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White Society Colloquium: Trauma as Silence, Trauma as Speech

Date: May 8, 2019 8:00 pm

Presenter:  Stephen Frosh, PhD

Moderator: Seth Aronson, PsyD


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Abstract: There are things that can’t be said, things that lay waiting to be said but are not, and things that we refuse to say. The literature on trauma emphasises the impossibility of speech under some circumstances, notably where something has happened that overwhelms the possibility of symbolisation. This seems to be a real phenomenon, and it is a platitude of psychoanalysis that finding ways to put such unspeakable experiences into words is an important and necessary step on the way to psychic healing.  We might add to that: it is a necessary step on the way to social healing too, as the silencing of social wrongs perpetuates suffering and oppression, and finding a voice is a way of challenging these continuities. But hard as speaking out may be, it is the failures of listening that really count, it is the difficulty that witnesses have when faced with the demand to listen to a testimony that either implicates them directly, or demands some kind of painful action in response; or possibly simply shows how hard it is to witness a suffering that cannot be remedied.

Stephen Frosh, PhD, is Professor in the Department of Psychosocial Studies (which he founded) at Birkbeck, University of London. He was Pro-Vice-Master of Birkbeck from 2003 to 2017. He has a background in academic and clinical psychology and was Consultant Clinical Psychologist at the Tavistock Clinic, London, throughout the 1990s. He is the author of many books and papers on psychosocial studies and on psychoanalysis. His books include Hauntings: Psychoanalysis and Ghostly Transmissions (Palgrave, 2013), Feelings (Routledge, 2011), A Brief Introduction to Psychoanalytic Theory (Palgrave, 2012), Psychoanalysis Outside the Clinic (Palgrave, 2010), Hate and the Jewish Science: Anti-Semitism, Nazism and Psychoanalysis (Palgrave, 2005), For and Against Psychoanalysis (Routledge, 2006), After Words (Palgrave, 2002), The Politics of Psychoanalysis (Palgrave, 1999), Sexual Difference (Routledge, 1994) and Identity Crisis (Macmillan, 1991). His most recent book is Simply Freud (Simply Charly, 2018). He is a Fellow of the Academy of Social Sciences, an Academic Associate of the British Psychoanalytical Society, a Founding Member of the Association of Psychosocial Studies, and an Honorary Member of the Institute of Group Analysis.