Dr.Viviane Chétrit-Vatine : Present subjective and social effects of psychic traumatism

Freud committee Tel Aviv, on the 28/02/2016

The question of psychic traumatism inaugurated Freud’s work and was taken up again fully at the end of his trajectory. In fact, “the concept of traumatism has a privileged place throughout the development of Freud’s work which it permeates while undergoing important conceptual modifications” (Bokanowski , 2012).
Three moments of elaboration of the concept may be envisaged and, in fact, our conference has been constructed around these three moments and beyond.

1895 -1920 :
- Up until 1897, Freud establishes the model of traumatic seductive action; the trauma is of a sexual

order and it is related to the model of après coup (Nachträglichkeit).
- With the abandonment of the “neurotica”, the traumatic seductive action makes way for the

“internal seductive” action of fantasy, and from 1905 onwards all the psychic traumas and conflicts are envisaged with reference to unconscious fantasies and, in particular, the so-called primal fantasies (of seduction and castration, linked to the primal scene). However, the question of the weight of reality over and against unconscious fantasy as a traumatic factor (particularly, in the case of the Wolf Man) remains a point of discussion.

From 1920 onwards:

- Freud envisages the traumatism as linked to a failure of the stimulus barrier. The new paradigm is the infant’s distress, connected with the paralysis of the subject faced with a breach of the stimulus barrier leading to a fright of internal or external origin: the result is traumatic neurosis with the compulsion to repeat or, in de M’Uzan’s (1994) terms:

“The trauma is then defined as an intense event or experience bringing with it a discharge which overwhelms both the subject’s tolerance and his capacities for control and psychic elaboration ... (the) situation (is) really traumatic when the subject, incapable of finding a way of responding to the accident, is condemned to behavioural reactions” (pp. 159-160).

In 1926, in Symptoms, Inhibitions and Anxiety (Freud, 1926d), the accent is placed on the connection between the trauma and the loss of the object.

1937 -1939 :

- At the end of his work, in Moses and Monotheism (Freud, 1939a), Freud writes: “We give the name of traumas to those impressions, experienced early and later forgotten, to which we attach such great importance in the aetiology of the neuroses ... there are cases which are distinguished as being ‘traumatic’ because their effects go back unmistakeably to one or more powerful impressions in these early times...” (p. 73).

He then links up the traumatism with narcissism, and narcissistic wounds will acquire the significance of traumas.
In De M’Uzan’s (1994) terms: “In order for vital narcissistic cathexes and the sense of identity to be preserved as much as possible, excitation ... can only discharge itself massively and suddenly through acting out whose violence is proportional to the quantities involved”. What we are dealing with, then, is a traumatism that cannot be remembered and, therefore cannot be elaborated either. We are dealing with a repetition of the identical, the repetition of a trauma that was disorganizing and destructive and created an enclave in the psyche, a split impeding any sort of transformation: we are thus very much in the domain of trauma here.

Certainly, from the point of view of the psyche, a traumatism may have occurred without a psychic representation of its impact. If there was no representation of the absence of representation, there can be no representation of the trauma. “If from the point of view of the psyche, the trauma is lost,” Roussillon asks, “is all hope also lost for the analysis?” (2001, p. 196)

If this was the clinical observation of Freud in 1937 in “Analysis terminable and interminable” (1937c), in “Constructions in Analysis” (1937d) a path seems to open up again when Freud insists on the existence within the psyche of traces devoid of representations and returns to the question of “historical truth”.

It is true that “certain psychosomatic symptoms”, certain splits in the ego, which are unrepresentable for the subject, and certain perceptions of the analyst, could be considered as representatives of the trauma that have not yet been psychically cathected; it may be that they are the effect in the analyst of representative traces “secondarily destroyed (but is such a destruction ever possible?) or disqualified” (Roussillon, 2001, p. 197) in his patient, waiting to be requalified by this “detour by the other”. Indeed this was how Freud expressed himself in “Constructions”: “It may be doubted whether any psychical structure can really be the victim of total destruction” (1937d, p. 260). The recent findings of neuroscience seem to support this.
As I am personally convinced that it is always possible to give fresh impetus to vital potential and to transform over and over again the sexual death drives into sexual life drives, I suggest that the place where such a transformation can take place, where, in the terms of Dominique Scarfone (2014), the un-past can ‘join up again with the past”, the place where the pain linked to the representation can stop to maintain itself (se maintenir) and main-tain (main-tenir)9 the subject in a now that never ends, is this matricial space of “emotionally invested responsibility for the other“, a space in another for another, the ethical space/time of the analytic situation consisting of the “affected” presence of the analyst, of his caress in the Levinasian sense of the term. It is precisely when listening and interpretation are “undermined by an actuality that resists being “caught” in the nets of meaning” that the living and human presence of the analyst will be mobilized, and with it his ethical position. Beyond his identifications, his holding or his containing capacities, the analyst as an ethical subject is seized and interpellated by the other, his patient, who, in his combined fragility, vulnerability and height, is mobilized and destabilized by the encounter with this other. On the basis of this shock, the analyst, destabilized, put in the position of hostage, will finally be able, through his interventions as much as through his silences, to express his affected responsibility for his patient. If the analysand is touched by this “invested proximity” on the part of this other, his analyst, it may then be possible in the place of a past that is missing or emptied of living presence, for unthawing to occur and for the mask to begin to melt. For this to happen an encounter must take place with an analyst who has himself been unmasked “at the risk of a dislocated presence within himself”. It is here that for me an ethic of responsibility for the other and an ethic of truth coincide. It may be given the name ‘Analytic Makom’, in its full Hebraic and Biblical meaning: a place of the soul, an ethical space/time of the asymmetrical understanding of one person by the other, for the other, and relating simultaneously to a past, present and future that is infinitely renewed and renewable (Chétrit-Vatine V. 2014).

It was only after the events of the Second World War and after the Shoah that Levinas conceived the ethic of responsibility for the other as first philosophy. As we all practice in the context of the aftermath of this disaster and in the context of a collective which bears and transports its radioactive effects, the Levinasian conception of ethics can be a fruitful contribution to the conception of the ethics of the contemporary psychoanalyst (Chétrit-Vatine V. 2012).
I hope that these days will help us to realize that this ethic, combined with the thoroughly Freudian ethic of truth, functions in an actual way at the heart of the analytic situation embodied by the subject/analyst in his primordial “passibility”, as Lyotard put it , an analyst interpellated by the other subject, the analysand, who is suffering individually suffering that is soaked in a collective that is itself violently traumatized by the events that it has experienced and continues to experience.


Dr.Viviane Chétrit-Vatine, Israel Psychoanalytic Society


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