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Number 9: Winter 2013

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

Val Parks

One of the vectors dividing psychoanalytic theories on trauma is the significance attached to causal events. Drawing on Verhaeghe’s distinction, Barry Watt’s paper ‘Whose Drive is it Anyway?’ shows that the causality of events is not to be taken for granted. His closely argued paper on trauma and tragedy never loses touch with the clinic. As he remarks, there is no co-relation between the severity of the event and the intensity and duration of symptoms produced. The dichotomy, as he shows, is not complete. Foucault wrote of the event  as ‘a wound, a victory-defeat, death’ produced entirely by a collision, mingling and separating of bodies, and yet intangible, forming an endless incorporeal battle. In spite of this, he writes, events are ‘without thickness, mixture or passion; for this reason, they can no longer be causes’. Rather,  he goes on, they constitute ‘a point…of which someone speaks and which roams the surface of things” (1970: 173-4). It is precisely those events roaming the surface of things which impel subjects to speak of their trauma, or to attempt it. We might say that here the devil is in the detail; it is the detail which haunts. Watt goes on to think about what in human existence might give the possibility of not being overwhelmed by trauma, and concludes that assuming agency, and a therapeutic technique that encourages it, is the key.

Jane Haynes’ paper ‘Out of the Blue’ centres on the experience of traumatic events, their life-changing nature, their suddenness and, like Watt, their shared nature. Her brave and unique account of firstly her own experience of the murder of her son-in-law and then of the way the knowledge of this happening impacted the therapy with one of patients in particular raises important questions about the assumption of authority by the analyst. She took the rare step of writing a joint paper with an analysand, who gives his own account of how his knowledge of Haynes’ experiences affected his life and the course of his analysis.