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Déjà Vu

DÉJÀ VU

Déjà vu refers to a state wherein a person feels certain (cognitive judgment) that he or she has previously seen or experienced something that is actually being encountered for the first time. Sigmund Freud believed the feeling corresponded to the memory of an unconscious daydream.

The term first appeared in a French translation of the Psychopathology of Everyday Life (1901b) as part of the discussion of the superstition that can be associated with this mysterious feeling. Freud quotes certain "psychologists," without specifying who they are. The concept falls squarely within the framework of the paramnesia extensively described by psychiatrists in France, primarily Wigan (1844) and Valentin Magnan (1893), who described systematic delirium accompanied by the illusion of doppelgängers, J. Capgras (1923), who described the illusion of doppelgangers, and Pierre Janet (1905), who described cases of false recognition.

Freud discusses the concept in terms of the psycho-pathology of everyday life (errors, slips) by removing it from the context of psychosis and by supporting it with his own self-analysis ("rapid sensations of déjà vu that I myself experienced"). He returned to it again, but within the context of therapy, in his "Fausse reconnaissance (déjà raconté ) in Psycho-Analytic Treatment" (1914a), referring to a central example of the analysis of the Wolf Man. He then provided a partial summary of authors who had discussed the issue, separating them into "believers" (who thought that déjà vu was proof of a previous existence), among whom he includes Pythagoras, and "nonbelievers," who regard such events as false memories (Wigan, 1860). Freud himself assumes a different position (which he acknowledges sharing with Joseph Grasset, 1904) by believing in the reality of the representative content, but associating this with the reactivation of an older unconscious impression. He returned to the question again in terms of self-analysis at the end of his life in "A Disturbance of Memory on the Acropolis" (1936a).

Déjà vu is one of the "uncanny feelings" that, for Freud, play the role of hallucinations, which become more frequent and systematic during certain mental disturbances. This is the most convincing example of breaching the boundary between the normal and the pathological addressed by Freud. It involves a dissociative type of change experienced by the subject in his or her perception of things or himself. Reality appears distant, like a dream or a shadow, and it is at this point that false recognition occurs. Along with this displacement of the perceived object from the present into the past, there is a confused feeling of expectation or foreknowledge, whereby the subject is simultaneously projected into the future. For Freud this involves the replacement of some part of reality by a repressed desire (1901b). In the example cited here, a young girl replaces the perception of her wish to have seen her brother die with the sensation of having already experienced the situation (a trip to the countryside to visit some young girls whose brother is seriously ill). The topographic displacement (unconscious/conscious) is also spatio-temporal, for the memory involves the house and the girls' dresses but not the brother's illness. In "A Disturbance of Memory on the Acropolis," the same phenomenon is reversed since the reality of the Acropolis dissolves within the feeling of disbelief Freud experiences. Here, doubt replaces certainty; doubt is awakened by the reality of the perception but contaminates perception at the same time.

The concept of déjà vu must be compared with other analogous terms in analysis, such as déjà vécu (already experienced) and déjà raconté (already communicated). According to Freud, this paramnesia can be explained as a confusion between the intention to communicate and its realization. As with the doubt in his dream, these forms of paramnesia refer to specifically significant facts, such as the hallucination of the severed finger that the Wolf Man is convinced he has already told Freud about, when, in fact, he had only mentioned the existence of the small knife carried by his uncle. Generally speaking, paramnesia leads to a reflection on the process of remembering during therapy and on the patient's illusion of having "always known" the repressed content revealed by interpretation ("Remembering, Repeating, Working-through"). "It is by this means," Freud writes, "that the problem of analysis is resolved" (1914g).

Déjà vu touches on the whole question of forgetting as a dissociation of memory, as well as on the question of true and false from the psychoanalytic point of view. The false recognition of Norbert Harnold ("Is it a 'real' ghost?") is the true recognition of the originally invested object displaced within the context of archeology in Delusions and Dreams in Jensen's "Gradiva" (1907a [1906j]).

Sophie de Mijolla-Mellor

See also: Certainty; Estrangement; Illusion.

Bibliography

Freud, Sigmund. (1901b). The psychopathology of everyday life. SE,6.

. (1907a [1906j]). Delusions and dreams in Jensen's "Gradiva." SE, 9: 1-95.

. (1914a). Fausse reconnaissance ("déjà raconté") in psycho-analytic treatment. SE, 13: 199-207.

. (1914g). Remembering, repeating, working-through (Further recommendations on the technique of psycho-analysis II). SE, 12: 147-156.

. (1936a). A disturbance of memory on the Acropolis (an open letter to Romain Rolland on the occasion of his seventieth birthday). SE, 22, 239-248.

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Déjà Vu

Déjà Vu

A French term used by psychical researchers to characterize the feeling people sometimes have that some scene or experience in the present also occurred in the past. Déjà vu (already seen) is often coupled with déjà entendu (already heard). Through the years, many have related the feelings of déjà vu to the phenomenon of astral projection or out-of-the-body travel, when individuals apparently visit a distant place in an astral or etheric body during sleep. Déjà vu is also associated with fulfillment of a prior premonition of a forthcoming event.

More recently, déjà vu has been connected to experiences of reincarnation, when a feeling of prior knowledge is so strong that people feel sure it must have come from a former incarnation. In a celebrated case in India, a little girl named Shanti Devi, born in Delhi in 1926, claimed that she had lived elsewhere in a former birth, and even named the city. When taken there, she correctly identified the house, family, and other circumstantial details.

Feelings of déjà vu are rarely evidential or even reliable. Scenes in the present may only appear familiar because they contain some element connected with a past experience and re-activate the sensation of familiarity. Psychologists have characterized the phenomenon of false remembering as "postidentifying paramnesia."

Sources:

Berger, Arthur S., and Joyce Berger. The Encyclopedia of Parapsychology and Psychical Research. New York: Paragon House, 1991.

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déjà vu

déjà vu (day-zha-vew) n. a vivid psychic experience in which immediately contemporary events seem to be a repetition of previous happenings. It is a symptom of some forms of epilepsy. See also jamais vu.

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déjà vu

dé·jà vu / ˌdāzhä ˈvoō/ • n. a feeling of having already experienced the present situation. ∎  tedious familiarity.

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déjà vu

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