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Psychoanalysis, Culture, And Trauma

2715 words - 11 pages

Cathy Caruth’s “Psychoanalysis, Culture, and Trauma” claims that “to be traumatized is precisely to be possessed by an image or event” (Caruth 3). This idea of possession is seen in Edgar Allan Poe’s “Ulalume” through the narrator’s enigmatic journey toward his dead lover’s grave. Throughout the poem, the narrator unknowingly works to overcome the trauma that is associated with “surviving” the event of his lover dying. The narrator is seemingly able to understand the true cause of his trauma through the use of the paradoxical duality of attraction/repulsion and familiar/unfamiliar contained in the “Uncanny” as described by Sigmund Freud in “The Uncanny.” The narrator uses the information gained from his trance-like walk to realize his repressed trauma; thus, creating a way to communicate what is deep inside of him in a manner that allows others to understand their own pain. By closely examining the ways in which the narrator uses the “Uncanny” to both access his own unconscious to obtain information essential to his understanding of his own trauma and to validate his relationship to the world, the poem anachronistically—because the poem is written prior to Freud’s scholarship—suggests that while there are varying degrees of consciousness in respect to the trauma itself, one can come to understand, or witness, the crisis of the trauma through the use of the “Uncanny” as a form of psychoanalysis.
Poe’s “Ulalume” illustrates characteristics of Freud’s “Uncanny” in various ways, which allows for psychoanalytical insight into the poem. In Freud’s “The Uncanny,” Freud works to establish the “uncanny” as a “class of the frightening which leads back to what is known of old and long familiar” (“The Uncanny” 1-2). This means that instead of simply equating the “uncanny” with something that is unfamiliar and unknown, he is rather treats it as an addition of a familiarity to “what is novel and unfamiliar in order to make it uncanny” (“The Uncanny” 2). While the woods of “Ulalume” seem to be haunted, they are full of quotidian characteristics—leaves, lakes, stars, and the moon. What does make the woods “uncanny”, however, is the narrator’s lack of knowledge at the time that he was indeed in a place that he admits, “once we had journeyed down here” (Hollander 245). This adds unfamiliarity to a familiar place. The woods are unrecognizable to the speaker because he has repressed the memory of his Ulalume. Further, Freud states that the “Uncanny” is “in reality nothing new or alien, but something which is familiar and old-established in the mind and which has become alienated from it only through the process of repression” (“The Uncanny 13). Thus, the narrator is not recognizing the woods because of the repression of his trauma.
This particular trauma, the death of a loved one, is an emotional trauma, which according to Freud, is “transformed, if it is repressed, into anxiety, then among instances of frightening things there must be one class in...

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