3/7: Trauma and the Unconscious

Please post a question in response to either Caruth’s chapter or Barker’s book. Please read as much of each as you can. Bring your question to class and be prepared to ask it as discussion gets underway. Okay?




  1. Freud says that “Thus the wish to sleep (which the conscious ego is concentrated upon . . . ) must in every case be reckoned as one of the motives for the for- mation of dreams, and every successful dream is a fulfilment of that wish.” Do you agree that the wish to sleep is the motive for the formation of dreams? Have you had any dreams that you recall that had a wish fulfillment?

  2. Freud says, “All dreams…serve the purpose of prolonging sleep instead of waking up. The dream is the GUARDIAN of sleep and not its disturber…” (96). As peaceful and joyous as this sounds, I wonder if this quote still applies within the context of nightmares. When we have nightmares we often struggle in our sleep or wake up in a panic. Is there a functionality between good dreams and bad dreams? Are bad dreams still distinguished as guardians of sleep if we are disturbed by them?

  3. In the very beginning of Cathy’s chapter we read, before we get into the dreams, she writes “The repetitions of the traumatic event—which remain un – available to consciousness but intrude repeatedly on sight—thus suggest a larger relation to the event that extends beyond what can simply be seen or what can be known, and is inextricably tied up with the belatedness and incomprehensibility that remain at the heart of this repetitive seeing” (pg. 92) This to me was very interesting. The thought of something so traumatic happening to you that it is no longer available to our conscious mind but only to our unconscious mind. Giving us the ability to see things that remind up of this event in everyday things we do. And all thins leads into the thought of us being able to see and know what we see in our dreams and what they mean. How do we differentiate things that happen in our dreams that are a nightmare and things that have actually happened to us from a traumatic event? And is there really a difference, or are they connected in a way?

  4. I found the explanation of the Moving Dream to be fascinating, as it combines elements of both subconscious anxieties and/or traumas and physical stimuli, and how each of these elements can infiltrate one’s dreams from inside-out. “The explanation of this moving dream is simple enough. . . . The glare of light shone through the open door into the sleeping man’s eyes and led him to the conclusion which he would have arrived at if he had been awake, namely that a candle had fallen over and set something alight in the neighbourhood of the body. It is even possible that he had felt some concern when he went to sleep as to whether the old man might not be incompetent to carry out his task.” (Caruth, 93). In reading this passage, I began to ponder, here is a perfectly proposed sequence of events and/or explanations which could have led to the father’s nightmare and how the elements within it came to fruition in reality when he woke up and saw the fallen candle burning his son’s arm. I am curious, if we have these very plausible causes and effects which could have led to the father’s fortuitous self-fulfilling prophecy of sorts, are there still grounds for someone to claim this chance encounter is the result of something divine/spiritual/supernatural at play given that there is an element of specific coincidence with the direct quote of his son referring to his ‘physical’ being as he says, “Father, don’t you see I’m burning?” (Caruth, 93), rather than the father simply waking up from the brightness of the flames across the hallway or simply by the restlessness which has consumed him since his son’s death?

  5. Caruth talks about Freud’s theory to why we continue to sleep rather than wake up and mentions “It is not the father alone who dreams to avoid his child’s death, but consciousness itself, that in its sleep, is tied to a death from which it turns away. It is not primarily the wish to keep the child alive that motivates the father’s sleep but rather the wish of consciousness to sleep that – even at the expense of a burning reality – motivates the dream” (p 97). I took this as not only that the man’s wish fulfillment wants to keep him asleep to keep his son alive but also his consciousness is keeping him asleep to avoid reality. His consciousness does not want to see the pain of his reality but his unconsciousness wakes him up. Do you agree with this idea that your consciousness is the one that wants to keep you naive and shy away from painful reality? Could your consciousness AND your unconsciousness both be responsible for your dreams using this explanation?

  6. Pat Barkers “Regeneration” demonstrates varying ways that trauma can affect lives including PTSD from the war, an old injury, or a past mistake and the possible ways to treat the trauma. The doctors throughout the novel consider many controversial methods in order to receive information from their patients about their past trauma or how to heal it. Some of these methods include hypnosis and electric shock therapy. Do these more direct treatments of psychological disorders offer a better treatment than the common psychotherapy sessions that we have previously studied?

  7. I was very interested in Caruth’s “Unclaimed,” in the section that touches upon “Encountering the Real.” While Freud touches upon the meaning behind sleep, Lacan takes on a different analysis and focuses instead on the importance of the Father’s awakening and its meaning. I was very confused over the line that said,”…Lacan seems to suggest, a paradoxical attempt to respond, in awakening, to a call that can only be heard within sleep” (99). This statement later made sense when the article breaks down the repetition that occurs in the dream which is “…the bond of the father to the child -his responsiveness to the child’s words – is linked to the missing of the child’s death” (100). This is talked about as “a site of trauma.” Therefore, this makes me wonder if this is the notion behind our nightmares? Those moments where we are jolted awake by what we confront in our dreams, are these all somehow commentaries from our waking life? Are these our “sites of trauma?”

  8. Caruth uses Freud’s example dream where the father is sleeping and the bright light in his external reality results in an eerily related dream in his internal conscience. Caruth then writes, “Unlike in other dreams, Freud remarks, what is striking in this dream is not its relation to inner wishes, but its direct relation to a catastrophic reality outside: the dream takes its “moving” power, it would seem, from the very simplicity and directness of its reference, the burning of his child’s body that the father sees through his sleep. Seeing the light through his closed eyes, the father comes to the conclusion that he would have come to if he had been awake, that the candle has fallen onto the body of his child” (94). Is it possible that soldiers that have experienced trauma come to a false conclusion about their external reality, leading to nightmares? Why else might the traumatic experience of war specifically lead to continued nightmares?

  9. Towards the end of Pat Barker’s Regeneration, Rivers begins to question the nature of madness. Was it madness for men to break down in these traumatic horrific situations? Was kit madness that men would blindly fall into war? Who decides the nature of sanity and the qualifications for “madness”?

  10. In the Caruth reading, there are different interpretations of the same dream. How would you objectively determine, which is the most accurate?

  11. In Cathy Caruth’s chapter Traumatic Awakenings, she discusses the concept of the psyche’s relation to reality by using Freud’s example embedded in his novel Interpretation of Dreams. Throughout Jacques Lacan’s own analysis of Freud’s Interpretation of Dreams, he suggests that trauma relates to our own identity. Caruth summarizes: “the shock of traumatic sight reveals at the heart of human subjectivity not so much an epistemological, but rather what can be defined as an ethical relation to the real” (92). What does this analysis say about our own psyche and our own experiences with trauma? How can we use Lacan’s analysis of Freud to further explain the father’s traumatic dream about his son discussed throughout Interpretation of Dreams? In addition, how can use Lacan’s analysis to explain the soldiers own trauma from WWI throughout Pat Barker’s Regeneration? Despite Sassoon’s unwanted character in the novel, how can his acceptance of his own war trauma further enhance Lacan’s argument?

  12. In Barkers Regeneration, what relationship does Rivers experimental shock therapy with the patients have compared to Freud’s case of analyzing Hysteria? Do both somewhat distrust what their patients truly say? And do both agree that allowing their patients to speak their experiences helps them best remember what they were/are feeling? An example would be Dora speaking the experiences she has had to Freud and Rivers patients speaking about war in the trenches.

  13. Freud suggests, “the dream is thus no longer simply linked to a wish within the unconscious fantasy world of the psyche; it is rather, Freud seems to suggest, something in reality itself that makes us sleep” (97). This made me think of my Jan Term, where we learned about death and the grieving process. And I was just curious how these dreams help or hinder their grieving process? Also, how it effects their view of reality?

  14. With all of this analysis of dreams/nightmares and their relation to sleep (as the disturber vs. prolonger of sleep, and treatment (shock therapy to treat mental illness and so on) is there a way that illusions/dreamlike states could be used as a therapeutic treatment for the mentally ill/PTSD sufferers? Wouldn’t this tie in with that Paprika film we were watching a few weeks ago?

  15. While I’m fascinated by Freudian theory on dreams and especially Caruth’s usage of his theories with each of the characters i.e. Prior, Sassoon, etc., a couple colleagues of mine that are pursuing psych majors/minors say that his research is flawed. I wanted to hear more about what you (mainly Professor Leopard) think about modern psychiatrists view Freud’s teachings.

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