Below is the third of a series of four posts containing entries on essays in the collection Trauma at Home, from my philosophical journal for the date indicated.
Wednesday, July 30, 2008
Orly Lubin (Chair of Dept. of Poetics and Comp. Lit., U. of Tel Aviv), “Masked Power: An Encounter with the Social Body in the Flesh,” p. 129, cites these lines by Thomas de Zengotita, “The Numbing of American Mind: Culture as Anaesthetic” (Harpers, April 2002, pp.33-40): “So [writes Zengotita], if we were spared a gaping wound in the flesh and blood of personal life [i.e., if we did not lose someone on 9/11], we inevitably moved on after September 11. We were carried off by endlessly proliferating representations of the event. . . . Conditioned thus relentlessly to move from representation to representation, we got past the thing itself as well; or rather, the thing itself was transformed into a sea of signs.”
Lubin then concludes her essay (page 130):
Representation, then, is in the service of creating an imagined community that will provide an easily digested set of morals applicable to representations rather than to flesh and blood. The ethics of representation (should Jules Naudet photograph the two people on fire to show the world the results of the wickedness of the terrorists, or would that be invading their privacy?) replaces the ethics of policymaking, since the results of the latter are prevented from [reaching] the community as they do not become representations due to the ruling ethics of representation. The community provides the representation as a gateway away from the horrors of responsibility [for oneself as an individual] and then accountability [as belonging to a group].
Unfortunately, the smell of burned flesh, the touch of warm blood, disrupts the smooth flow of the functioning of community. As long as the trauma [as she has argued] is the realization of personal accountability for the suffering of corporeal bodies, and the cure is “the community,” trauma will never go away. It’s only when personal accountability is internalized, “community” is diversified, and its inner fractures acknowledged, and a new sense of subjectivity independent of Otherness and of the need to replace the material with representation arises, that trauma (or the causes thereof, perhaps) will disappear.
Breaking the sovereignty of the image!
Michael Rothberg (assoc. prof.of English at U. of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign), “‘There is No Poetry in This’ [a line from a Palestinian poet and New Yorker in her poem, “First Writing Since,” which immediately precedes Rothberg in Trauma at Home and is an excellent work on its own]: Writing, Trauma, and Home,” uses especially Cathy Caruth’s trauma theory (in the introduction to her edited book on trauma [see the Book Index for this blogsite]) to address 9/11. Above all, he uses her definition of trauma as a matter (Rothberg’s paraphrase on page 149) of “adhering to a certain kind of belated experience [better, as she puts it herself, in something he quotes: “in the structure of its [the event’s] experience [a structure of “belatedness”]] rather than to a certain kind of event.” He points out that this way of conceiving trauma “helps reveal how and why traumas become interlaced with each other, both within the individual psyche and in the social world.”