Freud and the Scene of Trauma - John Fletcher


This book is a study of the central role of trauma in Freud's thought and practice. It argues that it is Freud's mapping of trauma as a scene, the elaboration of a scenography of trauma, that 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 the determination of symptoms, presides over 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.

In both the moments of theoretical crisis and change in 1897 and 1919, Freud turns to literary texts that exemplify a repeated pattern of traumatic scenes and that dramatize precisely a traumatic scenography. He then submits his chosen texts to an Oedipal reading that marginalizes or excludes the traumatic repetition that characterizes them. Along with his study of Leonardo da Vinci, they constitute thought experiments in the imaginary space of literature and painting. When the chosen works of Sophocles, Shakespeare, Hoffmann and Da Vinci are read in the light of the tension verging on conflict in Freud's thought, between the other-centred model of trauma and a self-centred model of development, the insights of his abandoned 'traumatology' return to challenge and disturb his dominant developmentalist framework.

Overall the book develops the thesis of Jean Laplanche that in this 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. It also argues that Freud's attention to the power of scenes- scenes of memory, scenes of fantasy- persists, along with the recurrent surfacing, at different moments of his thought, of key elements of the officially abandoned model of trauma.

Format: paperback

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