This is the first of four posts with entries from my philosophical journal concerning some of the pieces in Trauma at Home: After 9/11, edited by Judith Greenberg (University of Nebraska Press, 2003). As will be true for the next three posts in the series of four, the following entry, under the date I originally wrote it, consists of little more than my selection of passages from some of the essays in that collection. However, even without much explicit commentary of my own, the fact that I singled out just these passages says something of importance about how I am trying to approach the notion of trauma.
Saturday, July 26, 2008
Trauma at Home: After 9/11, edited by Judith Greenberg, with contributions from various folks, including Toni Morrison’s poem “The Dead of September 11.”
Geoffrey Hartman (retired Yale English prof, co-founder of the Fortunoff Video Archive for Holocaust Testimonies), “On That Day,” p. 7: Like some ideologues of the left in the French Revolution (according to Wordsworth’s Prelude, at least), “Realpolitik, too, as in legal philosopher Carl Schmitt’s sheer polarity of friend and foe, is often presented as a spiritual imperative, though it is really a sick outgrowth of the very desire for a paradisal harmony and unity. Genocide, the German philosopher Theodor Adorno remarked, involves the wish for absolute integration.”
Richard Stamelman (prof of Romance and comparative literature at Williams College), “September 11: Between Memory and History,” p. 15, on calling the World Trade Center site “ground zero”: “It is as if the sign of disaster, this irrefutable, brutal absence revealed in and at ground zero, demands that ‘the hole in the real,’ the term that the French psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan once used to express the sudden apparition of death, not be allowed to remain empty [as it should, I would argue, though he does not seem to think that]: that it be filled [exactly!] with words, stories, anecdotes, testimonies, biographies, images, photographs, documentaries, objects, mementos, and icons; that it become a site of memory and remembrance, a place of disaster made meaningful [whereas it is meaningless] by the representations–personal, collective, commemorative, spontaneous, official–that follow catastrophes, a writing of disaster that is also a re-membering (a recalling and reconstruction) [yet one that covers over and blocks any re-collective letting-be!] of disaster.” As such, 9/11 is “between memory and history.” Page 19: “It is clear, though, that if the movement of history is indeed that of catastrophe . . . then the memory of that history . . . will aslo involve the endless piling up of incomplete fragments of meaning. For September 11 will occupy that unstable space between memory and history, that ground zero where the ‘truth’ of history is perpetually forgotten and the ‘illusion; of memory perpetually remembered.”
Judith Greenberg (comp. lit. Ph.D.), “Wounded New York,” p. 30: “The video [a 25-minute silent one filmed at the site before the 2nd plane [struck], and [then continued] through [that 2nd strike] and the collapse of the towers, by Evan Fairbanks] pulls us back into that frozen and strange zone, that time that may be missing to ourselves. Not only as New Yorkers but also as witnesses who come to ground zero, like those from around the world, we are trying to reencounter memory in this absent landscape.” Maybe to keep memory open, rather than to close it with images, etc., as Stamelman talks about in his immediately preceding piece.
P. 31, citing Ruth Leys on Freud’s notion of latency, Greenberg remarks: “We can no longer understand the New York of the past without relating it to our post-9/11 consciousness, and we cannot understand our new state as New Yorkers as separate from our sense of loss, the missing, and our vulnerability.”
Same page [p.31, and then resumed on p. 34, after two pages of photographs]: “What has not and cannot be assimilated can possess us and reenact itself. For our collective trauma, we too are at risk of repetitions. . . . We risk repeating behaviors, identifying with the aggressors, or otherwise enacting scenes we could not know. I was stunned to hear many people willing to abandon civil liberties in order to ‘secure’ a new tightly enforced home rather than examine the very meaning of this home. [But is this “repetition”? Or denial?] I fear for victims of future violence that emerges as some outgrowth of these events. Our trauma may lie in the future as the new New York reshapes itself in relation to the old New York.” (True–but not as I think she is trying to understand it here.)
Nancy K. Miller (Prof. of English and Comp. Lit. at CUNY), “Reporting the Disasters,” p. 44: “Closure represents the opposite of trauma’s pathways, which by definition are understood by their afterlife, persistence, and reoccurrence, even if a goal for victims of traumatic experience is to find a narrative that can integrate the event (which, of course, is not always possible). But we live in a culture whose rhythms push us to wish for the pain to end so that we can, as they say, move on. Closure implies another beginning–the door closes to reopen on another scene. Enough grief already.”
James Berger (Assoc. Prof. of English at Hofstra), “There’s No Backhand to This,” p. 55: “Again [in the rush to war, etc., after 9/11], I think we see denial in a specifically psychoanalytic sense: not a repression of the trauma or a claim that it didn’t happen but a claim that the trauma’s consequences will not be traumatic; that it will not have symptoms but, rather, only beneficial lessons and varieties of redemption.”