Witnessing Trauma: Reflections on the Work of Shoshana Felman and Dori Laub, #1 of 5

4/6/09

This is the first in a series of five consecutive posts containing entries from my philosophical journal addressing the important and influential work of Shoshana Felman and Dori Laub, specifically their often cited book Testimony:  Crises of Witnessing in Literature, Psychoanalysis, and History (New York:  Routledge, 1992).  Today, the entry I am posting below, with its date of original writing as usual, consists solely of some quotations from the introduction to that book concerning, especially, the trauma of the World War II and the Holocaust.  I will wait until the next four posts to share my own reflections on their work, as I move on past their introduction.  Here, I will let it suffice to say that the remarks cited below have my full endorsement, insofar as, in my judgment, they open upon crucially important directions for thinking through trauma.

 

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Shoshana Felman and  Dori Laub, Testimony, p. xiv: 

. . . [One focus in their book is on] the historic trauma of the Second World War, a trauma . . . which the book will come to view not as an event encapsulated in the past, but as a history which is essentially not over, a history whose repercussions are not simply omnipresent (whether consciously or not) in all our cultural activities, but whose traumatic consequences are still actively evolving (Eastern Europe and the [first] Gulf War are two obvious examples) in today’s political,  historical , cultural, and artistic scene . . . .

P. xvi:  “. . . the encounter with the real leads to the experience of an existential  crisis in all those involved:  students as well  as teachers, narrators as well  as listeners, testifiers as well as interviewers.”

P. xvii:  [Concerning the Holocaust, they write that it was] “. . . the unprecedented, inconceivable, historical occurrence of ‘an event without a witness’–an event eliminating its own  witness.”

P. xviii:  [The crisis that is the Holocaust is] “. . . the crisis within history which precisely cannot be articulated, witnessed in the given categories of history itself.”  [Accordingly, history after the Holocaust is] “. . . a history that can [therefore] no longer be accounted for, and formulated, in its own terms.”

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