Trauma theory, considered as a branch of psychoanalysis, focuses on the lasting effects on the psyche of events that—whether because of their devastating nature or because the psyche is unprepared or too immature to deal with them—cannot be integrated into the onward movement of patient’s lives. The trauma can never be undone; but perhaps the patient may be helped to live with, even mourn, its aftereffects. Some approaches to trauma emphasize the event itself, along with the difficulty, and the need, to relive or re-present it. Some emphasize the structural nature of a trauma which may even be constitutive of subjectivity (castration anxiety, for instance, or primitive anxieties about separation and object loss). Still other approaches point to the meaning of the trauma to the individual, arguing that only by exploring the preexisting constellation of object relations can the significance of the trauma to that particular individual be understood. Trauma may plunge the survivor into never completed mourning, or replace an ordinary guilt with an unresolvable one. Whatever the different inflection of trauma theory, it derives its contours from psychoanalysis, past and present, and, in particular, from the impact on Freud and his successors of some of the most devastating and momentous historical events of modern times, including modern warfare, the Holocaust, and industrialization. But trauma theory also takes account of events that happen (both chronically and diachronically, so to speak) in the intimacy of the family and in the ambiguously interpersonal and social dimensions of sexuality, where events intersect with issues involving gender, power, and powerlessness as well as with preexisting psychic structures.
The essays in this collection arise not only from the continuing engagement with trauma theory on the part of psychoanalysts in their clinical and therapeutic work with patients, but from the surge of interest in trauma theory viewed as a way to invest the study of literature with urgent concerns, at once topical and timeless, and to understand literariness itself. A number of essays included in this special issue focus on the notion of the archive, whether viewed as a form of record which remains in abeyance (Jonathan Elmer’s starting point for considering Jefferson’s encounter with the Native American past) or as the place of a misunderstanding, even destructiveness (the point of departure for Herman Rapaport’s reading of Derrida’s Archive Fever). Appropriately, this issue also includes a photo-essay by Laurie Sieverts Snyder, which represents not only a family archive but a collection of memories that inscribe a larger historical displacement and relocation. The intertwined evolution of trauma theory and war neurosis, and the consequent unsexing of trauma, can give rise to a post-Freudian inquiry into the writing of anxiety (such as we see in Lyndsey Stonebridge’s reading of the war novels of Henry Green, where war “is” sex). At the same time, we can glimpse how the belatedness of trauma not only gets recoded as suspension or “falling” but gives rise to a philosophic discourse of trauma (see Eleanor Kaufman’s reading of Perec’s W together with Cathy Caruth’s Unclaimed Experience). Given its centrality to contemporary literary-critical readings of trauma, it is not surprising that a number of essays should address Cathy Caruth’s work directly (many of the essays included here also do so indirectly). Her writing remains central to current literary and theoretical discussions of trauma, whether viewed as a phenomenology of trauma (as it is, for instance, by Eleanor Kaufman) or as a vantage point from which to define the modern predicament of mutually entangled histories, communities, and writings (this is how Petar Ramadanovic links Freud’s diasporic movement to the history of slavery and Toni Morrison’s Beloved). [End Page 3]
The final section of this special issue returns trauma to the consulting room. Essays on pain (Mary Jacobus on the place of psychoanalysis “between” therapy and hermeneutics as represented by the writings of Wifred Bion) and melancholia (Angelika Rauch’s Kristevan essay on post-traumatic hermeneutics and problems in contemporary trauma therapy) pay particular attention to the question of interpretation in psychoanalysis. They also shift the discussion in the direction of contemporary post...