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Prince, R. (2007). In these Pages…. Am. J. Psychoanal., 67(1):1-3.

(2007). American Journal of Psychoanalysis, 67(1):1-3


In these Pages…

Robert Prince

Trauma in Context

An informal survey of conferences, journals, special seminars and specialty programs at various psychoanalytic institutes leads to the impression that trauma has been increasingly “in.” However, it seems to be a different kind of trauma. The interest that had once been a staple of psychoanalytic discourse, and the traumas of childhood and development have given way to the traumas of adulthood (Boulanger, 2006). Developmental trauma, family violence and betrayal have been superseded by a focus on the violence strangers inflict on others based on perceived cultural or social identity. It is difficult to avoid the conclusion that 9/11 as a watershed event in American culture has a bearing on this interest. Terrorism has become a dominating theme and the trauma it produces, a public event widely featured in the mass media. The interest of psychoanalysts in trauma today reflects both our being caught up in the same whirlwind of horrific events as everyone else including our patients and our growing recognition that this historical epoch may be one day described as the “age of trauma.”

Although terrorism and its intended traumatic effects have become a media extravaganza, trauma itself is the quintessential private experience. In trauma, the self is driven into a prison, in the most extreme, when it is accompanied by a conviction of total abandonment, trauma becomes a black hole that pulls the self into it. But just as trauma is privately endured, it occurs in a social context. The strain on the tie between the self and its world illuminate both.

The articles in this Special Issue will examine the relationship between trauma and culture. Hoffman (2004) notes that “it seems evident that cultural systems of meaning effect forms of inner pain (p. 47). She observes, for example, that the Western experience of trauma is alien to, for example, Russians for whom most of the 20th century consisted of one horror after another. However, Hoffman, in commenting that even if the Russian sensibility rejects the notion of the traumatized self as trivial or comic, it is also true that even as the idea of trauma is derided and excluded, widespread alcoholism may express an alternative adaptation to history. These articles will shine a light on individual's experience in a wide geographical swath including Argentina, Vietnam, Hungary, Senegal, Germany, Israel and several American milieus.

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