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.”

The Care of Trauma, the Trauma of Care

Below is the last of the series of three entries from my philosophical journal concerning Ann Cvetkovich’s An Archive of Feeling.  This particular entry concerns her discussion of The Gifts of the Body, a novel by Rebecca Brown, which I did not read myself until a few months later.

Those interested in the  distinction between “care-taking” and “care-giving” that I  use in the entry below may wish to see my discussion of that distinction in my book Addiction and Responsibility, a link to which I provided a few days ago in the posting for December 14 (the posting entitled “Trauma and Sovereignty–and Alcoholics Anonymous”).  The relevant discussion is in Chapter 6, on pages 95-99.  The distinction as I draw it is based upon Heidegger’s discussion of the difference between “authentic solicitude” (or, to render the German term more literally, “authentic care-for”) and “inauthentic solicitude” (“inauthentic care-for”) in Being and Time (p. 122, standard pagination).


Saturday, February 23, 2008

Cvetkovich, in discussing a novel by Rebecca Brown called The Gifts of the Body writes of two things that greatly interest me–and that I discern to be closely interconnected somehow.

(1)  How even, and especially, at the very limits of dependency, where what she calls “caretaking” [but that I think might be better named something else, as I soon come to a bit latter in this entry] ministers to the dying, it is necessary/desireable/healing (my words, not  hers) to grant/give “patients the dignity of their own agency at a moment when they are almost totally deprived of it” (p. 224). 

(2)  How, through the demands of “caretaking,” the “caretaker” herself becomes traumatized in caring for the trauma victims (cf. the doctor [W. H. R. Rivers, concerning whom there will eventually be further mention in these postings] in Regeneration, the film from the book [by Pat Barker, about which I will also have more to say in later postings]).  “Ironically, then, caring [not numbing out to the patients’ pain] interferes with caretaking”. (p. 225).

The connection between (1) and (2)?  At  least this:  Only by continuing to care even, and especially, when that is itself traumatizing, can one cross over the threshold from  care-taking to care-giving; and only in that cross-over can one learn the lesson Cvetkovich goes on to  articulate:

(3) Where there is no care left to be taken–i.e., when the possibility of any further care-taking breaks down in burnout–[or] when there’s no longer anything left to “take care of”–then the only thing left that one can do is what the dying Margaret tells her caregiver/caretaker, the nameless narrator of Brown’s novel, she can do, when there’s nothing left to do:  “‘You can hope again.'”  As Cvetkovich goes on:  “From the one who is sick, the caretaker hears that hope is not an easy or false comfort but a vital resource.”

But that also means:  At that point, where the  patient being taken care of gives care to the caretaker, at that point, in the gift of and from “the  one who is sick,” care-taking itself is shown forth as void of hope–as a form of despair, and of “an easy and false comfort.”

What is more:  granting “patients the dignity of their own agency” (#1 [above]) is precisely what then emerges as genuine care-giving–genuine caringlove–out of the death  of care-taking in burnout.

Resurrected care-taking = care-giving!

The Trauma of Sex

What follows is the second of the three entries I mentioned at the beginning of yesterday’s posting–the three that I originally entered in response to my reading of Ann Cvetkovich’s An Archive of Feeling (Duke University Press, 2003).


Sunday, February 10, 2008

Cvetkovich, pp. 44-45:  “The shared origins of trauma and sexual identity in discourses of psychoanalysis suggest the links between the two.”

Even well outside and before psychoanalysis:  Aristophanes’ story [in Plato’s Symposium] of the traumatic rupture that produces sexual desire/”the sexes” (where, at least in Aristophane’s myth,  there are more than two sexes; there are three–at least if being a “sex” gets defined in terms of sexual desire:  the two  parts of a male-female original split apart yields heterosexual desire, then there are two different modes of  sexual desire from the splitting of male-male originals and that of female-female originals).

Sex itself as rupture, as trauma. 

Hence the “shared origins” Cvetkovich speaks of.  Not really “shared,” however.  Rather, “sexual identity” itself as a production of, by, and as trauma.

Next p. (46) she goes on to attribute to queer theorist Leo Barsani just such a view of “sexuality as fundamentally traumatic,” but then adds that, for him, it is “hence anticommunal.” 

Well, perhaps Agamben’s work can add somthing at this point:  as”fundamentally traumatic,” sexuality may be “anticommunal” in the sense of banishing sexuality to the “private” sphere of the home, banning it, thereby, from any place in the “public” sphere of the state and society.  But insofar as it is precisely in so producing and then excluding–i.e., precisely [in and by] such banning of sexuality –that the “community” constitutes itself, [the trauma that is sexuation is archi-communal, rather than simply anti-communal].

So, in effect, producing sexuality as anticommunal is also the production of community itself, in its Western form at least, where it is inseparable from the state and sovereignty.


As Cvetkovich herself comes close to  saying, when she writes (p. 53), “In Freud’s model of perception as penetration [in Beyond the Pleasure Principle], all forms of sensation carry with them the trace of trauma” as a breech of the “protective shield” with which the organism, by numbing or literally deadening its outer layers, fends off stimulation–that whole conceptualization of trauma as such a breech already presupposes the earlier trauma which is sensation itself, producing the reactive numbing-deadening of the outer layers in the first place.  So he “explains” trauma by tracing it back to an earlier trauma/traumatization/traumatism!

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Gender, Trauma, and Screen Memories

The entry from my philosophical journal posted below is the first of three engendered by reading An Archive of Feeling:  Trauma, Sexuality, and Lesbian Public Cultures (Duke University Press, 2003), by lesbian feminist scholar and English professor Ann Cvetkovich.  The issue her work raised for me in the following entry concerns what has come to be called “false memory syndrome,” a phrase that developed in a context of the battles fought in the 1990s in the public media, law courts, works of scholarship, and elsewhere, over a wave of what were claimed to be widespread “recovered” memories of theretofore “repressed” experiences of childhood sexual abuse. 

For me, however, what is involved belongs within a broader context, which concerns the complex work of memory in all trauma, and especially the notion of what, since Freud, has been called “screen memories.”   As Freud classically formulated the concept, a “screen memory” is something that looks like a memory, but is actually a device that the mind uses to keep a memory from surfacing, to “screen it off” from memory, as it were.  Accordingly, a “screen memory” would  serve to screen the remember-er from the truth.  It would be something that presents itself as a memory, but the real purpose of which would be to keep the person who has it from having to  remember–having to remember, that is, a deeply disturbing experience that threatens to be overwhelming if remembered.   

Reading Cvetkovich’s book helped me to begin to think about a different way of taking the notion of  “screen” memory, however.  As it affected me  in my reading, it suggested that so called screen memories might more fruitfully be taken, not as “screening off” something, in the sense of hiding it from view behind something else (screening it from view), but as providing the surface upon which what might be called “structural” memory could project itself in the first place.  That is, instead of taking the notion of screen in the sense of what blocks or screens something from view, the role of so called screen memories in trauma might be taken in the sense that we talk of a movie screen, for example:  a surface upon which images can be projected, and without which no “views” (“images”) could be forthcoming. 

If we begin to hear “screen” in that way, then a screen memory ceases to be a distorted and distorting misrepresentation of some supposedly actual past event, a misrepresentation that presents itself as a memory but that is actually designed to conceal the truth about the past.  Instead, a screen memory would be what first of all provided the very possibility for the truth of the past to show itself, to  become a phenomenon, to  project itself in and as an image. 

Ultimately, I would say that the “screen memories” involved in trauma “screen” in both senses at once:  They simultaneously conceal or mask the past, and reveal or disclose it, and they do the one only in and with the other.  Future postings will surely give me opportunities to explain and explore that idea more fully.   

What follows is the first of my three entries on Cvetkovich’s book:

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Ann Cvetkovich, An Archive of Feeling–pp. 34-35: Her discussion suggested to me that the story of Freud’s espousing then abandoning the sexual abuse theory of the origin of hysteria can be taken as an instance of the ambiguity with which trauma itself traumatizes.  Eisenstein [in Traumatic Encounters], distinguishing [following LaCapra] “historical” and “structural” trauma, may not see that the very traumatizing that trauma is/accomplishes is by way of the engendering of the myth of itself as having an “historical” “origin” [despite the clear tendency of his own analysis in just that direction].  Just so, the sexing-gendering trauma of the production of woman as second class citizen/object of desire–what Eisenstein might see here as “structural” trauma–gives rise to  the myth of an origin an event or series of events of childhood sexual abuse.  The hysteric’s “memory” of such abuse is a masking/revealing of the structural abuse built into being made a woman in our world.

Just so, too, does the emergence of the “false memory” reaction to the 1990s proliferation of “memories” of abuse serve precisely to perpetuate the structural abuse/trauma, by showing up as illusory the supposed “memory.”

The truth, however, is that the memory is all too true!  What is remembered is the truthof the structural, “everyday” abuse involved everywhere in the production of woman–that truth manifest in the memory work, the “memory” of abuse as the work in which the truth of the structural abuse is put into play.

If one learns how to “read”them, then the supposedly”false” memories of abuse are not false at all, but are the truth.

The Trauma of Philosophy

The entry from my philosophical journal reproduced below is a short one.  It stands alone between the entry posted yesterday,  which is a response to my reading political scientist Jenny Edkin’s Trauma and the Memory of Politics, and the entry for my next posting, which begins a series of entries in which my reflections are elicited by reading feminist scholar Ann Chetkovich’s An Archive of Feeling.   In contrast, the entry below stands on its own, rather than as evoked by any specific reading.  In it I very broadly and quickly sketch a critical reading of philosophy itself as the manifestation of a trauma–or, more specifically, of a mechanism to keep a trauma at bay.

In my mind, the critical sketch of philosophy from the entry below sets up rich resonances with another critical sketch of philosophy, by Franz Rosenzweig in the opening pages of The Star of Redemption, to which I refer the interested reader.   To give a brief summary,  in those great opening pages of his master-work Rosenzweig addresses the whole history of philosophy since Socrates, and contrasts it with the “New Thinking” Rosenzweig himself endorses, and sees as finally beginning to emerge only with Nietzsche, eventually to become more fully represented by Heidegger, especially in the latter’s famous disputation at Davos, Switzerland, in the 1920s with Ernst Cassirer about the interpretation Kant.  Rosenzweig presents philosophy from Socrates to Nietzsche as a sort of suicide.  As Rosenzweig interprets it, the Socratic philosopher chooses to negate flesh-and-blood life itself in favor of a bloodless projected Ideal reality, making that choice in order never to have to face the fear of deathhead on.  By Rosenzweig’s analysis, the “otherworldliness” of philosophy until Nietzsche manifests an attempt to avoid the fear of death by avoiding ever fully living.
The interpretation of which I  give a thumbnail sketch in the entry below should be seen as moving within the horizon first opened by Rosenzweig’s critique.

Sunday, February 2, 2008

From its inception philosophy has defined itself by a movement of exclusion–exclusion of that from which philosophy differentiates itself, and precisely [only] in such differentiation becomes itself.  Thus, in its founding movement philosophy gives priority to that against which it defines itself.  It can come to itself only as the negation of its opposite, as,  for Nietzsche, the “good” of the “good/evil” distinction [in the first of the three essays that make up his Genealogy of Morals] can come to itself only as the exclusion of its opposite, which has status independent of, and prior to, the “good,” which comes as a sort of afterthought, almost.

Hence the obsessiveness of philosophy’s return to defining itself [rather like the dog of the Christian gospel that returns to its own vomit, to use one of my favorite analogies], since that can never be accomplished  for  sure.  Only what needs no  movement of distinguishing itself from what it extrudes and excludes, in order to  come to  itself, can ever fully “accomplish”itself.  Or, rather, only what never needs to accomplish itself at all, but what simply is in its fullness, like the sun in the Prologue to [Thus SpokeZarathustra, can escape the excremental cycle–the cycle of excreting its own opposite and opposing itself to it in in obsessive retention–[Giorgio] Agamben’s [notion of] ban.

Since its inception in Plato, philosophy has bound itself to the ban of sophistry.  No wonder [then that] philosophy always reeks of solipsism, which is the shit of philosophy.

What would a thinking which was not under such an excremental ban be like?