There is a spontaneous theory of traumatism. What could never happen, has. Unthinkable! Unimaginable! Unbearable! Too much.
“I break down” – Faced with the embodiment of the impossible, the subject is lost, is no longer as before, neither for himself, nor for others. No response is worth consideration. The symptom erupts.
Medicine, with help from contemporary science, searches for a solution – the day after pill, preparation on the eve, immediate verbalization. It is the response by the erasure of memory – which all may return to the way it was and that men attend once more to their obligations, as the imperative of the social bond requires. It did not happen because it should not have happened. The question becomes: how to live after traumatism without the traumatism? No lesson to take away from the trauma.
As traumatism belongs to the facts of existence, as it is ineliminiable, psychoanalysis opts for another, more pragmatic strategy. No infringement on memory, erasure, counter-programming, or catharsis will overcome the real. Even supposing such solutions were possible, the collateral damage would be too severe and ethically inacceptable.
So what does psychoanalysis propose? It considers that trauma truly did happen, that it modified the subject, and that it presents itself as the inverse of an act. This is why it chooses to learn from it.
Since the inception of psychoanalysis, analysts, first with Freud, have needed to concede to the clinical evidence; that psychic reality in no way coincides with objective reality be it factual or discoursal.
Furthermore, the notion of traumatism demands a new definition of facts and of events congruent with the subject of the unconscious. Let us reflect on the famous example taken from the Interpretation of dreams, as referenced by Lacan.
A father lost a son, cruel loss, traumatic in the classical sense. Exhausted, he entrusted a relative to keep vigil beside the body of his beloved son. But during his turn, this man fell asleep beside the child, himself in his final sleep. Suddenly, a noise: the candlefire had begun to burn the beloved body.
This is the reality. How does the unconscious respond? With a nightmare. The child approaches and whispers “Father, don’t you see that I’m burning?” Where is the trauma? The impossible voice of the dead, this is what truly awakens the father.
An indelible image, the eruption of terror, the excess of emotion, a forever-inarticulable word, are all so many references to the inerasable wounds of “losses imaged at the cruelest point of the object.”
This expression of Lacan’s, which celebrates, in loss, trauma’s link to objects, how it leaves the subject directionless in a world deprived of meaning.
The cure begins there, in the interval of the fracture of the subject, of the perforation of his reality. On these fixed points, the meaning-producing machine races and exhausts itself, confronted with this real which the unconscious, blindly, ceaselessly repeats.
Everyone is delusional, that is to say goes his own way, because everyone is traumatized. But the delusion does not deliver one from traumatism. When id repeats, in what conditions can an “Ego” come about?
To the universalization of delusion of Ones-alone, the generalization of traumatism responds. The unease correlated to the symptom has ceded its place to trauma correlated to the rejection of the mark, insofar as the symbolic is losing influence before the real. The dominant utopia is no more the recourse to the father, but that of zero risk, with the general docility this entails. But this is without counting on that obscure thing inside us. It is to psychoanalysis to calculate his just place, always singular, always contingent.
Christiane Alberti, Marie-Hélène Brousse
The trivial elevated to the dignity of trauma
“Every experience which produces the painful affect of fear, anxiety, shame, or of psychic pain may act as a trauma. Whether an experience becomes of traumatic importance naturally depends on the person affected [...]. In ordinary hysterias we frequently find, instead of one large trauma, many partial traumas [...]. In still other cases, a connection with a real efficacious event, or with a period of time of special excitability, raises seemingly indifferent situations to traumatic dignity, which they would not have attained otherwise, but which they retain ever after.”
“The Psychic Mechanism of Hysterical Phenomena” (1893), Selected Papers on Hysteria.
A funny satisfaction
“...People who have had severe shocks or who have gone through serious psychic traumas (such as were frequent during the war, and are also found to lie at the back of traumatic hysteria) are continually being put back into the traumatic situation in dreams. According to our acceptation of the function of dreams, this ought not to be the case. What conative impulse could possibly be satisfied by this reinstatement of a most painful traumatic experience?”
“Revision to the Theory of Dreams” (1931), New Introductory Lectures on Psychoanalysis.
The opaque brutality of life
“The famous traumatism where it started, the famous primitive scene that enters into the economy of the subject and plays at the heart and horizon of the discovery of the unconscious, what is it? – if not a signifier whose incidence on life I just now began to articulate. The living being is grasped as living, insofar as living, but with this gap, this distance, which is precisely that which constitutes the autonomy of the signifying dimension as well as traumatism or the primal scene. So what is it? If it is not that life that grasps itself in a horrible apperception of itself, of its total foreignness, in its opaque brutality, as a pure signifier for an intolerable existence of life itself, as soon as it veers off revealing the traumatism and the primal scene. It is what appears of life to itself as signifier in its pure state and which can in no way, articulate or resolve itself.”
Seminar V, Formations of the Unconscious (1957).
Two holes to make a traumatism
“The function of touched, of the real as encounter – the encounter insofar as it can be missed, which the missed opportunity essentially is – first presented itself in the history of psychoanalysis in the form, which on its own, already sufficed to awaken our attention – that of traumatism. Is it not remarkable that at the origins of the analytic experience, the real was presented in the form of its inassimilability in the form of trauma, immediately determining, and imposing an origin and accidental appearance?”
Seminar XI, The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psychoanalysis (1964).
“But we know everything since each of us, we invent something to make up for the hole in the Real. Where there is no sexual relation, it creates a troumatisation. One invents. One invents what what can, of course.”
Seminar XXI, “The Unfooled Err,” lesson from February 19 1974, unpublished.
Psychoanalysis in traumatic parents
“A psychoanalysis reproduces a production of neurosis [...]. This neurosis that one attributes, and not without reason, to the parental action is only obtainable in the measure that their action articulates precisely the position of the analyst. Insofar as it [this position] converges on an emerging signifier, the neurosis will be ordered in accordance with the discourse whose effects produced the subject. All in all, traumatic parents are in the same position as the analyst. The difference of position is that the analyst reproduces the neurosis, whereas the traumatic parent produces it innocently.”
Seminar XIX, “...or Worse” (1971-1972).
“And your wound, where is it? I wonder where resides, where hides the secret wound all men run to refuge, if one endangers his pride, when one wounds him. This wound - which becomes in this way the strong interior -, it is this, which will inflate, fill up. All men know to rejoin it at the point of becoming this wound itself, a sort of secret and painful heart.
“’There is nothing [...] but the apprenticeship that the subject endures of one language amongst others.’ What does he mean [Lacan]? That the veritable traumatic kernel is not seduction, the menace of castration, the observation of coitus, nor is it the transformation of all of that into fantasy; it is not Oedipus or castration. The veritable traumatic kernel is the relation to language. This is what Joyce evidences. This thesis seems coherent with Lacan’s idea: in place of remembering, why not become a poet. Even if it is debatable that Joyce is a poet, in a certain manner, we can say he is the opposite of a poet, since his writing resonates precisely in a way that kills meaning.”
“Lacan with Joyce”
La Cause freudienne, n°38.
Iteration of a unique event
“Once the vanishing mirages have dissipated into unbeing, the iteration remains. It is referable to what is called a factual semel – semel meaning ‘once’ in Latin -, a unique event with the value of traumatism. The last teaching of Lacan incites us to delimit beyond fantasy this factual semel, called traumatism in the clinic, or the encounter with jouissance. For that matter, the great difference between jouissance and Freudian libido, is that jouissance relates in all cases to an encounter, a factual semel remaining untouched in the background of any dialectic.
Lesson of April 5th 2011.
The real unconscious, is trauma
“What Lacan loved at the end of his seminar, is another perspective on the unconscious which makes of the unconscious a real. It is the unconscious inasmuch as it is exterior to the subject supposed to know, exterior to the signifying machine that produces meaning want some – here you are, if only to leave it running according to what one believes himself obligated to do. This unconscious as real is homologous to what we first evoke of traumatism. It is certainly not a transferential unconscious that is posed as limit. Yet this real that Lacan takes as the most oneself in the welcoming reserved to the self-discovery. [...] One can play between the unconscious as real and then the operation that molts it, diluting it as well, which is the subject supposed to know.”
“The Very Last Lacan”
Lesson from November 15th 2006, unpublished.
Jouissance, pure chance
“It is precisely in the beyond interdiction that Lacan could think of positivized jouissance as a body that gets off. The difference is delicate – jouissance no longer comes from an interdiction, it is a body event. The event value of the body opposes itself to interdiction, it is not articulated with the law of desire. Jouissance is of the order or traumatism, of shock, of contingency, pure hazard, and not the law of desire. It is no longer set in a dialectic, but the object of a fixation.”
Lesson of February 9th 2011.
Living after trauma
“The symptom is the subject’s response to the traumatic real. This point of real being anxiety understood in a general sense that includes traumatic anxiety. (S € R). The treatment that deduces itself from this model is as follows: in case of trauma, one must manage to give meaning to that which has none.
But traumatism of the real can be understood in another sense that which J.-A. Miller develops in his commentary on the last teaching of Lacan. There is symbolic in the real (R € S), it is the bath of language in which the child is caught. In this sense, it is language that is real or at least language as meaningless parasite of the living. We don’t learn the rules that compose the Other of the social bond for us. The meaning of the rules invents itself from a primordial point, without meaning, that is the “attachment” to the Other. After a trauma, one must reinvent another that no longer exists, and invent a new path that plots itself by the path of the senselessness of the fantasy and the symptom. One learns no more to live after trauma than one learns the rules of language.”
Matters of fact [...] are not ascertained in the same manner. [...] The contrary of every mater of fact is still possible; because it can never imply a contradiction [...] That the sun will not rise tomorrow is no less intelligible a proposition and implies no more contradiction that the affirmation that it will rise. We should in vain, therefore, attempt to demonstrate its falsehood. Were it demonstratively false, it would imply a contradiction, and could never be distinctly conceived by the mind.
David Hume. An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding (1772). Hackett Publ Co. 1993; Chapter on Cause and Effect.
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