The History of Trauma, the Trauma of History, #2

12/22/08

The very short entry from my philosophical journal posted below is the second of a series pertaining to the works of historian Dominick LaCapra.  This entry, like the last one, concerns his Writing History, Writing Trauma (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2001).

My remarks in the entry about “self-escalating  repetition” are based on Gregory Bateson’s discussion of self-escalating systems in his “The Cybernetics of ‘Self’:  A Theory of Alcoholism,” Psychiatry 34 (February 1971).

Saturday, March 15, 2008

LaCapra, p. 178:  “This is a very important component of historical understanding:  to try, symbolically, to compensate for certain things that can never be fully compensated for.”

Even with the term ‘symbolically’ providing a hiding-hole of qualification, this is nothing short of a formula for compulsive, continually self-escalating repetition.  Seen as broadly as [systems-theorist Gregory] Bateson suggests, such a process escalates itself eventually to the point of breakdown, at which point the possibility of letting the whole attempt go at last opens up.  It is the point opening the possibility of at last letting the trauma traumatize, rather [than] remaining struck in the doomed endeavor to “compensate” for it.

Trauma is the point at which the debt the survivor comes to owe the dead breaks out, breaks over, breaks open, and breaks to  pieces all endeavors to pay it back, to”compensate”  for it.  It is the point at which the debt becomes unpayable, even “symbolically.”

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