Dominique Scarfone's The Unpast: The Actual Unconscious (The Unconscious in Translation, 2015) charts “a new itinerary through the vast landscape that is Freud.” For many North American readers, or others who may not appreciate the relevance of drive theory and Freud’s metapsychology in today’s world, this book serves as an inspiring re-visitation of that territory and presents a cogent theory for understanding clinical material and analytic aims in a faithfully Freudian context. The book is also an excellent introduction to many of the ideas that animate the French School of Psychoanalysis, especially for readers who may not have found an accessible way into that rich and stimulating tradition.
The title of the book is a reference to time and history as they affect the unconscious. Scarfone emphasizes the temporal dynamics of the unconscious as opposed to spatial dynamics (topographies and structures). He analyzes the psychoanalytic truism that “the unconscious is timeless” and shows us how that statement is not exactly true in the way people typically think about it. Scarfone says that a close reading of Freud’s work shows us that “time does exist for the unconscious, but somehow the repressed is protected from its corrosive effects.” This observation will ring true to any clinician who has witnessed the destructive repetitions that occur in clients’ lives and that manifest disturbingly in the transference. These repetitive phenomena are the “returns” of unconscious elements that remain presently active, unpast, until through analysis they can be inserted into another kind of time that transforms them into history, rescuing them from occurring as eternal symptoms.
Philip Lance, Ph.D. is a psychoanalytic psychotherapist in private practice in Los Angeles. He is candidate at The Psychoanalytic Center of California. PhilipJLance@gmail.com