Pandemics, Wars, Traumas and Literature
Echoes from the Front Lines
This book presents unique insights into the experiences of frontline medical workers during the COVID-19 pandemic, psychoanalytic work with trauma and perspectives from literature.
Part One presents a set of six ‘testimonies’, transcribed from video interviews conducted by Françoise Davoine with nurses, doctors and intensive care anaesthesiologists. These interviews are drawn on in Part Two, ‘Frontline Psychoanalysis’, which tells the story of transference related to catastrophic events, discovered and subsequently abandoned by Freud when he gave up the psychoanalysis of trauma in 1897. Davoine discusses the occurrence of this specific type of transference, both during the First World War, in which psychotherapists modified classical techniques and invented the psychoanalysis of madness in order to treat traumatised soldiers, and during the current and previous pandemics. The book also considers social and artistic responses to trauma, from the popularity of the Theatre of Fools after the Black Death ravaged Europe, to the psychotherapy described in such circumstances by Boccaccio’s Decameron.
This accessible work offers an insightful reflection on trauma and the human experience. Pandemics, Wars, Traumas and Literature will be of great interest to psychoanalysts in practice and in training, psychoanalytic psychotherapists and academics and scholars of literature.
Table of Contents
Part I. Testimonies Part II. Frontline Psychotherapy 1. Witnessing "Events without a Witness" 2. The Role of Coincidences 3. The Limits of Mainstream Psychoanalysis 4. Starting Point: From the Personal to the Social 5. Traumas in Freud’s Life 6. Writers, "Our Most Valuable Allies" in Wars and Pandemics 7. A Political Subject 8. Man Is a Ceremonial Animal 9. Madness and Historical Upheavals 10. Frontline Psychoanalysis 11.Salmon’s Principles 12. Writers as Valuable Travelling Companions
Françoise Davoine is a psychoanalyst based in France. She is former Professor at the Centre for the Study of Social Movements, École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales (EHESS) in Paris, where she and Jean-Max Gaudillière conducted a weekly seminar on ‘Madness and the Social Link’. She presents internationally and is the author of many books and articles.
"A key word in this powerful book is ‘frontlines.’ But here the life-and-death agonies are happening not in wartime. We now see a different time of darkness – what Camus had called La Peste. This is the gripping story of the human mind’s inner struggle to transcend such darkness." – Gregory Nagy, Harvard University.
"Freud asserted that ‘no mortal can keep a secret’, which, in turn, made ‘…the task of making conscious the most hidden recesses of the mind… quite possible to accomplish.’ Unfortunately, few among us really know how to listen to others. Françoise Davoine’s Pandemics, Wars, Trauma and Literature: Echoes from the Front Lines is a master class in listening to people individually and through their collective voice as expressed in history and literature in order to perceive deep truths which, once heard, inform effective response at every level of society." – Harold Kudler, MD, Associate Consultant Professor, Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, Duke University.
"In this beautiful book, we hear the voices of frontline healthcare workers in the COVID pandemic who speak to us from the region between life and death, where they accompany their ill and dying patients and bear witness to our current catastrophe from within its unthinkable center. The therapeutic innovations of these caretakers and their techniques of listening and of story-telling become the starting point for Davoine’s remarkable history of the psychiatric and psychoanalytic encounters with trauma and madness – has they emerged from social upheaval, war and plague—and of a Western literary tradition that has served both as therapy and testimony to centuries of disaster. Framing her account with her personal journey—and that of her late husband and co-author Jean-Max Gaudilliére—in the psychoanalysis of madness, Davoine reveals, through her analyses of therapists, writers, philosophers, and cultural rituals, the joint "transference" between patient and caretaker, sufferer and listener, as they guide each other through calamity and help pass on, to us, the histories most at risk of being lost." – Cathy Caruth, Class of 1916 Professor of English at Cornell and Professor in both English and Comparative Literature
"In this work we see how Françoise Davoine is a major force moving therapy of trauma into the mainstream of psychoanalysis. She does this by connecting the inner experience of the analyst, to that of the patient, and the personal history of both to the larger history of society. All the while weaving in the powerful record which writers such as Cervantes, Sterne, Boccaccio and others have given us of trauma in their own lives. She can do all this not only because she understands and respects the essence of the psychoanalytic process, but because she is fully open to all that literature and history teach us. She also understands the nature of the psychic wounds (the cut-out unconscious) caused by severe trauma.
While the mind may be shocked by severe trauma and catastrophe, left with a psychic black hole which absorbs endless amounts of the meaning and joy of life, perhaps transforming into madness, Davoine understands the cure—analytic treatment and links with comprehending others who know how to collaborate in retrieving the cut-out parts, and fill the black hole with new structure for memory. She demonstrates in her very writing the particular kind of so-called free association essential to access the unrepressed unconscious.
For the work at hand, she had the presence of mind to juxtapose the experiences of five health care workers in the Covid pandemic, with Thomas Salmon’s four principles of frontline psychiatry: Proximity, Immediacy, Expectancy and Simplicity. Which as it happens, comprise both the key to the workers’ surviving the pandemic, and critical features of effective psychoanalysis:
Translated to the therapeutic context—
Proximity: ability of the analyst to take in qualities of the trauma;
Immediacy: allowing (right here and now) transference experiencing of the traumatic events;
Expectancy: Expecting the patient to recover; and
Simplicity: clearly seeing the historical links." – Arthur Blank Jr. MD, Faculty, Washington-Baltimore Society for Psychoanalysis; Clinical Professor of Psychiatry, George Washington School of Medicine; Former National Director of the Vet Centers, U.S. Dept of Veterans Affairs.