Through a close reading of Freud’s last major work, Moses and Monotheism (1939), this article considers the socio-political and literary stakes of a central element of Freud’s oeuvre, which reaches its fullest elaboration in the Moses text: belatedness. Belatedness, or deferred action (Nachträglichkeit), which structures the movement of repression and return in the individual psychology of Freud’s earlier work, is aggravated and intensified in this late modernist text. Now, it is an entire people (the Jews) and (Judeo-Christian) civilization founded upon the temporal predicament of trauma, latency, and the return of the repressed. What is most innovative about Moses—its fragmentary style, its rewriting of biblical origins, its daring conjectures and methods of recording history—gestures back, after all, to the singular problem that both Freudian psychoanalysis and modernism are destined to repeat: the constitutive belatedness of all experience.
After All: Traces of the Literary in Freud’s Moses and Monotheism (a Historical Novel)
nell wasserstrom is a doctoral candidate in the Department of English at Boston College, where she is completing a dissertation on the late style of Walter Benjamin, Sigmund Freud, and Virginia Woolf. Working at the intersection of psychoanalytic theory and deconstruction, the project explores, through the last major works of these three writers, Nachträglichkeit as constitutive of both literary modernism and the practice of reading. Her articles and reviews have appeared in Modern Philology, Twentieth-Century Literature, and Modern Language Notes.
Nell Wasserstrom; After All: Traces of the Literary in Freud’s Moses and Monotheism (a Historical Novel). differences 1 September 2020; 31 (2): 1–29. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/10407391-8662146
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