The Care of Trauma, the Trauma of Care

Below is the last of the series of three entries from my philosophical journal concerning Ann Cvetkovich’s An Archive of Feeling.  This particular entry concerns her discussion of The Gifts of the Body, a novel by Rebecca Brown, which I did not read myself until a few months later.

Those interested in the  distinction between “care-taking” and “care-giving” that I  use in the entry below may wish to see my discussion of that distinction in my book Addiction and Responsibility, a link to which I provided a few days ago in the posting for December 14 (the posting entitled “Trauma and Sovereignty–and Alcoholics Anonymous”).  The relevant discussion is in Chapter 6, on pages 95-99.  The distinction as I draw it is based upon Heidegger’s discussion of the difference between “authentic solicitude” (or, to render the German term more literally, “authentic care-for”) and “inauthentic solicitude” (“inauthentic care-for”) in Being and Time (p. 122, standard pagination).


Saturday, February 23, 2008

Cvetkovich, in discussing a novel by Rebecca Brown called The Gifts of the Body writes of two things that greatly interest me–and that I discern to be closely interconnected somehow.

(1)  How even, and especially, at the very limits of dependency, where what she calls “caretaking” [but that I think might be better named something else, as I soon come to a bit latter in this entry] ministers to the dying, it is necessary/desireable/healing (my words, not  hers) to grant/give “patients the dignity of their own agency at a moment when they are almost totally deprived of it” (p. 224). 

(2)  How, through the demands of “caretaking,” the “caretaker” herself becomes traumatized in caring for the trauma victims (cf. the doctor [W. H. R. Rivers, concerning whom there will eventually be further mention in these postings] in Regeneration, the film from the book [by Pat Barker, about which I will also have more to say in later postings]).  “Ironically, then, caring [not numbing out to the patients’ pain] interferes with caretaking”. (p. 225).

The connection between (1) and (2)?  At  least this:  Only by continuing to care even, and especially, when that is itself traumatizing, can one cross over the threshold from  care-taking to care-giving; and only in that cross-over can one learn the lesson Cvetkovich goes on to  articulate:

(3) Where there is no care left to be taken–i.e., when the possibility of any further care-taking breaks down in burnout–[or] when there’s no longer anything left to “take care of”–then the only thing left that one can do is what the dying Margaret tells her caregiver/caretaker, the nameless narrator of Brown’s novel, she can do, when there’s nothing left to do:  “‘You can hope again.'”  As Cvetkovich goes on:  “From the one who is sick, the caretaker hears that hope is not an easy or false comfort but a vital resource.”

But that also means:  At that point, where the  patient being taken care of gives care to the caretaker, at that point, in the gift of and from “the  one who is sick,” care-taking itself is shown forth as void of hope–as a form of despair, and of “an easy and false comfort.”

What is more:  granting “patients the dignity of their own agency” (#1 [above]) is precisely what then emerges as genuine care-giving–genuine caringlove–out of the death  of care-taking in burnout.

Resurrected care-taking = care-giving!

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