Trauma and Identity (“Cultural” and “Individual”): Reflections on Sudhir Kakar’s Work


Both the journal entry below and the one I will post next concern psychoanalyst Sudhir Kakar’s The Colors of Violence, his important and influential analysis of Hindu-Muslim violence in his native India.  Especially important for me is his idea of how “founding traumas” function in establishing religion-based cultural identities in conflict with other such identities based on the very same “founding trauma,” only vastly differently interpreted.  It is easy to discern just such a shared “founding trauma” differently interpreted at work in the way “September 11, 2001,” functions in the conflictual genesis of both Arab “Jihadist” and American “anti-terrorist” extremist identities.  

From my perspective, which considerably overlaps Kakar’s own, in my judgment, and which finds its first articulation in the pages of my journal in the entry below, the (no doubt largely “unconscious”) use of trauma to serve as the foundation for such religious/cultural identity formation is actually a matter of the manipulative avoidance of trauma, as opposed both to the dissociative repression and the healing processing of trauma .  It is, as I first try to formulate it below, a coercive move to block trauma from traumatizing–and, therefore, a reactionary effort at forestalling the transformative and healing action that can occur only through letting such traumatization work itself through.  Other entries I  will eventually post on this site in the coming weeks will explore that idea much more fully.    

Here is the first of two entries, then, on Kakar’s The Colors of Violence:


Sunday, April 13, 2008

Sudhir Kakar, The Colors of Violence:  Cultural Identities, Religion, and Conflict (University of Chicago Press, 1996), p. 150:  “Cultural identity, like its individual counterpart, is an unconscious human acquirement which becomes consciously salient only when there is a perceived threat to its integrity.  Identity, both individual and collective, lives itself for the most part, unfettered and unworried by obsessive and excessive scrutiny.”

Yet what if identity itself is one struck in the first place–as one “strikes” (= mints) a coin–by the trauma at issue, such that the appearance  of identity having already been there all along (but only “unconsciously,” as “lived”) becomes a fiction founding (= a founding fiction [of]) identity formation?  Doesn’t Kakar himself touch on something of the sort when he immediately  continues as follows:  “Everyday living incorporates a zone of indifference with  regard to  one’s culture, including  one’s language, ethnic origin, or  religion”?  What is that, if not indifference toward one’s “cultural identity”?  So it would be an indifference toward, precisely, and “identity” not one’s own, which is to say [an identity that] is not one’s identity at all.  Or:  Only in reaction/as reaction to trauma does any “cultural identity,” any self-identification (= identifying of one’s self) with one’s “culture,” form/get cast or created or fictioned at all.  then “cultural identity”–or, for that matter, even “individual identity”–would be a reactive formation designed to ward off the trauma at issue.  And then, too, only the collapse of that reaction/reactive formation would at last let the trauma traumatize:  let the truth that flashes there “materialize” (Badiou’s corps).

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