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Number 9: Winter 2013

Trauma and the Ghost Dance of Psychoanalytic Practice

Brid Greally

Fanon (1965: 232) concludes his work with a prayer, ‘Oh God; make me a man who questions’, where instead of posing innocence in opposition to injustice he highlights the importance of questioning and the creating of new meanings. I believe that post-colonial studies provide valuable insights into the effects of oppression and how trauma, subjectivity and sovereignty imbricate each other. These studies highlight the dangers of separating the psychic and the social and highlight the importance of ‘subject positions’ in order to understand the ‘internalisation’ of oppression and the processes of ‘identification with the aggressor’. They seek to link the catastrophe of the narcissistic European subject and the catastrophe of the trauma resulting from colonisation. Through the psychoanalytic approach, they demonstrate how trauma is the result not only of the literal but also of the fictional, which is constructed by the subject position of the traumatised person. Through focusing on the limitations of humanising trauma (following Freud and Lacan) they wish to highlight how people who are ‘othered’ are not only thrown into a world not of their own making but they are also treated as incapable of making meaning. They emphasise that in order for working through to take place, the colonised have to be included in the cultural production of meaning and that this requires addressing the structure of relations within particular social situations.

 Clinical issues

The effects of trauma present various clinical dilemmas. It generates a form of suffering which effects all aspects of identity and desire. It cannot be remembered nor forgotten and yet it presents difficulty in communication.  One version of how to tackle these dilemmas is proposed by Freud. The aim of analysis, ‘[d]escriptively speaking, is to fill in the gaps in memory; dynamically speaking, it is to overcome resistances due to repression’ (1914: 148). However, he went on to recognise that memory is not static but is caught up in a chain of associations. NICE fails to understand that psychoanalysis is not a form of education but a praxis allowing the possibility of acting out that which cannot be remembered. Thus, a psychoanalytic practice requires a disjunction between the psychic and the social which allows for the emergence of what Laplanche (1973) called ‘the theatre of transference’.  Caruth’s (1995 & 1996) influential work provides an understanding of trauma as the meeting of history and representation and she highlights the paradoxes and aporia which trauma presents.  She describes how, ‘there is a response, sometimes delayed, to an overwhelmed event or events, which take the form of repeated intrusive hallucinations, dreams, thoughts or behaviours stemming from the event.’ She goes on to elaborate how there is the lack of ability to respond, so that the event is not fully experienced at the time. Her work helps us to think about how trauma can create clinical dilemmas generated by the unspeakable suffering and the challenges which nightmares, flashbacks, a numbing of the body and somatic enactments present to working through.