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Seduction - The Universal Enigma: A Clinical Consideration Of The Subject(ed)

The Letter, Issue 11, Autumn 1997, Pages 16 - 42


Colman Duggan


There is an inherent potential for psychical trauma involved in the everyday encounter between the human subject and the culture into which he is born. Trauma emerges from a combination of internal and external factors, as can be seen in the differential responses of individuals to the experience of infantile seduction on the one hand, an external phenomenon, and the emergence of sexuality in the subject on the other, as an internal experience. For example, some subjects experience sexual seduction as children, resulting in psychic trauma. Others experience such a seduction but do not appear to experience traumatisation, and yet another group do not experience sexual seduction as children, yet are traumatised by the experience of their own emerging sexuality. What contribution does psychoanalysis offer to help make sense of this contradiction?

Seduction is the central axis around which the following discussion is organised. Theoretical considerations follow the early Freud between 1896 and 1906, encompassing the founding years of psychoanalysis and the transformations in Freud's thinking on the subjects of sexuality and sexual trauma. The elaborations of Freud's original theory on infantile seduction, pursued by Ferenczi (1933) and Laplanche (1989), are considered, to demonstrate the continuing usefulness of this concept in contributing to a psychoanalytic understanding of sexual trauma.

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