Nigel Saint
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Dream images, psychoanalysis and atrocity
Pierre Fédida and Georges Didi-Huberman
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This essay discusses how the work of the psychoanalyst Pierre Fédida (1934–2002) and the historian of images Georges Didi-Huberman (b. 1953) may be brought together around questions of representation, dream interpretation, empathy and memory in the understanding of trauma and atrocity images. Firstly, key aspects of Fédida’s work on dreams are explored: the way dream images show up the limits of language, their own inaccessibility and the speechlessness and vulnerability experienced by the patient. In the space of the psychoanalytical session constructed between analyst and patient, Fédida presents a scenario of hesitation, silence and breathing, which nevertheless involves a kind of transmission that relates to its enigmatic relation to memory. Communicating in direct and indirect ways, dream images therefore act as both the source of sometimes excessive fascination for patients and the unique repository of images of the self that can remind them of how they are still human even if they are catastrophically downcast. Fédida draws on Didi-Huberman’s work on photographs of atrocity from Auschwitz to explore how looking at the images might be linked to the analytical treatment of traumatic memories. For Fédida, a position of non-identifying empathy can acknowledge the co-existence of both human and dehumanised subjects; in Didi-Huberman a dialectic of positive and negative terms like resemblance and dissemblance keeps art history from coalescing into certainties and alive to the force of memory: ‘Our present […] is obligated to, subject to, alienated from memory’ (Fédida). Lastly, the enduring impact of Fédida’s thought on Didi-Huberman is discussed.

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Dreams and atrocity

The oneiric in representations of trauma


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