The term scotomization, borrowed from ocular pathology, where scotoma refers to a spot in the visual field in which vision is deficient or absent, came into use by young psychiatrists in the 1920s to refer to a lack of awareness of others. René Laforgue, who refers to this origin for the term, proposed the notion in the context of his thinking on schizophrenics and "schizonoia" at the time of his earliest work in psychoanalysis. He believed it would account for his patients' misapprehension of reality, and explained in a letter of June 10, 1925, to Sigmund Freud that "scotomization corresponds to the wish that is infantile, and therefore not repressed, not to acknowledge the external world but to put the ego itself into its place. In these conditions, the process of repression seemingly has not overcome the primitive stages in the normal way, but, on the contrary, has allowed them to persist."
Freud was puzzled and rather opposed to this innovation, which seemed to him a bit too "French" in its tendency toward simplification. In a letter to Laforgue dated May 1925, he argued: "A very important point seems to me that in repression (Verdrängung ) you distinguish a scotomization. I do not believe there are any grounds for this. We have stated that repression means that an instinct is suppressed and that the fact of being conscious is withdrawn from its ideational representation. Why split this unitary process in two? As for the other differences you establish between repression and scotomization, I do not understand them." He nevertheless accepted Laforgue's presentation of the notion in the article "Verdrängung und Skotomisation" (Repression and scotomization), which appeared in 1926 in the Internationale Zeitschrift für Psychoanalyse.
However, he criticized it in a letter of February 18, 1926: "I read your article in German on scotomization from start to finish. I now understand why this concept and its relationship to repression pose such difficulties for me. I note that on one point you have abandoned me. You do not accept the metapsychological view that tries to characterize a psychical event in terms of its dynamic, topographical, and economic aspects—in terms of three coordinates, so to speak. It is especially by disregarding the topographical coordinate that you give up a sort of certainty, whereas it makes itself felt in the whole. You are not concerned with what happens in the three layers of the conscious, preconscious, and unconscious, and phenomena are therefore ambiguous. No doubt you have not dared to present to your compatriots this element of complication and speculation."
Freud returned to the topic in "Inhibitions, Symptoms and Anxiety" (1926d), citing Laforgue's notion as an example of the hysterical mechanism "which, by means of restrictions of the ego, causes situations to be avoided that would entail such perceptions, or, if they do occur, manages to withdraw the subject's attention from them". But his reflections on lack of awareness continued in the article "Fetishism," where he wrote: "If we wish to separate in it [repression] more clearly the vicissitude of the representation from that of the affect and reserve the expression 'repression' for the affect, for the vicissitude of the representation it would be correct to say in German Verleugnung (disavowal). The term 'scotomization' seems to me to be particularly improper, for it evokes the idea that perception has been completely swept away, as in the case where a visual impression strikes the blind spot of the retina. On the contrary, the situation which we are describing shows that perception remains and that a very energetic action has been undertaken to maintain its denial."
Laforgue attempted a further refinement the following year in "Überlegungen zum Begriff der Verdrängung" (Considerations on the notion of repression), but the notion of scotomization did not withstand Freud's commentaries for long, even in France, whereÉdouard Pichon had been extremely receptive to it.
If this notion is no longer used today, we can imagine that the discussions to which it gave rise, before the war, and Freud's refusal to believe that a perception could be purely and simply suppressed, without conflict or any permanent psychic modifications, such as a splitting of the ego (1938), were no doubt not unrelated to what Jacques Lacan based on his translation of Verwerfung called "foreclosure."
Alain de Mijolla
See also: Disavowal; Laforgue, René; Pichon,Édouard Jean Baptiste.
Freud, Sigmund. (1926d). Inhibitions, symptoms and anxiety. SE, 20: 75-172.
——. (1927e). Fetishism. SE, 21: 147-57.
Freud, Sigmund, and Laforgue, René. (1977h [1923-33]). Correspondance Freud-Laforgue, préface d'André Bourguignon. Nouvelle Revue de psychanalyse, 15 (1977), 235-314.
Laforgue, René. (1926). Verdrängung und Skotomisation. Internationale Zeitschrift für Psychoanalyse, 12, 54-65.
——. (1928).Überlegungen zum Begriff der Verdrängung. Internationale Zeitschrift für PsychoanalySE, 4, 371-74.