Amnesias of a Freudian Kind – Part II

by Diane O’Donoghue, PhD

In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

This essay is the second of a two-part series that examines Freud’s constructions of amnesia as they participated in “forgetting,” both within the mechanisms of his psychoanalytic project and, far less investigated, as a way to fix the borders of his idea of an unconscious. As argued in Part One (O’Donoghue, 2021), the operations of forgetting that Freud would identify with repression were in fact constituted by a preceding removal from memory, one that was discursive rather than psychical. Significant events were banished from view—or, better, hidden in plain sight—by being enunciated as valueless, or as Freud said of his early years in Vienna, “nothing was worth remembering” (Freud, 1899, p. 312). What remained were selected fragments of one’s past that were interpretable as markers of repression, and as such tied to specific a priori drives whose sexual or aggressive impulses necessitated their inaccessibility to consciousness. This allowed for a schema to be placed on the vagaries of an individual life and desires, and those that were irreducible to such characterizations, originating with Freud’s own early life, were rendered forgettable.

Freud’s specific uses of the term “amnesie” have received surprisingly little attention, a fact that can be attributable to its lack of psychoanalytic gravitas—in contrast to repression—and as such it functioned as a descriptor that could be applied more fluidly. Several of its streams, including Freud’s earliest published discussion of amnesia, as well as its later “infantile” version, were charted in the first portion of this study. We turn now to its presence within Studies on Hysteria (1895), where we find a striking example of expungement as Freud attempted to treat a patient by making her “reminiscences” permanently inaccessible. After discussing this case, we will consider several genealogies that have been offered for Freud’s attempt at such an extreme memory effacement. The essay concludes with a discussion of suppression, posited here as a form of amnesic erasure that, enacted by Freud as a conscious way to delimit the content of unconscious phenomena, was never, not surprisingly, privileged within the construction of psychical life that resulted from it <…>

American Imago, 78(4), 601-617, Winter 2021.

Link to Online Publication [fulltext can be requested from the library or downloaded here]

Amnesias of a Freudian Kind, Part I can be downloaded here.

About the Author

Diane O’Donoghue, PhD, an art historian at Tufts University and Brown University’s Visiting Professor of Public Humanities, is also Director of the Program for Public Humanities at the Jonathan M. Tisch College of Civic Life at Tufts. She is an Affiliate Scholar and Faculty Member at the Boston Psychoanalytic Society and Institute and currently chairs the Division of Interdisciplinary Psychoanalysis here. Her writings on topics related to the intersections of visual cultures and psychoanalysis have received the Loewenberg (formerly CORST), Deutsch, and Silberger Prizes.  Professor O’Donoghue was a Fulbright Freud Scholar in Vienna and the Erikson Scholar at Austen Riggs, and received the 2019 Robert S. Liebert Award at the Columbia Psychoanalytic Center, given annually to recognize interdisciplinary work in psychoanalysis and the humanities. The Liebert Award accompanied the publication of On Dangerous Ground: Freud’s Visual Cultures of the Unconscious (Bloomsbury Academic, 2019).

Previous Posts:

Cuneyt Iscan, MD (2021). Illusion, Disillusion, and Irony in Psychoanalysis, by John Steiner, Routledge, Abingdon and New York, 2020, 167 pp. The American Journal of Psychoanalysis, 81, 549–553.

Randall H. Paulsen, MD & Don R. Lipsitt, MD (2021). The Balint Group: The Arc of the Enduring Bridge Between Psychoanalysis and Medicine. In Schwartz, H. (Ed.), Applying Psychoanalysis in Medical Care (pp. 161-189). Routledge.

Alexandra M. Harrison, MD. (2021). Culture – Surprise and the Psychoanalyst. Psychodynamic Psychiatry, 49(4), 487-489.

Stephanie Brody, PsyD (2021). Facing the Facts: Self Disclosure and the Analytic Relationship Swimming in Dark Places. American Imago, 78(3), 485-490.

Sarah Ackerman, PhD (2021). Psychoanalysis from the Inside Out: Developing and Sustaining an Analytic Identity and Practice by Lena EhrlichLondon and New York, Routledge, 2020, 169 pp. The International Journal of Psychoanalysis, 102(4): 822-826.

Lewis Kirshner, MD (2020). Trauma by Lucy Bond and Stef Craps. London: New Critical Idiom, Routledge, 2019, 173 pp. American Imago, 77(4), 800-808.

Cuneyt Iscan, MD (2021). Large-Group Psychology: Racism, Societal Divisions, Narcissistic Leaders, and Who We Are Now, by Vamik D. Volkan, Phoenix Publishing House Ltd, Oxfordshire, UK, 2020, 139 pp. American Journal of Psychoanalysis, 81: 244–248.

José Saporta, MD (2021). Psychoanalysis and Our Cultural Crisis. Subject, Action, & Society: Psychoanalytical Studies and Practices, 1(1): 91-109.

Elsa Ronningstam, PhD, Mark Goldblatt, MD, Mark Schechter, MD, Benjamin Herbstman, MD (2021). Facing a patient’s suicide—The impact on therapists’ personal and professional identity. Practice Innovations, 6(2), 89–106.

Anton O. Kris, MD (2021). Love Is the Great Educator: Response to Richard Frank and Mel Bornstein. Psychoanalytic Inquiry, 41(4-5), 289-291.

Alex Hoffer, MD (2020). Psychoanalysis as a Two-Person Meditation: Free Association, Meditation, and Bion. The American Journal of Psychoanalysis, 80(3): 331–341.

Nancy J. Chodorow, PhD. (2021). Women Mothers Daughters: The Reproduction of Mothering After Forty Years. In Bueskens, P., ed. Nancy Chodorow and The Reproduction of Mothering: Forty Years On. Palgrave, pp. 49-80.

Anthony D. Bram, PhD. (2021). Introduction – In-Session Use of Digital Material in Child Psychoanalysis and Psychotherapy. The Psychoanalytic Study of the Child, 74(1): 304-307.

Steven H. Cooper, PhD. (2021). Toward an Ethic of Play in Psychoanalysis. The Psychoanalytic Quarterly, 90:3, 373-397.

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