The Case of J. Sheridan Le Fanu‘s ‘Carmilla’

This article proposes a reading of Le Fanu‘s ‘Carmilla’ in relation to the ideas of the French psychoanalyst Jean Laplanche, particularly Laplanche‘s notion of the enigmatic signifier. Laplanche refigures the inauguration of human sexuality as a failure on the infant‘s behalf to meaningfully translate the enigmatic messages received from the adult world, which, Laplanche argues, are freighted with unconscious sexual meaning. Unable to fully metabolise these enigmatic signifiers, the infant is prone to trauma, as the un-translated residues of the adults address sink into the unconscious to form powerful unconscious fantasies that continue to trouble the subject. A parallel is drawn here with Laura‘s relationship with the mysterious but alluring Carmilla, whose enigmatic desire both fascinates and repels Le Fanu‘s narrator from the moment of Laura‘s childhood trauma but whose enigmatic language remains indecipherable. Carmilla herself is finally seen as the allegorical figure of the Gothic itself: profoundly enigmatic and potentially traumatising.

Gothic Studies
Wordsworth and Bowen

created at a certain point in one’s development – that it is not something that one is born with, so to speak, but is made as a result of certain life experiences. It is also clear that the unconscious is created and indeed populated at an early age. If our unconscious is us, what or who we are just inasmuch as we do not know what or who we are, it, the unconscious, is us as children, ourselves as ghosts of the past. Melanie Klein and Jean Laplanche have written powerfully on the idea that ignorance is also the basis of human (mis

in Ignorance
Abstract only
Hysteria, paranoia, psychosis

’ ( SE 17.84–5: Verwerfung is omitted in the English translation, see Laplanche and Pontalis, 1973: 166). Here, Freud reports a hallucination the Wolf Man had, aged five, of cutting with his penknife into the bark of one of the walnut trees. ‘Suddenly, to my unspeakable terror, I noticed that I had cut through the little finger’ of the hand. He did not speak to his nurse, but sat down, and then saw

in Literature and psychoanalysis
Value and fantasy in Hollinghurst’s house of fiction

, which is also an engagement with the world. In a perfunctory porn scene – say, the plumber coming in to fix the washing machine – the engagement of desire makes visible the thresholds between the domestic and the public, or accounts of labour time and class distinction, which have silently circumscribed and regulated the relation between the subject and the world. As a ‘scene’ emerges, a ‘setting for 128  Alan Hollinghurst desire’ in the words of psychoanalysts Laplanche and Pontalis (to whose work this chapter will return), these circumscriptions and regulations

in Alan Hollinghurst

comes into being to house that which is lived or experienced but not voiced. 47 By its nature thought represses and overlooks its own faults as people attempt to rationalise a lived experience. Repression is intentional. Laplanche describes this as ‘an operation whereby the subject attempts to repel, or to confine to the unconscious, representations (thoughts, images, memories) which are bound to an

in Socio-ideological fantasy and the Northern Ireland conflict
Abstract only
Trauma, sexuality and creaturely life in Echo’s Bones

to the ‘spoilt love’. A quote that Santner adduces from Laplanche is useful here. According to the former, unconscious formations arise from: an encounter between an individual whose psycho-somatic structures are situated predominantly at the level of need, and signifiers emanating from an adult. These signifiers pertain to the Smiling tigers 161 satisfaction of a child’s needs, but they also convey the purely interrogative potential of other messages – and those other messages are sexual. These enigmatic messages set the child the difficult, or even

in Samuel Beckett and trauma
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child’s discovery of sex took the form of an aggressive seduction on the part of an adult, at an age when the child was unable to understand or consciously assimilate the event (Laplanche and Pontalis 1985 : 23–4). Freud later revised his theory to suggest that the traumatic event was in fact the child’s witnessing of the parents’ coitus, the so-called ‘primal scene’ (Laplanche and Pontalis 1985 : 40–1). Unable to determine

in Jacques Rivette
The broken body and the shining body

’; Laplanche and Pontalis, The Language of Psycho-Analysis , pp. 245, 401. 9 Laplanche and Pontalis, The Language of Psycho-Analysis , p. 244. 10 Aaron, Spectatorship , pp. 61

in Open Graves, Open Minds

those objects. In other words, drives appear in the virtual space of the psyche.36 Jean Laplanche argues that drives and sexuality are coextensive of each other, and the drives’ re-presentations are perverse, as perversions are deviations from instinct. In a detailed description of the process by which the instincts become perverted by the drive (and therefore sexuality), Laplanche writes: ‘Now sexuality, in its entirety, in the human infant, lies in a movement which deflects the instinct, metaphorizes its aim, displaces and internalizes its object, and concentrates

in Addressing the other woman

. Inspired by Laplanche, he writes of the personality as having systolic and diastolic impulses ( 2000 : 205). For the patient who seeks in analysis release from narcissism, Philips refers to Laplanche’s stress on a deconstruction of the old, a subversion of the coherent story of the self constructed by the patient. Deconstruction prepares the ground for a new construction. Most importantly, according to Laplanche, in his or her

in Carol Reed