My philosophical journal from last summer continues with entries on the essays collected in The Unbroken Soul (H. Parens, H. Blum, and S. Akhtar, eds., Lanham, MD: Jason Aronson, 2008) In the entry below, with the date of original writing, I begin with a response to something I happened also to read in the New York Times that same day, pertaining to addiction. Then I return to The Unbroken Soul, above all to a valuable contribution by Henri Parens, one of the editors of the collection and himself a survivor of a concentration camp in Vichy France.
Sunday, July 20, 2008
The cover-story of the New York Times Magazine for, today: “Me and My Girls,” by David Carr, the Times’ media columnist, on his years as “a drug dealer and crack addict” who (in 1989) “found that becoming a parent [of twin girls to a crack-addict mother who lost custody to him eventually] can save your life” (as the blurb on the Magazine’ s cover says). P. 34, in response to the idea that drugs changed him: “But drugs, it seems to me, do not conjure demons; they reveal them.”
Applies to all trauma, at least within limits I have yet to get wholly clear about–not just addiction, which I increasingly see as linked to/rooted in trauma.
Ira Brenner, “On Genocidal Persecution and Resilience,” in The Unbroken Soul, pp. 80-81: “Like resilient sapling trees that have had to grow at unusual angles in order to bypass obstructions to sunlight, those who at a young age endured genocidal persecution have followed their own turning and twisting paths in order to grow. From chronic psychosomatic disturbances in the very young to characterological disturbances in the older ones, many have bypassed certain developmental tasks but have nevertheless functioned well unless illness, loss, or old age set in. In addition, their survivor ordeals are indelibly imprinted in their psyches and may repeat themselves in symbolic or in actual scenarios until they die.”
The will to recover: the making good of the evil.
The Unbroken Soul, Henri Parens (camp survivor in Vichy France), “An Autobiographical Study of Resilience: Healing from the Holocaust,” p. 87: “Can we adjudge everything that grows vigorously to be resilient [e.g., even rank weeds]?”
Also, same page to the following one (pp.87-88): Primo Levi’s “characterological depression, biographically proposed by Carole Angier (2002) to be of pre-Holocaust origin, which continued [here he has a note, which I’ll get to below] after the Holocaust may have led him to suicide.” The note he gives [to this passage] (on p.115) is confirmed by my own experience that, when my life is at its worst, my physical health is [often] at its best–or, more directly, by my experience last year when, during my recovery [in hospital and then in rehab] from my [serious] bike accident [on the kind of bike one pedals], I found my allergies and, more pointedly, my seborrhea, to let up, leaving me to focus on my broken bones: “Remarkable and yet to be explained, according to Janet Maslin, who reviewed Carole Angier’s biography of Prima Levi (New York Times, Thursday, June 13, 2002), Angier believes ‘that Primo Levi was depressed before and after Auschwitz, but not in it.'” Parens goes on to cite as well how camp “inmates tended not to develop common colds (despite exposure to severe weather conditions), nor common ailments: rather, many died of typhoid and of starvation.” On Levi’s depression, my often made observation that my superego [tends to] let up on me by not making me [somehow act out judgment against myself] so much when my life [is] going poorly strikes a truth, I think, insofar as depression, addiction, etc., have dimensions of self-punishment built in.
Parens, p. 103: “For me as well as for others, healing from the Holocaust has left painful scars, but it has also led to much good. . . . Both give evidence of resilience since scars too are evidence of healing.”
Page 108, Parens quotes a second time (the first is at the beginning of his essay, on p. 88) a line from Primo Levi’s Survival at Auschwitz (1947/1996, p. 142): “The comrade of all my peaceful moments . . . –the pain of remembering . . . attacks me like a dog the moment my conscience comes out of the gloom.” Does this testify more to his survivor guilt, or to the twisting of it by, and in service of, his depression?