Trauma, Resilience, and the Sovereignty of the Representational Image


The following is the last entry–under the date I originally wrote it last summer in my philosophical journal–concerning various contributions to the collection The Unbroken Soul (H. Parens, H. Blum, and S. Akhtar, eds., Lanham, MD:  Jason Aronson, 2008).


Monday, July 21, 2008

Steven M. Southwick, Faith Ozbay, and  Linda C. Mates (all M.D.s), “Psychological and Biological Factors Associated with Resilience” (in The Unbroken Soul), p. 138:  “Developing animals that are forced to  confront overwhelming and uncontrollable, stressors that they cannot master tend to display an exaggerated or sensitized sympathetic nervous system and/or hypothalmic-pituitary-adrenal response to stressors as adults.  In contrast, developing animals exposed to mild to moderate stessors that are under their control and that they they can master tend to  become stress inoculated with a reduced overall response to future stressors.”

Compare my thesis that addiction rates in populations vary [inversely] with experienced effective agency for members of [those populations].  [That is, the higher the addiction rate in a given population, the less will be the individual sense of effective agency among members of that population, and the greater the individual sense of  agency in a given population, the lower will be the addiction rate in that same population.]


Susan C. Adelman (Ph.D.), “From Trauma to Resilience” (Unbroken Soul), p. 158:  “. . . [P]rofound enough traumata may actually cause the hippocampal dysfunction so that at the moment of trauma no memory develops that could later be consciously accessible.  In severe trauma, that is, the full facts of what actually happened may not ever be available [to conscious cognition, at least–representation].  In these situations, the clinician and patient need to work together to observe the contexts of fear and their associations as a way into regaining some knowledge of the trauma.  With these pieces, rather than with  a full memory that cannot be recovered because it does not exist, the patient has the option of reconstructing a story that is meaningful to him or here.  This may be the best available strategy for moving the somatic reactions to the more flexible, symbolically encoded higher cortical regions.”

She [seems to be] equating memory with representational memory, against her own recognition, in fact, that there are multiple “memory systems” in the brain.  Trauma exceeds the sovereignty of the image:  It is not subject to that sovereignty any longer.  To use a formulation paraphrased from [contemporary French phenomenological philosopher Jean Louis] Chrétien, trauma is what is unforgettable precisely because it cannot be remembered representationally.  Like the Heraclitean sun, one cannot hide from it, because it never sets.


According to Adelman (p. 195), “psychoanalytic theory has delineated two theories of  trauma.  One is the ‘unbearable situation’ model and a second, the ‘unacceptable impulse model.'”  (She cites Henry Krystal [see my post before last, for some reflections on Krystal’s contribution to The Unbroken Soul], “Trauma and affects,” in Psychoanalytic Study of the Child, 33, 81-116.)  [But insofar as the threatened emergence into awareness of an “unacceptable impulse” itself constitutes an “unbearable situation,” there may really be only one underlying model at issue here, in my judgment.  Nevertheless, the modulation between the “unbearable” something-or-other coming, or seeming to come, “from without,” and its coming, or seeming to come, “from within,” as an “impulse,” is worth attention.]

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