Coming Too Late: Freud, Belatedness, and Existential Trauma


It is very unhappy, but too late to be helped, the discovery we have made that we exist.

—Emerson, “Experience”

We were born without our own knowledge or choice, by our parents coming together.

—Justin Martyr, First Apology

In discussing the impact of traumatic experience on the workings of memory, Bessel van der Kolk and Onno van der Hart challenge one of the central tenets of Freudian psychoanalysis—the concept of repression— at least as it relates to trauma. Like Freud, especially from the writing of Beyond the Pleasure Principle (1920) onward, van der Kolk and van der Hart are interested “in the role of overwhelming experiences on the development of psychopathology” (158). But against Freud’s theory of repression as a response to trauma, they offer a new way of understanding what it means for the traumatized psyche not to be able to lay claim to a past experience in the form of a conscious relation to it.

Read Article On Muse