Reflections on Memory, Trauma, and Politics, #2


The two entries below, a brief one I first wrote in my philosophical journal in April of last year followed by a longer one I wrote two days later, is the second of a series of seven addressing various essays from the collection Memory, Trauma, and World Politics, edited by Duncan Bell (Pallgrave Macmillan, 2006). 

The first entry consists solely of the citation of a line from Bell, plus some lines from a speech Bell cites by George W. Bush.  The conjunction of the two speaks for itself.

 The second entry addresses a piece by political scientist Jenny Edkins, whose thought I respect highly and have already reflected upon in more than one earlier post.


Monday, April 28, 2008

Bell [in his introductory essay to the volume], p. 14:  In post 9/11 public life memories of both Vietnam and the attack on Pear Harbor have been invoked repeatedly and for multiple and often contradictory reasons.”  E.g., Bush in speech to Air Force Academy 6/24/04 [as Bell quotes him]:  “Like the Second World War, our present conflict began with a ruthless surprise attack on the united States.  We will not forget that treachery and we will accept nothing less than victory over the enemy.  Like the murderous ideologies of the 20th century, the ideology of terrorism reaches across borders, and seeks recruits in every country.  So we’re fighting these enemies wherever they hide across the earth.”


Wednesday, April 30, 2008

In Bell’s anthology, Jenny Edkins, “Remembering Relationality:  Trauma Time and Politics” (pp.99-115 [in Bell]), p. 106:  “Already, in both these thinkers [French psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan and French philosopher Jacques Derrida], we can discern the idea of trauma:  as the traumatic lack around which [as a “quilting point”] the subject is structured in Lacan, and as the aporetic or traumatic moment of decision at the heart of the political in Derrida.  We also find in these approaches the idea of traumatic memory, or, rather, the way in which the traumatic moment is forgotten, or indeed invisible.”

The trauma is “forgotten” only at/as representable, however.  At/as the level of affect, it is “remembered.”  This gap between representation and affect is itself the act of/which is the trauma:  trauma is the opening of a gap between representational understanding and the affectivity ([Heideggerian] Befindlichkeit) that accompanies it, is  equiprimordial with it.  That trauma–which is the trauma, “structural trauma” [as Paul Eisenstein calls it], trauma itself–opens the space into which political sovereignty and theoretical science and technology can rush, to set themselves into play there (a “shadow play”?).

Edkins, p. 107:  “Trauma is clearly disruptive of settled stories.  Centralized, sovereign political authority is particularly threatened by this.  After a traumatic event what we call the state moves quickly to close down any openings produced by putting in place as fast as possible a linear narrative of origins.  We have seen already how this happens after a non-founded founding moment.”

Thus, as she all but says herself (just not, so far as I can tell, drawing the final implications of her own analysis), “sovereign political authority” is itself founded in and as the  covering over of trauma in the projection of an illusion of origin and ground to salvage itself from its own violent groundlessness.  The movement is the same as the abuser “justifying” his abuse by projecting it back onto the “badness” of the victim of the abuse.  What, in effect, occurs is the rationalization of violence, which is, in turn, the denial of the trauma of the victim of violent abuse.  Thus, for example, Hobbes traces sovereignty back to the  trauma of the war of all against all, where “man is wolf to man,” thus masking the war/violence that the sovereign perpetrates upon his/her “subjects.”

Edkins, p. 108, follows up:  “However,  some people want [unlike the sovereign} to try to hold on to the openness that trauma produces.  They do not want to forget, or to express the  trauma in standard narratives that entail a form of  forgetting.  They see trauma as something that unsettles authority and that should make settled stories impossible in the future. I have proposed that it might be useful to call this form of time that provides an opening for the political ‘trauma time’, as distinct from the linear, narrative time that suits state or sovereign politics.”  (Her footnote 30 to this, on p. 251, says “the time of the state is similar to Benjamin’s ’empty, homogeneous time'” in Illuminations, p. 252.)

Later on p. 108:  “Politics is the regular operation of state institutions, elections, and such like within the framework of the status quo. . . . The political on the other hand is the moment where established ways of carrying on do not tell us what to do, or where they are challenged and ruptured:  in traumatic moments, for example.”  (Though, she goes on to say, there are problems with the distinction.)

Trauma is a betrayal in the double sense of breaking trust and revealing.  Re the first (p. 109):  “So what traumatic encounter does, then, is reveal the way in which the social order is radically incomplete and fragile . . . nothing more than a fantasy–it’s our invention, and it is one that does not ‘hold up’ under stress.  When it comes down to it, for example, what we call the state is not a protector, the guardian of people’s security.  On the contrary, it is the very organization that can send people to their deaths, by conscripting them in times the state is under threat and sending them to fight its wars.”  Overall,:  “First, there is a betrayal of trust that threatens [ordinary national or family] relationality:  relationality expressed as national or family belonging turns out to be unreliable, for example.  Second, the radical relationality that is normally forgotten is revealed or made apparent.”

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