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Caruth, C. (1991). Interview with Robert Jay Lifton. Am. Imago, 48(1):153-175.

(1991). American Imago, 48(1):153-175

Interview with Robert Jay Lifton

Cathy Caruth

Robert Jay Lifton's work on Hiroshima, Vietnam, the Holocaust, the nuclear threat, and other catastrophic events of our age has had a tremendous impact on the consciousness of trauma in our era. On June 8, 1990, I met with him to discuss his vision of a death-oriented psychology that extends and modifies psychoanalysis around a full recognition of the centrality and import of traumatic experience.

I Trauma and Survival

CC: I would like to begin by discussing some of the implications, for trauma theory and therapy, of your notion of survival. In your essay “Survivor Experience and Traumatic Syndrome” [The Broken Connection], you suggest that the experience of trauma can be approached through the psychology of the survivor. And your discussion in the essay centers upon the notion of survival. Equally important in this essay is your emphasis on the view of trauma which, as you say, “puts the death back into traumatic neurosis.” This might seem to be something of a paradox: on the one hand the insistence of survival, on the other hand the insistence on death in the theory. I'd like you to comment on the significance of understanding trauma in terms of survival, and also on this apparent paradox.

RJL: Focusing on survival, rather than on trauma, puts the death back into the traumatic experience, because survival suggests that there has been death, and the survivor therefore has a death encounter, and the death encounter is central to his or her psychological experience. Very simple point, but death gets taken out of most psychological thought very readily.

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