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  • The Ancient Unconscious: Psychoanalysis and the Ancient Text by Vered Lev Kenaan
  • A.D. Mills (bio)
The Ancient Unconscious: Psychoanalysis and the Ancient Text by Vered Lev Kenaan. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2019, 240 pages.

Dream Time: The Poetics of Freudian Interpretation

Late in The Ancient Unconscious (Kenaan, 2019), the classicist and comparatist Vered Lev Kenaan describes a genealogy for Freudian hermeneutics. Constituted on the strength of his acquaintance with the doctrine of typology, Freud's interpretative method preserves the distinction between the operative and the latent, the literal and the figural, devised by Early Christian exegetists to reconcile two sacred texts, temporally and theologically estranged: the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament.1 The Augustinian injunction to read beneath and against the Bible's literal import for its spiritual sense opened the text to a theological horizon that at once depended on and revealed its immanent tie to the New Testament. Thus, in the encounter between texts, Hosea or Jehoshua, leader of the Israelites after Moses, becomes a locus both of analepsis and prolepsis as an anticipation of Christ belatedly recovered. Coined by Tertullian, the textual principle of figura futurorum, a figure of things to come, is the name for this structure of vision whereby Hebraic persons and signs relate to those in Christianity "as umbrae, shadows, or imagines," shades obscuring and promising a richer meaning to be revealed only in the fullness of time (Kenaan, 2019, p. 155). Kenaan observes that, according to this temporally-organized method, "both the Old and the New Testaments are provisional and incomplete […] [t]his shared sense of incompleteness is what necessitates a process of interpretation binding the two together" (Kenaan, 2019, p. 157). [End Page 753]

Psychoanalytic understanding seems profoundly informed by this textual practice: for Freud too, the past and the future create two temporal horizons, two unfinished texts, set apart but desirous of one another. Together, the analyst and analysand seek the mutually redemptive points of juncture whereby the future-present of the therapeutic encounter gains gravity from the past, while the past receives from this its future grace of significance. Figura futurorum, translated into the language of psychoanalysis, becomes Nachträglichkeit, afterwardness, or the deferral of meaning. Central to both biblical and psychoanalytic exegesis, then, is a handling of temporality whereby futural horizons contract and the past prolongs itself such that all time is never less than present: "In the unconscious nothing can be brought to an end, nothing is past or forgotten" (Freud, 1900, p. 577). Kenaan terms this heuristic "anachronic textuality," and it is, she suggests, in the manifestations of the Freudian unconscious that the power of a confusion of times to generate significance is most arrestingly evinced; anachronic textuality is "the domain of the unconscious" (Kenaan, 2019, p. 11). The exegetical temporality of psychoanalysis and the temporality of the unconscious itself are seen to coincide.

For Kenaan, Freud's unconscious is chiefly a paradigm or organizational principle that brooks little respect for the linear, sequential time that the self relates to in conscious life. Handling memories, dreams, and fantasies with an esoteric grammar of condensation, displacement, free association, and symbolisation, the effect of the unconscious is a fusion of temporal perspectives, a way of being in time unlike any other the subject ordinarily inhabits. Although psychoanalysis and temporality is not a common topic among scholars and clinicians, thinking of the unconscious as a domain of temporal bricolage is fairly characteristic of what work there is on this subject. This is striking because it is seemingly so at odds with Freud's statements, which indicate the wholesale absence of temporal dynamics from unconscious activities. In the essay "The Unconscious," Freud writes that "the processes of the Ucs [unconscious] system are timeless; i.e. they are not ordered temporally, are not altered by the passage of time; they have no reference to time at all" (1915, p. 187). It seems that the "processes" Freud describes are unexpectedly fixed, pinioned to an atemporal or [End Page 754] "timeless" structure. The unconscious is figured less as a confluence of living dynamics than as a perpetual motion machine, incapable of entropy or evolution. Our post-Freudian sense for the...


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