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Trauma and the Ontology of the Modern Subject: Historical Studies in Philosophy, Psychology, and Psychoanalysis
Roberts, John L.
Routledge / Softcover / 2017-09-01 / 1138826731
Psychoanalysis and Philosophy
reg price: $79.50 our price: $ 67.58 (may be subject to change)
230 pages
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Recent scholarship has inquired into the socio-historical, discursive genesis of trauma. Trauma and the Ontology of the Modern Subject, however, seeks what has not been actualized in trauma studies – that is, how the necessity and unassailable intensity of trauma is fastened to its historical emergence. We must ask not only what trauma means for the individual person’s biography, but also what it means to be the historical subject of trauma. In other words, how does being human in this current period of history implicate one’s lived possibilities that are threatened, and perhaps framed, through trauma? Foucauldian sensibilities inform a critical and structural analysis that is hermeneutically grounded.

Drawing on the history of ideas and on Lacan’s work in particular, John L. Roberts argues that what we mean by trauma has developed over time, and that it is intimately tied with an ontology of the subject; that is to say, what it is to be, and means to be human. He argues that modern subjectivity – as articulated by Heidegger, Levinas, and Lacan – is structurally traumatic, founded in its finitude as self-withdrawal in time, its temporal self-absence becoming the very conditions for agency, truth and knowledge. The book also argues that this fractured temporal horizon – as an effect of an interrupting Otherness or alterity – is obscured through the discourses and technologies of the psy-disciplines (psychiatry, psychology, and psychotherapy). Consideration is given to social, political, and economic consequences of this concealment.

Trauma and the Ontology of the Modern Subject will be of enduring interest to psychoanalysts and psychotherapists as well as scholars of philosophy and cultural studies.


"Roberts offers trauma theory the voice of Michel Foucault to confront and enrich the twentieth century giants Heidegger, Levinas, and Lacan. Traumatic dispossession, he teaches, creates the modern subject and suggests the possibility of a traumatic ethics. A thought-provoking book."-Donna M. Orange

"In this provocative book, Roberts explores the emerging idea of the human subject in the twilight of modernity. As towering metaphysical systems and metanarratives show their cracks, the "self" endures a crisis, a trauma. What becomes of human subject once the Enlightenment sense of atemporal selfhood is unmasked? Roberts points to a "traumatic ethics" to understand the emergence of the human person from this crisis; we are riveted not to systems but to persons. Roberts sees in trauma not a disease to be cured, but a profound insight into a fragmented ontology of the human person."-Eric Severson, Seattle University.

"In this elegant, erudite, and subtly argued book, John Roberts offers a sophisticated vision of both trauma and the discourse that surrounds it. Here phenomenology, psychoanalysis, and cultural studies join together in a remarkable synthesis—one that illuminates traumatic experience and its aftermath, the significance of changing cultural representations of trauma, and many inter-weavings between these two domains. This is a crucial contribution to the literature on both trauma and modern subjectivity."-Louis Sass, Distinguished Professor of Clinical Psychology, Rutgers University, author of Madness and Modernism and The Paradoxes of Delusion.

"John Roberts carefully traces another ‘return to Freud’, this time through Heidegger, in a profound meditation on how we might conceptualise Being and trauma. In place of the closed integral subject of the psy complex, Roberts shows us in this finely crafted book how trauma is at the heart of the divided subject of psychoanalysis. Neither Being nor trauma are substantial grounds for action, identity or destruction of the self, but each are conditions for speaking of our human condition. This book speaks of the truth of the subject as Being, being always already inhabited by trauma."-Ian Parker, Manchester Psychoanalytic Matrix.

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About the Author

John L. Roberts, Ph.D., is Assistant Professor of Psychology in the Department of Psychology, University of West Georgia. His research interests include theoretical and philosophical approaches to psychology, histories of consciousness and subjectivity, and psychoanalysis.

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