Parting Words: Trauma, Silence, and Survival

Cathy Caruth, Cornell University

Cathy Caruth’s essay “Parting Words: Trauma, Silence and Survival,” engages with Freud’s ideas of trauma, which have served as a theoretical underpinning to some essays in this volume. It suggests that Freud’s insights into trauma are to be understood as a juxtaposition of the well-known fort-da game in which a child enacts the mother’s departure, with the dreams of soldiers returned from the World War I battlefields which brought them back repeatedly to the horrors they had experienced. Departing from this initial juxtaposition in Freud’s thinking, she locates her own insight into the nexus of the death drive and the life drive in the compelling story of a group in Atlanta that was established to help children who had felt trauma and loss. In her analysis of interviews she conducted with friends of a boy who had been killed, Caruth notes how the bereaved are sent into life with the help of an abstraction of sorts: a memento, or materialized object of memory. She sees this as a release, which shows that the language of theory “articulates the very notion of the trauma and the death drive as a creative act of parting.” Abstraction and creativity, then are paired here as passageways that turns trauma into memory.

Keywords: Freud, trauma, war, memento, memory

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