BEARING THE CULTURAL IN ORDER TO ENGAGE IN A PROCESS OF WITNESSING

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Abstract

Witnessing has origins in ideas of testimony functioning to (re)unite the cultural, political, and personal. However, recent psychoanalytic translations of witnessing do not always make these links to the cultural and political, nor do they explore their impact on subjectivities. Integrating psychoanalytic theories of witnessing with those from cultural studies, this paper will describe a clinical case about incest involving the treatment of a young Latina patient by a white female therapist. As will be discussed, most psychoanalytic theories of witnessing dissociate cultural technologies of power from the dyad, finding empathy through triangulation—containing and splitting off the violence into the perpetrator. But these technologies of power include not just the original act of violence, but also the process of representing that experience linguistically and the ways the symbolic renders certain experiences abject. Even embodied experience, assumed to “keep the score” after trauma, only emerges through power, relying on cultural systems for legibility. Last, the culpability of the analyst witness, the ways in which the analyst may come into being based on “othering” the patient’s cultural group and/or other dynamics of power, are not well theorized. Weaving in and out of a clinical case, I will consider the importance of linking the cultural and psychological within processes of witnessing and how this linking necessarily impacts our tools of analysis, forms of engagement, and thus, our subjectivities.

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