The term remembering designates the specific psychic action of producing a memory and is to be distinguished from reminiscences, flashbacks, and all other elements of the past that might be seen to constitute other types of representation. Freud, together with Josef Breuer, introduced this notion in their preliminary communication (1893a) as part of their cathartic therapy and Freud's initially trauma-based theory of hysteria. Freud stressed that simple recollection of memories with no accompanying affect, and so reduced to pure ideas, would have no therapeutic value. Remembering that is efficacious, and therefore of interest to psychoanalysis, involves the subject's reliving traumatic events with all their original affective intensity. Here Freud, while also stressing conditions of therapy, was already distinguishing purely narrative ideas that have affective energy discharged and that remain blocked in a split-off part of consciousness.
The recollection of memories in treatment introduced the difficulty of distinguishing between childhood memories and "screen memories" (1899a), despite certain clinical characteristics pertaining to the latter. Freud noted that the disparity between screen memories and other memories from childhood remained ultimately problematic. Did conscious screen memories originate in childhood or simply relate to it?
This question, raised as early as 1899, remains very much alive, because there is no guarantee that the recollection of even the most authentic memories travel a direct route from the past of childhood to the present of analytic treatment, and the total reliability of such remembering is certainly open to doubt. Inevitably, childhood memories are subject to the happenstance experience of the subject, leading to unconscious distortions, infidelities, maskings, false leads, and so on. The analyst who maintains that such memories are genuine, even those with the best claim to being authentic, is either naive or is laboring under a narcissistic illusion of omniscience.
In the area of remembering, psychoanalysis has to defend its sphere of authority by distinguishing itself from neurobiological, neuropsychological, and cognitive approaches to memory. Remembering remains a key element of psychoanalytic treatment. As in other relations that psychoanalysis has with proximate scientific disciplines, the issue is generally one of a cross-disciplinary misunderstanding, which it would be proper to resolve. This is what motivated Jean Laplanche to evoke Freudian pseudo-biology, pseudo-neurology, and pseudo-psychology. Unconscious phenomena, the area specific to psychoanalysis, inevitably pervert, or at least distort, the various types of positive knowledge about humans.
Remembering in psychoanalysis can only be pertinent, therefore, when such remembering imitates the mechanisms that govern the recall function of memory, whose incredible complexity contemporary science is just beginning to plumb. Conversely, because of the necessary positivism of its project, the scientific approach to remembering cannot account for the negativism and emptiness in the psyche's dialectic between meaning and meaninglessness. Everything—from birth to death—that constitutes the enigmatic and singular design of an individual's destiny escapes, for the most part, from the individual's consciousness. Hence, there are limits to remembering.
To see how remembering functions in analysis, it is appropriate to chart a history of the aims of analytic treatment:
- The original memory model of psychoanalysis aimed at recollecting a childhood past that was buried but is likely to be brought to light.
- A subsequent model yielded increasingly to structures not subject to the internal history of the subject's life (the death drive, the Oedipus complex, repetition), in other words, to elements introduced by Freud in his second conceptualization of the psychic apparatus and to advances made in psychoanalysis since around 1930. Because psychoanalysis depends on the chance elements of the transference, this substantially relativized hope for a "spontaneous tendency towards a return of the repressed." As a result, the unrepresentable, the repetition compulsion, and various forms of psychic breaching have taken on a prominent role in the transference (Baranès).
- Finally, since the 1970s, psychoanalysis has been extending and openly accepting its own theoretical and practical divisions.
Remembering should be regarded essentially as reconstructing a certain historical truth together with ceding to what is sometimes referred to as "structural truth" (truth concerned with mental organization). Remembering and the freedom to rediscover one's own history, along with the de-centering that this entails, carves out a space that accords with some modulations of fantasy play and with the necessary mythology of origin. Analytic treatment—woven from the memorable, the infantile, the repeatable, while encountering limitations to meaning and meaninglessness and the absence of temporal references—would be lost if the analyst's constructions and interpretations of the transference were not subordinate to the analysand and his freedom.
An individual engages in analytic treatment to effect change. An assemblage of memories, even an organized one, that does not benefit from the work of composition and that does not take into account the inherent constraints of the psychic apparatuses, whether grouped or corporeal, would be nothing but a dead letter, destined to be neither interpreted nor recreated. It is the fabric of the transference that facilitates, for both analysand and analyst, the energetics of transformation. As a result, while memories and historical working through might not be enough in themselves to move the analysis forward, they are nevertheless a sine qua non of analysis. In this respect, individuals are like nations: a community that has forgotten its history is condemned to servitude.
See also: Abstinence/rule of abstinence; Acting out/acting in; Active technique; Amnesia; Change; Construction/reconstruction; Déjà-vu; Development of Psycho-Analysis ; Ego states; Forgetting; Memory; Narcissistic elation; Relaxation principle and neo-catharsis; "Remembering, Repeating and Working-Through"; Reminiscences; Repression, lifting of; Resistance; Silence; Transference; Word-presentation.
Baranès, Jean-José. (1990).Êtreà la fois mémoire et provocateur. In Société psychanalytique de Paris (Ed.), La psychanalyse: Questions pour demain. Paris: Presses Universitaires de France.
Diatkine, René. (1990). Remémoration, prise de conscience. Revue française de psychanalyse, 54 (4), 911-921.
Freud, Sigmund. (1899a). Screen memories. SE, 3: 299-322.
Freud, Sigmund, and Breuer, Josef. (1893a). On the psychical mechanism of hysterical phenomina: Preliminary communication. SE, 2: 1-17.
Laplanche, Jean. (1987). Nouveaux fondements pour la psychanalyse. Paris: Presses Universitaires de France.
Widlöcher, Daniel. (1994). Psychanalyse et processus de changement. In his Traité de psychopathologie. Paris: Presses Universitaires de France.