- Post-Traumatic Hermeneutics: Melancholia in the Wake of Trauma
Classical Analysis: Problems for Trauma Therapy
According to the Journal of the American Psychoanalytical Association, American ego psychology has taken a leading role in debunking what it considers antiquated Freudian approaches to the study of trauma. As neutral observers and students of the facts, ego psychologists have purportedly reclaimed the study of trauma as the search for an objectifiable traumatic event in the past, one that can be accessed as recovered memory, as a specimen of pathogenic development, or as cognitive and behavioral effects that point to an inaccessible implied memory buried in the psyche. Central to this revision of psychoanalytical trauma therapy is the dismissal of Nachträglichkeit as an antiquated and irrelevant concept. Harold P. Blum, for instance, writes in a recent article of JAPA that “‘deferred action’ is an ambiguous concept, a dubious, antiquated, theoretical legacy.” According to Blum, “deferred action overlooks the immediate and potentially powerful effects of preoedipal trauma and is dissociated from considerations of cumulative trauma and developmental disturbance.” . With respect to Freud’s case of the Wolf-Man, Blum states that “[d]eferred action emphasized traumatic events and memory rather than cumulative developmental effects of shock and strain trauma, and pathogenic object relationships.” Key to Blum’s view, then, is the assertion that “the concept of deferred action deterred consideration of real infantile experience and the complex overdetermination of pathogenesis through development” . Blum apparently takes the side of those who like to argue that trauma is more real than imagined. Whereas oedipal trauma is an imaginary or illusory trauma, preoedipal trauma is comprehensible as real shock and, as such, is empirically true. This is an idea that is very compatible with “recovered memory” therapy, a subject that has become controversial in recent debates about child abuse and recovered memory syndrome.
In contrast, Arnold H. Modell in Other Times, Other Realities points out that “[t]he concept of Nachträglichkeit is virtually unknown among American psychoanalysts. This may be due in part to Strachey’s faulty translation; but this idea is also inconsistent with the belief in an orderly hierarchical psychic development such as that envisioned by ego psychologists.” . In other words, Freudian Nachträglichkeit violates the principles of space and time assumed by empirical scientists whose conceptions are founded on the causality of such principles as stimulus/response. It is here, of course, that ego psychology’s treatment of trauma would come into conflict not only with Freudian analysis, including its French Freudian variants, but with the kind of trauma studies being conducted by the contributors to Cathy Caruth’s Trauma: Explorations in Memory. They include Bessel [End Page 111] van der Kolk, Onno van der Hart, Shoshana Felman, Dori Laub, Robert Lifton, and, of course, Cathy Caruth herself.
Emphasis on the reality of traumatic shock (as abuse, stress, accident, and so on), however important it may be, loses sight of a hermeneutical dimension of psychoanalytic therapy that Caruth and her contributors emphasize: the question of how meanings are associated or bound to the understanding of life’s events. My own clinical approach to psychoanalysis favors the introduction of an even stronger hermeneutical perspective that is sensitive to the kinds of issues raised by philosophers like Dilthey, Heidegger, Benjamin, and Gadamer, for whom the question of experience is not reducible to restricted understandings of stimulus/response, nor—as in the case of Caruth (for example, in Unclaimed Experience)—to the privileging of language as a formal (that is, literary) construct. Rather, I am interested in emphasizing a hermeneutics of the therapeutic encounter within which questions of language, culture, history, and behavior are situated. With respect to trauma therapy, I will introduce a number of well-known analytical contributions even as I take the following statement of Arnold Modell’s as my point of departure:
The analyst or therapist becomes an unwitting collaborator in the recreation of the past, while still retaining a proximity to present time. The therapist becomes the person with whom one can reexperience trauma within a new context or experience for the first time what has been absent in the past. Affects belonging to...