Back to contents
Number 9: Winter 2013

From Leakage to Slippage: The Question of Trauma In Psychosis

Dorothée Bonnigal-Katz

This is well illustrated by what my schizophrenic patients refer to as “memories” and which, as the term suggests, involve the resurfacing of past traumatic events and experiences. The account of such “memories” tends to signal, in my experience, the possibility of a brewing crisis, especially when paired with an increase in the relentlessness and brutality of the patient’s hallucinations (voices are reported as “louder” and “closer”) as well as with radical behavioural changes (sudden shift from catatonic introvertion to voluble extrovertion, for example). Whenever such resurfacing takes place, it relies on the exact same configuration and formulation and the accounts are characterised by an incredibly vivid dream-like and hallucinatory quality. The recounted “memories” most often feature an abuse of power, in the form of a terrifying, sadistic, out-of-control authority figure who perpetrates unfettered acts of violence, from a vicious mother slaying a cat with a knife or sprinkling pepper on her daughter’s genitals to an unrepenting father who shamelessly rapes his son. What is striking in these recollections of abuse from a schizophrenic perspective is the fact that they seamlessly combine elements undoubtedly pertaining to the factual or the incidental (be it cruelty, ill-treatment, neglect, violence, or expropriation) with material that could rightfully be referred to as unconscious representations, including imagos, i.e. unconscious prototypical figures (e.g. the phallic mother, the sexually insatiable father), complexes (e.g. castration, Oedipus) as well as fantasies (e.g. murder, seduction, etc…).  As opposed to its neurotic equivalent in which such representations would be equally “present” but they would be veiled by repression, betraying their unavowable existence in a variety of symptomatic ways, the psychotic “memory” is not subject to censorship and the unconscious representations it includes function as standard signifiers, endowed with the same weight and status as elements pertaining to factuality, all thrown together into one horrifying undifferentiated heap. In this levelling process, unconscious representations literally flood the conscious without any delineation or demarcation which, incidentally, precludes the possibility of signification. In the psychotic memory, nothing stands for anything else, everything is literally and concretely there, open to an infinity of meaning, which paradoxically deprives the whole thing of meaning, a tragic reminder that pure sense and non-sense are actually the same thing. On the psychic landscape of psychosis, trauma remains inscribed in permanent images, impervious to the passage of time, unmetabolised, without any possibility of integration or working through. It haunts the psychotic subject literally like a bad dream, resurfacing, fresh as a rose, senseless and arbitrary, always hallucinated, never remembered.



Freud, S. (1915a) “Repression”. SE XIV

Freud, S. (1915b) “The Unconscious”. SE XIV.

Lacan, J. (1954-1955) The Seminar of Jacques Lacan: The Psychoses (Book III). R. Grigg trans. New York: Norton, 1997.

Laplanche, J. (1970) Life and Death in Psychoanalysis,  J. Mehlman transl., Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1976.

Laplanche, J. (1981) Problématiques IV: L’inconscient et le ça. Paris: PUF.

Laplanche, J. (1992) “Notes on Afterwardsness”, in Essays on Otherness,  J. Fletcher ed, London: Routledge, 1999.

Laplanche, J. (2006) Problématiques VI: L’après coup. Paris: PUF.

Laplanche, J. and Leclaire, S. (1960) “L’inconscient: une étude psychanalytique”, in Problématiques IV: L’inconscient et le ça. Paris: PUF, 1981.

Laplanche, Jean, and Jean-Bertrand Pontalis (1967) The Language of Psychoanalysis, Donald Nicholson-Smith transl., London: The Hogarth Press, 1973.

Leclaire, S. (1966-1967) “Compter avec la psychanalyse: Séminaire de l’Ecole Normale Supérieure”, Cahiers pour l’Analyse 8.6.

Pommier, G. (1987) Le dénouement d’une analyse. Paris: Flammarion.

Shakespeare, W. (1609) Sonnets. The Arden Shakespeare, 1990.