Freud’s Legacy and Modern Theories of Ineffable Trauma

Abstract

Notions of ineffability, what cannot be put into words, vary depending on the historical and cultural context and, in particular, on shifting linguistic ideologies about the capabilities and limits of language. In recent decades psychoanalysts have embraced a modern notion of ineffability centered around traumatic bodily experiences that are thought to be inexpressible. However, these ideas break with Freudian ideas about language and, most importantly, with his understanding of the processes of interpretation that give meaning to both psychic pain and attempts to heal it. Contra Freud, current theories of ineffable trauma re-inscribe a dominance of the body over the psyche and over-simplify Freud’s ideas about the retro-determination of trauma.

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Correspondence to Naomi Janowitz.

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Naomi Janowitz, Ph.D. is Professor of Religious Studies at University of California–Davis and a graduate of the San Francisco Center for Psychoanalysis.

Address correspondence to: Naomi Janowitz Ph.D., Religious Studies, University of California–Davis. One Shields Ave., Davis CA 95616, USA.

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Janowitz, N. Freud’s Legacy and Modern Theories of Ineffable Trauma. Am J Psychoanal 79, 212–229 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1057/s11231-019-09188-0

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Keywords

  • trauma
  • ineffable
  • Freud
  • language