Amnesias of a Freudian Kind

Part One

by Diane O’Donoghue, PhD


Freud’s psychoanalytic project was indebted to mechanisms and effects that were made visible by acts of forgetting. Certain terms for that, such as repression, became dynamic constructions within his notions of unconscious functioning. But there is a notable example of a relevant concept, with currency in some later nineteenth-century scientific discourses, that seemingly remained purely descriptive for him: amnesia. This essay, the first of two parts, looks closely at the genealogy of Freud’s uses of amnesia in his early writings, arguing that its meanings, and functions, were more complex that might be readily apparent.

American Imago 78(1), 55-77, Spring 2021.

Link to Online Publication [fulltext can be requested from the library].

Part Two will be published in an upcoming issue of Imago later this year.

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:

Charles Levin, PhD and Dawn Skorczewski, PhD. (2020).The Poetics of Boundary Violation: Anne Sexton and Her Psychiatrist. Psychoanalytic Dialogues, 30(2), 206-221.

Andrea Celenza, PhD (2020). Embodiment and the Perversion of DesireThe Psychoanalytic Quarterly, 89(3), 369-398.

Steven H. Cooper, PhD (2021). Donald Winnicott and Stephen Mitchell’s Developmental Tilt Hypothesis Reconsidered. Psychoanalytic Dialogues, 31(3), 355-370.

Elsa Ronningstam, PhD (2021). Cultural Function and Psychological Transformation of Silence in Psychoanalysis and Psychotherapy. In Dimitrijevic, A. and Buchholz, M.B., eds. (2021). Silence and Silencing in Psychoanalysis: Cultural, Clinical, and Research Perspectives. Routledge, pp. 105-127.

Paola M. Contreras, PsyD (2021). The Magical and the My-Person in Psychoanalysis During the Covid Pandemic. Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association, 68(6): 1113-1126. Open Access, DOI: 10.1177/0003065120981733

Don R. Lipsitt, MD (2020). In Freud’s Pocket: A Totem of Medical Ambivalence? American Imago, 77(4): 738-751.

Rachel Brier, EdD and Anna Ornstein, MD (2020). Tracking Changes in the Disruption/Repair Sequences: Important Aspects of Clinical WorkPsychoanalysis, Self and Context.

Rodrigo Barahona, PsyaD (2020). Living the Non-Dream: An Examination of the Links Between Dreaming, Enactment, and Transformations in hallucinosis. The Psychoanalytic Quarterly, 89:4, 689-714.

Sarah Ackerman, PhD (2020). A Diagnosis for Psychoanalysis in the 21st Century: Freud as Medicine. The Psychoanalytic Quarterly, 89:4, 667-688.

Lora Tessman, PhD (2020). Review of Ghost in the Human Psyche: The Story of a ‘Muslim Armenian’ , by Vamik D. Volkan. Contemporary Psychoanalysis, 56(2-3):457-464.

Steven H. Cooper, PhD (2019). A Theory of the Setting: The Transformation of Unrepresented Experience and Play. The International Journal of Psychoanalysis, 100:6, 1439-1454.

Anton Hart, PhD (2020). Principles For Teaching Issues Of Diversity In A Psychoanalytic Context. Contemporary Psychoanalysis, 56:2-3, 404-417.

Lawrence J. Brown, PhD (2020). Trauma and Representation. The International Journal of Psychoanalysis, 100:6, 1154-1170.

Penelope Moore, LICSW (2020). Incest from a Young Age … Lasting a Lifetime. Psychodynamic Psychiatry, 48(1), 41-54.

Judith L. Kantrowitz, PhD (2020). A Psychoanalytic Memoir: The Analyst Enabled and Disabled by What is Personal. Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association, 68(1), 83–100.

Cuneyt Iscan, MD (2020). Learning Along the Way: Further Reflections on Psychoanalysis and Psychotherapy by Patrick Casement, Routledge, Abingdon and New York, 2019, 156pp. American Journal of Psychoanalysis, 80:2, 235-239.

Click here to see a full archive of featured papers. All articles can be requested from the library.