Colonial Memory and Trauma

Sanyal, Debarati
Craps, Stef

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Lecture by Debarati Sanyal and Stef Craps exploring how coloniality may compel us to rething the very structures of "memory" and "trauma" within the humanities. This lecture was presented as part of the Mellon Sawyer Seminar in Comparative Global Humanities.

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>> So I don't have the powerful voice that Lisa has,
I'll speak into a microphone.
So the present event brings into our midst two very distinguished scholars,
who are at the forefront of the study of cultural memory and trauma.
And who exemplify a new and very important trend in this field,
specifically work that examines the intersection of memory and
trauma with colonial and post-colonial contexts.
And as many here may already know, the question of cultural memory and
trauma, as it was constituted within the colonial context,
can be traced all the way back to some of the work of Franz Hanon.
Who, as a psychoanalyst, was concerned about the psychological
disorders that he observed as being rooted within the colonial experience.
However, for the most part, despite examples such as that,
we don't find in the field of trauma studies or memory studies,
more broadly, a strong tradition of engagement with the colonial context.
And I think that's what makes the work of our two speakers today so exciting.
So, they exemplify, I think, a more recent generation of scholars that has begun to
rethink and reconfigure the field around questions that the colonial experience
draws our attention to.
Shedding light to what may be termed as traumatic in the memories of colonial
histories, from the constitution of racialized and gendered ordered to
the countless wars and skirmishes that make up the legacy of colonialism.
Our speakers have done ground breaking work on the question of complicity, for
Rethinking the paradigms of traumatic cultural memory away from binaries of
victim and perpetrator and rethinking the colonial context as a gray zone whenever
ever-shifting registers of complicity mark different subject positions.
And as well as work that reconsiders the value of psychoanalysis, for
example, with its intrinsically Eurocentric origin and reexamining it as
a field with concepts that could be made available to non-Western and
particular colonial contexts.
So our two speakers today are Stef Craps and Debarati Sanyal.
They will be speaking in this order, which is, I think,
reversed from what was on the poster.
>> [INAUDIBLE] The other way around.
>> You'll be the beginning segment?
Okay, so I'm sorry, so Debarati will be beginning, thank you.
Okay, so I'll introduce Professor Sanyal first, and
then I'll introduce Professor Craps.
Debarati Sanyal is professor of French at UC Berkley,
affiliated with the designated emphasis in critical theory and human rights program.
Her teaching and research interests span the 19th, 21st centuries in French and
Francophone literatures with a focus on memory studies,
as well as 19th century poetics of revolution, the occupation, and
Holocaust studies, and more recently, critical human rights and refugee studies.
Her publications include Memory and Complicity, Migrations of
Holocaust Remembrance, which came out in 2015 from Fordham University Press,
a really wonderful and important book for our field.
As well as The Violence of Modernity, Baudelaire, Irony, and
the Politics of Form, which came out in 2006 from Johns Hopkins.
She's also the co-editor of [FOREIGN],
multi-directional memory in post-war French and Francophone culture,
which is published from Yale French studies in 2010.
She has a current book project,
which addresses the contemporary refugee experience.
And the French speaking testimony fiction and
film, which is tentatively titled The Poetics of Political Asylum.
Our next speaker will be Professor Stef Craps,
who is an Associate Professor of English Literature at Ghent University in Belgium,
where he directs the Cultural Memory Studies Initiative.
He is the author of Postcolonial Witnessing, Trauma Out of Bounds,
which was published by Palgrave in 2013.
It came out in paperback in 2015.
And Trauma and Ethics in the Novels of Graham Swift: No Shortcuts to Salvation,
which came out in 2005 from Sussex Press.
He's also guest edited special issues of Criticism, a quarterly for literature and
the arts with Micheal Rothberg, who is another figure in the same field.
And Studies of the Novel with Ghent Bullins, on the topics of respectively
transcultural negotiations of Holocaust memory and post-colonial trauma novels.
He has currently or has just ,well, no, he's currently guest editing
another special issue of Studies of the Novel on climate change fiction.
And he's just come out with a co-edited edition that's called
Memory Unbound, Tracing the Dynamics of Memory Studies,
which was edited with Lucy Bond and Peter Vambulin.
And I was delighted to receive a copy of it today.
So, I'll give the floor to our two speakers, but
may I ask you to join me in welcoming them?
>> [APPLAUSE] >> Thank you, Cameron, for
that introduction, and thank you, Cameron and Lisa, for this lovely invitation.
I'm really happy to be here today.
I had to see some snow.
So I'm not sure how many of you are actually participants in the seminar,
but basically, I thought that I would [LAUGH] just go over a few of the ideas in
Memory and Complicity, which is the book that was discussed.
And then move on to some of my more recent work in relation to that book So
memory and complicity was about the users of Holocaust memory in French and
Francophone culture from pretty much the post war years to contemporary times.
And I was interested in a cultural current that foregrounded complicity,
rather than trauma.
When dealing with histories of violence and a current that,
rather than singularizing the Holocaust as the paradigm of historical trauma,
connected its memory to other memories of atrocity.
And often through a focus on continuities and
complicities between different regimes of racialized violence.
I was particularly invested in tracking the political force of
these gestures of connection.
But also their ethical perils, like what does it mean, for instance, for
a documentary on the Nazi camps to open out into an allegorical reflection?
So I was interested in one of the early titles for
the project was Dangerous Intersections,
how such convergences of trauma and complicity actually forged
dangerous intersections in the trans-cultural traffic of memory.
So I guess, you could say there were about four large questions that were animating
the different chapters.
Which are what are the risks and benefits of invoking
the memory of one historical atrocity in order to address another?
What is the role of complicity in making these connections?
And how does complicity, rather than trauma,
open up a critical engagement with the violence of history?
And finally, because my first book was on Bolaire, and
I think i'm fundamentally irredeemably a formalist.
What is the role of aesthetic form, allegory, analogy,
palancest, irony in this kind of memory work?
So I think that some of you have read parts of chapter one and three,
and I'll just briefly go over those.
And in chapter one,
which is the one that's probably most in dialogue with some of your work, Steph.
It sort of looks at some of the trauma theorists that Steph's book is engaged in.
And there are a number of convergences in our critique of trauma theory,
namely its Eurocentric bias, its tendency towards universalization.
It's focused on a crisis of representation, and
it's privileging of an aesthetic sort of shock and fragmentation.
My particular focus in the kind of critique of the trauma paradigm was
the convergence of trauma and complicity in recent approaches to
the Holocaust and also other kinds of historical atrocities.
Where the Holocaust is seen to inaugurate an engagement that's actually a universal
sense of shame that provides the ethical ground and
tenor of a post-Auschwitz being.
And I looked in particular at, yeah, so
trauma theorists such as Kathy Kabruth, Shoshanna Feldman, but
also Giorgio Agumban's view on the gray zone of complicity.
And this is a concept that Agumban elaborates from Premo Levy's
work on the moral ambiguities and compromises in the camps.
And so Agumban actually draws out of Levy this notion
of the gray zone as a kind of paradigm for what I'm calling traumatic complicity.
And in general, I think this initial chapter in my book is an attempt to
distinguish between the kind of essentialism and fixity of certain
paradigms that have come to dominate in our discussion of memory and
historical violence, a paradigm such as state of exception, bare life, Muslim.
And contrast the fixity of such paradigms in theory and philosophy to
the kind of boundary crossing forest and mutation of aesthetic figures.
As ways of thinking about continuities and
interruptions in certain histories of violence.
So in general,
I guess, one of the ways I see this book as an attempt to kind of rehabilitate
the force of literary figures in its energizing of political commitments.
And as an example of that, I guess,
I'll just talk a little bit about the third chapter,
which kind of, I guess, addresses most directly the question of colonial trauma.
So in chapter three, which is on the migrations,
the iconography of the camps in Alain Resnais and Jean Cayrol's Night in Fog and
how these images resurface from the post war context to images of Guantanamo Bay.
So, I actually do an analysis of how complicity functions in this documentary,
Night in Fog.
It's a classic post war documentary on the Nazi camps, and so I
track how the imagery of this documentary migrates through different contexts.
How, for instance, it's stimulated anti-colonial mobilization in France
during the Algerian war by opening up its documentary
imagery to an allegorical reading of colonial violence.
So I look at how Night in Fog's metaphors of the concentrationary plague, so
again, figures, right?
The victim turned executioner,
the enemy whose face is one's own, the deafness of bystanders.
These are all rhetorical figures that are very powerful at the film's closing.
And that are precisely, rather than closing off the film as a testimony
to the Nazi camps, open them out to other contexts.
And these were tropes that actually circulated on both sides of
the Mediterranean at the time.
I mean, we can think about Aba Gamu, but also Mohammad Dib,
Algerian writer, and Driss Chraibi, Moroccan writer,
who are also using similar tropes to actually exploit the connections between
Nazi expansionism and detention and colonial deportation and torture.
So, I wanted to just show you a little
piece of, Another context in which the imagery
of Night in Fog actually illuminates a context of colonial violence.
And that is Sembène Ousmane's 1988 film, "Camp de Thiaroye." Now,
there's a really funny, I mean not ha ha funny, but grim funny,
kind of back history to this, which is that Ali Michelle, who was the historian
who furnished the central historical source for the film, Night in Fog.
Actually, in the early 60s, actually,
tried to come up with a pedagogical program,
where this documentary would be shown to former colonies in Africa and Madagascar.
In order to show the former colonies what they had escaped from by
participating in the fight against Nazism.
So, in other words, Night in Fog was gonna be shown to show just how
dreadful Nazis were in order to indirectly rehabilitate colonialism, right?
And so in some sense, so, Semban Uzman, who actually made this other film on this,
the massacre of colonial conscripts by the French Army, didn't know about this.
But it really furnishes a kind of counter memory to the kind of memory that Night in
Fog was supposedly mobilizing.
So Semban Uzman's film reconstructs the circumstances
of a massacre that takes place in a Senegalese Transit Camp in 1944.
When colonial soldiers, who actually fought for France,
return and encounter a number of humiliations and
are also not given their full demobilization premium.
They kidnap a general And they seem to have actually succeeded in their
negotiations but in the end they are massacred.
It's a film In the cinematic reconstruction,
Sembène Ousmane actually shows us a scene in which this one,
colonial conscript who actually fought for
the French, was detained in Buchenwald,
comes upon the barbed wires of this camp in Camp de Thiaroye.
>> So, as you've seen Pays runs his fingers along the barbed wires,
and grasping knots that bind these wires together.
Knots that are signalling the convergence of these two concentrationary histories,
and that he's the only one to grasp and is unable to release.
And then you see the cameras shift to Pays's gaze as he's
upon the guard at the top of the watch tower.
And there's a whole reflection on complicity and
gray zones here that I don't really have time to unpack.
And then you have a series of still taken from
Rene Enkehall's Night in Fog, same sequence spliced in.
So the eruption of these images of Mauthausen and Buchenwald, and
a camp in Senegal shows these historical entanglement with the Nazi genocide.
And also foreshadows the imminent massacre of
the colonial troops by French authorities.
And Pays flashback is not a private trauma, it is on the contrary, it marks
the emergence of historical consciousness as Walter Benjamin conceived of it.
And I quote Benjamin here articulating the past historically does not mean
recognizing at the way it really was.
It means to seize a hold of a memory as it flashes out in a moment of danger.
And at the end of the film actually you'll see there's an image of on the watchtower.
And that image dissolves into an image of the the watchtower in Auschwitz.
And what I'm suggesting is that it's not,
we don't actually have kind of one paradigm of the concentration area here.
But rather a kind of flickering in and out of visibility
of different iterations of this, of the concentration area reality.
And in that spirit, I actually, in the last pages of that chapter, I sort of
go out on a limb a little bit and look at images of Guantanamo Bay.
That bring home the actuality of the concentration camp
world that was being examined in the post war French context, and
how it's still very much alive in the post 9/11 context,
even as we see key differences in the technologies of detention and torture.
And this is something I continue to be interested in today which
is the atticuatcey of the Nazi camps as a way of understanding contemporary modes of
But also sort of the atticuacy of biopolitical concepts
such as bare life in contemporary understandings of the refugee.
So at the end of memory and complicity, I was thinking about how memory loss and
various kinds official recognition in France and elsewhere of the Holocaust,
of resistance, of slavery, and colonial massacres.
How these recognitions are reflected and also aided and
sometimes even anticipated, right?
By cultural works that seek to bring buried memories into visibility, both
the druidical and the cultural domains are parallel sites of representation that
have a reparative function in so far as they recognize historical injury.
But even as we imagine that we're working towards a kind of happy plurality of
memories, these recognitions obviously always unfold within a political terrain.
So I've been thinking more about how cultural works, film, fiction,
installations, might actually help us interrogate and reimagine the very
conditions of visibility, audibility, recognition, and reparation.
At the same time, I became also much more interested in reading and
listening to testimonies that aren't necessarily mediated by art.
In other words, actual testimonies by peoples.
Specifically asylum seekers that have to narrate themselves and
their pasts in order to get sanctuary.
It started with a poet Baudelaire, so this is kind of a long way.
So here I just wanted to say a few words about my current project on testimony and
cultural representation.
I'm not sure about the title the poetics of a political asylum, but
that's what it is for right now.
And it began kind of from, what it was for me,
a non-academic work volunteering interpreting for asylum seekers.
And I became really interested in this phenomenon that Didier Fassin
explains very well but actually is sort of living it,
which is the transformation of testimonies by asylum seekers
into legitimate narratives of trauma, suffering, and victimhood.
The tensions on the one hand between the sort of singularity on textures of
an asylum seekers voice and stories.
And on the other hand the narratives that are deemed audible or
visible in the bid for refugee status.
As we are finding out, as we know all too well, asylum seekers,
when they're not viewed as fraudulent or terrorists, are often perceived as
victims whose wounds speak louder than the words they actually say.
Fassin has diagnosed this as humanitarian reason, where the right to protection
has been replaced by an appeal to moral sentiments such as compassion and
empathy, resulting in a muting of politics rights and agency.
So at the same time I'm also interested in cultural interpretations that
reflect on the question of sanctuary at both the thematic and the formal level.
One of my chapters for instance is on the hospitality of visual form.
And examines how a number of film directors
are using techniques like the fixed frame as opposed to the tracking shot
to elaborate a kind of cinematic asylum.
One that also functions as an alternative juridical platform for
staging refugees' testimony.
So, I'm interested in how a range of literature and film and installations and
so forth provide a symbolic platform for those denied the right to appearance and
movement in traditional conceptions of.
But, in addition to this reparative function, I'm also interested in how these
works make the singularities of refugee experience visible and audible.
Again by sometimes changing normative expectations
of what visibility looks like and what it means to be seen, heard, and have a voice.
So I'm trying to figure out how different cultural forms can stage the conditions
and constraints of a refugee subjectivation movement,
narrative, and agency.
Now and obvious connection between my current project and
the previous book has to do with the theorization of the refugee experience
through the lens of a negative bio-politics.
Where contemporary border zones are seen as states of exception
modeled on a certain understanding of the Nazi camps.
And obviously contemporary Camps can't quite be reduced to this paradigm given
the differences between self organized refuges, shanty towns, humanitarian camps,
closed off-shore sites, like Guantanamo, etc and so forth.
Similarly the refugee is often pictured as a vulnerable body,
and often also through the kind of poignant essentialism of their life.
And of course these images can have a powerfully mobilizing effect as we saw
in the global response to the photo of Alan Kurdi,
the Syrian toddler washed up on the shores of Bodrum.
Intense but short lived mobilization.
But it's important to consider alternate subjectivations of the refugee that don't
simply replicate the asymmetries of humanitarian compassion.
So here I just wanted to share a few clips of a film that I discussed and
that stages some of these questions.
And this film, I'm sorry I discussed it in the article draft that I circulated.
And so for those of you who aren't in the seminar just a quick thumbnail sketch of
Calley's camps, Calley's encampments are well at least used to be
right by the town of Calley, its in France it's sports complex and
the euro tunnel and for a couple of decades migrants and refugees have camped
there and then attempt to cross over to the UK where family and community ties.
As well as a common language and sometimes work on the black market, and
a higher rate of asylum acceptance seemed to promise more hospitable conditions.
Considered an eyesore by the French state, the encampments were destroyed last fall
in the name of humanitarian compassion and respect for these migrants' dignity.
So, and
these are the images.
I got it. >> Okay.
>> Yeah. Artisinal. [LAUGH] So, Sylvan George's Qu'ils Reposent en Revolte"
is a document that set in a previous iteration of Calais encampment.
It was Film between 2006 and 2009 before its 2009 destruction.
Now is a director that very explicitly rejects a certain vision of
the refugee as a traumatized victim or as bare life trapped in a state of exception.
Note here that the subtitle of his film may they rest in revolt is figures of war.
As he puts it and I quote him migrants are not victims but people.
They are political subjects, men and women who fight and
cannot resolve themselves to passively accept the violence of the state.
They fight with their own strength and resources and draw and
promote at the same time different visions of the world as real and as necessary.
And we see this both in his cinematography, but
more crucially in the actions and testimonies of the documentary's subjects.
So in terms of the cinematography of this film, and
I urge you to see it actually just come out on DVD.
I think I probably shouldn't be saying this especially if this being recorded,
but there are other ways of getting it online.
So the poetics of this film are completely shaped by
a kind of concentrationary history anaesthetics that I studied in memory and
complicity specifically with its tracking shots over barbed wires and train tracks.
It's very sort of, "Claude Lanzmannian." Camera sweeps over desolate and
deserted landscapes, and it's sort of affiliation with the kind of post war
aesthetic and--- I'll just let you read that.
But that history in the film's actual images is
entirely imbricated with other histories of violence, displacement and loss.
For example, you'll see a body on barbed wire and
then explicit references to strange fruit along with the music of Archie Shepp.
And I'm also very intrigued by the affective charge and
the rhetorical texture of these people's
of the migrants who are interviewed of their account of themselves.
Especially when they describe their physical and psychological suffering.
Here I just want
to play, I'm
just going to play
you a couple of
clips [VIDEO CLIP].
>> You have to survive in India.
>> You know the last.
>> This is virus HIV, this is virus in Europe.
>> Because you know in all European they have their system for
of fingerprint in order to know where.
How the demand will arrive, and when it will go.
So just, and we have techniques to hide our fingerprints.
>> If it was possible to cut this one and throw it, and
bring another hand >> I was doing that but so
it's not possible.
Just burning my hand, I don't know what happens to my hand.
They are making us slaves.
Slaves of [FOREIGN]
They destroy our life.
We can't go,
we can't
change our
>> I said it, I said it.
I say it's our tradition.
>> Because
white man
use it to,
I mean,
they do it
with our
>> Fingerprint mutilation here is explicitly evoked as a technique or
counter dispositive to state surveillance.
And so here, we see very clearly how these tactics show refugees
as political subjects, where there is, however,
difficult to watch a kind of affirmative bio politics in which the power
over life wielded by border controls cedes to the power of life to elude them.
And one of the things that we might sort of come back to in discussion is
to think about whether, in fact, what we're having with the evocation of slavery
as the antecedent for both biometrics prints.
But also, their erasure, whether this actually,
whether what we're having here is a kind of instantiation of colonial trauma, or
post-colonial trauma, or whether, in fact, we have another situation altogether.
In other words,
what is the kind of subject of this kind of practice of fingerprint mutilation,
a subject that's actually evoking the longer history of colonialism and
slavery in order to understand and resist the border dispositive.
I'm interested in how tactics such as this one participate in a wider struggle for
mobility where the right to disappear is tactically seized to elude a border
regime that encamps in the name of protection.
But just as I wanna say that we wanna be careful about paradigms that immobilize
the refugee into bare life, I would also caution against an essentialization or
of the migrant as the new figure for postmodern mobility.
Becoming imperceptible or the right to disappear is not opposed to but on
a continuum with a need to appear, become visible, claim a place, or stay in place.
So while refugees may tactically disappear to remain on the move, they also join
together to form provisional communities, becoming visible as bodies within a common
space, however constrained from which they collectively resist displacement.
And at the end of the Calais piece, I actually evoked some examples of this kind
of attempt to be seen and heard from the borders of a camp like Calais.
And such utterances and gestures, I think, dismantle very clearly,
the binaries in which bodies in flight are currently figured, their life versus
speaking agent, abjection versus agency, illegality versus citizenship.
And these are instances that, to my mind, are just to think about flight,
resistance, subjectivation, and recognition differently.
So, thanks.
>> [APPLAUSE] >> Thank you.
I want to start by thanking Cameron and Lisa for inviting me.
You have no idea how excited and
humbled I am to be a part of this amazing seminar series.
I mean, talk about hard acts to follow, and that includes Deb Aratti of course.
At a moment when the United States is pulling up
the drawbridge, walling itself off from the rest of the world,
a seminar series on comparative global humanities,
featuring scholars from all over, including such far-flung and
exotic places as Belgium, couldn't be more timely.
It really is an incredible honor and a pleasure to be here and
to have the opportunity to discuss my work with you.
I hope, at least some of you, have had a chance to read the chapters from my book,
Postcolonial Witnessing, that I shared with Cameron and Lisa.
If not, don't worry about it.
In this talk, I will use the benefit of a few years hindsight.
The book came out as Cameron said in 2013.
We'll use the benefit of a few years hindsight to take a step back and
situate the book within the field of trauma studies,
recapitulate and expand on the arguments that I put forward there,
analyze two very short literary texts and not discussed in the book, and finally,
give you a very quick sense of where my research has taken me lately.
My book takes its place among a recent wave of books, special journal issues, and
articles that reflect a certain unease about trauma studies becoming a field,
a concern that a set of valuable, and
complex ideas, and insights may be congealing into a rigid methods or
creeds, and thereby, losing the capacity for self reflection and
the original investigative or ethical impulse.
If trauma studies had seemed to be stagnating somewhat since its early
burst of creative energy in the 1990s, my book,
like these other publications I've listed as some notable volumes on the slide,
can be seen as an attempt to rethink and revitalize the field in order to
ensure its enduring relevance in the globalized world of the 21st century.
I tend to think of it as marketing a shift from a celebratory
moments in trauma studies to a more critical and reflexive one.
In fact, it seems to me that such a shift has emerged
in memory studies more generally over the last decade.
And trauma studies can be viewed as something of a subfield of memory
studies even though it has a rather different institutional and
conceptual history, and even though it is sometimes perceived as
dominating the field of memory studies, as a whole.
Indeed, the initial euphoria and optimism characterizing
much work on memory as a transcultural, transnational, or
global phenomenon that has been done since the turn of the 21st century has dampened.
It has been exposed as premature, naive, or unwarranted.
Memory scholars these days are much more likely to draw attention to factors
that impede the mobility and flows of memory points of resistance to
hegemonic homogenizing dynamics, memories role in border
making as opposed to border crossing.
Much of the criticism that has been leveled,
trauma studies in particular, revolves around the prevalence of a Eurocentric
prospective which sits uneasily with the theory's globalizing thrusts and
its self-proclaimed ethical aspirations.
As Cathy Caruth, one of the founding figures of trauma studies has famously
suggested, and I quote, trauma itself may provide the very link between cultures.
With trauma forming a bridge between disparate historical experiences.
So the argument goes.
Trauma studies can contribute to the promotion of cross cultural solidarity and
the creation of new forms of community.
As I, and others, have pointed out, however, this project is
jeopardized by a trauma study's tendency to forget its situatedness.
And to assume universal validity for what are, in fact,
local definitions and models.
The impetus for much of the current theorization about trauma and
representation was provided by the Nazi genocide of the European Jews.
As is apparent from the work of Caruth, Shoshana Felman and Dori Laub,
Geoffrey Hartman and Dominick LaCapra.
Trauma studies, as a field of cultural scholarship, developed out of
an engagement with Holocaust testimony, literature, and history.
It has primarily been produced in Europe and
the United States, and despite its universalist pretensions,
is profoundly marked by the specific context in which it originated.
For one thing despite the omnipresence of violence and suffering in the world,
most attention within trauma studies has been devoted to events that took place in
Europe or United States, most permanently the Holocaust and more recently 9/11.
The focus in other words has tended to be quite narrow.
Moreover, to the extent that trauma studies has ventured beyond these
key Western trauma sites, it has generally failed to acknowledge the traumas
of non-Western and minority populations on their own terms.
Today, the concept of trauma is widely used to describe responses to extreme
events across space and time, as well as to guide their treatment.
However, as Allan Young reminds us
in the Harmony of Illusions: Inventing Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder,
it is actually a Western artifact invented in the late 19th century.
The origins of this historical product can be located in a variety of medical and
psychological discourses dealing with Euro-American experiences
of industrialization, gender relations, and modern warfare.
The far reaching implications of the fact that trauma is rooted in a particular
historical and geographical context have long been ignored by academic researchers.
They have tended to take for granted hegemonic definitions
of trauma that are not scientifically neutral but culturally specific.
And which will have to be revised and modified if they are to adequately
account for the psychological pain inflicted on members of non-Western and
minority groups instead of compounding it.
Indeed, it can be argued that the uncritical cross cultural application of
psychological concepts originating
in the West amounts to a form of cultural imperialism.
This claim has been made most forcefully by Derek Summerfield,
a psychiatrist who sharply criticizes humanitarian interventions
to provide psychological assistance in international conflict situations.
As I argue in my book, rather than promoting cross cultural solidarity,
trauma studies risks assisting in the perpetuation of the very beliefs,
practices, and structures that maintain existing injustices and inequalities.
If it refuses to broaden its usual focus and continues to take for
granted the universal validity of definitions of trauma and
recovery that have developed out of the history of Western modernity.
It doesn't help either, for it to adhere to a prescriptive trauma aesthetic
revolving around fragmentation and aporia
that favors a narrow set of trauma texts by mostly Western writers and artists.
And effectively condemns alternative modes of
bearing witness to trauma to oblivion and irrelevance.
I'll illustrate the arguments that I have developed so far by briefly
discussing a short poem by the Jamaican-American poet, Claudia Rankine.
Which seems to me to call for a more inclusive, pluralistic and
politicized form of trauma studies.
The poem is from Citizen, a collection published in 2014,
that exams the experience of racism in the United States and
the West more generally through vignettes of everyday discrimination of prejudice.
And meditations on the violence, whether linguistic or physical,
that has impacted the lives of numerous racially marked subject.
The poem in question captures and denounces the mental health profession's
traditional blindness to the psychic suffering of people of color.
Let me read it for you.
The new therapist specializes in trauma counseling.
You have only ever spoken on the phone.
Her house has a side gate that leads to a back entrance she uses for patients.
You walk down a path bordered on both sides with deer grass and
rosemary to the gate, which turns out to be locked.
At the front door, the bell is a small round disk that you press firmly.
When the door finally opens, the woman standing there yells at the top of her
lungs, get away from my house, what are you doing in my yard?
It's as if a wounded dog Doberman Pinscher or
a German Shepherd has gained the power of speech.
And though you back up a few steps,
you manage to tell her you have an appointment.
You have an appointment?
She spits back.
Then she pauses.
Everything pauses.
She says, followed by, yes, that's right.
I am sorry.
I am so sorry, so, so sorry.
The poem recounts the first encounter between a trauma therapist and
a patient addressed in the second person,
who unexpectedly turns up on her front doorstep.
After finding the side gate locked that leads to the back entrance,
which the therapist normally uses for patients.
Having only spoken with him on the phone before,
therapist evidently assumed her new patient to be white.
But he turns out to be black.
In fact, she does not immediately recognize him as her patient but
sees him as an intruder or trespasser.
And reacts in anger and fear, yelling at him to leave the premises.
It is not until the unwelcome guest manages to tell her that they actually
have an appointment that it dawns on her that this is in fact her new patient.
And on realizing her mistake, she apologizes profusely.
This anecdote reads like an allegory of the insensitivity to racial and
cultural difference characteristic of canonical trauma studies.
An attitude, that it is implied, generates further trauma.
After all, the black man on the receiving end of the trauma counselor's rage is made
to suffer a micro-aggression in being verbally assaulted, and treated like scum.
And such experiences can foster traumatic responses as they accrue over time.
By blurring the boundaries between the protagonist and Rita,
the use of second person narration enjoins the later to sympathize with the former,
making them feel his pain vicariously.
Rankine's poem thus powerfully bears witness to the psychic suffering of
an othered individual which the dominant trauma paradigm ignores, marginalizes or
It does so, moreover, without resorting to the kinds of avant garde
experimentation or modernist pyrotechnics, beloved of many trauma theorists.
Indeed, Rankine's poetic language is unadorned, plain, direct,
conversational prose.
Besides broadening the focus of trauma studies to encompass traumatic experiences
of non-Western and minority groups And revising and
expanding hegemonic definitions of trauma accordingly.
Scholars working to liberate the fields of its persistent eurocentric monocultures
tendencies have in recent years begun to draw attention to the interrelations
between traumatic metropolitan or first world histories,
particularly the holocaust, and traumatic colonial histories.
In so doing, they, or
rather, we, call into question notions of absolute uniqueness and
radical incomparability that had led to western historical traumas typically being
considered in isolation from and often at the expense of other historical tragedies.
As we've seen an insistence on the inherent
relationality of trauma can already be found in Caruth's field-defining
publications from the mid-1990s.
Even so, the founding texts of literary trauma studies,
including Caruth's own work are largely focused on a single historical trauma and
rarely venture beyond the boundaries of Europe and the United States.
It fell to later trauma theorists, and critics to forge the kinds of
links among traumatic histories into that, but not pursued at any
great length by Caruth nor by Feldmen and Laub, Hartman and Lacapra.
Over the last decade, a significant amount of literary scholarship has been devoted
to the interrelatedness of memories of the Holocaust and other atrocities.
Which had in fact already engaged the attention of historians, philosophers,
sociologists, and other intellectuals soon after the second world war.
One thinks for example of Aimé Césaire's discourse on colonialism.
Hannah Arendt's "The Origins of Totalitarianism." Paul Gilroy's
"The Black Atlantic" and "Between Camps" and
the work of historians of comparative genocide such as Dirk Moses and Dan Stone.
Noteworthy examples of work of literary scholarship on
the comparative trauma includes Brian Chaves Diasporas of the Mind,
Debarati Sanyal's Memory and Complicity, Max Silverman's Palimpsestic Memory, and
Michael Rothberg's Multidirectional Memory,
with the latter proving particularly influential.
Rothberg's study theorizes the co-implication of holocausts and
colonial trauma by illuminating what he calls
the multi-directional dimension of traumatic memory.
He offers an alternative to the competitive memory model, according to
which the capacity to remember historical tragedies is limited, and any attention to
one tragedy inevitably diminishes our capacity to remember another.
Against this framework which understands collective memory as a zero sum struggle
over scarce resources, he suggests that we consider memory as multi directional
that is quote subject to ongoing negotiation, cross referencing, and
borrowing, as productive and not privative.
The concept of multi-directional memory and I quote again,
draws attention to the dynamic transfers that take place between diverse places and
times during the act of remembrance.
Besides making a theoretical argument against the logic of competitive memory
based on the zero sum game an historical argument
by the inseparability of memories of the Holocaust and colonial violence,
Rothberg also puts forward a political argument in multi-directional memory.
He questions the taken for
granted link between collective memory and group identity, and
suggests that the productive intercultural dynamic of multi directional memory has
the potential to create new forms of solidarity and new visions of justice.
I would illustrate this move from competition to multi-directionality with
a short, solid length poem by Native American writer, Sherman Alexie.
Titled The Game Between the Jews and
the Indians is Tied Going Into the Bottom of the Ninth Inning.
It is a post-memorial poem that seeks to move beyond a competitive understanding
of the ratio between different historical performers towards a more dialogical,
collaborative, and inclusive perspective.
It's from Alexie's 1993 collection, First Indian on the Moon.
Let me read it for you.
So now, when you touch me, my skin, will you think of Sand Creek, Wounded Knee?
And what will I remember when your skin is next to mine?
No, we can only think of the past as one second before where we are now,
the future just one second ahead.
But every once in a while we can remind each other that we are both survivors, and
children, and grandchildren of survivors.
The speaker is a Native American who is in
a love relationship with the addressee who is Jewish.
He wonders whether their intimate touches will evoke traumatic memories of
Native American massacres in his partner, Sand Creek, Wounded Knee, and
of the Holocaust in him, Auschwitz, Buchenwald.
He answers his own question in the negative.
Adding that we will only think of the past as one second before of what we are now,
the future is just one second ahead.
His reluctance to admit such memories of genocide can be accounted for
by a desire to fully inhabit and enjoy the presence,
moments of love without distractions or interruptions.
However the results of the suggestion that history must be bracketed
because the lovers might begin to compare their histories and
to compete for most victimized status.
This suggestion is reinforced by the title of the poem which casts the Jews and
the Indians as competing teams in a baseball game that is about to be decided.
The game is described as tight, but
the eventual outcome can only be a win for one team and a loss for the other.
The incongruous and irreverent sports metaphor satirizes the competitive memory
model which is implied the United States imposes on ethnic minorities.
Baseball after all is an all-American past-time.
Jewish and Indians are forced to compete for public visibility and
recognition of their respective genocidal histories.
Jewish and Native Americans suffering cannot be remembered together
to collective memory of one group has to win over that of the other
which is inevitably screens out or hides from view.
Importantly though,
the speaker of the poem goes on to qualify his blanket refusal to accept the burden
of his and his partner's traumatic historical memories.
In the closing lines, he raises the suggestion of
a possible alternative to memory competition and comparative victimology.
And I quote but every once in a while we can remind each other that we are both
survivors and children and grandchildren of survivors.
The poem ultimately refuses to play the game of competitive memory and
resists its presumed inevitability.
Instead, it gestures towards a multi directional model in which different
historical memories enter into dialogue and mutually inform one another,
rather than cancelling each other out.
While the comparative approach undoubtedly represents one of the most important and
necessary innovations in trauma studies, a caveat has to be made.
Somewhat paradoxically, the holocaust
remains central to efforts to decentralize western historical traumas.
All of the studies I've mentioned, including my own, take the Nazi genocide
as that point of comparison, as does the vast majority of scholarship in this area.
As a result our collective efforts to move beyond the logic of the unique,
the incomparable, and the unprecedented Which has tended
to keep the focus squarely on the genocide committed in Europe by Europeans against
other Europeans, may inadvertently prove counterproductive.
After all, there is something paradoxical about considering one
particular history to be uniquely suited to challenging the uniqueness paradigm.
There is still a need for more comparative work in trauma studies, but
it would be salutary it seems to me if a greater variety
of history is sort of brought into contact with one another.
In conclusion, I think it's fair to say that over the last ten years or
so, trauma scholarship in the humanities has, for the most part, become a lot more
clear eyed about the limitations and exclusions of trauma studies,
as conceived by Caruth and others in the early to mid 1990s.
In fact, in the afterwards to the 20th anniversary edition of her influential
book, Unclaimed Experience, which came out just a few months ago, Caruth herself,
at last acknowledges the post-colonial critique of classical trauma studies.
Her engagements with it, however, strikes me as unduly and
unhelpfully, defensive, limited, and dismissive.
She makes it appear as if everything turns on her critic's alleged failure to
appreciate the full complexity of the story of Tancred and Clorinda,
an episode from Torquato Tasso's epic poem Jerusalem Delivered.
Which she goes on to analyze in much greater detail than she had done
previously for the best part of the afterward.
The fact that trauma scholarship has entered its post celebratory phase
does not mean that it has become a cynical undertaking.
Trauma studies has not abandoned its progressive commitments,
and lapsed into political quietism, and despairing resignation.
After all, critique is not a strictly negative endeavor
with a crucial step in seeing more clearly, understanding more deeply and
consequently acting more responsibly.
Speaking for myself, I conclude my book by arguing that a revised
inclusive culturally sensitive trauma studies can help identify and
understand situations of exploitation and abuse.
And act as an incentive for a sustained and
systemic critique of societal conditions.
By fostering attunements to previously unheard suffering, and
putting into global circulation memories of a broad range of traumatic histories,
a more reflexive pluralistic, and flexible trauma studies
can assist in raising awareness of injustice, both past and present.
And opening up the possibility of a more just global future.
And in so doing, it would actually deliver on the ethical promise of
the field rather than giving up on it.
My sense is that we are only at the beginning of this process, and
that is also where I would situate my own work in this area.
What I do in personal witnessing is diagnose a problem,
but not so much remedies.
To some extent, I think, this is symptomatic of the phase we are in.
I have tended to focus on literary texts that highlight the shortcomings of
a dominant trauma discourse, for example, Sindiwe Magona's novel Mother to Mother.
And more recently, Aminatta Forna's novel, The Memory of Love.
These are texts by post colonial writers who, however,
are steeped in western culture, who write in English, and
who address a western audience first and foremost.
And I think this is true for Rankin and Alexi as well.
They invest considerable energy in pointing out the inappropriateness, and
the injustice of applying Western frameworks to a colonial, or postcolonial
situation, but they are less concerned with offering a concrete alternative.
And that is the next step, I think,
once the critique is out of the way as it were, we can start examining what
an alternative to the dominant trauma discourse might look like.
In practice, on the ground, in particular, non-Western, or minority contexts.
Other scholars, including Kamran, are beginning to do just that.
They are studying how the cultural production of particular
non-Western minority groups bears witness to painful histories.
This requires specialized knowledge of these other cultures and
languages, of the different media, and forms of expression they use.
And of local beliefs about suffering and healing, and
it seems to be that this is where trauma theory, or trauma studies is headed.
I want to end this paper by offering you a very quick
glimpse at the direction my own research is currently taking,
which is a little different from the path that I have just described.
As will be clear from everything I've said so far, I'm interested in ways in which
trauma studies can renew itself in order to stay relevant.
My latest research examines to what extent trauma is, or
can be a useful concept for engaging a way of climate change.
Which is arguably the greatest challenge facing humanity today.
Looking at various literary and cinematic responses to climate change, I was struck
by the fact that many of them do in fact deal with deeply unsettling experiences.
But what is unusual about them, what sets them apart from trauma literature, trauma
cinema as we know it, is that they tend to bear witness to trauma before it happens.
It's not a matter of working through past catastrophes, but
of witnessing traumatic visions of the future.
And Kaplan introduces the terms future tense trauma and pre traumatic stress
disorder to describe this phenomenon in her 2015 book, Climate Trauma.
Independently of Kaplan, Paul Saint Amour has also uses the latter term in his book,
Tense Future, which came out in the same year, and
which describes the pre traumatic syndrome of the inter war period.
A period that lived in anxious anticipation of a second world war even
more devastating than the first.
In post apocalyptic dystopian climate fiction, trauma is mobilized in the hope
of averting the catastrophe being remembered, which at the time of reading,
or viewing has not yet happened, or not yet fully happened.
The hope is that the proleptic memory of climate catastrophe
can function as a spur to action that would prevent the anticipated devastation
from actually coming to pass.
Deployed as a strategy to convey the urgency required to address climate
change, the phenomenon of future tense trauma holds great potential, it seems to
me, for further research on the relationship between morning and activism.
This kind of research is particularly necessary perhaps in the age of Trump,
which has seen classic dystopian levels top best seller lists,
as people scramble to understand the catastrophe has only just begun.
And to find ways to mobilize against an administration that seems to be on
the verge of causing irreparable damage to this country, to the world and the planet.
The dire physical situation we are in at the moment lends a sense of urgency to
the cause for memory and trauma studies to become more future-oriented,
instead of merely backward-looking.
That have frequently been heard, that have frequently been issued in recent years,
as suggested by the titles of editors' collections, such as The Future of Memory,
Memory and The Future.
And the future of Trauma Theory.
Well, I'm wary of making grandiose claims for
the relevance and the utility of our work.
I do think memory and trauma scholars can and should try to intervene in
the pressing matters of today, perhaps now more than ever.
Thank you.
>> So I'm mindful of the time.
So I'd like to actually go to questions from the floor, if there are any.
We can start.
>> [INAUDIBLE] My question, so in the book you talk about
the problem of the [INAUDIBLE] paradigm made the promise
that [INAUDIBLE] talking in class earlier about.
How, one problem of course, is that [INAUDIBLE] and
as someone who works on, else new question and
I've always followed him to his office [INAUDIBLE] in fact,
we've been [INAUDIBLE] enabled students right?
Well, that's because that they actually
love [INAUDIBLE] because [INAUDIBLE] and
then you've got [INAUDIBLE] all the bunch of the reaction, right?
[INAUDIBLE] so what it all seems to be is [INAUDIBLE] of just two [INAUDIBLE] right?
[INAUDIBLE] Americans, so I'm wondering how what are the multiple
ways we can get beyond that paradigm would be the Holocaust?
It seems like looking relationally at two is really useful, and
relationally in multiple ways.
It seems like that's probably been the lesson [INAUDIBLE] relation to
the [INAUDIBLE] relationship.
And then, it seems also subjective to move beyond two and move into three,
as analysts, not necessarily as public [INAUDIBLE] but
looking at multiple examples [INAUDIBLE].
And then also keep in mind,
they're talking about the barbwire.
It seems like looking at technologies and materialities is another way
going beyond sort of something an abstract kind of using, for example the category
refugee is [INAUDIBLE] category that people can fit into or not fit into.
And then obviously as with any of these categories people are always more than one
thing and they always relate to that one category.
Being or not being a refugee in both ways, and
one refugee is not necessarily going to identify mostly strongly, or
easily with refugees from other [INAUDIBLE] right?
Barbwire thing allows us to get really material and
it's a little bit of connection on all these things.
Of course, it need helps that we're spark wired to, it was connected and dividing,
right, as a way for us to be through this.
So I'm just looking about these various ways,
when you talk about to sort of get beyond paradigm of the holocaust.
It doesn't seem like we're gonna be talking about anything relevant.
[INAUDIBLE] We were just talking about a minute ago how sunny it is.
The President of the United States has declined, I think,
two days in a row to forcefully anti-Semitism.
So it's not we should stop by right?
So I'm just sort of looking about all these tactics, and
what you see as advantages and disadvantages of them both as scholars and
as cultural producers and artists, sorry, that was very wrong.
>> Go ahead and get started.
>> [INAUDIBLE] tensed,
which sort of we can see as sort of connecting those three crises.
>> What?
>> Tense, all tense, [INAUDIBLE] barbed wire.
it is really hard that even as we are resisting or
critiquing the paradigmatic status that the Holocaust
has acquired in both in analysis and kinda human rights discourse.
We're constantly reinscribing and I love your suggestion of,
because it's usually that against this one other thing that unlocks
it into that kind of a relationship of a paradigm and of a phenomenon.
I'm interested in what you're saying about how these figures of connection and
separation can actually break that.
And I'm not sure I'm quite following.
I mean, the finance it was suggested, but could you say maybe a little bit more?
>> About [CROSSTALK]?
>> About how it is that it's figures for
a kind of materiality that is also well connective and
then divide it, like the barbed wire, for instance, or the tendons you just said.
>> Well, barbed wire for example absolutely was a line, and
since it connects along the line, and also divides,
that's what therefore, right, dividing inside and out.
But then barbed wire can also as a technology of hence,
also technology of inclosure and formulas that you come in,
you recognize the materiality of it.
>> As a way of them sort of reconstructing a web or a series of ricochet around
them thinking about [INAUDIBLE] at the various iterations
that are brought into a competitive relationship without carrying on.
>> Yeah, right, and I thought what you said also comes down about getting
out inherently is so important.
And it seems perhaps that, also help do that.
Exactly help you out, but that the reality of something like barbwire and
it goes beyond the, can't just be about camps,
because it goes towards the other end, we'll try the colonial frontier as well.
Like, [INAUDIBLE] maybe too many, I don't know.
>> I just want to briefly say something about your first point about the need for
the holocaust to be brought into sort of a wider conversation to be connected
to various other kind of histories going back to the native American,
just like as the native Americas for example.
In my talk, talk about the need for more comparison work, and
either it provides us a range of histories to be taken into account.
Then again, I find myself thinking of a couple of examples,
recent examples, of so the very multi-dimensional novels if you like.
Like the Nature of Blood by Carrel Phillips and
all that recently [INAUDIBLE] I think it is, which I discuss in the book.
The one thing that I don't mention, that is about there is something strange
about that norm which connects various histories of black and Jewish suffering.
Not just 20th century, but it goes back to 15th and 16th century Venice.
And looks at various episodes of anti-semitic persecution and
black suffering as well, and interconnects those intensely multi-directional level.
Part of it is set in Israel, and sort of before [ [INAUDIBLE] would say to Israel,
pre-state Israel, if you like or British mandate Palestine,
it just after the second World War.
But somehow, that level does not mention the elephant in the room as it were.
I mean, does not mention the NaAKBA,
does not mention the dispossession of Native Americans, of Palestinians, rather.
Which is sort of false, right?
And it made me sort of wonder,
whether multiracial memory can perhaps also kind of serve as screen memory,
and it sort of writes, cuz it's an intensely motivational moment.
But it's as if that web of connection serves to
actually make the NAKBA invisible.
So I think there is something similar going on in a more recent novel
by Teju Cole which called Open City, I don't know if any of you have read it.
But that's, again, very Sibaldian novel,
weaving this very dense web of connections between all sorts of atrocities.
And at the very end of that novel, as I'm sure those of you who've
been able remember, it turns out that the protagonist,
narrator I believe of that novel who must really come to think of us as very
sophisticated and sensitive and that symbolized personal rights,
who sees all these things, and then establishes all these vast knowledge.
That he himself has been sort of spinning that web in order to hide from
view a history of sexual violence, in which he himself was involved.
So, I mean, it sort of shows how definitely, there's a need for
more comparative work, but that itself has to be sort of selves screen memory work.
Anyway, it's just something I look at much [INAUDIBLE] to your question about this.
>> But actually, I notice a lot really quickly.
I think this also speaks back to what you were bringing up.
Maybe some of these, for instance, materialities move in too many directions.
I mean, we do have this sort of faith in the idea that more and
more multidirectional, I mean, the more life we'll make.
The more we're gonna have this pluralistic democracy of memory.
And in fact, as we know, this is never the case.
I mean, there is this sort of idealist gesture towards an infinity of memory.
There's the difficulty in conceptualizing and then on the one hand, and
on the others as you point out.
It can be a screen and also with these kind of memory where you're just operate
within a very sort of, pertained field of political possibilities, right?
So that, one of the writers that I examine,
in my book is kind of making all sorts of, this whole web of connections.
And fundamentally, it's about connecting Islam to fascism, and
completely undoing the relationship between Nazis and colonialism.
And this kind of particular rehabilitation of French colonialism in Algeria.
>> [INAUDIBLE] >> That kind of-
>> So, yeah.
So in as much as [INAUDIBLE]
center it could also
I wanted to ask in
a general way [INAUDIBLE]
functions between
the two [INAUDIBLE]
in a sense that [INAUDIBLE]
continue to [INAUDIBLE].
not necessarily
particular kind
>> Yeah, thanks for that,
it's a great question.
Actually, yesterday, Loretta and I were we're saying now there's so
much common ground between us over here to be talking about.
>> [LAUGH] >> We basically, agree on most things.
But indeed, as I was rereading book and
also listening to your presentation just now.
You sort of, oppose complicity on trauma, right?
Now, you say, I'm going with complicity
whereas I do hold on to that concept of trauma, and
while I also recognize that it's problematic in many
ways it can be useful for very dubious purposes or abused.
I do think, it's not sort of doomed as it were,
irredeemably tainted, and it can be sort of reclaimed,
which is sort of that's what I tried to do in the book.
And I don't personally see that binary between trauma and complicity right?
In one of the chapters of my book that I think I circulated,
it's called cross traumatic affiliation, right,
which sort of tries to bring complicity of trauma together, I suppose, right?
So I think that concept of trauma is one that you
don't want to give up on and too easily.
It's a powerful constant trauma.
It gets you things, recognition, compensation,
asylum, insurance reimbursed therapy, and so on and so forth.
It's a powerful concepts and so, also, for strictly strategic reasons,
I think you don't necessarily want to give up on that.
You want access to that vocabulary and that language.
And so I think, it's possible to hold on to that sort of concept,
and then try to be publicist as it were.
>> Well, I kinda thought this might come up.
>> [LAUGH] >> We both did, right?
I don't have any I mean, trauma exists,
as more traumas exist, but it's interesting.
I've been thinking about, well, how relevant is it.
I'm completely with you that trauma is a tool that we
can't necessarily entirely dispense with.
I'm thinking here about how important the idea is like the psych evaluations are and
in cases for instance and it's really kind of extraordinary now,
sorry this is totally anecdotal by way of getting to the response.
I was working with a psychiatrist with an asylum seeker, and then, sorry,
the psychologist basically, I mean, you could really sort of see the division
between her function as an authenticator of this person's trauma and
the care aspect.
And what happened actually, is the psychologist completely misheard.
What the asylum seeker was saying because she was so busy actually
crossing out some a completely egocentric symptomatology trauma.
This person was from the DRC and
had a completely different set of triggers in response.
Process to it, so I mean, just as a completely uneducated,
when it comes to psychiatry, witness to this kind of misreading,
it's worrisome, just at the basic level.
Okay, so it's helpful, it gets you stuff, but it's kind of worrisome,
that we rely on something that's quite so coarse.
That being said, I don't know.
I mean, I've been sort of wondering,
so trauma, I kept thinking, why not traumas?
And then to really kind of acknowledge, what is it about trauma as a concept?
Really gets us.
And that, not entirely sure.
But for me,
it's just much more lately when I'm thinking about cultural production,
that is representing or rehearsing or refracting various kinds of violences.
I find it more useful to think about counter-violence classes or.complicity
which can indeed be traumatic, and complicity and trauma,
you're absolutely right, don't have to be opposed.
For me though there is a kind of, and
I think that your work is nuanced like this a lot, but
there is a privileging of victimhood which is kind of a problem.
All the way, just read a brilliant article on the importance of actually
acknowledging perpetrator trauma and terms, context of genocide,
so there's a lot of interesting work that's being done right now with
the category of trauma in these other contexts that are kind of avoiding some.
The pitfalls of well we are all victims and
somehow actually encounter the representation of trauma also traumatized
us which is basically what we saw post 9/11, the the planes actually go into
the World Trade Center was very traumatic.
So it's those kinds of excesses that.
I find really unhelpful in the deployment of trauma, so-
>> Yeah and I agree with that.
I think that's diplomatic to the conflation of trauma and
victim-hood for example.
My response to that would then be, as critics,
as theorists, it's up to us to point out her condition.
Try to disentangle those concepts because trauma, that's the reason why
its such a sort of popular concept is because of that association also.
>> Right.
>> Its seen as inferior moral capital on whoever claims.
>> To be traumatized, right?
Whereas, it's actually a clinical category, sort of morally neutral.
>> Yes.
>> And there is that conflation of clinical and moral, legal discourses.
And I think it's sort of up to us to then point that out and
sort of disentangle those things, and indeed talk about perpetrated trauma.
For example, rights.
And it's a phenomenon that is often sort of denied, or
sort of ignored, or stamped on out of the carpet.
And I think that's one direction in which people are currently taking their field,
right, talking about this form of moral injury.
Actually, Palladium Leda was all about Moral
injury sort of presented this as sort of the future of trauma studies.
And I think perpetuate the trauma, implication,
these sorts of things are definitely things that are worth exploring.
But again I think it's necessary to dispense the concept
of trauma altogether but at the same time definitely not saying that we should.
I'm also sort of aware of overuse of that concept, right?
And I think it's important to be aware of the limits of that concept.
It's not as if every form of violence that exists is traumatic, right?
That it's not because it's not traumatic because it doesn't traumatize people
per se that it's not bad sometimes, but it doesn't need to be addressed, right?
So I'm not saying we should sort of overuse the concept necessarily.
So I think it's important to be aware of limits and the fact It doesn't necessarily
hold the key to understanding all of the world's problems to fixing them, right?
>> So I can just ask you those steps?
So the importance of trauma, so in terms of as a way of actually
talking about psychic suffering, is it the difficulty of access
that makes the category Memory trauma so important and necessary?
>> I think so, that was definitely what attracted literary and
cultural scholars to it back in the early 90's.
I mean, I think it makes sense to see trauma theory as a kind of
reinvention of the beleaguered paradigm in, literally in culture
studies of textualism, deconstruction constructionism.
Reinvention of beleaguered besieged paradigm in an ethical guise, right?
As a kind of response to the, the pull to man a fairness, and so on.
And this offers concepts, offers literary scholars,
who were associated with that school.
I mean, that's true for for Hartman, for Feldman, obviously,
often then, the way back to talk about history, about politics,
about ethics, about things that matter.
And to, because the inaccessibility of trauma that
you were talking about that sort of translated as, and
that would be analogous with the undecidability of,
deconstruction revolves around so I think they'll let us [INAUDIBLE] interest.
Well today.
>> We're not at that moment where [INAUDIBLE] at the size etc.
So no I'm just curious how because I suspect
there is a real potential value to really.
Thinking through the trauma in the kind of context of crisis of the kind that
we're witnessing right now.
But I guess wondering where the inaccessibility part of it,
why trauma rather than other ways of thinking about
physical suffering or various forms of dementia.
>> I don't think it has to be either or necessarily.
I think it's important to see trauma studies as one mode of inquiry
among others which is valuable.
But in consult with these other methodologies and approaches.
Which shouldn't account for displace really.
It should pretend to be able to do that.
Yeah. >> Yeah.
>> Yeah thank you both [INAUDIBLE].
>> I have a question I've
always wondered about.
The communication of trauma for a political project
that is it gets you what you need or
it gives access to what you need and in particular around sort of.
Talk about the Black Lives Matter movement.
I think it's true that we
shouldn't go on these travel studies if there's a very important project there and
[INAUDIBLE] your discussion of the Holocaust is important [INAUDIBLE]
in this country at the moment.
But [INAUDIBLE] revealing [INAUDIBLE] of the strategic
use of trauma to access preparations [INAUDIBLE] so
activists have very exclusively trauma whether regarding
people or particularly on college campuses.
And it seemed kind of
actually the way the coverage in this country.
I'm sure you know people [INAUDIBLE] of reports describing the trauma
of police officers who [INAUDIBLE] >> Blue lives matter.
>> And how blue lives matter how [INAUDIBLE] in my experience and
they was a fascinating round table, the [INAUDIBLE] about.
Which are mostly a question but
So I wonder what
you both for me [INAUDIBLE] [INAUDIBLE] for this country.
What I wonder is as Thomas
would say about trauma, [INAUDIBLE]
>> Mm-hm.
>> Yeah. >> I agree.
[LAUGH] >> Yeah I think
that everything is limited really.
I think black lives matter.
I was actually thinking of that when I was thinking of politically.
Well to what extent it's effective, I think it has been effective in many ways
in sort of calling attention to raising awareness about this phenomenon which for
far too long has sort of remained invisible.
And we can't really say well it hasn't really lead to reparations yet
for example right, okay but I mean.
And that is a tall order if you expect the black lives matter movement to
really sort of completely transform race relations in this country for example.
I think it has in many ways been effective right, it has achieved something.
As least brought these instances of
police brutality into visibility.
That I think is an important necessary first step which then can
perhaps lead to political transformation.
Political transformations, but again,
as I was saying earlier, I don't think trauma necessarily holds the key.
It is not necessarily going to change the world.
If you can claim to be traumatized,
that's in itself a thing that's just one part of it.
Carrying it on to bigger things.
So yeah and I was also thinking in your piece
you talked about this memorial march for this refugee in Calle I forget him name,
marched for, do you remember who it is?
Anyway it's one of the.
The case that you look at in the caning piece.
Which also struck me as sort of a politicization of
globalization of trauma calling attention to mourning.
>> But it really was mourning.
>> Right, yeah.
>> Rather than it was mourning and a cry for justice.
This from a place of mourning,
this person- >> Right, so
[INAUDIBLE] kinda go together?
>> Absolutely. >> Calling it, this is a refugee for those
of you who haven't [INAUDIBLE] refugee who dies trying to make his way to England,
basically, from [INAUDIBLE].
And apparently there have been many such instances.
There was, or there is,
they employed additional on publicly mourning basically because you can't come
together apparently as a group, that's not allowed under French law.
And a group of refugees in the jungle, in the Calais
camp decided to ignore that prohibition and to stage this memorial
march basically to call attention to what is happening along Europe's borders.
And a lot more people tend to turn a blind eye to and ignore, and so
I thought that's very powerful.
>> That is really, so Athena Athenopoulos,
is it, Athena Athenopoulos is cobra. >> This
book with Judith Butler, Dispossesion.
She's just come out with the book actually on I think the political
force of collectives that come together in mourning.
So that it's not a kind of melancholia, but
really, the sort of force and range of mourning and his demand for justice.
I think that can be really, very powerful.
>> [INAUDIBLE] >> Okay, so I was on.
I teach at Brandeis University, where we have a board hall,
what it was [INAUDIBLE] matter last year.
And the movement, from my point of view, of that [INAUDIBLE] was students saying to
the faculty and administration, here's how we see you see us.
And I, as a result of that movement,
our attempts have been transformed to [INAUDIBLE] event administration.
And we have a much more diverse student population.
This year [INAUDIBLE] on campus.
We have a number of [INAUDIBLE] so
this concept here's how we see you see you seeing
us does not negate the actuality of [INAUDIBLE].
[INAUDIBLE] also asks the viewer, in this case the theorist
[INAUDIBLE] the institution itself.
And I saw this in the film in the literature [INAUDIBLE] but
here's how I see you how I see you.
Here is how I see you see the therapist.
Actually, I can't be your patient.
I can only give you the best in the situation.
I think some of you is that she puts the reader outside the situation.
She says [INAUDIBLE] quote this part, but she says, I'm at home.
I have a therapy session.
I didn't leave therapy.
I had therapy.
I went home, and I couldn't figure out why I was crying that publicly.
So then, she asks the reader, I think, to help her.
She doesn't ask for help, but she sort of witnesses the reader, the scene, and
[INAUDIBLE] in the reader, I guess this question,
well, how are you seeing these being seen by this therapist?
So these are not questions, obviously, the thoughts that we need.
>> No, this is actually really profound, that ricocheting,
relaying effect of reflexivity.
That you're talking about is actually having real effects.
>> Thanks for that question.
>> Thank you.