In one sense, then, the real is connected to trauma, and in another sense to matter. But these aren’t really two separate categories. For Freud, psychic trauma is a material phenomenon, since all mental existence is material: in Beyond the Pleasure Principle, he defines the organism – human or otherwise – as being, at root, ‘an undifferentiated vesicle of a substance that is susceptible to stimulation’. The central nervous system is an ‘ectoderm’ or outside skin that serves as ‘an organ for receiving stimuli’ or ‘excitatory traces’.

Tom McCarthy: “Writing Machines” (LRB)


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