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Number 9: Winter 2013

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

Val Parks

Another term which occurs in several of our papers is ‘representation’. Robert Weiss, in his paper ‘Between Experience and Representation : towards a semiotics of trauma’, directs us to think about the irreducible gap between the traumatic experience and the words used to describe it; or, in Freudian terms, the gap between word-presentation and thing-presentation. Drawing on Blanchot primarily, he lays out the dilemma: what can be said about trauma, when nothing can be said about trauma? The response to this, as he shows, is that it is possible to say something about the very absence, the lack. To speak about trauma is to create a form with the content elsewhere. One of his striking examples here is that of the war photographer Don McCullin, whose childhood exercise of scribbling on a sheet of paper taped to the wall would leave a remainder, the random crayon strokes which had strayed over the edges of the paper and encroached on the wall. As an adult he reflected on these images, seeing in them a potent expression of insistent lack. These considerations have important consequences for our clinical work with trauma. If trauma is unrepresentable in the consulting room, that does not mean it is not present in the speech of our analysands. Weiss evokes in an interesting way the concept of neutrality; for him, the analytic work is suspended between activity/passivity, speech and silence, being and not being, and it is here that we will locate trauma.

Philip Hill invites us to think about trauma via analogies with evolutionary biology and immunology. Founded upon the Lacanian notion that trauma is the imposition of language on the subject, he delineates the way in which the agent of trauma is indeterminacy and uncertainty, a plurality of meanings, not the overwhelming insistence of the one set of events which characterizes trauma in another kind of formulation. Trauma in this orientation lies in every sentence, an exposure to the Tower of Babel. In another parallel, that between allergy and phobia, Hill sets out the way in which it is a harmless object which becomes an allergen or a phobic object: Little Hans’ horse, for example. Again I am reminded of the clinical fact that invariably there is always a specific aspect of even the most terrible events which is experienced as traumatic, and beyond the merely dreadful. Thus, in amongst the awfulness of torture, rape or extreme violence, it may be some apparently more innocuous aspect which haunts the victim such as the rape victim who cannot stop thinking about how everyone saw the dingy underwear she was wearing.