Freud and the Scene of Trauma

Freud and the Scene of Trauma

John Fletcher
Copyright Date: 2013
Published by: Fordham University Press
Pages: 336
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  • Book Info
    Freud and the Scene of Trauma
    Book Description:

    This book argues that Freud's mapping of trauma as a scene is central to both his clinical interpretation of his patients' symptoms and his construction of successive theoretical models and concepts to explain the power of such scenes in his patients' lives. This attention to the scenic form of trauma and its power in determining symptoms leads to Freud's break from the neurological model of trauma he inherited from Charcot. It also helps to explain the affinity that Freud and many since him have felt between psychoanalysis and literature (and artistic production more generally), and the privileged role of literature at certain turning points in the development of his thought. It is Freud's scenography of trauma and fantasy that speaks to the student of literature and painting. Overall, the book develops the thesis of Jean Laplanche that in Freud's shift from a traumatic to a developmental model, along with the undoubted gains embodied in the theory of infantile sexuality, there were crucial losses: specifically, the recognition of the role of the adult other and the traumatic encounter with adult sexuality that is entailed in the ordinary nurture and formation of the infantile subject.

    eISBN: 978-0-8232-5463-7
    Subjects: Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Figures
    (pp. ix-x)
    (pp. xi-xii)
    (pp. xiii-xviii)
  6. PROLOGUE: Freud’s Scenographies
    (pp. 1-8)

    On January 24, 1897, at the high point of his commitment to the theory of infantile seduction as the cause of the major forms of psychopathology, Freud wrote to Wilhelm Fliess, his intimate friend and long-term correspondent:

    The early period before the age of 11/2years is becoming ever more significant…. Thus I was able to trace back, with certainty, a hysteria that developed in the context of a periodic mild depression to a seduction, which occurred for the first time at 11 months and [I could] hear again the words that were exchanged between two adults at that time!...

    • ONE Charcot’s Hysteria: Trauma and the Hysterical Attack
      (pp. 11-35)

      Freud refers to the hallucinatory scene in the darkened room discussed in the Prologue as an ‘attack,’ and his theory of the hysterical attack, closely related to the notions of trauma and traumatic neurosis, derives from the work of the great French neurologist Jean-Martin Charcot (1825–93). Freud studied with Charcot for five months from October 1885 to February 1886 at La Salpêtrière in Paris, the vast women’s hospital for nervous diseases with its five thousand resident ‘incurables.’ Freud’s experience there under the influence of Charcot was a turning point for him. It initiated a shift from his medical training...

    • TWO Freud’s Hysteria: “Scenes of Passionate Movement”
      (pp. 36-56)

      If we return now to the “Preliminary Communication” of 1893, which was first published separately and then reprinted as the opening chapter of Breuer and Freud’sStudies on Hysteria,² we can see in the retrospective light of Freud’s 1896 critique of heredity that Freud is already in 1893 shifting the whole causal paradigm inherited from Charcot. His movement of thought, as I have argued, is not, as Charcot did, to assimilate the preexisting field of traumatic neuroses to the ideogenesis previously identified in ‘constitutional’ or inherited hysteria but the reverse, that is, to subsume the whole symptomatic field of the...

    • THREE The Afterwardsness of Trauma and the Theory of Seduction
      (pp. 59-87)

      As the previous chapter sought to show, in the period 1889–95 Freud’s model of trauma inherited from Charcot was transformed from a neurological account with important psychological components into one that was fully psychological. At the same time its object was extended from hysteria to psychopathology in general, or what Freud in the years 1894–96 called ‘the neuro-psychoses of defence.’ What enabled this diagnostic ambitiousness was a double movement of unification and elaboration, which is evident as one reads throughStudies on Hysteria(1895d) and the papers contemporary with its writing. The repositioning of various diagnostic categories in...

    • FOUR Memory and the Key of Fantasy
      (pp. 88-122)

      These two terms, memory (or the real event of which it is the subjective record) and fantasy, have unfortunately been polarized as mutually exclusive alternatives in most of the retrospective commentary on Freud’s seduction theory, including Freud’s own. In the letter of the so-called turning point (September 21, 1897), Freud gives Fliess as one of his four reasons for questioning his theory: “There are no indications of reality in the unconscious, so that one cannot distinguish between truth and fiction that has been cathected with affect. (Accordingly, there would remain the solution that the sexual fantasy invariably seizes on the...

    • FIVE The Scenography of Trauma: Oedipus as Tragedy and Complex
      (pp. 123-152)

      Jean Laplanche’s terse but suggestive epigram summarizes an insight that has directed his systematic and critical archaeology of the Freudian conceptual field and the contradictory dynamics that have shaped it. It picks up on Freud’s identification with the Copernican revolution as a paradigm of scientific thought and his alignment of psychoanalysis with the discoveries of both Copernicus and Darwin, as the third in a series of three major blows to human narcissism dealt by modern science.² Where Copernicus’s heliocentrism had opened up the possibility beyond our solar system of an infinite universe without a single center, thus decentering the old...

    • SIX Leonardo’s Screen Memory
      (pp. 155-179)

      The concept of the screen memory, as it is elaborated in Freud’s two texts of 1899 and 1901, both resumes and silences the theoretical perturbations that had agitated him in his struggles in the 1890s to understand and to treat the disturbing phenomena of child sexual abuse and theirsequellae, the range of hysterical, obsessional, and paranoid symptoms that his writings of the mid-1890s describe and analyze. In my discussion of the screen memory in the final section of Chapter 4, I remarked on the theoretical amnesia that appears to characterize Freud’s critique of the commonsense understanding of memory in...

    • SEVEN Flying and Painting: Leonardo’s Rival Sublimations
      (pp. 180-202)

      To recapitulate, in the previous chapter I argued that in his analysis of Leonardo’s fantasmatic childhood ‘memory,’ Freud has described a complex psychological process that consists of a sequence of moments or levels. Starting from Leonardo’s adult scientific preoccupations, especially with the flight of birds (and the associated possibility of building a flying machine), which diverted attention and energy from his pursuit of painting, Freud moves back to the moment of the recollection and recording of the bird memory in Leonardo’s scientific notebooks. As theStandard Editiontranslates, “Leonardo inserts a piece of information about his childhood” into his discourse...

    • EIGHT The Transference and Its Prototypes
      (pp. 205-219)

      Freud’s cryptic final proposition, quoted above, closes the first of his three major short papers on transference published between 1912 and 1915. Despite arguing in the 1912 paper that the transference is implicated in the resistance to the analytic treatment, Freud nevertheless presents the transference as rendering “the inestimable service of making the patient’s hidden and forgotten erotic impulses immediate and manifest” (Freud 1912b, 108). What was first experienced by Freud as an obstacle, often leading to the analysand’s premature exit from the treatment if neglected or misinterpreted (the case of Dora is only the most famous of such flights),...

    • NINE The Wolf Man I: Constructing the Primal Scene
      (pp. 220-247)

      The concept of the transference with which we have been concerned in the previous chapter is part of Freud’s attempt to understand forms of repetition that express the action in the present of scenes not available to consciousness and memory. It has strong, if partial, analogies—family resemblances—with the screen memory, the dream, and the neurotic symptom: if the analyst and the analytic situation are like the day’s residues of the dream that attract the investments of the infantile dream-wish, so transference-love could equally be called ‘screen love’ or even ‘dream love.’ Freud began his work on trauma with...

    • TEN The Wolf Man II: Interpreting the Primal Scene
      (pp. 248-276)

      Freud’s return to his “old trauma theory”—or at least to elements of it—is evident throughout his attempt to reconstruct the primal scene behind the Wolf Man’s dream, a scene postulated in the face of the failure of any memory of it to emerge. It therefore joins the host of excessive and unassimilated scenes, acted out through their translations and derivatives, momentarily captured in a scenography they exceed, but denied and not remembered, with which this book has been concerned. The nonappearance of any memory of the primal scene as reconstructed by Freud has been taken by many (not...

    • ELEVEN Trauma and the Genealogy of the Death Drive
      (pp. 279-315)

      In the case study of the Wolf Man that we examined in Chapters 9 and 10, Freud announced a return of “the old trauma theory,” devoted an extraordinary effort to a detailed scenographic reconstruction of an unremembered ‘primal scene’ behind the subject’s dream of wolves, sought to bolster this with an ingenious elaboration of another early scene with the maid, Grusha, the memory of which did emerge in the course of the analysis, and then abandoned any definite claim to the actuality of either scene in the face of a hypothetical alternative account of each of them as retrogressive fantasies....

    • TWELVE Uncanny Repetitions: Freud, Hoffmann, and the Death-Work
      (pp. 316-347)

      Freud’s essay “The Uncanny” was written in 1919, during the same months in which he was working on his new theory of the life and death instincts to appear the following year (1920) asBeyond the Plea sure Principle; this was the same period in which the other major transformation of Freud’s metapsychology was incubating—that is, the second topography of id, ego, and superego, which was to appear in 1923 asThe Ego and the Id. During this incubation period Freud turned to what might seem something completely unrelated: the aesthetic phenomenon of the uncanny, which brought in its...

    (pp. 348-350)

    In Freud’s encounter with Hoffmann’s novella and the aesthetic phenomenon of the uncanny at the moment of theoretical crisis and revision in 1919, we have, appropriately enough, a replication of his encounter with the tragedies of Sophocles and Shakespeare in the earlier crisis of 1897. The instability and oscillations that plagued his reformulation of the seduction theory in the letters and drafts to Wilhelm Fliess in the late 1890s are virtually identical with the oscillations that beset his 1914 draft of the Wolf Man case in the additions of 1918. The crisis of 1897 was partly resolved by the official...

    (pp. 351-358)
    (pp. 359-360)
    (pp. 361-366)