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The Journal of English Language and Literature , Vol.66, No.4, 675 ~ 696, 2020
Trauma, Emotion, and the Subject: Exploring Shifts Between Psychoanalysis and Neuroscience
Seokwon Yang
With close attention to the dialogue and dispute between psychoanalysis and neuroscience, this essay examines the significant change the neuroscientific turn brought about in the definition, mechanism, and healing of trauma. Neuroscientific trauma studies are critical of Freud’s shift from dissociation to repression, from his definition of trauma as an overwhelming shock and its aftereffect to his tendency to regard it as a manifestation of the death drive. Informed by the neuroscientific discovery of nonconscious implicit memory as distinct from conscious explicit memory, trauma scholars elaborate the dissociation theory by arguing that trauma is indelibly imprinted in the implicit memory whereas the stress hormone produced by traumatic experience damages the explicit memory and triggers amnesia. Unlike the explicit memory that registers the event in linguistic form, the implicit (or emotional/bodily) memory inscribes itself in the form of images. The emotionally charged traumatic experience is committed to the amygdala, a part of the subcortical limbic system, which is evolutionarily hardwired for survival and operates independently of the neocortex regulating consciousness. New therapeutic methods, including EMDR and psychomotor therapy, are designed to desensitize and reprocess the traumatic memory by targeting this cerebral area. Trauma therapists inspired by neuroscience regard the brain/body or the neural self as the substrate of the psychic subject and aspire to transform the latter by affecting the former. While innovative and potentially game-changing in trauma studies, this approach also arouses concerns about the potential theoretical pitfalls of hazarding the neuroscientific translation of the neural into the mental.
Key Words
trauma, neuroscience, psychoanalysis, emotion, memory
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