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Speaking Silence: Psychoanalysis, Mourning, and Greek Tragedy

Fri, September 1, 12:00 to 1:30pm, Hilton Union Square, Nob Hill 10


Can we work through all trauma? Approaches to mourning have long been dominated by psychoanalytic frameworks. At the same time, psychoanalysis has long turned toward Greek tragedy for metaphors and stories to illustrate its theories. In this essay I observe the absence of Euripides in much of psychoanalysis and connect this absence with a peculiar avoidance of the limits of many psychoanalytic concepts of mourning. Euripides’ plays harrow the modern faith in language; the plays, moreover, assert the impossibility of articulating the most profound experiences of human life. I examine one play in particular, Euripides’ Trojan Women, to suggest the limits of the intelligibility psychoanalytic approaches to mourning must assume. The play confronts spectators and readers with the unanswerability of violent trauma and thus the limits of “working through.” At the same time, however, the play’s self-conscious participation in the tragic festival of performance and discourse also suggests an alternative model of mourning: how the democratic polis can hold space for unintelligibility; and thus how communities can go on together even while acknowledging unspeakable loss beyond repair.