Lyotard, Heidegger, the Jews, and “the jews”–#3


Below is the third and final entry from my philosophical journal addressing Jean-Francois Lyotard’s Heidegger and “the jews”. After beginning to reread Lyotard’s book in January of this year, other things intervened, such that I did not return to it for two months–hence the date below, slightly more than two months after the entry I posted here just two days ago.

After concluding my remarks on my rereading of Lyotard’s book, in the entry below I go on to consider a critique of his thought about trauma and representation by fellow French philosopher Jacques Rancière.  What I say below is by no means my final word on Jacques Rancière’s critique, but it shows the extent to which, at the date of the entry, I had been able to think through some of the important issues he raises.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

For the last day or two I’ve gone back to Lyotard’s Heidegger and “the jews”, which I started reading back in January, reading through the first of the two parts of the book, “the jews,” before putting  it down to go on to other things that needed my attention.  Well, now I’ve gone back and reread “the jews” yet again, then went on to “Heidegger,” the second part of the book.

In going again through the first half of the book called “the jews,” I hit upon a couple of additional passages worth noting down in this journal–additional to what I put down back in January.  Here they are:

P. 10:  “Here [in the case of the Holocaust] to fight against forgetting means to fight to remember that  one  forgets as soon as one believes, draws conclusions, and holds for  certain.  It means to fight against forgetting the precariousness of what has been established, of the reestablished past; it is a fight for the sickness whose recovery is simulated.”  Thus, for trauma as for addiction, genuine recovery is the refusal of any pretense of recovery, which is to say the refusal of any claim to be cured.  In terms of the injunction “never forget,” it is precisely to refuse to countenance the idea that it is possible to remember, in the sense of “remembering” being equated with keeping a memento or memorial, in general a representation, present before one.

Then, from section 6, two passages, the first on p.19:

Whatever the invoked sense [of primal trauma, as it were–e.g., Freud’s “primal scene”] might be, in the night of  time, of the individual or of the species, this scene that has not taken place, that has not had a stage, that has not even been, because it is not representable [Note how, here, he clearly qualifies what he is saying:  If to be = to be represented, vorgestellt, then trauma cannot “be”] but which is, and is ex-, and will remain it whatever representations, qualifications one might make of it, with which one might endow it; this event ek-sists inside, in-sisting, as what exceeds every imaginative, conceptual, rational sequence.

Then, next page (20):

It follows that psychoanalysis, the search for lost time, can only be interminable, like literature and like true history (i.e., the one that is not historicism but anamnesis):  the kind of  history that does not forget that forgetting is not a breakdown of memory but the immemorial always “present” but never here-now, always torn apart in the time of consciousness, of chronology, between a too early and a too late–the too early of a first blow to the apparatus that it does not feel, and the too late of a second blow where something intolerable is felt.  A soul struck without striking a blow.

Now, on to the second part of the book, “Heidegger.”

P, 51-52 (first two pages of 2nd part), invoking “another urgency,” namely, one other than that manufactured by “the politics of publishing” [at play in “the Heidegger affair”–the agitation over Heidegger’s Nazi connections that was especially disruptive in French intellectual circles in the 1980s]:

Thought can be “urgent”; indeed, this urgency is essential to its being.  One is urged or pressured to think because something, an event, happens before one is able to think it. This event is not the “sensational.”  Under the guise of the sensational, it is forgotten [as 9/11 was forgotten precisely in and under the immediate, even simultaneous, sensationalization of it].  In any case, the event does not “present” itself, it will have happened:  thought finds itself seized and dispossessed by it according to its possibility as regards the indeterminate; it realizes its lack of preparedness for what will have come about, it understands its state of infancy.  The Heidegger affair will have come to our thought in such a way; it will have found it unprepared despite denials on both sides.  The urgency to investigate it when it is prescribed by the publishing powers is a way of precipitating its closure or classification.  In claiming that thought is unprepared for the affair I am eager to maintain its urgency and its pressure, to leave it open to the most patient questioning.

In effect, then, “the Heidegger affair” is a trauma for thought/philosophy.  What is more, isn’t that “historical” trauma traumatic for thought precisely because it crystallizes–becomes a site [for the striking of]–the “structural” trauma that births thought itself in the first place, thought itself as always traumatically structured?  And, ultimately, isn’t the urge and urgency that first calls thought forth–isn’t that the urge and urgency to think trauma?

For Lyotard, “the jews” is just the name of that trauma, the trauma that calls forth thought, to be thought.  And what of the thought of such thought?  P. 84:

This thought has never told anything but stories of unpayable debt, transmitted little narratives, droll and disastrous, telling of the insolvency of the indebted soul.  Where the Other has given credence without the command to believe, who promised without anyone ever asking anything, the Other who awaits its due.  There is no need to wait for or believe in this Other.  The Other waits and extends credit.  One is not acquitted of its patience or its impatience by counteroffereings, sacrifices, representations, and philosophical elaborations.  It is enough to tell and retell that you believe you are acquitting yourself and that you are not.  Thus one remembers (and this  must suffice) that one never stops forgeting what must not be forgotten, and that one is not quit either just because one does not forget the debt. . . . It is this, then, . . . that Nazism has tried to definitively forget:  the debt, the difference between good and evil.  It had tried to unchain the soul from this  obligation, to tear up the note of credit, to render debt-free forever.  And this unchaining is evil itself.

Like the debt we owe to the dead (if it is not the very same debt), the debt to God/the Other is in principle unpayable; and it is  the very endeavor to pay off this debt that compunds it most.

Pp. 93-94 (last page of the book):

[T]he debt that is our only lot–the lot of forgetting neither that there is the Forgotten nor what horrors the spirit is capable of in its headlong madness to make us forget the fact.  “Our” lot?  Whose lot?  It is the lot of this nonpeople of survivors, Jews and non-Jews, called here “the jews,” whose Being-together depends not on the  authenticity of any primary roots but on that singular debt of interminable anamnesis.

The (non-)people or (non-)community of all those who have nothing in common save that each is alone in his/her own unpayable debt.

Also, I just recently read Jacques Rancière, The Future of the Image, translated by Gregory Elliott (London and New York:  Verso, 2007–Fr. orig. 2003).  The last chapter (#5), “Are Some Things Unrepresentable?” is, in large part, a critique of Lyotard’s Heidegger and “the jews”.  I’ll begin with the summary with which he [Rancière] ends his essay, and therewith the whole book.  Pp. 136-137:

I shall conclude briefly with my opening question.  Some things are unrepresentable as a function of the conditions to which a subject of representation must submit if it is to be part of a determinate regime of art, a specific regime of the relations between exhibition and signification. . . . This set of conditions exclusively defines the representative regime in art. . . . If there are things which are unrepresentable, they can be located in this regime.  In our regime–the aesthetic [as opposed to the representative] regime in art–this notion has no determinable content,  other than the pure notion of discrepancy with  the representative regime.  It expresses the absence of a stable relationship between exhibition and signification.  But this maladjustment tends towards more representation, not less. . . .

Anti-representative art is constitutively an art without unrepresentable things.  There are no longer any inherent limits to representation, to its possibilities.  This boundlessness also means that there is no longer a language form which is appropriate to a subject, whatever it might be.  This lack of appropriateness runs counter both to credence in a language peculiar to art and to the affirmation of the irreducible singularity of certain events. . . . I have tried to show that this exaggeration itself merely perfects the system of rationalization it claims to denounce. . . . In order to assert an unrepresentability in art that is commensurate with an unthinkability of the event, the latter must itself have been rendered entirely thinkable, entirely neccary according to thought.  The logic of unrepresentability can only be sustained by a hyperbole that ends up destroying it.

With that general summary laying out what he is arguing overall, I’ll now go back to flesh it out a bit at a few places.

P. 126:  “There is no appropriate language for wintessing.  Where testimony has to express the experience of the inhuman, it naturally finds an already constituted language of becoming-inhuman, of an identity between human sentiments and non-human movements.”  He then gives a (very good) analysis of Lanzmann’s Shoah in terms of just how it makes use of such already available cinematic language to accomplish its tasks.  On the basis of that analysis of a prime example, he  then concludes (p. 129):  “Nothing is unrepresentable as a property of the event.”  I’m not sure whoever said it was, really.  And, anyway, it all depends on what one means by “the event” here.  If one means simple “datable occurrence,” then “event” itself is cut down to representational size, in effect, before one even begins.  At any rate, he continues:

There are simply choices.  The choice for the present as against historicization; the  decision to represent an accounting of the means, the materiality of the process, as opposed to the representation of causes.  The causes that render the event resistant to any explanation by a principle of sufficient reason, be it fictional or documentary, must be left on hold.

. . . And Lanzmann’s investigation is part of a cinemtaic tradition that has established its pedigree.  This is the tradition that counter-poses to the light thrown on the blinding of Oedipus the simultaneously solved and unresolved mystery of Rosebud, which is the “reason” for Kane’s madness, the revelation at the end of the investigation, beyond investigation, of the nullity of the “cause”. . . . A form of investigation that reconstructs the materiality of an event while  leaving its cause on hold, proves suitable to the extraordinary character of the Holocaust without being specific to  it.  Here again the  appropriate form is also an inappropriate form.  In and of itself the event neither prescribes nor proscribes any artistic means.  And it does not impose any duty on art to represent, or not to represent, in some particular way.

I’m not quite sure what to make of his critique.  On its own terms, his analysis is illuminating, I think.  But as a critique of views such as Lyotard’s,  it seems to me basically to fail.  It passes Lyotard by, as it were.  What it attacks is not what Lyotard is saying, so far as I can see.  For instance, Lyotard himself says that something such as the Holocaust can be more effectively erased by being represented than by being simply denied.  Well, that makes sense only insofar as one can represent the Holocaust.  But his point is that trauma disrupts and disconnects the very business of “representation,” undercutting its claim to any sort of mastery, as it were.

As I say, I’m just not yet sure what to do with Rancière’s discussion here.

Lyotard, Heidegger, the Jews, and “the jews”–#2


This is the second of a series of three posts on Jean-Francois Lyotard’s Heidegger and “the jews”.  I first wrote the entry below in my philosophical journal on the date indicated.

Satruday, January 10, 2009

Lyotard, Heidegger and “the jews”, p. 27, just after writing what I cited yesterday [see my preceding post], that ends with “Finally, one has appeal to human rights, one cries out ‘never again’ and that’s it!  It is taken care of,” he continues:  “Humanism takes care of this adjustment because it is of the order of secondary repression.  One cannot form an idea of the human being as value unless one projects one’s misery to the outside as caused by causes that one only needs to get down to transforming.”

This is also essentially what Paul Eisenstein says, when he argues that trauma is effectively denied its traumatization by the identification of trauma, which is finally always “structural,” with some one actual “historical” occurrence–or figure (such as “the Jew”) made to represent trauma–in precisely the negative sense of “represent” that Lyotard critiques in the passage I cited yesterday [see the preceding post].

He picks up that critique again a few lines later on p. 27:

If one represents the extermination, it is also necessary to represent the exterminated.  One represents men,  women, children treated like “dogs,” “pigs,” “rats,” “vermin,” subjected to humiliation, constrained to abjection, driven to despair, thrown like filth into the ovens.  But this is not enough, this representation forgets something.  For it is not as men, women, and children that they are exterminated but as the name of what is evil–“jews”–that the  Occident has given to the unconscious anxiety.  Compare [Robert] Antelme and [Elie] Wiesel, L’Espèce humaine [The Human Race] and Night. Two representations, certainly.  But Antelme resists, he is somebody who resists.

Then he makes a point similar to one Chrétien makes in The Ark of Speech (see my journal  entry above, for 12/28/08 [in my post before last]):

All resistance is ambiguous, as its name indicates.  Political resistance, but resistance in the Freudian sense.  It is a compromise formation that involves learning to negotiate with the Nazi terror, to manipulate it, even if only for a little; trying to understand it [cf. Claude Lanzman saying that it is obscene and blasphemous to try to give “meaning” or “explanation” to the Holocaust], so as to outsmart it; putting one’s life on the line for this; reaching the limits of the human species, for that.  It is war.  Deportation is a part of the war.  Antelme saves honor.

These remarks, especially in echoing relation with those of Chrétien, perhaps point to a way to resolve the issue of reconciling the liberation attested by the rebellion at Auschwitz with that equally–if not even more so–attested by the experience of the ultimately transitory, ephemeral, and illusionary character of the assertion of power in “Auswchwitz”–the problem that has surfaced more than once in my journals on trauma.  Maybe these echoing passages from Lyotard and Chrétien are the way-markers to  the way out of that apparent impasse.  That may well be a suggestion reinforced by how Lyotard goes on with his discussion.

Still on page 27 [and extending over to page 28], Lyotard goes on to say:

One can represent the Nazi madness–make of  it what it also is–an effect of “secondary” repression, a symptom; a way of transcribing anxiety, the terror in regard to the undetermined (which Germany knew well, especially then), into will, into political hatred, organized, administered, turned against the unconscious affect. . . . But on the side of “the jews,” absence of representability, absence of experience, absence of accumulation of experience (however multimillenial), interrior innocence, smiling and hard, even arrogant, which neglects the world except with regard to its pain–these are the traits of a tradition where the forgotten remembers that it is forgotten; knows itself to be unforgettable, has no need of inscription, of looking after itself, a tradition where the soul’s only concern is with the terror without origin, where it tries desperately, humorously to originate itself by narrating itself.

The SS does not wage war against the Jews. . . . The war merely creates the din that is necessary to cover the silent crime. . . . –a second terror, a horror rather, practiced on the involuntary witness of the “first” terror, which is not even felt, not even lodged, but which is diffuse and remains in it like an interminably deferred debt.  In representing the second terror one ineluctably perpetuates it [!!!].  It is itself only representation. . . . One betrays misery, infamy by representing them.  All memory, in the traditional sense of representation, because it involves decision, includes and spreads the  forgetting of the terror without origin that motivates it.

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Lyotard, Heidegger, Jews, and “the jews”–#1


Today is the first of three posts on Jean-Francois Lyotard’s Heidegger and “the jews”, translated by Andreas Michel and Mark Roberts (Minneapolis:  University of Minnesota Press, 1990; orig. French version 1988).  The use of the scare quotes and the lower case ‘j’ in “the jews” is intentional in the original French work and in its English translation.  By “the jews” Lyotard means the always already rejected, projected, and repressed “Other” of so called Western society.  According to Lyotard, it is only accidental, in a certain sense, that the Jews, meaning some actual, historical group of people, came to be identified with “the jews,” in the sense he has given to that phrase.

The entry below is one I first wrote in my philosophical  journal on the date indicated.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Years after I first read it, I am currently rereading Lyotard’s Heidegger and “the jews“.  Since first reading it, my focus has shifted to trauma, and I am reading it this time with an eye to that.  There are some thought-provoking passages, seen from that perspective of the focus on trauma.  One is on pp. 15-16, where Lyotard writes:

Nachträglichkeit [the “belatedness” that, according to Freud, characterizes trauma] thus implies the following:  (1) a double blow that is constitutively asymmetrical, and (2) a temporality that has noting to do with what the phenomenology of consciousness (even that of Saint Augustine) can thematize.

The double blow includes a first blow, the first excitation, which upsets the apparatus with such “force” that it is not registered. . . . The discovery of an originary repression leads Freud to assume that it cannot be represented.  And it is not representable because, in dynamic terms, the quantity of energy transmitted by this shock is not transformed into “objects,” not even inferior ones, objects lodged in  the substratum, in the hell of the soul, but it remains potential, unexploitable, and thus ignored by the apparatus. . . .

The first blow, then, strikes the apparatus without observable internal effect, without affecting it. It is a shock without affect.  With the second blow there takes place an affect without a shock.  I buy something in a store, anxiety crushes me, I flee, but nothing had really happened. . . . And it is this flight, that feeling that accompanies it, which informs consciousness that there is something, without being able to tell what it is. . . . The essence of the event:  that there is “comes before” what there is.

This “before” of the quod is also an “after” of the quid. For whatever is now happening in the store (i.e., the terror and the flight) does not come forth; it comes back from the first blow, from the shock, from the “initial” excess that remained outside the scene, even unconscious, deposited outside representation. . . . This chronologization of a time that is not chronological, this retrieval of a time (the first blow) that is lost because it has not had time and place in the psychic apparatus, that has not been noticed there, fulfills exactly the presumed function of a protective shield that Freud attributes to it in Jenseits [Beyond the Pleasure Principle].

Then, on the next page (17), he uses this to argue that, with regard the idea, in Freud, of “the scene of a seduction perpetrated on the child, in ontogenesis, and in several versions of a phylogenetic event (including the last glaciations), the common motivation of these hypotheses (always fantastic) is nothing else than the unpreparedness [in principle, I would add] of the psychic apparatus for the ‘first shock’. . . . It is in this  fashion that the principle of an originary–I would say ontological–‘seduction’ cannot be eluded (Laplanche), of a ‘duction’ toward the inside of something (of energy) that remains outside of  it.”

These passages, and even more the next one I will cite below, from  pages 26-27, add support to the suspicion I express in my “9/11 Never Happened” piece, about how the proliferation of images of 9/11, as earlier of Vietnam, served  only to cover over and avoid 9/11 and Vietnam.  Geared into that is my growing uneasiness in the face of all use of images of such things as the Holocaust,  9/11, or, in general trauma of whatever sort.

Here are the later passages  (pp. 26-27):  “But to make us forget the crime [of the Holocaust] by representing it is much more appropriate” than even the endeavor to “efface” it by “the criminals disguis[ing] themselves as courageous little shopkeepers [as did Eichman, for the prime example],” or to efface it by “‘denazi[ying]’ them on the spot [as the Allies did, I suppose would be a good example, when they moved to make Germany a central piece in the chess game of the Cold War], or else one opens a lawsuit for a reappraisal of the crime itself (the ‘detail’), [and] one seeks dismissal of the case” (as he discusses on the preceding page, 25).  [Making us forget the crime by representing it is “more appropriate” than any of those ways of trying to “efface” it,]

if it is true that, with ‘the jews,’ it is a question of something like the unconscious affect of which the Occident does not want any knowledge. It cannot be represented without being missed, being forgotten anew, since it defies images and words.  Representing ‘Auschwitz’ in images and words is a way of making us forget this.  I am not thinking here only of bad movies and widely distributed TV series, of bad novels or “eyewitness accounts.”  I am thinking of those very cases that, by their exactitude, their severity, are, or should be, best qualified not to let us forget.  But even they represent what, in order not to be forgotten as that which is forgotten itself, must remain unrepresentable.  Claude Lanzmann’s film Shoah is an exception, maybe the only one. . . .

Whenever one represents, one inscribes in memory, and this might seem a good defense against forgetting it.  It is, I believe, just the opposite.  Only that which has been inscribed can, in the current sense of the term, be forgotten, because it could be effaced.  But what is not inscribed, through lack of inscribable surface, of duration and place for the inscription to be situated, . . . cannot be forgotten, does not offer a hold to forgetting, and remains present “only” as an affection that one cannot even qualify, like a state of  death in the life of the spirit.  One must, certainly, inscribe in words, in images.  One cannot escape the necessity of representing.  It would be sin itself to believe oneself safe and sound.  But it is one thing to do it in view of saving the memory and quite another to try to preserve the remainder, the unforgettable forgotten, in writing.

It is to be feared that word representations (books, interviews) and thing representations (films, photographs) of the extermination of the Jews . . . by the Nazis bring back the very thing, . . . in the orbit of secondary repression. . . . It is to be feared that, through representation, it turns into an “ordinary” repression.  One will say, It was a great massacre, how horrible!  Of course, there have been others, “even” in contemporary Europe (the crimes of Stalin).  Finally, one will appeal to human rights, one cries out “never again” and that’s it!  It is taken care of.

I suggest just that same thing in “9/11 Never Happened,” where I argue that the worldwide proliferation via the mass media of video images of the attacks on the Twin Towers and the immediate aftermath, including people jumping to their deaths rather than die in the fires raging in the towers–those video images with which we were globally assaulted even while the attacks themselves were still unfolding in “real time”–may as well have been deliberately designed efforts to gloss over the event, the trauma, itself, to deaden and divert us from it,  to make us forget the unforgettable by remembering little or nothing but those graven and craven images:  an idolatry!

As I also said in a footnote somewhere in “9/11 Never Happened,” about the television coverage of the war in Vietnam:  Far from bringing the war “home” to us,  bringing it into our very “living rooms,” as has often been claimed it did, the televisioning of the Vietnamese war actually did the opposite, burying the war beneath all those images, pushing it back so far as to be beyond recall–or almost!

That is “the horror, the horror.”

Trauma Come Home to Us on 9/11–#3 of 4


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.”

Published in: on March 25, 2009 at 12:18 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Repression, Recurrence, and Representation


Below are two entries I made in my philosophical journal last summer. They complete my journal reflections on Harvard psychologist Richard J. McNally’s Remembering Trauma (Cambridge:  The Belnap Press of Harvard University Press, 2005), reflections which I began in the entry contained in my preceding post, “Recurrent Trauma and Representational Memory.”

At bottom, one might argue, all trauma is “recurrent,” so to speak. Insofar as trauma is characterized by Freudian “belatedness” (Nachträglichkeit), the very “occurrence” of trauma is characterized as re-occurrence, the coming back around again of what was denied a place to take place heretofore.  Trauma always has, phenomenologically, the structure that Jean-Francois Lyotard in Heidegger and “the jews”, translated by Andreas Michel and Mark Roberts (University of Minnesota Press, 1990) calls a “double blow,” which he describes this way (pp. 15-16):

The double blow includes a  first blow, the first excitation, which upsets the apparatus with such ‘force’ that it is not registered. . . . The discovery of an originary repression leads Freud to assume that it cannot be represented.  And it is not representable because,  in dynamic terms, the quantity of energy transmitted by this ‘shock’ is not transformed into ‘objects,’ not even inferior ones, objects lodged in the substratum, in the hell of  the  soul, but it remains potential, unexploitable, and thus ignored by the apparatus. . . .

The first blow, then, strikes the apparatus without observable internal effect, without affecting it.  It is a shock without affect.  With the second blow there takes place an affect without shock.  I buy something in a store, anxiety crushes me, I flee, but nothing had really happened. . . . And it is this flight, that feeling that accompanies it, which informs consciousness that there is  something, without being able to tell what it is. . . . The essence of the [traumatic] event:  that there is comes before what there is.

This ‘before’ of the quod [the “that”] is also an ‘after’ of the quid [the “what”].  For whatever is now happening in the store (i.e., the terror and the flight) does not come  forth; it comes back from the first blow, from the shock, from the ‘initial’ excess that remained outside the scene, even unconscious, deposited outside representation.

To this way of thinking, then, all trauma as such would  have the paradoxical structure of “the return of the repressed,” the re-turn, that is, of what was denied any turn in the first place (at the point of Lyotard’s “first blow” in the quote above):  All trauma would  be “recurrent” trauma. 

Yet, whatever one finally wants to say about such analyses as Lyotard’s, according to which the phrase “recurrent trauma” becomes redundant, authors such as McNally clearly have an obvious and important difference in mind when they differentiate “recurrent” trauma, trauma which strikes the same person  repeatedly, such as it recurrently strikes children in homes where abuse is the order not just of one day but of everyday, from trauma which strikes only once, so to  speak, such as the railroad accident that Freud himself uses in Beyond the Pleasure Principle to explain his notion of “belatedness” itself. 

The difference between those two defining examples is also what is in play, to give another good example, in a book I am currently reading, by clinicians for clinicians, called Treating Complex Traumatic Stress Disorders:  An Evidence Based Guide, (New York:  The Guilford Press, 2009).  Christine A. Courtois and Julian D. Ford, the editors of that volume, use the very distinction at issue in their diagnostic definition of what they, following Judith Herman, a longtime leader in the field of trauma studies and author of the now classic work Trauma and Recovery, call “complex psychological trauma” (p. 1): 

We define complex psychological  trauma as involving traumatic stressors that (1) are repetitive or prolonged; (2) involve direct harm and/or neglect and abandonment by caregivers or ostensibly responsible adults; (3) occur at developmentally vulnerable times in the  victim’life, such as early childhood; and (4) have great potential to compromise severely a child’s development.

In the Sophist Plato says that the philosopher is like the child who, when one offers her the choice between two gifts, one in each of two closed hands one holds out to the child, chooses both.  Well, at least in the present case, I can lay claim to that philosopher’s credential, the one of being like the child begging for both:  I want both what Lyotard’s analysis has to offer, and what the various authors in the “evidence-based guide” to treating victims of  “complex” trauma have to offer.

Whether and, if so, how to have both is the thought that is still struggling to get thought, as I put it in my preceding post, in many of the entries on trauma in my philosophical  journal, including those on McNally given below (from three different days, as indicated by the dates given). 

 Toward the end of the second entry below I refer to contemporary Canadian philosopher of  science Ian Hacking’s notion of an “interactive kind.”  By that he means a concept, or “kind,” the understanding and definition of which is altered by the very behavior of those who accept identification as belonging to the kind in question,their behavior after accepting that classification with regard to themselves.  

In The Social Construction of What? Hacking uses depression as an example of such a “kind,” writing on page 123: 

A person undertakes a certain regimen of  behavioral modification, intended to diminish the  symptoms  and  feelings of depression.  Numerous kinds of behavior are reinforced, all of which run counter to the  classification depressed.  The patient starts to live in this new way.  If the behavior modification works, then even our psychiatric understanding of  depression changes.  Yet simultaneously, by living in this way, adopting certain types of behavior, a certain chemical condition of the brain, thought to be correlated with depression, is alleviated.  We have a dynamic working at the level of classification and biolooping.

A few pages later (on p. 130) he goes on to argue that the emergence of such “interactive” kinds or concepts can actually alter the past itself: 

But the past, of course, is fixed.  Not so. . . . Events in a life can now [after the emergence of a new kind/concept] be seen as events of a new kind, a kind that may not have been conceptualized when the event was experienced or the act performed.  What we experienced becomes recollected anew, and thought in terms that could not  have been thought at the time.  Experiences are not  only redescribed; they are refelt.

A bit later, Hacking applies the idea of an interactive kind to victims of child abuse, even going so far as to argue that with the acceptance of the  identification of oneself as such a victim,  one’s very past itself is  changed.  Thus, he writes (p. 161), with the emergence of the concept of child abuse there occurs “the phenomenon of restrospectively seeing events as abusive which were not directly and consciously experienced as such at the time,” a phenomenon in which there takes place “a radical re-evaluation of childhood experience,  a reclassification, and in a way a re-experiencing of it.”  Regarding this phenomenon, he asks (p. 162),

What happens to the woman who now comes to see herself as having been sexually abused?  I am not referring to the person who has merely kept an awful private secret, who now may feel liberated by being able to talk about it, or oppressed by having it brought to surface consciousness again.  I am referring to entering a new world, a world in which one was formed in ways one had not known.  Consciousness is not raised but changed.  Someone now sees herself as abused as a child, because she has a new concept in terms of which to understand herself. . . . Child abuse is a new kind that has changed the past of many people, and so changed their very sense of who they are and how they have come to be.

With those explanations, I will now turn to the final entries on McNally’s book from my journal last summer.



Thursday, July 24, 2008

McNally, p. 88:  “Reviewing recent epidemiological studies, Rachel Yehuda [in “Post-traumatic stress disorder.”  New England Journal of Medicine, 346. 108-114] emphasizes that interpersonal violence tends to produce PTSD at higher rates than does other trauma.”

P. 96:  “The final proximal [sic.] cause of PTSD may be the way the person interprets the meaning of the stressor.  Ultimately, the psychological  interpretation of the event may be the crucial determinant of whether it produces PTSD.”

P. 110:  “In any event, if replicative nightmares are nothing more than compelling memory illusions [as he has been strongly suggesting], that dreams can seem to replay the event is an important fact about how people remember trauma.  [He’s onto something there.]  Only trauma survivors appear to report the memory illusion of having their traumatic experiences replayed with frightening regularity while they sleep.”


Friday, July 25, 2008

McNally, p. 173:  On “repression”:  “. . . it is often difficult to determine whether the missing information was encoded but is inaccessible, or whether it was never encoded in the first place.”

Even prior to reading this, I was thinking that the best way to take the notion of  repression positively–rather than just rejecting it, as he  does–might well  be to treat it as a matter of not seeing in the first place, rather than seeing (i.e., experiencing), and then pushing down and denying access to consciousness.

At any rate,  if nothing else, at least reading McNally has given me an impetus to return to what first and most interested me in the phenomenon of trauma–even before  I starting thinking of it in terms of [the word] “trauma,” for that  matter, and was just using “event.”  That is what Bergson calls “the impossible but real/actual”–the incomprehensibility, within the horizons [of understanding] it disrupts, of the event.  I want to steer clear of all the endless debate about “repression” and “forgotten[/recovered] memory” (and its counter–“false memory”) and all.


Saturday, July 26, 2008

McNally’s book belongs among such “debunking” volumes as those of Stanton Peel [e.g., The Diseasing of America] (whom McNally does not cite), or of Carol Tavris [e.g., The Mismeasure of Women] or Ian Hacking (both of  whom he does cite).  He does not make any use, however, of what I  find most interesting in Hacking’s discussion of “interactive kinds,” which McNally mentions on the very next to  last page (284) of his book–the notion, which, specifically, Hacking applies to child abuse victims for whom the  new emergence of the very category of such abuse gives them, as it were, a changed past.  That would not fit with McNally’s own axe-grinding operations, I guess, designed, as they are, just to trash notions such as repression, dissociation, or “recovered memories.”  (His discussion of Hacking’s notion of “interactive kinds” is just off kilter altogether, in my judgment.)

Recurrent Trauma and Representational Memory


Today’s post and my next one, planned for two days from now, on Wednesday, March 18, contain entries in my philosophical journal from last summer concerning a book by Harvard psychologist Richard J. McNally, in which he takes to task the idea of the repression of the memory of trauma.  Although in my journal entries below and to be posted Wednesday I am critical of what I understand to be McNally’s own position on the matter, the issues that he and various other scholars have raised perform a valuable service by pointing to crucial obscurities in the notion of repression itself.  Critiques such as his can thus spur us to refine our thinking about repression and related matters, even if they do not provide good grounds for rejecting the very notion of repression, as I understand McNally to be suggesting we do.

As McNally, of one, is well aware, the issue of repression cannot be separated from that of the nature of memory in general, and the connection of memory to representation. All three of those key terms–repression, memory, and trauma–are richly and essentially ambiguous. To my own way of thinking, formed as it has been by better than four decades of reading Heidegger, the challenge is not to remove that ambiguity or even to “control” it, so much as it is to respect it, heed it, and remain open to the flashes of insight that the interplay of the variety of meanings may continue to bring us.

At any rate, I have touched on the interconnections of memory, trauma, repression, and representation in a number of posts already made at this site. The interested reader should refer to the table of contents for this blog that has now been created and posted, to find those earlier discussions. What is more, I will revisit the same general issues many times yet in the entries from my journal still to be posted.

The reservations I express below concerning McNally’s position should not be taken as my final word on the matter of memory, tauma, repression, and representation–or even as any last word on McNally’s view, since my reservations below on that score are meant to be very tentative and exploratory. My own thinking on the whole complex of issues involved here is very much still in process. If and when that thinking eventually succeeds in becoming fully thought, I will no doubt post the news here.


Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Richard J. McNally, Remembering Trauma(Cambridge, MA:  Belnap Press of Harvard University Press, 2003, 2005).  P. 2:  “the  purpose of this book is to lay out the evidence that supports these [following 3] conclusions.”  To wit:  “First, people remember horrific experiences all too well.   Victims are seldom incapable of remembering their trauma.  Second, people sometimes do not think about disturbing events for long periods of time, only to be reminded of them later.   However, events that are experienced as overwhelmingly traumatic at the time  of their occurrence rarely slip from awareness.  Third, there is no reason to postulate a special mechanism of repression or dissociation to explain why people may not think about disturbing experiences for long periods.  A failure to think about something does not entail an inability to remember it.”

Even if we grant his 3 theses, I’ll be interested to see how–if at all–he addresses the issue of what, in effect, motivates not thinking about such experiences for long periods:  If they are so disturbing, why are they not thought about for such long periods so often?  The avoidance  of recollections of disturbing memories is a sort of willful ignorance of them, it would seem.  What does that say about us and trauma?


Some points of interest, at any rate.

P. 35:  “People with posttraumatic stress disorder suffer from involuntary explicit memory [rather than “implicit” memory] as exemplified by unbidden, intrusive recollection of horrific events from their past.  [Which, by the way, would run against the effort “not to think about” such events, surely!]  Involuntary explicit memory deserves more attention from psychologists in how people remember trauma.”

P. 36:  He introduces “what psychologist Ulric Neisser calls a repisodic memory–a memory constructed from repeated episodes of the same type,” and goes on to note:  “The more episodes of a certain type we experience, the harder it becomes to  distinguish among them.” However:  “While repetition makes it harder to retrieve any specific episode, it strengthens overall memory for the entire class of event.  Frequent flyers are highly unlikely to forget having flown on airplanes even though their memories of individual flights may blur together.  Likewise, a person  who suffers many beatings as a child may find it difficult to recall details from any particular attack–unless something unusual occurred during it–yet will never forget what it was like to be subjected to such violence.”  So far, I’d say, okay in general (though [one might wonder] why someone who cites evidence for whatever he can cites none here–for the point on flying or its extension to cover traumatic events as well as such non-traumatic ones today as air travel).  But what he goes on next to make of this is much more questionable:  He faults”some psychologists,” such as Lenore Terr (the only one he actually mentions), who “actually believe that the more frequently a person is traumatized, the less likely the person is to remember having been traumatized,” as, for example, Terr says that children who  experience repeated trauma “often forget,” and may even “forget whole segments of childhood–from birth to age 9, for instance.”

This, he says, “flies in the face of everything we know about memory.”  But I don’t buy that analysis.  Indeed, when I  first read his remarks about “some psychologists” and Terr, I  thought they were merely elaborating upon the points he had just recapitulated on “repisodic” memory–not contradicting them.  Then when I reread the paragraph after being thrown by his concluding remark about “flying in the face” of the evidence, I had to take him to  be meaning that, for Terr, all memory of having been abused would have to vanish, for what she says to be true, analogously to all memory of having flown in airplanes being erased by recurrent flying.

But even by that interpretation, what he claims does not necessarily follow.  It would only follow if there are no sufficiently powerful relevant differences between repeated travelling by air and repeated being abused–relevant with regard for possible mechanisms accounting for Tarr’s claim, even while granting “the evidence” on “repisodic” memory.  After all, for example, flying on airplanes is not as such traumatic (though it may be episodically so, if there is some trouble on a given flight), whereas being abused is as such traumatic.  Well, perhaps the overall numbing that would tend to accompany living in an abusive household flattens being abused itself out to the level of “normal,” which flying virtually never would be (one does not live on airplanes, as one can even on houseboats–and I can imagine someone who’d spent her whole life on a houseboat, surrounded by others living on houseboats, who  might “forget” that it was even a houseboat, and just remember it as a house), such that whole decades could just sort of be lived out, but without making any lasting impression on memory.

I’m not saying that’s how it is, just that that’s how it might be.  But the latter is all it takes to throw McNally’s claim out.

Trauma, Resilience, and the Sovereignty of the Representational Image


The following is the last entry–under the date I originally wrote it last summer in my philosophical journal–concerning various contributions to the collection The Unbroken Soul (H. Parens, H. Blum, and S. Akhtar, eds., Lanham, MD:  Jason Aronson, 2008).


Monday, July 21, 2008

Steven M. Southwick, Faith Ozbay, and  Linda C. Mates (all M.D.s), “Psychological and Biological Factors Associated with Resilience” (in The Unbroken Soul), p. 138:  “Developing animals that are forced to  confront overwhelming and uncontrollable, stressors that they cannot master tend to display an exaggerated or sensitized sympathetic nervous system and/or hypothalmic-pituitary-adrenal response to stressors as adults.  In contrast, developing animals exposed to mild to moderate stessors that are under their control and that they they can master tend to  become stress inoculated with a reduced overall response to future stressors.”

Compare my thesis that addiction rates in populations vary [inversely] with experienced effective agency for members of [those populations].  [That is, the higher the addiction rate in a given population, the less will be the individual sense of effective agency among members of that population, and the greater the individual sense of  agency in a given population, the lower will be the addiction rate in that same population.]


Susan C. Adelman (Ph.D.), “From Trauma to Resilience” (Unbroken Soul), p. 158:  “. . . [P]rofound enough traumata may actually cause the hippocampal dysfunction so that at the moment of trauma no memory develops that could later be consciously accessible.  In severe trauma, that is, the full facts of what actually happened may not ever be available [to conscious cognition, at least–representation].  In these situations, the clinician and patient need to work together to observe the contexts of fear and their associations as a way into regaining some knowledge of the trauma.  With these pieces, rather than with  a full memory that cannot be recovered because it does not exist, the patient has the option of reconstructing a story that is meaningful to him or here.  This may be the best available strategy for moving the somatic reactions to the more flexible, symbolically encoded higher cortical regions.”

She [seems to be] equating memory with representational memory, against her own recognition, in fact, that there are multiple “memory systems” in the brain.  Trauma exceeds the sovereignty of the image:  It is not subject to that sovereignty any longer.  To use a formulation paraphrased from [contemporary French phenomenological philosopher Jean Louis] Chrétien, trauma is what is unforgettable precisely because it cannot be remembered representationally.  Like the Heraclitean sun, one cannot hide from it, because it never sets.


According to Adelman (p. 195), “psychoanalytic theory has delineated two theories of  trauma.  One is the ‘unbearable situation’ model and a second, the ‘unacceptable impulse model.'”  (She cites Henry Krystal [see my post before last, for some reflections on Krystal’s contribution to The Unbroken Soul], “Trauma and affects,” in Psychoanalytic Study of the Child, 33, 81-116.)  [But insofar as the threatened emergence into awareness of an “unacceptable impulse” itself constitutes an “unbearable situation,” there may really be only one underlying model at issue here, in my judgment.  Nevertheless, the modulation between the “unbearable” something-or-other coming, or seeming to come, “from without,” and its coming, or seeming to come, “from within,” as an “impulse,” is worth attention.]

Memory, Memorials, and Art Spiegelman’s Shadow


Art Spiegelman is  the cartoonist author whose two volume comic-strip book Maus deservedly won him a Pulitzer Prize.  A native New Yorker, he and his family were in the city when the attacks on the Twin Towers occurred on 9/11/2001.  The entry from my journal posted below concerns his subsequent treatment of those attacks, and of the public, “official” responses to them, in his subsequent book In the Shadow of No Towers.

Readers can find a few more of my reflections on Spiegelman’s work–Maus in the case of that earlier post–in “Items Concerning LaCapra’s Works #1,” posted at this site earlier this  month, on January 7. 

On the dubious nature of official or semi-official “memorializations” of shared or public trauma, see Jenny Edkins, Trauma and the Memory of Politics (Cambridge University Press, 2003) and my comments on it in my earlier journal entry posted at this site on December 14, 2008, under the title “Trauma, Sovereignty–and Alcoholics Anonymous.”

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Art Spiegelman, In the Shadow of No Towers (New York:  Pantheon Books, 2004), “The Sky Is Falling,” a two large-paged essay by Spiegelman at the beginning of the  book:

“Only when I heard paranoid Arabs and Americans blaming it all [that is, blaming “9/11″] on the Jews did Ireel myself back in, deciding it wasn’t essential to know precisely how much my ‘leaders’ knew about the hijackings in advance–it was sufficient that they immediately instrumentalized the attack for their  own agenda.”

Next page, same essay:  “I wanted to sort out the fragments of what I’d exper-ienced from the media images that threatened to engulf what I actually saw . . .”

The two–the “instrumentalization for their [“my ‘leaders'”] own agenda,” and the flood of media images–form a whole.  Each feeds and reinforces the other.

Plate 10 [in Spiegelman’s book], 1st frame is all text, the opening of which is:  “Nothing like commemorating an event to make you forget it.”

Taylor, Trauma, and the Eternal Recurrence of the Same


In the spring of 2008 theologian Mark Taylor briefly visited the University of Denver as an invited distinguished teacher.  As a  part of his visit, Professor Taylor graciously served as a guest-lecturer in a Heidegger seminar I was conducting at the time.  He talked with my class especially about his recently published book After God, which I had just finished reading myself in anticipation of his visit.  My reading of his work occasioned the two entries in my philosophical journal posted below, in which I reflected on the relevance of some passages from his book to my own  continuing work around the issue of trauma.

Readers interested in what I say below concerning the thought of Phillipe Lacoue-Labarthe might also wish to refer to my earlier post, “LaCapra Continued,” posted on January 14 of this year.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Mark C. Taylor, After God (University of Chicago Press, 2007), p. 118, quoting from Maurice Blanchot, The Space of Literature, trans. Ann Smock (University of Nebraska Press, 1982), pp.30-31:

“In time’s absence what is  new renews nothing; what is present is not contemporary; what is present presents nothing but represents itself and belongs henceforth and always to return.  It isn’t but comes back again.  It comes already and forever past, so that my relation to it is not one of cognition, but of recognition, and this recognition ruins in me the  power of knowing, the right to grasp. It makes what is ungraspable inescapable.”

Applies exactly to trauma, and how it subverts the sovereignty of the image (of representation) in and as the very founding (Heidegger’s Stiftung) of that sovereignty.

Taylor comments, p. 118:  “This past that was never present eternally recurs as the future that never arrives to disrupt the present that never is. In this  way, the originary absence of the past is the condition of the inescapable openness of the future.  Since the past is never accessible, the present is never present, and the future is never closed . . .”

P. 119:  “The present, understood both temporally and spatially, is always gift or present pre-sent by (the) nothing that is (not) present. . . . Since that which  is never present cannot be re-presented, representation includes, as a condition of its possibility, ‘something’ that remains irreducibly unrepresentable.  Expressed in terms of figuration:  inasmuch as figuring can never be figured, every figure is always disfigured as if from within.”

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Taylor, p.137, on [how] “cosmogonic myths” provide a religious schema, by his definition of religion (whereby “religion” is, as he says again on this page, “a complex adaptive network of symbols, myths, and rituals that both give life meaning and purpose and disrupt, dislocate, and disfigure every stabilizing structure”–by which definition, by the way, [it seems to me that] AA would have to  count as a “religion,” as would, e.g., Schopenhauer’s philosophy):  “Within this schema [i.e., that of the cosmogonic myth, which he reads here (as acknowledged) á la Eliade], human life has meaning and purpose insofar as  it is understood to be a repetition of a divine prototype.  Meaning, in other words, is not really temporal or historical but is derived from recurrent natural rhythms.  Indeed, inasmuch as the future is prefigured before the beginning, it is actually always already past.  If everything is programmed in advance, nothing new occurs; creation is not creative but is the eternal return of the same.  In the absence of creativity–be it divine or human–change remains superficial.  From this point of view, the challenge is not to ‘make it new’ [the defining imperative of “modernity,” says Taylor–correctly enough] but to repeat the old.”

It stuck me [when] reading this how easily this description could be seen to apply to an analysis, á la Heidegger, of “modernity” itself, rather than “pre-modern” “cosmogonic” myth.  In the age of Gestell [Heidegger’s term for “the essence of modern technology, from the past participle of the German verb stellen, to place or put], it is precisely such a frozen (non-)world as Taylor describes here, that fixes itself in place, and takes over all places.

What if one read the story/history from the age of cosmogonic myths to the age of technology through the lens of trauma?  Then the “eternal return of the same” in the sense that phrase takes here and in Eliade, shows itself to be not at all “the same” as the  sense the same phrase takes in Nietzsche and can, following him, be used to name what is at stake precisely in the Vollendung [end and completion] of modernity!  “Modernity” would then be the avoidance of trauma (“structural,” at least).  I am increasingly thinking that such avoidance–e.g., the Bush “response” to “9/11”–is to be distinguished from repression, which is one side of the repetition that, in fact, drives to the point of the breakdown of the “ever-the-same-“ness, the eternal return of the same, of the detemporalized time of the avoidance of trauma which is “modernity.”

Read along these lines, “myth” itself needs to be rethought, in such a way as to liberate that notion from insertion into the sort of “fictioning” [Phillipe] Lacoue-Labarthe sees as definitive of the Western “fiction of the political/politics,” the “mimetic” tradition at the heart of the West that bears its final, awful fruit in Auschwitz.

Taylor prefaces the passage cited above by writing, “While it should be clear that this cosmogonic myth serves both of these functions [giving a structure of meaning and purpose, yet disrupting any and every “stabilizing structure”], it is important to note precisely how this is accomplished.” He then goes on to write what I already cited.

But, despite his prefatory remark that both functions are in cosmogonic myth, [so far as I can see] the passage I started by citing deals solely with the first function of providing a stable structure of meaning.  Nowhere that I can find does he ever really address how such myth also destabilizes any stabilization.  He does, on the preceding page (136), talk of how such myths do provide for a return to chaos, at the end of one great cycle and, therefore, the beginning of another.  But the very way he discusses that aspect of such myth subordinates it to the other aspect, of stabilization into  the frozen “eternal return of the same.”

At best, then, his account of cosmogonic myth reads the latter as providing for the disruption/destabilization of any intra-cycle structure, just as the cycle of the seasons relativizes and destabilizes each of the four seasons in turn.  But nowhere is there an opening in the overarching structure of recurrence itself.

Far from it.  Thus, right after characterizing cosmogonic myth in terms of the “challenge . . . not to ‘make it new’ but to repeat the old,” he starts his next paragraph as follows:  “All of this changes with the irruption of the transcendent God in the midst of the divine-natural cosmos.”  That “irruption” he identifies with Moses and  the emergence of Judaism, where (Taylor tells “the same old story” himself here that has  so often been told) “history” is first really introduced into the “network” which is religion:  In Judaism, “The relation between God and self is covenental rather than ontological”:  [from the next page, 138,] “The establishment of the covenant marks the transition from cosmic or natural religions [Again!  “The same old story,” as I’ve said] to a religion organized around the supposed historical interaction of God and his people.”

How is this not “the same old story”–a story told by someone within a given religious tradition (of Judaism, etc.) about its relationship to other religions?  The same old story that ends up, in the very way it tells that story, the terms in which it tells it, privileging the teller’s position over the positions of different tellers?

Doesn’t recalling Rosenzweig “disrupt” Taylor’s own structures (and isn’t Taylor himself in this book providing a new “religion,” by his own definition of that term)?  Once one passes through Rosenzweig’s “gate” into life, into the everyday life to be lived every day, never “once and for all,” then doesn’t everything look very different?  Then, doesn’t a new perspective/position not also open up for rereading “the cosmogonic myths” and myth in general?  A perspective from which the eternal return of the same (the very everydayness of the everyday) is  precisely where the genuinely “new” takes place?  Since the new is  not “another thing,” but the “same” thing again, only each time brand new, as each day begins anew?

Modernity:  the reduction of the eternal return of the same, ever new, to the frozenness of the identical–the reduction of sameness to identity, the conflation of the former with and into the latter:  “Die Wűste wächst [a line from Nietzsche that is typically translated as “The wasteland grows.”]

Taylor even goes on to quote Henry Frankfort, “a distinguished archaeologist and historian” (from p. 134), including this line (p. 139):  Until Judaism and what happens with its emergence, “. . . man was condemned to  unending efforts which were doomed to fail because of his inadequacy.”  Goodness!!!  Neither Frankfort nor Taylor mean this as at all critical toward [thinking] such a thing.  Rather, both of them take it to be the way that Judaism, and everything coming from it (e.g., Christianity), draw away from and rise above (though neither says it that bluntly, and would no doubt [be able to adduce various qualifications in their views that that could help] to exonerate themselves of the charge) “cosmic and  natural religions”!

But isn’t Rosenzweig’s reading of Judaism very different?  Doesn’t Taylor‘s reading of Judaism end up flattening out the very things Rosenzweig’s highlights?  And isn’t what finally gets flattened out time and history as such, which now become no more than the endless succession of “one damned thing after another”?

Who’s historical?

As Heidegger suggests, the supposedly un-historical ages may be much more authentically historical the our hyper-historical present age.

Taylor, p. 169:  “Th[e] ostensibly ‘secular’ interpretive strategy [of what Ricoeur calls the “hermeneutics of suspicion”] is actually an extension of theological hermeneutics . . .”  Similarly, p. 171:  “Marx’s revolutionary program not only depends on Hegel’s account of religion but also presupposes a thinly disguised secularization of traditional Judeo-Christian theologies of history.”

As I already wrote recently of others who argue the same way, such “readings” could as easily be reversed, and one could see, á la Hegel, for instance, the “truth” of earlier religious ideas to be what finally comes into its own in later, non-religious thought.

Trauma, the Morality of Representation, Death, and Community


Coincidentally, in the same January 9, 2009, Sunday New York Times that contained Jacob Heilbrunn’s criticism of recent films depicting the Holocaust, which I discussed briefly in my last post, there also appeared a book review, by Richard Lourie, of H. G. Adler’s novel The Journey, the English translation of which, by Peter Filkins, appeared only last year from Random House.  As one learns from Lourie’s review, as well as from Filkins’s introduction to his translation of the book itself, Adler was born in Prague in 1910 into a secularized Jewish family, and was himself a survivor of both Theresienstadt and Auschwitz, surviving 18 members of his family, including his wife, her mother, and his own parents, all of whom died in the Nazi camps.  After liberation, Adler eventually settled in London, where he wrote, among other things, The Journey, detailing in fictionalized form his own journey during the Nazi era.

Both Lourie’s review and Filkins’s introduction–as well as Adler’s son Jeremy Adler’s afterword to The Journey–also acquaint the reader with the journey Adler’s book, written in German, we are told in the son’s afterword, during 1950-1951, itself had to take before it was finally published in Germany in 1962.  Even after publication, the book languished little-known and little-read until only recently, as indicated by an English translation only now becoming available for the first time.

In all three places, Richard Lourie’s review, Peter Filkins’s introduction, and  Jeremy Adler’s afterword, we are also told that the influential German publisher Peter Suhrkamp vowed that the book would never be published in Germany so long as he lived.  And it wasn’t.  Lourie and Filkins also connect Suhrkamp’s reaction with the dominance at the time of the aesthetics of Theodor Adorno, who famously declared that literature was no longer possible after Auschwitz, that the very idea of transforming such horror into fiction was blasphemous and obscene, to use the same terms I already used myself in my last post to characterize any “exploitation,” as Heilbrunn appropriately names it, of “Auschwitz”–of all that name has come to  stand for–for the sake of telling some tale of redemption.

Interestingly, H. G. Adler himself refuses to tell any such tale in The Journey.  At least that is how I read what he says in the opening pages of his book, which are all that I have so far managed to read of it myself, having purchased Filkins’s translation just a few days ago.  At any rate, to help contextualize the series of postings I have been making recently on this site–the series of entries made in my philosophical journal months ago, concerning the works of contemporary American historian Dominick LaCapra, who is himself very much concerned with such matters as concerned both Adorno and Adler–it will, I hope, be helpful  to the reader to know a little about how I stand in relation to what, for short, I will call the morality of fictionalized representations of the Holocaust/”Auschwitz.”

To put it as clearly and bluntly as I can, my own strong sense of the matter is that the risks of falling into blasphemy and obscenity grow greater, the less “fictional” and more “realistic” the representation–in a certain sense of “representation,” to which I will return in a moment–becomes.   Thus, as I see it, we are much nearer to the swamp of blasphemy and obscenity, if not already neck deep in it, in, say, Spielberg’s film Schindler’s List, which presents itself as basically a “true story,” than we are in, say, the “imaginative,” “fictionalizing” reworkings of the material in a work such as I (so far, at least) take The Journey to be.

The sense of “representation” I have in mind in making such remarks is one in which “representing” means something such as “presenting in an image,” or “picturing.”  It is representation in a sense that ties the notion very directly and closely to that of an image, itself taken as essentially, or at least paradigmatically, visual.

For me, there is an important sense in which, to put the point hyperbolically, with regard to such things as Auschwitz the photo-graphic is the porno-graphic.  That is, the more closely the representing comes to what Walter Benjamin called “mechanical reproduction” (in his often-cited article “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction), as in the photographic image, the more morally questionable it becomes.  The  closer representation comes to reproduction in and as such an image, the greater the risk of blasphemy and obscenity becomes.

Fully to articulate what I am struggling to  articulate with such formulations will require further efforts in future posts.  It will also require the context provided by my confrontations, in the philosophical journal entries I have been posting and will continue to post, with a variety of the issues involved.  That most surely includes the entries in my journal that address the works of LaCapra, which entries I have been posting here for the last few weeks. 

The post before this one, to which I gave the title “The Truth of Auschwitz,” contains the final entry from my philosophical journal occasioned directly by my reading of LaCapra’s works.  In the next entry from my journal, posted below, my focus shifts away from LaCapra and, for the time being at least, away from direct concern with the issue of representing trauma, especially the Holocaust.  Nevertheless, the matters that concern me in the entry below and that will  concern me in the coming posts continue to provide a context for further direct discussion of the issue of the representation of trauma, when it does resurface, as it will eventually for me in this blog.

Below is the next entry in my philosophical journal.


Monday, April 4, 2008

Various things:

1.  [Alain] Badiou, Logiques des Mondes (Paris:  Éditions du Seuil, 2006), p. 571, in note on IV.3.4, just after Derrida died [my translation]:  “Death, decidedly, always comes too soon.”

Comments:  Death is not only a trauma, even the one trauma we must all come to “sooner or later.”  Rather, it is the trauma.  It is what is traumatic in every trauma:  the revelation without mask of the face of death, as in Poe’s “Dance of the Red Death.”  And insofar as to become a human subject–if that expression is not pleonastic–is, as Heidegger has it, to be cast into being-toward-death, then death (as being-toward-death itself, as Heidegger insists) is the founding trauma of  the human subject as such.

The trauma of time:  the trauma which is time.


2.  In an excellent essay [“Notes on Trauma and  Community”] in  Cathy Caruth, ed., Trauma:  Explorations in Memory (Johns Hopkins University Press, 1995), sociologist Kai Erikson distinguishes between what he [following two other researchers he cites] calls [p. 189] “corrosive communities” and “the ‘therapeutic communities’ so often noted in an earlier literature” about the way, after “natural disasters” like an earthquake, there comes a period of community drawing together in mutual support and aid.  In his “corrosive communities,” however, what happens is the opposite, and they emerge from “technological” rather than “natural” disasters–the key distinction.  Here, the disaster reveals and deepens the divisions within the community, as between the corporations responsible for the disaster but who deny all such responsibility finally, and the victims of it–in effect,though Erikson doesn’t say this himself, the trauma that gives rise to such a corrosive community is one in which the line between perpetrators and victims becomes crystal clear.  Yet the trauma–this is the point Erikson is making here–is still a founding one (not his term) for the community at issue.  Only now it is a riven, split, divided community.

Comment:  The truth that comes to  pass in a “technological” disaster that founds a “corrosive” community (where both or all sides of the divided parts of the community define themselves in terms of the traumatic event, from the date of that event on) is precisely the splitting of the given community into perpetrators (oppressor, dominant class) and victims–a splitting which has always already been there but did not yet, until the traumatic event, come to show its own face.

Accordingly, if that truth coming to pass in/as the traumatic “technological” disaster is  to be allowed to come to pass,the only way that can occur is by the restoration of justice, the healing of the rift between perpetrator and victim–better:  the redemption (in, e.g., Benjamin’s sense) of the victims.  And it is precisely the reaction of the  perpetrators not to let that happen–i.e., not to allow  comes to pass (that is here to say, what has come/comes/is coming now, here, on/as this date-event, as to pass, as demanding the emergence of its truth, the truth it is/reveals:  It has come/comes/is to come as to be allowed to pass).  The primary form of that reaction is to engender the false sense of community–to lay claim to the event as a trauma that “struck us all alike”–and in that process to reinforce the violence/oppression/perpetration and even to compound it, by denying the victims even the possibility of complaint, in effect, relegating them to a silence that, unlike the silence of Abraham in Kierkegaard’s reading of the sacrifice of Isaac, cannot even itself be voiced or heard.

So:  What, if any, truth comes to pass on 9/11?  What, if not precisely the truth the refusal of which the Bush reaction institutionalizes?  The refusal of the truth that America is not the victim here, but is, rather, the perpetrator?

A couple of pages later (pp. 193-196), Erikson notes how the victims (not his word) of such “technological” disasters often come together (in effect in their mutual  estrangement from the larger community wherein, know it or not, they are victims) for mutual support.  P. 194:  “They are not drawn together by feelings of affection . . . but by a shared set of perspectives and rhythms and words that derive from the sense of being apart.” As he goes on to note at the end of the next paragraph:  “. . . they can be said to have experienced not only a changed sense of self and a changed way of relating to others but a changed worldview.” 

So far, everything he says fits AA like a glove, though he says no such thing himself. However, he then goes on to characterize this new “worldview” that arises in the traumatized victims of refused (at the level  of the community as a whole and as run to satisfy the powers that be) trauma, as being characterized by a hyper-sensitivity and hyper-alertness to risk, etc.. 

Well, there the AA example presents a different possibility:  that of the creation of a new community “alongside” the corrosive one that just keeps on keeping on–a community in which all such hyper-vigilance can be and is let go, so that the community and its members can go on/go into, again or for the first time, their own lives, to live them, free of all such anxiety and constant, nagging insecurity, as the Big Book’s [that is, the book Alcoholics Anonymous’s] talk of how “we” [i.e., such alcoholics in recovery] “overcome our sense of economic insecurity,” which has nothing to do with “becoming financially secure.” 

AA, like Benedictine monasticism, is life itself lived in and as a community of equals. It is justice reigning.  Not, however, as even disruptive of the unjust pseudo-community alongside which life in AA/the monastery is lived, but, rather, as the reality to and for which the pseudo-community is dismissed as a phantom, as God dismisses such phantoms [when he wakes], in one of the stanzas of one of the repentance psalms.