The Wound. In his 1917 essay “Mourning and Melancholia,” Freud memorably likens “the complex of melancholia” to an “open wound, drawing to itself cathetic energies…from all directions.” In commenting on the theory of trauma–notably, the Greek word for “wound”– that Freud develops by 1920 in Beyond the Pleasure Principle, literary theorist Cathy Caruth writes, “what seems to be suggested by Freud…is that the wound of the mind–the breach in the mind’s experience of time, self, and the world–is not, like the body, a simple and healable event, but rather an event that…is experienced too soon, too unexpectedly, to be fully known and is therefore not available to consciousness until it imposes itself again, repeatedly, in the nightmares and repetitive actions of the survivor” (Unclaimed Experience: Trauma, Narrative, and History, 4). Such repetition–necessarily belated, as it takes place after the event—presents the possibility, though no guarantee, of a remembering and working-through. The wound serves as a metaphor for a breach in the mind’s experience–a gap, loss, or unknown element that occasions returns whereby healing may be possible. In formal or structural terms, the wound may be figured negatively in literature in motifs of muteness or silence, traceable in the text in patterns of enigmatic elements that resist and demand comprehension.
Anne Carson’s Nox, Wordsworth’s lyrics, Shelley’s “The Triumph of Life” may all be said to stage returns to what resists and yet demands comprehension in the tasks of translating and telling the story of a brother’s death, revisiting the loss of childhood or retelling the death of Lucy, and asking “What is Life?” and “whither he came, and whence he went, and why.” Choosing any one text (or set of texts) by these authors, identify how the wound–that which has not healed, cannot simply heal, or perhaps even resists healing altogether—is legible in specific motifs or structures in the text and reflect on the challenges the motif may pose to our reading.
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