Freud's Jaw and Other Lost Objects: Fractured Subjectivity in the Face of Cancer

Freud's Jaw and Other Lost Objects: Fractured Subjectivity in the Face of Cancer

Freud's Jaw and Other Lost Objects: Fractured Subjectivity in the Face of Cancer

Freud's Jaw and Other Lost Objects: Fractured Subjectivity in the Face of Cancer


What does it mean to live with life-threatening illness? How does one respond to loss? Freud's Jaw and Other Lost Objects attempts to answer these questions and, as such, illuminates the vulnerabilities of the human body and how human beings suffer harm. In particular, it examines how cancer disrupts feelings of bodily integrity and agency.

Employing psychoanalytic theory and literary analysis, Lana Lin tracks three exemplary figures, psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud, poet Audre Lorde, and literary and queer theorist Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick. Freud's sixteen-year ordeal with a prosthetic jaw, the result of oral cancer, demonstrates the powers and failures of prosthetic objects in warding off physical and psychic fragmentation. Lorde's life writing reveals how losing a breast to cancer is experienced as yet another attack directed toward her racially and sexually vilified body. Sedgwick's memoir and breast cancer advice column negotiate her morbidity by disseminating a public discourse of love and pedagogy. Lin concludes with an analysis of reparative efforts at the rival Freud Museums in London and Vienna. The disassembled Freudian archive, like the subjectivities-in-dissolution upon which the book focuses, shows how the labor of integration is tethered to persistent discontinuities.

Freud's Jaw asks what are the psychic effects of surviving in proximity to one's mortality, and it suggests that violences stemming from social, cultural, and biological environments condition the burden of such injury. Drawing on psychoanalyst Melanie Klein's concept of "reparation," wherein constructive forces are harnessed to repair damage to internal psychic objects, Lin proposes that the prospect of imminent destruction paradoxically incites creativity. The afflicted are obliged to devise means to reinstate, at least temporarily, their destabilized physical and psychic unity through creative, reparative projects of love and writing.


Every text poses itself as a demand for survival …

—AVITAL ronell

In his autobiography, Roland Barthes relates that a piece of his rib was removed during an operation and subsequently returned to him by his doctor. This bone was a remnant of many years of ill health, treatment, and recurrence. Between 1935, when he was nineteen, until 1947, Barthes tolerated extended stays in hospitals and sanatoriums, which altered his conception of his bodily being as well as the expected trajectory of his life. Barthes’s relationship to objects is constructed through the effects of disease, one of the three words that he tells us comprise a life. He stored his body fragment, a keepsake from a time when his body and its debilitated state must have been pressing upon his mind, in a drawer with other objects, such as old keys, his student report card, and his grandmother’s dance program. He enshrines these “precious” objects in order to come to terms with the “death of objects.”

Freud’s Jaw and Other Lost Objects examines loss and bodily disruption through a psychoanalytic lens. I track three exemplary figures who, like Barthes, grappled with life-threatening illness that is fundamentally destabilizing. Psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud battled oral cancer for sixteen years; poet Audre Lorde endured breast cancer for fourteen years; and literary . . .

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