In this small volume the author examines the Sudden Infant Death, this uncanny, inexplicable and increasing silent dying of apparently healthy infants. He integrates the findings of over a hundred studies with his own understanding of the observations emerging out of 20 interviews with parents whose children succumbed or narrowly escaped this affliction.
What moved me most about this book is the sober passion with which Arno Gruen advances the integrity and actuality of the child's aliveness: irrespective of what he is dealing with, whether brainphysiological processes, anatomical findings within the brainstem, EEG-sleep formations, psychological aspects of the interaction between married pairs, or the social-psychological determinants of the investigated families, it always remains clear, that we are here dealing with human beings not abstract entities. He is dealing with a child and its mother, with this mother and her husband, always that which in fear and joy, despair and mutual attraction, is actually happening between people.
As in his earlier books, The Betrayal of the Self (Grove Press 1988) and Der Wahnsinn der Normalitat: Realismus als Krankheit 1987 (to be published by Grove as The Insanity of Normalcy: Realism as Illness, 1990), his essential theme is his love of life: When he shows how destructive certain behaviors and attitudes can be-behaviors and attitudes we consider to be everyday normal events-he is not trying to indict, or place guilt. His courage to acknowledge awful truths without sugar-coating them comes out of a deep hope, that it is mankind's "purpose" to achieve aliveness, facilitate life, be loving with one another, and to enjoy this love. For him this is no utopia but the given task-and when in this context he investigates the conditions leading to an "early farewell," he does it so that it can become clearer where we have to begin this endeavor.
The way in which he integrates physiological, social and psychological findings seems to me exciting and new: a picture of a very complex developmental dynamic between the child and its parent comes into being which reaches into the maturational processes of the brain's anatomical structures. It seems to me that the immaturity with which the human baby comes into the world achieves, through this approach, a deeper significance: namely, that after the baby's emergence into the relational space between the parents literally a set of "organs" come to differentiate out (intra and extropsychic), immaterial "organs" which we do not consider as self-evidently belonging to the bodily sphere, solely because they are not visible. When the inner visual world of the child (in its dream) develops in close interaction with his surrounding interpersonal world, and when this development in turn begins to imprint and form its soma in recognizable and verifiable ways, then the concept of "psychic" achieves a new force and reality value.
Arno Gruen writes (p. 143): "The question about the causes of SID is falsely formulated if structural and functional causes are divorced from one another in its formulation. A research orientation that recognizes the constant interaction of structure and function as an ongoing process which cannot be artificially segmented, will much more likely lead to an understanding of SID." The rigorosity of this processoriented thinking seems to me to be what is so unique in the author's explanatory endeavors. Just as he understands to present the destructive interactions between parents and between parents and child as an ongoing dynamic, so is his definition of parental love also processoriented: "The decisive factor is love understood as the awareness of the aliveness and uniqueness of the child's individuality."
He understands how to make visible the colorfulness, the rich nuances and the earthiness of an attentive love, a love that comes out of the heart, a heart fully alive, and to show how richly fulfilling it is for both the giving mother as well as the receiving child (M.L. Boyesen, p. 111). On the other hand it becomes crystal clear how stereotyped and rigid love becomes when based on the surrender to its cliches, there where people, imprisoned in fears and neediness, have come to so loose their own aliveness, so that it becomes impossible for them to enter into the courageousness and joyousness of love. He leaves no doubt about the extent to which society-in other words our common entrapment by it-is responsible for the destructiveness within the individual: "We should let ourselves be clear about what it means when human beings are afraid of enjoying love:" (p. 112)
He writes: "We are here in the midst of a tragic process. . . . (what has here been put forth) suggests, that in part, the SID is an expression of a growing dissociative process into which those women and men still capable of feeling are driven. In a world that makes the realization of humaneness difficult because cultural pressures increasingly demand conformity, unconsciousness itself becomes the way of adapting to the generated stresses. Destructiveness is furthered as reaction to the imposed need to conform. The increase in SID which Emery (1958) was the first to notice, mirrors perhaps both the growing splitting off of aggressive impulses from consciousness as well as the holding on the part of many women and men of a vision of humaneness with which they resist the dehumanizing pressures of society. But because this resistance remains unconscious (due to the societal demand for conformity), the repressed destructive impulses can unfold their deadly effects on the child. And so it comes to a deadly paradox: Of the SID die not the children of parents whose humanity has been blunted, but the children of those parents who are still capable of sensing the dissonance between their aggressive feelings and their knowledge of our intrinsic humane capacity." (pp. 138-139)
Arno Gruen is convinced "that it is possible to do something about this alienation." (p. 141)
It is exactly at this point, that for me an immense hope issues forth: If we succeed in actually comprehending that the world of interpersonal relations has its own reality (that that which I feel actually leaves somatic traces affecting those to whom I am relating-and inversely, that these others literally and in reality carry with me, right up to and into their somas, that which I alone cannot bear) then the compulsion to split apart our affects will fall away. Parents who learn, that their rejection hits their child-whether they admit it to themselves or notwill perhaps seize the courage to look at things and let be true what is true. With that they can experience that love produces effects just like destructiveness does: that love helps progressively there where we permit it to take effect, and that rejecting feelings will be diminished through conscious effort, that despite our own neediness we have the right to be giving.
Arno Gruen describes the deadly and hopeless vicious circle between married couples, who in their own injuredness, their deepening neediness, cling to one another out of rage and fear. The end result is an ever widening dissociation and alienation.
When such parents could understand the extent to which the psyche has a reality all its own, then perhaps they could recognize, that just this endangered child is a challenge, an opportunity, a chance: in that it is itself suspended between life and death, it is in effect placing the struggle for life between itself and the parents. In this way the latter can begin wringing against the deadliness within themselves by fighting for the child's aliveness. In this mutual attempt to present the child with the gift of a genuine interrelational intensity, they will overcome the inaccessible, barred and hopeless entanglements in which they were imprisoned.
On page 91 a father speaks of his tiny daughter who survived a nearmiss episode: "I had the feeling, that her soul was asking to be able to return. That was so from the beginning (of the crisis). It was a strong impression."
Perhaps this book will help us perceive such impressions as having a reality of their own,-then we could learn through our children and for them-through and for one another-to give our emotional reality the permission to return as such.
I think, that would be a learning in the author's sense of meaning.