NCSPP

Northern California Society for Psychoanalytic Psychology

POTENTIAL SPACE: JANE REINGOLD, MFT

JOHN FLETCHER'S "HOW DO WE RECONSTRUCT THE PAST? A CLOSE READING OF FREUD'S ESSAY 'SCREEN MEMORIES'"

"Memory -- to trace an idea, an adventure, across time as it emerges, evolves, subsides, disappears and then re-emerges under a different name or form." Thus began John Fletcher's lecture on Freud's theory of _screen memory,_ how we reconstruct and continually revise our memories and consequently recreate the past over time.

Fletcher's discussion centered on how adults constantly modify and reassemble childhood memories as a means of retroactively understanding experience. In particular, he highlighted Freud's role as a "scenographer_ who collaboratively mapped memories of particular moments in spatial and temporal dimensions. As therapists, we help our clients look back on their lives through the lens of current day experiences that trigger memories. Often these memories are fragments -- sounds, smells, tableaux -- of experiences left in the body, remnants of events that were too complex to symbolize but are now available for exploration and reflective understanding.

As I sat down to write this piece, staring at over ten pages of dense notes on the lecture, I found myself paralyzed and panicked by the task at hand. My experience of the lecture had been one of insight, suddenly lost, then re-found and re-worked, and then lost yet again. Freud himself, Fletcher explained, had found the topic of memory to be similarly elusive, relegating it from center stage in his scientific papers (as "nachtr_glichkeit") to intimate letters to his friend, Wilhelm Fleiss, then back to the foreground as "Screen Memories." The parallel processes of Freud's evolving theory of the experience of memory and my own understanding of the lecture seemed indelibly intertwined.

Perhaps my paralysis and panic (to call it "writer's block" would be putting it mildly) were brought on by what I perceived to be my task: to recreate the lecture. My rigidity in approaching this piece as factual "reporting" perhaps also mirrored what Fletcher (via Freud) identified as the Copernican-Ptolemaic tug between a multiplicity of views and a singularity. Privileging the idea of recreating an experience as a veridical retelling -- as opposed to a lived experience and pastiche of thoughts, feelings, and recollections -- is a recurrent and tempting theoretical trap in our attempt to listen to and understand the experiences of our patients as well as in understanding our own memories. In my confrontation with this material, I was reminded of how an exclusive focus on factual retelling forecloses a deeper exploration of personal meaning.

Fletcher elucidated Freud's belief that each memorialized moment contains within it the capacity to have an original imprint on the psyche and to serve as an auxiliary moment in emotional conversation with previously memorialized events. In a similar vein, my encounter with Freud's theory of memory, as well as its relationship with my past and identity formation, stimulates further explorations of memories and complex layers of meaning that I continue to unpack and rework.

Jane Reingold, MFT
Impulse Staff Writer