The Primal Scene

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Mandy Trinh R1A, T&TH

“Primal” is a word that has undergone several metamorphoses throughout its lifetime. From the Latin root primus, meaning “first”, it now carries on to include the added significance of not only first, but also “fundamental”, “crucial”. Part of this meaning is evidence in the psychoanalytic definition of a “primal scene”. According to Freudian theory of psychoanalysis, a primal scene occurs when a child witness intercourse—especially from the parents--for the first time. It is the single defining moment that subsequently plays a traumatic role in the child’s psychosexual development. This medical definition is expanded further into the realm of prose and literature as an ability to relate texts to one another. Here, the expression “primal scene” is defined as “the interpretive impasse that arises when a reader has good reason to believe that the meaning of one text is historically dependent on the meaning of another text or a previously unnoticed set of criteria” (Lukacher 24). This “set of criteria” for a literary primal scene is outlined in Helene Cixous’s critical reading of Clarice Lispector’s “Sunday, Before Falling Asleep.” According to Cixous, “the text signifies massively; it is an egg” (Cixous 3). There are many different levels and perspectives the reader must lend to the text to get to the yolk. To understand Lispector’s “Sunday, Before Falling Asleep” and how it can shed light on the structures of the primal scenes in Octavia Butler’s “Bloodchild” is to go beyond the text and move back and forth between what is naïve and what is knowledgeable. The reader must immerse himself into the text and remove himself from it completely at the same time. Primal scenes are contained in texts that are very small in length, immense in implication, and complex in the questions of time. According to Cixous, they are not like fairy tales in that they do not begin with a predictable “once upon a time…” where the...
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