appearance Anxiety as a Cultural Phenomenon
Appearance Anxiety, Observation, and Perception
Seeing, Knowing, Image, and Appearance
Oedipus, Shame, and the Void of Avoidance


1. The Contempt of the Queen's Dwarf


Psychic Size and Self-Regard
Asclepius, the Tall Man, and Little People
Brobdingnag and Lilliput
Large or Small We Are Only By Comparison
Literary Littleness and Miniaturization
Amplification and Defenses Against Diminishment
Size Symbolism and Fantasized Measurement
Size Anxiety and Oedipal Shame: Clinical Variants
The Shape of Experience and Fantasies of Size


2. Fantasy, Anguish, and Misconstrual


Pirandello and The Unrecognizable
Shame and Oedipal Defeat in the Analysis of Sam
The Heartbreaking Curiosity of the Blind


3. A Hole in a Paper Sky: Deceit and Remedies by Still More Deceit


Shame and Aidos
Shame and the Sneeze: The Analysis of Mark
Deception, Outrage, and Remedy by Even More Deceit
The Vain Invention of the Onlooker


4. What Do You See Me to Be? Invisibility and Performance


Exposure and Invisibility: Adam
Spy Glass Hill and the "Rage of Personality:" Adam, Graham Greene, and Kim Philby
Oedipal Shame, Spies and Fantasy
Recognizing Choice in the Unseen
Of Oedipal Blindness and Oedipal Shame: Loss, Disappearance, and Rage
The Hunger Artist
Shame and Performance Anxiety: A Shamed Violinist Plays to a Lion
Shame and Creativity


5. I Can't See; I'm Invisible


When I Don't See You I Can Invent You Better: The Anaylsis of Susan
Do You Want Me To Be Someone Else?
Peek-a-boo, Disappearance, and the Game of the Bobbin
I Am Invisible; I Can't See Myself
Seeing, Being Seen, and Matters of Privacy


6. What the Camera Sees: The Tragedy of Modern Heroes and "The Rules of the Game"


Free Association and Open Form
Of Disguises, Mechanisms, and Music Boxes
Everyone Has His Reasons
Deceit, Denial, Honor, and the Rules of the Game


7. Satan, Shame, and the Fragility of the Self


Sin's Out and Out's Sin
Shame and Sin: The Garden of Eden
Shame and Innocence
Kierkegaard, Dread, and the Self So Easily Lost
Shame, Deception, and Despair
He Who Sheds Shame Sheds Himself


8. Narcissus and Lady Godiva: Lethal Looks and Oedipal Shame


Looking, Narcissus, and Narcissism
Freud, Looking, and Psychoanalytic Theories of Narcissism
Narcissistic Pain, Looking, and Mirrors
Looking and Dreams: Freud's Self-Portrait
Dreams of Two Patients: A Painter and a Stripper
Looking and the Transference


9. Of Fig Leaves, Real and Imagined


Fashioning Looks, Shaping Shame
Freud and Exhibitionism
How Conscious is Fashion-consciousness?
Plastic Surgery and Con-Formity
Clothe the Naked


10. These Weeping Eyes, Those Seeing Tears: Trauma, Mourning, and Oedipal Shame


Regression, Shame, and Trauma: Ferenczi and Freud
Uncontrollable Ears and the Social-Political Context of Oedipal Shame
Appearance and Connivances
A Burdenous Drone: Samson Agonistes
Shame, Disappearance, and Trauma
And a Tear Shall Lead the Blind Man



Investigates the psychocultural crisis confronting our increasingly appearance-oriented, shame-driven society.


In Disappearing Persons, psychoanalyst Benjamin Kilborne looks at how we control appearance as an attempt to manage or take charge of our feelings. Arguing that the psychology of appearance has not been adequately explored, Kilborne deftly weaves together examples from literature and his own clinical practice to establish shame and appearance as central fears in both literature and life, and describes how shame about appearance can generate not only the wish to disappear but also the fear of disappearing. A hybrid of applied literature and psychoanalysis, Disappearing Persons helps us to understand the roots of the psychocultural crisis confronting our increasingly appearance-oriented, shame-driven society.

Benjamin Kilborne is a practicing psychoanalyst in Massachusetts. He is the coeditor, with L. L. Langness, of Culture and Human Nature.


Though Disappearing Persons will appeal to psychoanalysts, shame theorists, and scholars interested in the study of shame in literature and the psychoanalytic study of literature and culture, Kilborne has also made a special effort to reach a wider general audience. He carefully identifies the theoretical framework he is using and clearly defines his key terms and concepts. He also makes careful connections between his clinical vignettes and his literary examples so that the reader moves effortlessly from the clinical to the literary (and philosophical) and back again. " — J. Brooks Bouson, author of Quiet As It's Kept: Shame, Trauma, and Race in the Novels of Toni Morrison

"Kilborne brings together in striking and illuminating ways a diverse wealth of reading and research—Sophocles, Milton, Swift, Lewis Carroll, Pirandello, Kafka, Graham Greene, Kim Philby, Hegel, Kierkegaard, Sartre and Merleau-Ponty, case studies, fairy tales, and popular culture, along with the intricacies of psychoanalytic theory and his own experience as a therapist—all of which supports a fascinating exploration of the crucial role of shame and 'appearance' in the psychodynamics of human personality. " — Joseph Adamson, coeditor of Scenes of Shame: Psychoanalysis, Shame, and Writing