Readings in the service of our MEMORY

Dear Colleagues,

 

I expressed my fascination with the elusive nature of the word "memory" in our last discussion. The reading we will do for the next two seminars will continue to explore memoryís provocative vanishing act. Substitution, bait and switch, reversal, distortion, analogy, history, ritual, the specious present, a sense of the past, remembering, forgetting, thinking, allegory, suggestion, belief, metaphor, sleight of hand, condensationÖ may supply an incomplete and random "choice" of words for the stammer of ideas bringing memory into meaning. Here I want to reintroduce the word trauma into the grammar of memory, for the use of that word in Freudís Moses was anything but simple or innocent.

Week One: Traumatic Awakenings: Repetition and Departure

Among literary critics, Cathy Caruth has done much to open the concept of trauma, to set in motion its paradoxically destabilizing and resignifying capacities (so much so that she has thought to imagine a field of study breaching disciplinary boundaries known as "trauma studies"). For this reason, I have suggested that we use her as a guide in this next group of materials. If you begin with Caruth, particularly her introduction and first chapter, youíll note that she opens with a reading of Freudís Moses .

In trauma we have a concept that proves central to the blindness and insight of psychoanalysis. This double-edged character of trauma has attracted the attention of Ruth Leys whose essay for our reading is part of a longer book length study of trauma and the history of psychoanalysis that she is doing (tentative title: Incurable Wounds). The essay returns us in interesting ways to the question of forgetting, reminding us of its role in the work of memory, particularly as it plays out between Janet and Freud.

The third chapter of Caruthís book provides a way for us to link our reading of Freudís Moses with his Beyond the Pleasure Principle. Freudís "return" to trauma in BPP is in part a response to the experience of soldiers in WWI. The nightmares of soldiers do not conform to Freudís earlier theory about dreams. At the same time, a personal family trauma hovers around the creation of this essay. His thoughts about repetition and mastery are irresistibly woven into these intensities.

Caruthís fifth and last chapter allows us to bring into the discussion several issues at once: dreams, ethical responsibility, awakening, repetition, and departure. Here Caruth gives a reading of Lacan reading Freud. Caruth chooses to look at a small section in Lacanís Four Fundamental Concepts of Psychoanalysis. (The concept at issue is repetition, and inside that concept Lacan places a discussion of trauma.) More densely woven than her first two chapters, this little essay will reward those readers interested in seeing how one critic chooses to elaborate the "ethical" dimension of memory. Watching how Caruth "chooses" to read these earlier important figures may also return us to the formulation of reading and choice teased out by our first round of conversations.

Additional useful material is provided in the form of a table of contents. Caruth has put together a very handy edition on trauma, and you can see from those titles and her little introduction possible directions for your own future reading and exploration in this area. Weíve included one essay on the "intrusive past" that might be of immediate interest because it includes some more material on Janet.

Finally, I said last week that I am interested in the number of strong female critics who have chosen to take Freudís work seriously (which is not the same as believing in it as "the word" of memory). Philosopher and social critic Judith Butler is among the most provocative. Here, in her essay from the interesting volume The Identity in Question edited by John Rajchman, she chooses to take seriously both Freud and Foucault by reading each thinker through the other, forcing a double exposure that is not merely a negative. You can almost see from her title that using resistance in the service of resignification is her goal.

Yours in re-vision, Tina