1997-98: Trauma & Psychoanalysis

While psychoanalysis has played a pivotal role in theories of literature, film, visual culture, and gender, it has been strongly criticized for indifference to, or bias regarding, matters of history, race, class, and sexual difference. Similarly, many scholars and practitioners outside the humanities consider psychoanalysis to be flawed and superseded by other theoretical and clinical approaches. Now that so much interest has been generated across disciplines regarding the problem of trauma and post-traumatic stress, intellectual questions about the status of psychoanalysis have become pressing in yet another way.

The Society for the Humanities at Cornell will devote a year to two sets of critical issues that often intersect: the widespread attention to trauma and the uses of psychoanalysis as an explanatory model. Trauma has a dual position in many approaches: a structural, existential, or transhistorical status, on the one hand, and a more historical, social, or cultural on, on the other. In Lacan and in other psychoanalytic models, trauma seems to be located in the first position, while in studies of the Holocaust of the effects of the atom bomb in Japan, the latter view is more prominent. Studies of social phobia, such as witchcraft fear or AIDS hysteria, sometimes appear to fall in between these positions. One obvious question is how to relate structural and historical trauma without simply reducing one to the other.

Part of the purpose of a year on trauma and psychoanalysis is to examine the relationship between psychoanalysis and possible alternative approaches to psychic life, discussion that might also raise new questions about the relationship between academic theory and clinical practice. Another goal is to explore the adaptations and transformations of psychoanalysis as it has been transferred across disciplines and over time in different parts of the world and in various conceptual fields. In proposing “Why Trauma, Why Psychoanalysis?” as its focal theme, the Society for the Humanities invites to applications of scholars from various disciplines who are interested in investigating this topic from different perspectives.