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Essay about Psychoanalysis, Culture, and Trauma

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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 inst...


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...d in a way that may be unsettling for the reader, albeit innocuous. The ability of the narrator to demonstrate the “departure of the event” through his separated psyche offers a temporary relief for the reader as he safely witnesses the trauma of the speaker. The doubling of the reader and writer, however, complicates this, suggesting that the poem is a source of trauma in itself. The “uncanny” that is utilized in the poem serves as a form of psychoanalysis not only because it permits the reader to experience the trauma of the unsalvageable narrator in a way that perhaps allows reflexive reflection of the reader’s own trauma, but also because the reader is doubled with Poe, which positions the reader in the crisis of witnessing a new trauma. The result is that the poem illuminates certain aspects while consequently bestowing the burden of experience on the reader.



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