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Number 9: Winter 2013

Editorial: ‘Can’t we just let the past BE the past’?

Val Parks

The theme of The Site’s last London conference was ‘Psychoanalysis and Class’ (Sitegeist: Number 3, Autumn 2009). All the contributors to the conference spoke of the invisibility, elision, or avoidance of class in the psychoanalytic discourse. Our last conference, at our site in the South West, took the environment as its theme, in a different way a topic neglected in psychoanalysis (Sitegeist: Number 7, Spring 2012). Trauma, on the other hand, seems to be everywhere. Reflecting an omnipresence of the term in the zeitgeist, it has become a hot topic in the therapeutic world. The term, from once having quite a specific meaning for Freud in his exposition of psychosexuality and of the development of neurosis, has broadened and extended to become almost empty of meaning. It has followed a trajectory from medicine (where it simply connotes the Greek for ‘wound’) through psychology and psychoanalysis, terminating so far in a current socio-cultural framework of meaning. In this edition of Sitegeist, we reproduce the majority of the papers from our conference on trauma in London this year. All the papers here tease out, in different ways, some of resonances and significances of the trajectory of how trauma is understood, whilst interrogating its usefulness for contemporary psychoanalysis.

Our age of 24 hour rolling news broadcasts, which have to be filled with both words and pictures, creates a demand and on the part of some, an appetite, for trauma. Nothing fits the bill better than a narrative of traumatised victims setting out their stories. It also means we are all to a small extent and vicariously exposed to trauma. As a society, we experience what the academic James Thomas,  quoted in a Guardian article on the 5th anniversary of Diana’s death, called ‘grief without the pain’.

George Eliot describes the human condition thus:

If we had a keen vision and feeling of ordinary human life, it would be like hearing the grass grow or the squirrel’s heart beat, and we should die of the roar that lies on the other side of silence. As it is, the quickest of us walk about well wadded with stupidity. (1871: 226)