- Editor’s Introduction:Trauma & Psychology
This issue, devoted to the interrelated fields of affect studies, trauma studies, disability studies, and psychoanalytic approaches, presents a number of critical discourses that are all in dialogue with each other. They allow us to read differently modernist corpuses like those of Joyce, Nabokov, Styron, and Capote, or contemporary literary and artistic explorations, with Sebald, Bechtel, and Brand. It seemed fitting to begin with an essay on Freud who is here considered as a modernist novelist and an autobiographer; Freud’s main concern was literary glory, but he knew that the price to pay was his own death. He was as much obsessed with memory, dreams, and the unconscious as an author who professed to hate him, Nabokov. One will be surprised to see Nabokov interested in the paranormal, in psychical research, and in Frederick W. Myers’s after-images and unconscious retro-cognition when reading Sara-Louise Cooper’s essay. Even if the literary corpuses of Freud and Nabokov are indistinguishable from magnified and sublime corpses, they do remain at the cusp between creative fiction and neurological investigation.
Many of the theories invoked here pay homage to Freud’s work, mostly with the rediscovery of the role of affects in psychoanalysis, as indicated by the 2016 translation of Colette Soler’s Lacanian Affects: The Function of Affect in Lacan’s work. The reemergence of affects in culture and theory is partly the consequence of the influence of Sianne Ngai’s wonderful book, Ugly Feelings (2005), that launched original strategies for the reading of literature, film, and philosophy. “Ugly feelings” include anxiety, paranoia, and disgust, all broached in these pages. Like Ngai, our authors combine textual scholarship, an awareness of varied theoretical stakes, and a concern for form and style.
After the dialogical opening by Liran Razinsky and Sara-Louise Cooper who link the old sparring partners Freud and Nabokov, the next two essays tackle Joyce’s work seen from the angle of psychoanalysis. Josephine Sharoni focuses on a story often glossed and brings new light by pointing out how the failure of the paternal metaphor fully accounts for the curious paralysis that seizes Eveline at the end of Joyce’s story by the same name. Julie McCormick Weng links the cultural [End Page v] discourses about bicycles with Joyce’s philosophy of a cyclical history based on Vico’s insights; Vico’s philosophy bleeds into an exploration of feminine sexuality through a drawing evoking both the familiar instrument of locomotion and the mother’s vagina. Then Douglas Dowland brings us closer to the phenomenology of affects by studying how disgust works in a later story by Capote. This modern version of Sartre’s Nausea takes place in New York in the mid-Sixties, and it proves that tired disillusionment and sharp critique go hand in hand when it comes to exposing the exhaustion of a cultural paradigm.
A slightly later novel like Styron’s Sophie’s Choice also evokes a type of disgust facing the “scandal” of Jewish rage, embodied by the self-destructive coupling of two survivors of the Holocaust. Closer to us still, Sebald gives voice to a non-Jewish but German guilt facing the Shoah by staging in his most famous novel, Austerlitz, the belatedness of memories connected with historical trauma. Here, perhaps, as Stefanie Boese argues, trauma studies find a limit and need to merge with empathy studies, for only an affective engagement with the objects of memory enables us to avoid politicized forgetting. The essay’s drift could be related to the abundant critical conversation on Empathy, a concept intersecting the fields of psychology, moral philosophy and aesthetics, as surveyed by Janina Levin when she reviews Meghan Marie Hammond and Sue J. Kim’s Rethinking Empathy through Literature.
Tesla Schaeffer reads thirsty, Dionne Brand’s gripping poem about a black Canadian man shot by the police in his house as “intextuate” writing situated between a deconstructive, psychoanalytically oriented, and genealogical and discursive versions of trauma. What counts in the end it is the possibility of “sharing” the trauma, as Jean-Luc Nancy has shown. Cynthia Barounis introduces us to disability studies by considering Alison Bechdel’s...