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Second States: American Civil War Utopia and the Pre-Freudian Psyche

General Programming

dateNovember 4, 2010 timeThursday, 12:15pm EDT location The Heyman Center, Columbia University

Emily Ogden’s paper asked how Catherine Gallagher’s theory of fiction’s counterfactuality—its ability to reflect on logical, but unreal, states of affairs—works in the context of science fiction. Can novels make logical, but unreal, extensions of scientific theories, thereby revealing the potential of these theories to change or disrupt existing social structures? Her paper took Edward Bellamy’s enormously popular Civil War utopian novel, Looking Backward: 2000–1887 (1888), as a case study. By combining various classifications of battle trauma that Civil War medicine held rigorously apart, Bellamy imagined a counterfactual diagnosis that did more to acknowledge psychic casualties of war than did any of the diagnoses available to Bellamy’s contemporaries in reality. Dr. Ogden sought to offer an alternative to the attempts of trauma studies to theorize the Civil War through Freudian concepts that postdated it: nostalgic shock, the combined product of military and popular medicine, she argued, allowed Looking Backward to return to and unearth the disavowed casualties of war.

  • Emily Ogden Assistant Professor of English University of Virginia