Special Events

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

Thursday, The Heyman Center

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.