Trauma Come Home to Us on 9/11–#2 of 4


This is the second 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).  What I wrote in my last post also applies to this one, and to the remaining two posts in the series:  “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.”

Before returning to my remarks on Trauma at Home, however, I want to reproduce four brief and closely related paragraphs from my journal, where they occur between the entry from my preceding post and the entry to follow below.  I originally wrote the first paragraph as my only entry on  July 28, 2008.  I then wrote the remaining three the next time I picked up my journal, on July 29.

[Michel] Henry, L’essence de la manifestation [Paris:  PUF, 1963], p. 561:  The sort of “opposition” of what is absolutely different is not dialectical unity, under a common essence, but “indifference.”  (So do the visible and the invisible stand indifferent to one another, in his  account–each remaining in itself and “ignoring” and not able to “know” the other.)

It is in terms of such “indifference” of two things “opposed” to one another by an opposition of absolute difference that (p. 563) Henry reads Christ’s remark about rendering Caesar’s to Caesar, God’s to God, and also the oppositions that structure the Sermon on the Mount.

[Alain] Badiou’s use [in his Saint Paul:  The Foundations of Universalism, translated by Ray Brassier, University of Stanford Press, 2003] of  “indifference” to characterize the message of St. Paul [concerning such differences as Greek and Jew] is strikingly similar, though Badiou makes no reference [as I recall] to Henry on that point,  and may not have been influenced by him.

It is, at any rate, a valuable insight into “indifference” and into freedom.

It is also, I would argue, by just such “indifference” to differences–as, for example, in Paul, who says that “in  Christ” there is no Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female–that what I have been calling “remnant communities” stand in relation to the differences between the members of those communities, differences that are often all too  important in the dominant, “non-remnant” societies wherein the given remnant communities occur.  As I have already explored in some earlier posts (see the table of contents for this blog), genuine communities arising in the process of recovery from trauma are all prime instances of what I call “remnant” communities.  Accordingly, this important notion of “indifference,” as articulated by Henry and then later again by Badiou, is all but indifferent for the study of trauma and, especially, recovery from it.

Now, to return to Trauma at Home, what follows is the remainder of my journal entry for the date at issue.


Tuesday, July 29, 2008

In Trauma at Home–Ann Cvetkovich, “Trauma Ongoing,”p. 65: 

It is important that the archive of September 11 becomes something more than the reification of the traumatic moment, something more than an endless videoloop or repeated image of the planes hitting the buildings.  Oral history can help break out of that potentially obsessive focus because it documents the process of people making meaning out of a rift in their lives [!].  It is too soon to tell what exhibition strategies will work best, but I hope  to see oral histories combined with other media to facilitate public forums about how September 11 continues to affect the present.

Feminists have focused on how trauma is linked to  everyday life, emphasizing that it takes root [i.e., is traumatic!] because it  is connected to ongoing violence and systemic structures of oppression [cf. historical/structural trauma]. . . . I resist the idea that after September 11 everything has changed and nothing will be the same again.  The need to connect cataclysmic moments to our everyday life persists; I’m interested not just in what happened one day in September but also in how shock is absorbed into the textures of  our ongoing lives.”


E. Ann Kaplan (prof. of English and comparative literature SUNY, [who was a] child in England during WW II), “A camera and a Catastrophe:  Reflections on Trauma and the Twin Towers.”  Pp. 98-99:

The media [right after 9/11] aided the attempt to present a united front.  But this was a fiction–a construction of a consensus in a Eurocentric and largely masculine form.  On the streets, I experienced the multiple spontaneous activities from multiple perspectives, genders, races, and religions, or nonreligions.  Things were not shaped for a specific effect or apparently controlled by one entity.  By contrast with what I witnessed locally, the male leaders on TV presented a stiff, rigid, controlling, and increasingly revengeful response–a response I only gradually understood as about [American] humiliation [at 9/11].  While a “disciplining” of response was at work through the media, on the streets something fluid, personal, and varied was taking place.

P. 100:   Contra Žižek,

why must confrontational, thorough, and critical political discourse be opposed to a discourse of empathy for those who  suffer, for those who have lost loved ones, for pain, trauma, hurt?  Is it really impossible to have solid, left-leaning political analysis, highly critical of the United States’ actions, in the past and today, and yet welcome public discourse about trauma, posttraumatic stress disorder, vicarious traumatization, and ways to help  those suffering those disorders?

She has prepared for this by a telling personal anecdote on the preceding page (99): 

It reminds me of a colleague who, when I arrived at work at the university on September 11 about three hours after the attacks, said:  “What about Hiroshima?  Didn’t we do that?”  Yes, indeed, but to evoke Hiroshima at this moment indicated an intellectualizing of present, highly emotional happenings, a distancing and displacement characteristic of many political scholars.  As leftists and political people, can’t we also live in the present and relate to emotions?


Susannah Radstone (teaches cultural theory and film studies at U. of East London), “The War of the Fathers:  Trauma, Fantasy, and September 11,” seems to think “trauma theory” conflicts with emphasizing the role of fantasy in such events–or the processing of  them–as 9/11.  So, for example, p. 120, she says her view is that

trauma and fantasy need not be sharply counterpoised.  An event may prove traumatic, indeed, not because of its inherently shocking nature but due to the unbearable or forbidden fantasies that it prompts.  Or , conversely, an event’s traumatic impact may be linked to its puncturing of a fantasy that had previously sustained a sense of identity–national as well as individual.


In the same, what strikes me as [slightly] off-key, way, she writes at the start of  her essay (p. 115) that according to “current understandings of trauma,” “experiences that elude sense making and the assignment of meaning” are traumatic, and she sees this for some reason as contesting (her word) “earlier (Freudian) psychoanalytic understandings” that emphasize “the part played by the conflict that arises from unconscious fantasy–perhaps, but not necessarily, prompted by an event–in the emergence of symptoms.”

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