The Body of Trauma: Some Thoughts on Jean-Luc Nancy


Usually, I have been trying to make a new post at this blog-site three times weekly, on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays.  However, this week, because of the Memorial Day weekend and a brief trip that will take me away from my computer till week’s end, I am making this post on a Tuesday morning–and it will be the only post I make until next Monday, June 1.

The entries below, which I first wrote in my philosophical journal on the dates indicated last fall, concern contemporary French philosopher Jean-Luc Nancy’s book Corpus:  The Raising of the Body, translated by Richard A. Rand (New York:  Fordham University Press, 2008).


Sunday, October 19, 2008

Jean-Luc Nancy, Corpus.  The title essay is given bilingually.  Nancy argues that/articulates a vision whereby body is spacing of space =  place (lieu) as such = disjunction, etc.  In  effect, to use my own way of trying to put it:  body, the there of being (so much is also in Nancy’s own wording), is the external as such and as the always externalizing.  As so (self-)externalizing, body (which = the self itself as this = at all), so “self,” is never “itself.”  Hence, p. 28 (in the French, 29 in the facing English):  “Mais corpus n’est jamais proprement moi” (which Rand renders in English as:  “But corpus is never properly me“).  Body, and therefore self as this self (the only possible “self” itself), has no “own” (propre) to own.  It is, as such, the ex-propriated,  the dis-ap-propriated.

Yet Nancy’s own analysis goes on to articulate the expropriating dis-appropriation (cf. Luce Irigaray, by the way) as the very own-most of body/self as such.  It is here (= as body) in and as the externalization of itself, that self/body is its own, its proper (propre).  So, for example, p. 32:  “L’aséité–l’à-soi, le par soi de subject–n’existe que comme l’écart et le départ de cet a–(de cet à part soi) qui est le lieu, l’instance propre [!!!] de sa présence, de son authenticité, de son sens.”  [Rand’s translation, p. 33:  “Aseity–the a-se(lf), the to-itself, the by-itself of the Subject–exists only as the swerve and departure of this a–(of this a-part-self), which is the place, the  moment proper of its presence, its authenticity, its sense.”]

(Although, at least so far,  Nancy does not address this point, this treatment of  self-withdrawal as the body is already there in Heidegger’s treatment of “the thing.”)


Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Nancy, Corpus, p. 63 (in Rand’s English translation): 

The image [and, therefore the body, which is image–as in “image of God”] . . . has no link to either the idea or, in general, to the visible (and/or intelligible) “presentation” of anything at all.  The body is not an image-of.  But it’s the coming to presence, like an image coming on a movie or a TV screen–coming from nowhere behind the screen, being the spacing of this screen, existing as its extension . . .


P. 66:  “Lorsqu’on commence, il y a déjà une antécédence absolue.”  [Rand’s translation, p. 67:  “As soon as one begins, there’s already an absolute antecedence.”]  Cf. how the new real, the event, creates back behind it its own possibility, as though that possibility preceded the reality–in Bergson.


Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Nancy, Corpus, p. 99 (in Rand translation):  In effect,he says, there is no “proper body,” body is never “proper,” yet–

Nor is this [that is, the “weighing” of (which is) body] appropriation. . . Nevertheless, this in no way removes the possibility of still  naming the events of appropriation (or nonappropriation) either as kairos (or luck) or as “revolution” (or as rage, and a challenge thrown against the inappropriable [compare Améry]).  A body isn’t “proper,” it’s appropriating/inappropriating.


Thursday, October 23, 2008

Nancy, Corpus, pp. 106-108 (French text): 

En un sens, la création du monde des corps est l’impossible même.  Et en un sens, . . . c’est l’impossible qui a lieu.  Que le sens et the sang n’aient pas de schème commun . . . , que la création soit un incontenable écartment, une catastrophe fractale architectonique, que la venue a monde soit un irrépressible rejet, voilà ce que veut dire corps, et voilà ce que desormais sens veut dire.

[My translation:  “In one sense,the creation of the world of bodies is the impossible itself.  And in one sense, . . . it is  the impossible that takes place.  That sense and blood should not have a common schema . . . , that creation should be an uncontainable gapping, a fractal architectonic catastrophe, that coming to the world should be an irrepressible rejection, that’s what body would mean, and that’s what from now on would be the meaning of sense.”]

Thus, body–the being there of Being “itself”/no-self–is trauma, to use my language.

After a break, in the next paragraph, he goes on to write of such a thought:  “Cette pensée:  hoc est enim, voici, le monde est son propre rejet, le rejet le monde est le  monde.  Tel est le monde des corps:  il a en cette désarticulation, cette inarticulation du corpus . . . un corps ‘parlant’ qui ne fait pas ‘sens,’ un ‘parler’-corps qui ne s’organise pas.”  [Rand translates:  “This thought:  hoc est enim, here, the world is its own rejection, the world’s rejection is the world.  Such is the world of bodies:  it has in itself this disarticulation, this unarticulating of the corpus . . . a ‘speaking’ body that doesn’t make ‘sense,’ a ‘speech’-body that isn’t organized.” Rendered literally, that last phrase in Nancy’s French says “. . . that doesn’t organize itself“–which I would prefer here.]

Thought and body–thought of body, body of thought:  dis-em-bodiement, perhaps–as trauma traumatized and traumatizing:  Event.


P. 112:  Neither body nor thought belong to the order of “knowledge”–or,  then, of any corresponding “not-knowing.”  Thought, then, is no knowledge; rather: 

La pensée est l’être en tant qu’il pèse sur ses bords, l’être appuyé, ployé sur ses extremités, pli et détente d’étendue.  Chaque pensée est un corps.  (C’est pourquoi, à la fin, tout système de pensée se désagrège en soi-même,  et il n’y a que corpus des pensées.

     Chaque pensée est (ou bien:  dan Chaque pensée l’être est–c’est ici que Parménide énonce “c’est même chose être et pensée”. . .) . . . Une pensée ne dit pas “hoc est,” mais une pensée est “hoc est,” position sans présupposition, exposition.

[Rand’s translation: 

Thought is being insofar as it weighs on its own borders, being supported, bending onto its extremeties, a fold and release of extension.  Each thought is a body.  (Which is also why, finally, every system of thought is disagregated within, and thoughts form only a corpus.)

Each thought is (or else:  in each thought being is–what Parmenides states as “Being and thinking are the same thing” . . .) . . . A thought doesn’t say “hoc est,” but a thought is “hoc est,” a position without presupposition, exposition.]

Body is the trauma of thought, as thought is the trauma of body.


P. 118:  “Joie et douleur sont les opposés qui ne s’opposent pas.  Un corps est joui aussi dans la douleur (et cela reste absolutement étranger à ce qu’on nomme masochisme).”  [Rand:  “Joy and pain are opposites unopposed to one another.  A body is also enjoyed in pain (and this remains absolutely alien to what gets called masochism.)”]  Later, same page:  “Le corps joui jouit de soi en tant que ce soi est joui (que jouir/être joui, toucher/être touché, espacer/être espacé font ici l’essence de l’être).  Soi de part en part étendu dans la venue, dans l’allée-venue au monde.”  [Rand:  “The delighted body delights in itself insofar as this self is enjoyed (as delighting/being delighted, touching/being touched, spacing/being spaced make, here, the essence of the being).  Self extended through and through in the coming, in the coming-and-going into the world.”]

Strangely, estrangingly in such passages Nancy, who extols the body as externality, touches and is touched by [Michel] Henry, the apostle of interiority.

The Economics of Trauma: Naomi Klein on “Disaster Capitalism,” #3 of 3


This is the last of three posts addressing Naomi Klein’s The Shock Doctrine.  Below is an entry I made in my philosophical journal last fall, on the date indicated.


Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Klein, p. 518:  “Katrina was a tragedy, but, as Milton Friedman wrote in his Wall Street Journal op-ed, it was ‘also an opportunity.’ ”  Compare John McCain after 9/11.   [McCain viewed “9/11” as just such an “opportunity”–namely, to settle the score with what he took to be the United States’ enemies, using the umbrella of protecting the U. S. against “terrorism” to cover the operation of wilfully launching supposedly pre-emptive wars and the like.   Although perhaps not quite in the wide-open way McCain himself would have done it,  that was pretty much just what the Bush administration did, of course.] 

[Compare, as well, Michel] Henry, Du communisme au capitalisme, p.211:  We today are

subjected to the most extraordinary censorship that has ever existed.  For in the time of the king of Prussia, of Stalin, or of Hitler, at least one knew that there was censorship, while today, under the reign of freedom, one no longer knows that.  Thus does the formidable ideological conditioning of the totality of society accomplish itself at each instant, in the bombardment of the media and publicity which imposes on everyone the quasi-totality of one’s mental contents, even to one’s desires and fantasies, in everyone, even infants, without criticism, without any power to contest it having the possibility to manifest even its simple existence.


Klein, p. 522:  “Not so long ago, disasters were periods of social leveling, rare moments when atomized communities put divisions aside and pulled together.  Increasingly, however, disasters are the  opposite:  they provides windows into a cruel and ruthlessly divided future in which money and race buy survival.”


Pp. 540-541:

Given the boiling temperatures, both climatic and political, future disasters need not be cooked up in dark conspiracies [because they have now been built into the economic system itself–compare the current financial/credit crisis].  All indications are that simply staying the current course, they will keep coming with ever more ferocious intensity.  Disaster generation can therefore be left to the market’s invisible hand.  This is one area in which it actually delivers. . . . [A] new consensus is emerging.  It is not that the market has become immune to instability, at least not exactly.  It is that a steady flow of disasters is now so expected that the ever-adaptable market has changed to fit this new status quo–instability is the new stability.

Above all, [I’d say this can be seen in] the emergence and installation of the global surveillance-security corporate private industry.


Pp. 585-586:  “All shock therapists [in the negative sense of disaster capitalism] are intent on the erasure of memory. . . . Memory, both individual and collective, turns out to be the greatest shock absorber of all.”

Klein ends her book with accounts of how some natural-disaster survivors have taken reconstruction (i.e., recovery) into  their own hands–to learn, as one Katrina victim puts it (p. 586), “to say, ‘What can we do right now to start to bring our neighborhoods back in spite of the government [and its “shock therapists”], not because of it?’ ”

Pp. 588-589:

Uniting all  these examples of people rebuilding for themselves is a common theme:  participants say they are not just repairing buildings but healing themselves.  It makes perfect sense.  The universal experience of living through a great shock is the feeling of being completely powerless in the face of awesome forces. . . . The best way to recover from helplessness turns out to be helping–having the right to part of a common recovery.

That is the principle of AA and for recovery from addiction, as well, it is worth noting.  As Klein sees, that points to the way out.

“I passed by again, they were not there.”

“Like a dream one wakes from, oh Lord, when you wake you dismiss them as phantoms.”


The Economics of Trauma: Naomi Klein on “Disaster Capitalism,” #2 of 3


This is the second of three consecutive posts with entries from my philosophical journal pertaining to Naomi Klein’s The Shock Doctrine.  The entry below was first written on the date indicated.


Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Klein, pp. 222ff, cites a speech American economist John Williamson gave at a by-invitation-only conference on January 13, 1993, in Washington, D. C., as the first time the transition was made from  the idea of economic “shock therapy” as a matter of the exploitation of crises when they occurred–exploitation of the “opportunities” crises afford for imposing otherwise unacceptable and impossible “neoliberal” [that is, “Chicago School”] economic reforms such as privatization, massive spending cuts on social programs, and deregulation–to a matter of actually engendering/fostering crises in order to introduce such reforms.

Either way, as with Bush after 9/11, it becomes the willful, manipulative, unconscionable exploitation of trauma by further traumatizing the already traumatized for one’s own, extrinsic ends.


Related is [Michel] Henry, again.  His Du communism au capitalism, p. 178, defines “the political” as the emergence of the notion of “une affair général” (his emphasis)–an ideal abstraction which then threatens always to set itself up as reality itself, imposed upon and without regard to the individual lives which alone give sense to the idea of the political  in the first place.  That occurs not just in the communist countries of the [former] East block, but also and especially at the heart of the very idea of democracy, as he goes on to articulate, culminating in this passage on p. 198:

In a democracy it is the people who govern.  Unfortunately the people does not exist:  it is no  more able to govern than to work a field or sow it with seeds.  The concept of democracy is thus a lure, the most extraordinary ever invented by men [les hommes] to abuse themselves or others.  That this lure rings like a bell before the stupefied regard of all nations that together make up Europe changes nothing of the ontological mystification on which it rests, but only makes it more dangerous.

For Henry, given how he defines it, “the political” must  be subordinated to the life of individuals, whereas for, say, [Alain] Badiou, the formulation is nearly reversed, given Badiou’s very different way of using that term.  But behind that superficial, merely apparent disagreement, there is profound agreement, as there is of both with [Jacques] Rancière and with Klein’s analysis whereby the problem is formulated as the liberation of economics from politics and the substitution of the former for the latter in global capitalism.


Klein, p. 380:

Through all its various changes–the War on Terror, the war on radical Islam, the war against Islamofascism, the Third World War, the long war, the generational war–the basic shape of the conflict has remained unchanged.  It is limited by neither time nor space nor target.  From a military perspective, these sprawling and amorphous traits make the War on Terror an unwinnable proposition.  But from  an economic perspective, they make it an unbeatable one:  not a flash-in-the-pan war that could potentially be won but a new and  permanent fixture in the global economic architecture.

P. 39:

In the heat of the midterm elections in 2006 . . . , George W. Bush signed the Defense Authorization Act in a private Oval Office ceremony.  Tucked into its fourteen hundred pages is a rider that went unnoticed at the time.  It gave the president the power to declare martial law and “employ the armed forces, including the National Guard,” overriding the wishes of state governors, in the event of a “public emergency” in order to “restore public order” and “suppress” the  disorder.  That emergency could be a hurricane, a mass protest or a “public health emergency,” in which case the army would be used to impose quarantines and to safeguard vaccine supplies.  Before this act, the president had these marital powers only in the face of an insurrection.

Pp. 392-293:

As proto-disaster capitalists, the architects of the  War on Terror are part of a different breed of corporate-politicians from their predecessors, one for whom wars and other disasters are indeed ends in themselves. . . . That’s because what is unquestionably good for the bottom line of these [directly benefited] companies [such as Lockheed or Haliburton] is cataclysm–war, epidemics, natural disasters and resource shortages–which is why their  fortunes have improved dramatically since Bush took office.


The Economics of Trauma: Naomi Klein on “Disaster Capitalism,” #1 of 3


This is the first of three consecutive posts I am devoting to entries I made in my philosophical journal last October on Naomi Klein’s ideas about what she calls “disaster capitalism.”  I want to thank my colleague Dr. Lucy McGuffey, who teaches political science at the University of Colorado at Denver, for calling my attention to Klein’s work.  


Sunday, October 12, 2008

Naomi Klein, The Shock Doctrine:  The Rise of Disaster Capitalism (New York;  Picador, 2007).  [Milton] Friedman, the Chicago School, and “the Chicago Boys”–how, in effect, they liberated the economy from anything political, and turned it over to what Friedman himself called “shock” capitalism, where “liberal market economies” are imposed either as a result of disasters that happen to occur (economic and/or otherwise), letting power be concentrated in the hands of the “free market” ideologues as necessary “because” of the crisis, or, more and more frequently, as triggered by these economist-ideologues themselves.  So, for example, on “the Chicago Boys in Chile” (note on p. 257–in a chapter on how  South Africa was screwed during the supposed transition to ANC rule, but where the “model” of Chile earlier was applied), [she argues that the Chicago Boys] “rigged the constitution and the courts [under Pinochet, before Chile was allowed to return to “democracy”] so it was legally next to impossible to reverse their revolutionary changes . . . or, as Pinochet’s young minister José Piñera put it, ensuring ‘insulation [of the economy] from politics.’ ”

Fits well with [Michel] Henri’s critique [in Du communism au capitalism] of capitalism in its modern, “techno-economic” form, where the economy is cut loose from its grounding in life itself, where Marx saw it  grounded, according to Henry.  Hence a world in which goods are over-produced everywhere, but  poverty gets exponentially worse, as those who need those very goods are denied the money to buy them.  [Also relevant is Henry’s remark, on page 108 of the same book, that “the only conceivable and real equality” that is possible is that “which exists between individuals ineluctably different.”  The global economicization at issue in Friedman and the Chicago Scool of economics militates against all such equality–and against any “politics” that would work to establish it.]


Earlier (p. 174), Klein notes that it was Friedman himself who formulated the shock doctrine as follows, in a quote she attributes to him:  “Only a crisis–actual  or perceived–produces real change.  When that crisis occurs, the actions that are taken depend on the ideas that are lying around.  That, I believe, is our [that is, Chicago School economists’] basic function:  to develop alternatives to existing policies, to keep them alive and available until the politically impossible becomes politically inevitable.”

Prescient!  Given, that is, the $700 billion corporate bank bailout just recently rammed through Congress [by the Bush administration] to address the current financial crisis.

It would be important carefully to compare and, above all, contrast Friedman on that to [Thomas] Kuhn on “scientific revolutions.”

Jean Améry: Discordant Echoes to Levi–#2


I continue with entries from my philosophical journal addressing the work of Auschwitz survivor–and later suicide–Jean Améry.  In the entry below, under the date I originally wrote it, I begin with some reflections occasioned by my ongoing reading, last spring and summer, parallel to my reading of Améry and others concerning trauma, of 20th century French phenomenologist’s Michel Henry’s massive L’essence de la manifestation. 


Friday, September 19, 2008

Henry, L’essence:  Insofar as suffering and joy are [according to Henry] tied together in an identity as the very life of the absolute, then (pp. 845-846):  “In Christianity it is no longer a question of combating suffering, whether it be in trying to eliminate its exterior causes, as in the Western world of technology, or in abolishing all interior resistance against it, as in Buddhism, or yet in  progressively blunting sensibility in the manner of winning through to a heroic sensibility, as in stoicism.”

In reading such remarks this morning I can’t help thinking back to reading Améry yesterday on the vacuity of philosophy (in a diatribe directed especially to Heidegger as example) in the face of the reality laid bare at Auschwitz.  Certainly it would be nothing but a sadistic joke to burden Auschwitz victims further by telling them their “suffering” is really joy.  [Nor, certainly, would Henry, who was himself active in the French  Resistance, ever do such a thing.]

In fact, the issue of “Auschwitz”/trauma as  such might well be joined as that between what Henry espouses–the identity of suffering and joy–and what Améry represents–the irreducibility of the suffering of the torture victim/Auschwitz inmate/other equivalent–how to “adjudicate” this issue is the issue.

Alternatively, the issue is to “adjudicate” between what, for example, [Dori] Laub reveals as the truth of the uprising at Auschwitz, which, as I read that in the relevant entry above [and posted earlier, in my series of posts on the work of Laub and Shoshana Felman], can be taken as the Biblical recognition, in the Psalms, of the ultimate transitoriness of the powerful and wealthy (“I passed by again, they were not there”), on the one hand, and Améry/the reality of Auschwitz as such, on the other:  Which is the real reality, in effect?

How “adjudicate” that?  Especially when it is clear to me that in one sense it cannot be adjudicated:  One cannot find in favor of one side over the other.  Both “testimonies” carry equal weight here–an absolute weight.  They are not theses or claims being advanced such that only one of the two can be true.  Rather, both are true, yet it also seems that they contradict each other.

The task, perhaps, is to explore the exact nature of  their “contradiction.”


Soon after his remak above, Henry (pp. 851 ff.) discusses Kierkegaard, in particular the latter’s definition of despair as always despair of/over one’s self, and most especially in the form of despair over being unable to escape one’s self, as requiring the relinquishment of one’s definitive passivity of being, passivity as the very essence of selfhood, of givenness to oneself.  There may be something there to explore with regard to torture/Auschwitz.  Certainly the tortured would like to get rid of the passivity manifest in torture and [the] suffering [it brings], and “despair” of ever being able to escape that passivity.  [Yet it would be blasphemous in any fashion to “accuse” torture victims or Auschwitz inmates of “despair” conceived as some sort of moral failing or “sin.”]


I need to continue to think about all this.


Améry, At the Mind’s Limits, p. 89:  “It is certainly true that dignity can be bestowed only by society. . . . Still, the degraded person, threatened by death, is able to convince society of his dignity by taking his fate upon himself and at the same time rising in revolt against it”–i.e., as he goes on to make clear, by striking back (p. 90):  “I finally relearned what I and my kind often had forgotten and what was more crucial than the moral power to resist:  to hit back.”  P. 91:  “I became a person not by subjectively appealing to my abstract humanity but by discovering myself within the given  social reality as a rebelling Jew and by realizing myself as one.”

Compares directly to Laub and, in the last remark, even to Badiou.

Also, however, raises again “the issue,” only now in terms of resisting/not resisting evil.


Améry, Limits, last chapter, “On the Necessity and Impossibility [especially for a Jew like him, with no religious or cultural background in Judaism] of Being a Jew,” p. 94: 

But since being a Jew not only means that I bear within me a catastrophe that occurred yesterday and cannot be ruled out for tomorrow, it is–beyond a duty–also fear.  Every morning when I get up I can read the Auschwitz number on my forearm, something that touches the deepest and most closely intertwined roots of my existence; indeed I cannot even be sure if this is not my entire existence.  Then I feel approximately as I did back then when I got a taste of my first blow from the policeman’s fist.  Every day anew I lose my trust in the world.

 P. 95:  “Without trust in the world I face my surroundings as a Jew who is alien and alone,  and all that I can manage is to get along with my foreignness.  I must accept being foreign as an essential element of my personality, insist upon it as if  upon an inalienable possession.  Still and each day anew I find myself alone.”


 P. 99:  “I . . . am not ‘traumatized,’ but rather my spiritual and psychic condition corresponds completely to reality.”

 His point is unassailable (it would be arrogance and presumption to call it into question), but how he puts it reveals a certain understanding of trauma that I do question–or perhaps it would be better to say that I would relativize.

 (He continues interestingly:  “The consciousness of my being a Holocaust Jew is not an ideology.  It may be compared to  the class consciousness that Marx tried to reveal to the proletarians of the nineteenth century.”  If so, then “Marxism” is also not an ideology, and it is also unassailable.)

 P. 100 (next to last page [of the book]):  ” ‘Hear, oh Israel’ is not my concern.  Only a ‘hear, oh world’ wants angrily to break out from within me.  The six-digit number on my forearm demands it.  This is what the awareness of catastrophe, the dominant force of my existence, requires of me.”

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.”

Michel Henry, Meister Eckhart, Martin Heidegger, and the Trauma of Being


Beginning last springI read the full French version of L’essence de la manifestation (The Essence of Manifestation), a massive work by the important French phenomenologist Michel Henry (1922-2002), first published in 1962.  That long reading project generated a number of entries in my philosophical journal, only some of which expressly address how Henry’s thought might be pertinent to  the discussion of trauma.  The entry below is one of the few that does. 

Readers unfamiliar with Henry may well find the entry difficult to follow.  However, it should help such readers to recall the distinction between “historical” and “structural” trauma, which I have already discussed in various earlier posts at this site, especially those in which I connect that distinction with discussion of the notion of “idolatry” in an expanded, not necessarily religious sense.  In my judgment, at least as it applies to my remarks below, the distinction Henry, following the early Heidegger, makes between “ontic” and “ontological” does essentially similar same conceptual work in a broad focus of analysis as does the distinction between “historical” and “structural” in the narrower focus upon trauma.   


Monday, June 30, 2008

Henry, on Eckhart, p. 38:  The three conditions for union with God are “love,  poverty,  humility.”  Henry argues persuasively that these are ontological, rather than merely ontic, determinations, and as such reach into the very internal structure of God/Essence.  In effect and in short, what Henry lays out is that for Eckhart, it is precisely in the “withdrawal” ([French] retrait:  I’d draw the connection to the “phenomenological reduction,” as would probably Henry himself, who  also uses the term “destruction,” which for him clearly manifests the connection to Heidegger, I’d say) into self of God/Essence, that the horizon of (which here means the horizon which is) the world and, therewith, of all beings (= creation) is projected–cast out.  Thus in humility, poverty, and love, one already is in, at, and as union or identity with, God/Essence.

P. 393, quoting Eckhart:  “If you want to find nature without veil, you must beak  all  images; the more one advances in this work, the more one approaches to Essence.”  Certainly [that is] relevant to  what I’m working on from my GSIS [the Graduate–now Korbel–School of International Relations at the University of Denver] talk in May, on “Trauma, Truth, and the Sovereignty of the Image.”

The whole discussion on Eckhart [in Henry’s book] I’ve completed so far–from page 385 to page 396, leaving me another 11 pages still to  go  in that section (#39) –is really good.  It also this morning suggested to me that Heidegger’s reading of authenticity in relation to inauthenticity [in Being and Time] can be brought, precisely at this point, into connection with the phenomenological reduction and, beyond that, to Eckhart:  The movement of authenticity–and authenticity, here especially, clearly is a “movement,” not an acquirable “state”–is the movement of withdrawal from/bracketing of “the world.”


Trying a thought on for size:  Health is recovery from illness.

That is, health is not some actually given antecedent condition of the simple non-actuality of illness, such that illness becomes only something which occasionally and conditionally breaks into and interrupts health.  Rather, just as all Being one’s self is a matter, by the foregoing, of returning to oneself in and as withdrawing from the world, so is health a matter of a return,  [but in the sense that the “return” to some place is a going back that nevertheless remains a going] for the first time, “of” health–a return to what was never given “until” such re-turning.


Just finished On God:  An Uncommon Conversation–between Norman Mailer and his interviewer, an emeritus professor of English named Michael Lennon (Random House, 2007).  Pretty poor overall.  Mailer, despite his best work, ends up in idolatry, in the sense I’d give that term, which could be captured as the confusion of God with this or that “image”–i. e., a reduction of images to idols (or of the ontological to the ontic, in one dimension).  On that, but also because Henry suggests a different way of reading “suffering,” take the example of some remarks on pages 166-167.  Lennon starts:  “It was Dostoevsky who said suffering is the sole origin of consciousness, that only through suffering could we improve the world around us a little more.  Do  you reject that?”  Mailer replies:  “I can agree that suffering is, yes, a mighty educator, but it is also an immensely expensive one.  Some learn a great deal  from it; all too many are reduced if not destroyed.  Suffering can maim more spirits than it creates.  Some learn best by suffering through small stages that enable one to shift one’s uglier habits.”

But such reasoning makes even a minimum of sense, only if “suffering” is taken as an ontic condition,  rather than given an ontological  sense.  Insofar as suffering is indeed, as Dostoevsky is said by Lennon to have held, the origin of consciousness, it is, one might say, as a “structural” traumatic rift, not as a datable event as such.  And the “destructiveness” of suffering would then be inseparable from the transformation of suffering into an ontic idol.