Trauma, a term borrowed from the language of medicine for cultural theory and the social sciences, has joined the vocabularies of many disciplines over the last two decades; they use it to describe the aftermath of devastating events that shatter the integrity of individual and community experiences.
This aftermath affects various systems of representation, mechanisms for constructing knowledge, and the organization of private and public space, generally pertaining to such phenomena as: the Holocaust, genocide, slavery, colonization and decolonization, environmental catastrophes, accidents, sexual abuse, exclusion founded on gender, race, origins, domestic violence, war, ethnic and religious conflicts, political revolutions, terrorism, or forced migration.
Specific historical events have inspired scholars to pose some questions about the role of trauma in shaping individual and community memory and identity, and about its positive and negative consequences. This role involves the position of the witness, the victim, or the bystander and their ethical dimensions, the mechanisms of intergenerational transmission developed on a biological and cultural plane (post-memory, post-traumatic stress disorder, post-traumatic culture, traumatic realism), as well as places particularly marked by painful events (traumascapes, shattered spaces).
In our day, the category of trauma often pertains to the subject’s experience of pain, illness, suffering, disability, dying, and their social perception – phenomena particularly examined in terms of the dynamic field of the medical humanities.
In the present conference we will be particularly interested in trauma as a category for diagnosing modernity, and one that accompanies various discourses tied to modernization processes. We are looking for new readings of the classic texts (Freud, Lacan), categories, or theories in trauma studies, as well as presentations demonstrating the applicability of the concept of trauma in projects involving various symbolic practices.
Writing and Pain: Towards a Traumatic Manuscript
Aleksander Wat is one of the most interesting figures of the twentieth-century Eastern European avant-garde. Born in 1900, his debut was influenced by surrealism and futurism. The last several years of his life were marked by an extremely painful illness. Among the many testimonies to this final period, we find a short poem entitled U szczytu antynomij (At the Peak of Antinomies), which was published about forty years after Wat’s death. In the simplest of terms, this poem (as many others he wrote) tries to describe the experience of pain. There is, however, one fact which makes this case special.
The first (and only) edition is based on the typescript (preserved in the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University). But the text was originally written on the package of an analgesic painkiller that Wat used. In terms of genetic criticism, this extraordinary draft can be analysed as the graphic remains of a suffering body. Trauma is represented not only by the meaning of the words, but also by the very material medium (or, as American textual scholars like Gerome McGann would phrase it: not only by the linguistic code, but also by the bibliographic code).
My presentation will be based on my research conducted at the Beinecke Library (Fellowship for Visiting Postdoctoral Scholars, Yale University, 2014).
Trinity College Dublin,
Into the Cold: On the Uses and Abuses of Water in Literature and Politics
This paper looks at the role of water in biopolitics through the prism of myth, literature, and history from the Enlightenment to the camps and prisons of the twentieth and twenty-first century, as well as migration. Water transforms, moves but it also freezes into immobility. By looking at a set of key scenes in the Lycaon myth, David Malouf’s An Imaginary Life (1978), Isabel Allende’s House of Spirits (1982), Günter Grass’s The Tin Drum (1959) and W.G. Sebald’s Austerlitz (2001), I explore the links between water and the trauma of human abjection in a historical trajectory that stretches from the early homo sacer via the age of the great confinement of insanity to the role of water as therapy and torture, its perversion from healing to killing, turning patients into prisoners, in places such as Dachau, Bad Nenndorf, and Guantanamo Bay. Questions that motivate this study include these: What is the significance of freezing humans in literature and politics? What is the relationship between water and madness as mental aberration, between water and migration versus sedentariness? What are the theoretical connections in view of mobility and immobility between the medieval Ship of Fools and the recent arrival of thousands of migrants across the Mediterranean? .
Encyclopedias of Trauma: Salman Rushdie and the Encyclopedic Novel in the Age of Globalisation
Salman Rushdie’s novel Midnight’s Children is probably the most widely read and discussed encyclopedia of postcolonial collective trauma. My paper will focus on Rushdie’s later ‘American’ novels, where the focus changes from the tribulations of the Partition to the traumas caused by transcontinental migrations, the global economy and cultural inter-dependence. At the core of Rushdie’s narratives lies what he calls the “un/translatability” of cultures. In his codification of the collective traumas of the age of globalisation, Rushdie uses and reshapes the eclectic genre of the encyclopedic novel. According to Edward Mendelson’s definition, ‘Encyclopedic narratives occupy a special and definable place in [the] national cultures, but also fulfil a unique set of formal and thematic conditions’. The main argument of my paper is that, while Rushdie keeps all the ‘formal and thematic conditions’ of the encyclopedic narrative, his novels also mark a departure from the epichoric and national context of the genre and are best understood through ideas as a World-System (Moretti) or Vishwa Sahitya (Tagore).
University of Zagreb,
Trauma and Taboo: Forbidden Political Questions in Croatia
This paper tries to differentiate cultural trauma from political taboo, as well as to show the manifestations of both in Croatia. By capturing the recent tendencies of political tabooization and de-tabooization of the main national identity signifiers, it is possible to discern several clear lines of collective relationships towards the country’s cultural traumas. First, the cultural victim trauma related to the Homeland War is sanctified and frozen. Furthermore, narratives built from that period have been increasingly applied to the Second World War, in order to represent the quisling Independent State of Croatia in a more positive light. Such attempts of making an ideological continuity is a clear falsification of history. Second, the cultural perpetrator trauma, from both periods is denied and silenced. There have been several attempts to question both forms of cultural trauma in the fields of arts and civil society, but they are of limited reach and influence, especially because the mainstream media, political and religious actors promote the relativization and revision of the past. At the end of the paper, the author gives several pieces of advice for public action in order to change this mainstream condition of silencing and the tabooization of troubling traces from the past.
Key-words: cultural trauma, political taboo, national identity, defense mechanisms, Homeland War, theatrical plays.
Petrified Cocoons: Traumatic Voices in Contemporary Brazilian Fiction
Contemporary Brazilian fiction explores the concept of trauma in numerous ways, both when it pretends to come to terms with local wounds, related to a vast range of issues (i.e. extermination of the indigenous tribes, slavery, social inequality and exclusion, tortures during the dictatorship period, urban violence), but also to the painful experiences "inherited" from the Old World with generations of migrants established in Brazil in search of a better life. In this paper, I intend to focus on the latter and provide an analysis of two novels by two successful young authors of Jewish origin that illustrate this particular problem: The House in Smyrna (2007) by Tatiana Salem Levy (born in 1979), and Diary of the Fall (2011) by Michel Laub (born in 1973). I seek to discuss how trauma is treated both as a bond and an intergenerational burden and how it both enables and impedes mutual understanding.
Ethnofictions. Mockumentary and the Trauma of Colonial Representation
Film as one of the key media technological inventions of modernity already in the 1920s came to fulfil a critical function in the then-thriving discourse of anthropology. The documentaries produced by film crews accompanied explorers of colonialized lands, producing assumedly objective accounts of indigenous cultures. Current documentary scholarship refers back to those “factual” representations (notably Nanook of the North, 1922) to demonstrate not only the degree of artifice and staging involved in their production, but also their complicity in constructing such an image of ethnic Other that supported the civilizational mission and colonial oppression. I would like to approach those representations as instances of trauma in the specific sense that Freud gave to the term with reference to the German Traum (dream) and defined it as a misrepresentation which veils the actual conflict by displacing it into an accepted or desired form. The reference to the discourse of psychoanalysis is not random in the context of the material that I have chosen for my case studies, which overtly employ surrealist poetics to deconstruct documentary discourse. I would like to take a closer look at “ethnofictions”, a term denoting ethnographic docufictions from the area of visual anthropology which go beyond the binary of fact and fiction to produce what James Clifford called “ethnographic surrealism”. However, I would like to approach those representations from contemporary point of view, looking for an alternative genealogy of the currently discussed “mockumentaries” understood broadly as parodies of factual discourses. I will therefore take a look at how the trauma of colonial representations was deconstructed by mockumentary strategies, starting from Land Without Bread (1933, dir. Luis Buñuel) through Jean Rouch’s films to contemporary examples as critical engagements with the modernist colonial project.
Polish Academy of Sciences,
Trauma – Revelation – Annihilation. Lot’s Wife and the Politics of Witnessing Despite All
In my presentation, I would like to offer a re-reading or misreading of the Biblical figure of Lot’s wife, whom I treat as a potential for formulating a new concept of witnessing in the face of traumatic experience of violence. Inspired by feminist, affect and trauma theories I would like to provide a notion of traumatic memory – or at least attempt towards such a notion – alternative to existing and available forms and concepts of memory, witnessing, trauma and survival. Lot’s wife seems to be a perfect and a very potent figure for such an attempt: she was a female who opposed the law, who rebelled against it, who was punished by and for witnessing destruction (rather than experiencing revelation), seeing horror of mass annihilation and god’s violence and who – as pillar of salt – became a monument of sorts, a monument to her rebellious gesture and to the witness, as I shall claim.
University of Maryland,
How Chernobyl health problems were forgotten as soon as they were discovered
After the Chernobyl disaster, scientists around the world advocated a large-scale long term study on the health effects of Chernobyl exposures to the 4.5 million people most directly exposed. That study never occurred, nor do scientists today claim to know much about a range of health effects from long-term, low-dose exposures to ionizing radiation. Brown explores the archival history of early Soviet revelations of a public health disaster occurring in the contaminated lands and how that story disappeared from the scientific consensus. The case points to political and environmental predicaments today in the age of the Anthropocene.
Jagiellonian University Medical College,
Trauma, Depression, Immunity
Depression is associated with an altered immune response, which could be normalized by antidepressant drugs. One of the theories of depression disorder is based on the proinflammatory activation of the immune system. The immune system, particularly macrophages, plays an important role in the pathology of the illness. Macrophages that represent a heterogeneous population of immune cells are strongly activated both in proinflammatory response, but also mediate an anti-inflammatory mechanism whenever treatment with antidepressants are administered. Our studies demonstrated that systemically delivered antidepressant drugs modulate the peripheral humoral and cell-mediated immune responses, mostly through their action on macrophages. The neuroimmunological researches on the pathomechanism of depression have been connected with proinflammatory activation of the immunological system related to stress situations.
Phantom Experiences in Contemporary Installation Art. A View from Assemblage Theory
The contemporary landscape of performing arts becomes more and more populated by hybrid genres or artistic installations which fuse traditional artistic, theatrical and performative practices with scientific procedures, political activism and designing new technologies (e.g. bioart, technoart, digital art and site-specific performance). As German art theoretician Juliane Rebentisch contends, installation art is not merely another artistic genre but rather a space of spectatorial experience which becomes constitutive of art itself. However, as participants become involved in a plethora of relations with other human and non-human participants of the artistic event, their experience cannot be theorized using the traditional subject/object dichotomy. Thus, the aim of this paper is to put forward a more post-human model of spectatorial experience which routes around the hitherto accepted paradigms of experience, in particular that based on Freudian and Lacanian psychoanalyses. Drawing on assemblage theory (DeLanda, Ticineto-Clough. Sampson) and contemporary neuropsychology (Ramachandran, Blakeslee), the paper discusses phantom experiences in contemporary installation art in order to critically revisit the traditional model of traumatic experience based on the conception of a coherent, self-contained subject. In contrast to traditional approaches to phantom limbs as physical symptoms of trauma, contemporary neuropsychology invites us to see the performative potential of phantom experiences to challenge the received notions of self and non-self, opening a space of potentiality for the emergence of human and non-human assemblages.
Pedagogical University in Krakow,
Polish Academy of Sciences,
The Beautiful Tulip, the Corpse and the "Sans" of the Pure Cut: Derrida's Traumatic Aesthetics
This paper will concentrate on Jacques Derrida’s discussion with Kant’s concept of beauty in his Truth in Painting, in which he points to the close entanglement of the experience of beauty and the traumatic experience of death. Taking Derrida's findings as a starting point, I expand on the implications of this perspective, trying to define the root of the kinship of the two experiences, as well as their differences. I start with the claim that the theory of the ‘cut’ of the edge/parergon of a beautiful object, which separates its finality from the goal, is a metaphor for the traumatic ‘cut’ of death, which separates human life from itself.
Voices from the Margins: Polish and Slovenian Post-War Traumas in Contemporary Literature (based on Jani Virk and Magdalena Kozłowska)
The author focuses on two novels: Jani Virk's Smeh za leseno pregrado (Laughter From across the Wooden Barricade) and Małgorzata Kozłowska's Zupa z jeża (Hedgehog Soup). She attempts a comparative analysis of these texts using disability and memory studies. Central to her interpretation are the categories of the margins and exclusion based on disability and nationality. She outlines trauma-based exclusion and its consequences in Polish and Slovenian contemporary literature. The author is also interested in Porajmos (the genocide of the Roma people between 1939-1945) present in Kozłowska’s novel and the anti-Slovene sentiments in communist Yugoslavia described by Jani Virk.
Jagiellonian University Medical College,
Cancer and the Experience of Trauma
For many years medical discourse has separated the emotions from the biological causes of cancer. It was believed that stress did not affect the development of the disease. However, the latest research, including discoveries in psychoneuroimmunology, which explores the impact of emotions on the immune system, shows that painful experiences from the past can affect the development of cancer. There are reports of higher risk of breast cancer in female survivors of the Holocaust and victims of sexual abuse. Modern oncology also sheds new light on the traumatic dimension of diagnosis and cancer treatment. It turns out that the stress which patients need to confront in many cases meets the criteria of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). These interesting findings on traumatic experiences as the cause of the disease and its outcome should also be viewed in terms of studies on advanced cancer patients with particularly difficult relations to their past at the end of their life. This may be associated with non-specific treatment-resistant symptoms (“spiritual pain”). The aim of this paper is to present a new perspective on the category of trauma in the discourse of modern oncology and palliative medicine, showing its usefulness in describing the causes, effects and nature of cancer.
The Trauma of Non-Existence. Tadeusz Kantor’s Negative Images
There is a widespread conviction that Tadeusz Kantor's theater and literary work derives from individual and collective memory. This article will attempt to point out the problematic nature of this seemingly evident supposition. The content of the artist's work should be seen not as what is preserved in his personal memory, but in what is absent from it, and, as such, demands fulfillment in an image, description, or story holding a real referent. This applies both to individuals and to the “collective person.” The trauma of non-identification with the "archetype” – on an intimate level, with the father, on a social level with cultural community, on a moral level with a given ethos, on an existential level with an inherited religion – triggers the desire to regain one’s lost "self." However, this always concludes with the return of "the dead prior to birth": a dead double, a substitute being. Ongoing contact with this double only aggravates trauma, inevitably feeding the imagination with images of death. This experience reflects the postmodern condition of the "death of the human being," whom it substitutes with a non-human prosthesis. Kantor experiences the contemporary condition, but does not accept its persistence, and therefore adopts the avant-garde gesture of subversively questioning the status quo; this he does by taking the Polish path to Modernity, reactivating sources of Western spirituality instead of burying them. The trauma of identity inspired him to create a series of images of the “collective person” to replace a real "ancestor" as the universal donor of an individual identity.
Polish Academy of Sciences,
Global Year against Pain after Surgery as a Practice of Large-Scale Advocacy
The International Association for the Study of Pain (IASP) has proclaimed 2017 the Global Year against Pain after Surgery. To spread information, IASP has prepared several fact sheets on ‘various aspects of postsurgical pain’. These publications will be analysed as a part of a large-scale advocacy practice. The analysis will focus on language and evaluate whether there are significant differences between approaches when presenting the same (or very similar) information to health-care professionals and laymen (in the documents to ‘the Public’). This comparison will be facilitated by the fact that the IASP has provided parallel fact sheets by the same authors for either group. In humanistic medicine the issues of pain, illness and suffering are primarily seen from the subject’s perspective, as the whole discipline is founded on the ethical principle of salvaging the individual (‘human’) dimension of medicine. The proposed analysis will attempt to verify whether the highly general remarks on postsurgical pain used in the campaign are consistent with the core concepts of humanistic medicine which lie at its root.
University of British Columbia
The Classic Triad and the Concept of Trauma: Victim, Perpetrator, Bystander
Although the Holocaust is commonly described as the most traumatic event of the XX century (and, in fact, of all modernity), the introduction of medical and psychological concepts of trauma has changed the field significantly. Trauma has not only entered into the vocabulary of Holocaust Studies, but also influenced contemporary approaches in the field. In fact, one can argue that it has reconfigured the way in which we approach the classic triad of perpetrator, victim and bystander, along with their narrations and stories. Utilizing memoirs of victims of the Holocaust and German Nazi policies, I will discuss how the introduction and then various usages of the concept of trauma has come to influence Holocaust Studies as well as common, media-based approaches to the Holocaust.
University of Wrocław,
Whose Trauma, Whose Recuperation? On the Role of the Autistic Character in the Postcolonial Narrative of Subalternity
Cathy Caruth in her reading of Freud’s theory of trauma offers a reconsideration of the repetition compulsion central for trauma theory, and observes that it is not exactly the return and overcoming narrative that the child in Freud’s study engages in in his fort und da play but a creation of a new language “from beyond the story” (Caruth, Parting Words: Trauma, silence and survival).
In literary representations trauma is never left beyond language; it may represent the withdrawal from society, language, the self, but it will always be retold, narrated and, thus, restored to the order of verbal communication, thus, in the long run, to history, culture and community. In a way, trauma is always communicable, even if its symptoms are that of blocked communication (e.g. aphasia, or the loss of language in its entirety).
However, it is important to investigate what happens to a subject whose trauma cannot be traced, especially to a subject who is already so withdrawn from the realm of social communication that his/her possible trauma does not manifest itself through a diagnostic set of symptoms, because all of them have already been characteristic for the subject in question, such as: compulsive repetitive behaviour, lack of self-expression, aversive reactions to some stimuli and so on.
I want to discuss an especial instance of subalternity that in postcolonial studies has been so far largely overlooked – the autistic subject marginalized for his/her racial/ethnic belonging, but also devoid of the possibility of negotiating his/her position of subalternity precisely because of the inability to express themselves, and to work through their potentially traumatic experience. In J.M. Coetzee’s novels (Foe, Waiting for the Barbarians, The Times and Life of Michael K.) an autistic character blocks any narratives of recuperation and healing. This blockage puts into perspective attempts to alleviate the fate of these marginalized, possibly traumatized, in all ways victimized, characters – what seems highly ethical, like e.g. helping them – may be absolutely the reverse – unethical, appropriating, colonizing, geared mostly toward a pleasurable narrative of self-recognition rather than feasible help.
In a broader theoretical perspective, this blockage also poses an interesting challenge to the Freudian or Lacanian approach in trauma studies, both focused on the notion of the self, and to postcolonial studies, focused on the implicit narrative of amelioration and progress. My claim is that animal and cognitive studies can offer a way out from the inherently progressive and self-centered (pun intended) trauma studies in investigating the instances of autistic subjects challenging the somewhat coercive notion of recovering and remedial self in postcolonial studies.
University of Tartu, Estonian Literary Museum,
Estonian Women’s Deportation Narratives and the Question of Trauma
My presentation focuses on the experience of two waves of mass deportations in the Baltic States (in 1941 and 1949) in Estonian women’s life stories. The narratives are part of the life story archive of the Estonian Literary Museum, an archive founded in the late 1980s, when different forms of mediation in the Soviet regime became an important facet in the process of regaining independence and reconceptualising the past. In these life stories, deportations are not the only testimony to the repressive nature of the Soviet regime, yet they have assumed a special role in mediating the cultural memory of the Soviet period. Such narratives highlight the large-scale destructive effects of the regime on a great number of people living in Estonia from different social backgrounds and regions; they demonstrate a capacity for (national) survival, regardless of the authors’ harsh experience. Considered within the critical framework of trauma, the status of deportation narratives strongly supports the recognised interpretation of deportation as cultural trauma. Yet the dynamics of trauma as traceable in women’s deportation narratives reverberates between an assertion of the experience as traumatic on a wider collective scale, and a resistance to admitting its traumatic impact on an individual level. In my presentation, I will discuss the possible reasons for this paradox, focusing on the ways in which the deportation experience is represented, how it can be viewed as traumatic, and the ways of coping with its traumatic impact.
Polish Academy of Sciences,
The Shattered Voice of Witness: Ludwik Hering and the Shoah
Ludwik Hering (1908-1984) is mostly known as the mentor of the poet Miron Białoszewski as well as the moving force behind the experimental theater he established together with Białoszewski in the 50-ties. With the recent publication of his three short stories written shortly after the WWII, as well as his voluminous correspodence with the painter Józef Czapski he emerges now as one of the most interesting figures in Polish literature who have witnessed to the catastrophe of the Shoah. After the fragmentary publication of his three short stories, Hering abandoned literature and coped with ever increasing problems with the very act of writing. In my paper I focus on his description of this process he gives in the letters, as well as his forceful arguments for not writing at all. By analyzing the images from the Shoah that Hering invokes when trying to explain his silence, I attempt to show the anatomy of his shattered voice, as well as the peculiar condition of the subject affected by the historical trauma not as a direct victim or an indifferent bystander, but as one who helped, but was ruined by the very consciousness of the insufficiency of his help.
University of Bari,
The Traumatic Impact of Holocaust-Related Content: How the Process of Understanding and Constructing a Sensitive European Citizenry Can Be Impaired
The extermination of the European Jews during the Second World War is a traumatic event in European history, not only for the survivors of the Shoah, but also for the new generations of Europeans, faced with working through a trauma that is extremely difficult to visualise. From a point of view of citizen-focused education in Europe, this situation poses a serious problem. In 2005 the UN General Assembly promulgated the 60/7 resolution, pushing the Member States to promote respect for human rights and minorities through remembering and learning about the Holocaust. Since then, many States have institutionalised a Remembrance Day and adopted special educational programmes to sensitise students and society. However, some critical aspects have been seen to invalidate this process and deserve special attention. Among them is the traumatic impact of some Holocaust-related content, which can cause shock and trauma. This phenomenon can occur from exposure to particularly violent images (Sontag, 1977) or during visits to the sites of former extermination camps (Cowan-Maitles, 2011). Currently, this traumatic impact and its effects on impairing the knowledge acquisition process and understanding are hugely underestimated and inadequately addressed. Teachers and media often try to trigger emotional responses in students and the public rather than to explain the political, cultural, social and psychological mechanisms behind the ideology and execution of the Holocaust.
This study aims to highlight the impact of Holocaust trauma on the European consciousness, and the difficulty in visualising it, showing in particular how the educational and sensitising aims promoted by the UN and the European Union are unlikely to be achieved when shock and trauma responses are neither properly managed nor accompanied by adequate intellectual work.
University of Warsaw,
“How to Be Loved”: Cultural Mediation of War Trauma in Polish Cinema in the 1960s
An important function of cinema under Communism was to provide approved interpretations of the recent and distant past. The World War II left the country in ruins, with the Polish population in a precarious position of victims of the occupation and bystanders to (and at times participants in) the Holocaust. For therapeutic reasons fiction films produced in the immediate postwar years avoided opening fresh wounds adopting instead a strategy of symbolic wound-dressing. Heroic narratives were meant to console the nation and to avoid deepening the chasm between the Party and the Poles.
It was only after the Thaw (1956) that filmmakers started questioning select myths about the war. Therefore, it is interesting to note how the notion of trauma was employed to comment on the World War II. Andrzej Munk's unfinished masterpiece Pasażerka (1963) relies on a postwar traumatic encounter between a former prisoner of Auschwitz-Birkenau and an SS-guard in order to tell a story about the camp. Wojciech Jerzy Has shows the suffering of Felicja (Jak być kochaną, 1963), reliving the traumatic shock of being raped by the Germans and rejected by a Polish colleague whom she sheltered during the war. Dziś w nocy umrze miasto (Jan Rybkowski, 1961) zeroes in on the final moments before the carpet bombing of Dresden in February 1945 including the images of shell-shocked German women, survivors of the fire bombing of Hamburg. In the above-mentioned films trauma features as a topic and as an aesthetic strategy (posttraumatic flashback, non-linear narrative). The 1960s in Poland are dubbed the decade of “cinema of new memory” (Piotr Zwierzchowski) but in my opinion insufficient attention was devoted to the mechanisms of traumatic recall and their impact on film.
Indiana University, Bloomington,
"And if a bullet hits you, ask a girl to give you a kiss:" Affect, Fantasy, Trauma, and Sing-Along Concerts Commemorating the Warsaw Uprising
In my paper “And if a bullet hits you, ask a girl to give you a kiss: Affect, Fantasy, Trauma, and Sing-Along Concerts Commemorating the Warsaw Uprising,” I analyze the symbolic practice of commemorating the Uprising through nationally broadcast sing-along concerts of the Uprising’s songs. By placing these concerts in the larger mosaics of Polish collective memory, I show the “spiral of signification” (Alexander) through which the Uprising has been elevated to the status of national and foundational trauma. I explore a paradox: on one hand, these concerts are increasingly popular mass (and mass-media) events belonging to the sphere of popular culture and the kind of events that enhance the mainstream institutionalization of the Uprising’s memory (e.g., the Warsaw Uprising Museum). On the other hand, they resemble the “affective enclave” (Oushakine)—in which the collective temporarily acquires features of the Turnerian communitas. Through the texts and music of the songs aided by visuals conflating a range of wartime images, the concerts generate the affect of communing with the dead, in which the transgenerational transmission of the traumatic is suggested by the cameras’ focus on the concerts’ oldest and youngest participants. By analyzing the songs themselves and the concerts’ settings, I speculate about what kind of relationship with the traumatic is generated by such popular events and how popular culture accommodates the traumatic (post)memory. How does the affect of such gatherings influence the formation of national identity, and what has “fantasy” (Salecl) got to do with it? I also ponder how the traumatic of the Uprising circulates in the culture of globalization of collective memories and, finally, what kind of postmemorial witnessing emerges from predominantly affective memory generated around the Uprising. Should we be suspicious of it, or hopeful that it can create its own productive knowledge?
Ukrainian Institute for National Rememberance,
The Holodomor as Historical Trauma
The aim of my research is to look at an unprecedented tragedy in the history of Ukraine, which claimed around four million human lives, using the historical trauma method. This term has two principal meanings: a traumatic event that happens in the real world and the way it is subjectively experienced by individuals and groups.
The Holodomor of 1932-1933 had devastating political, social and psychological effects on survivors. During the next three generations, memory of the Holodomor was obliterated in Soviet Ukraine. At the same time, Ukrainians in North America were able to develop their own commemorative canon, narrative and discourse of the event. This makes it an extremely interesting and unique research topic, primarily because of such a latent trauma process.
My research includes an analysis of Holodomor-related narratives from a threefold perspective:
· examination of narratives for symptoms of trauma in terms of a contemporary understanding of psycho-traumatic diagnosis of peritraumatic dissociation (PD), post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and characteristics of collective trauma;
· finding traumatic representations in narratives, in images moving chronologically from the earliest days to those contributing to contemporary Holodomor discourse;
· defining whether the authors of these narratives were traumatised in some way, and whether this trauma is reflected in their writings.
I would like to present and discuss the first stage of my research, aiming to determine what exactly constitutes the traumatic essence of the Holodomor. In my view this traumatic meaning can be drawn from autobiographical narratives and early representations which recall the full content of the original experience of the Holodomor. Later on, it seems, this meaning has been passed through the generations. Over this process of memory transmission, the emphasis is shifted from mental to cultural representations, from ‘meaning’ to ‘information’, from the construction of meaning to the processing of information.
School of the Art Institute of Chicago,
The Trauma of Illness
The trauma of illness extends beyond the purely physical by creating the division between mind and body, by imposing physical isolation, by disrupting our relationships to ourselves and to others as well as between past, present and future. Accounts of illness are often characterized by the profound tension and confront a fundamental paradox - language provides them with a way of representing the shattering experience of illness, but proves inadequate to depict the nature of physical pain and the dissolution of self associated with it. As a result we seem to incessantly search for appropriate language to express the bodily experience and the discomfort of pain, suffering, despair, loss and fear. This problem is the central subject of Virginia’s Woolf’s essay On Being Ill.
In this paper I will explore, with Woolf’s guidance, how metaphorical language and other forms of artistic representation can offer us a way to map, chart and begin to explore the pain and trauma associated with illness by turning to literary works. V. Woolf’s essay explores that ambivalence with her customary nuanced detail. Woolf sounds a plea for narratives that resist simplification in describing the experience of pain and suffering and urges us to create a literary space to explore the shattering experience of illness. Woolf’s investigation of illness is in part an interrogation of the positivist and common-sense epistemologies that dominated much of 18th, 19th and early 20 the century British philosophy - an approach that is in the tradition of the German Romantics such as Schlegel, Novalis and Goethe. I will argue that this dual approach to experience re-establishes continuity between illness and health as parts of universal human experience and turns the trauma of illness into a source of personal meaning.
University of Gdansk,
”Eroticism-Veiled” (Erotique-Voilé). Notes on Trauma of Birth
Convusive beauty will be veiled-erotic, fixed-explosive, magic-circumstantial, or it will not be.
There fell down on the shadowed sand
Like dead birds from an evil nest
Across a livid space pf sky:
The pale globe of a breast
And a dismembered thigh.
But from the dark’s most secret place
Across the curtains of the air
There presently began to rise
A dream-transfigured face
With lips exhaling prayer
And lambent eyes.
If death comes with the split of the m(O)ther’s womb, and if it is both a symbolic death of meaning - a production of sense - and a real birth of desire, the eroticism of death is marked by the very act of the rupture, coming into the world of the absurd; coming as the nothing of the cut: as the unveiling of nakedness. Experience veiled is not experience that is concealed; on the contrary, it is eroticism which, veiled, unveils nakedness itself, on the verge of death. Yet, on here means filling the verge, the cut, the explosion of sense. It means the drawing of a line, of the moment where ”the softness of nudity (the place where legs and breasts begin) touched the infinite” (Bataille, L’impossible), where death shows up ”in the bosom of life.” (Nancy, Corpus II: Writings on Sexuality)
Verging death, is not, however, a return to the immediate, but a relation that expects, in a nostalgic veil (Alquié, The Philosophy of Surrealism), the encounter with the real, which will never present itself, the real being the impossibility of the encounter. What erotic experience misses is the pure nakedness of the encounter with ”real” trauma of birth, the misencounter that remains being eroticism veiled itself: neither illusion nor truth, but missing the moment of touch. Still, to miss the moment of touch means to guarantee the possibility of sensing at all, through ”dark’s most secret place” (Gaskoyne, Signs).
The Phantom of Sovereignty - Consumption and Identity in the Realm of Modern Sport
There is a big promise attached to modern sport and it goes far beyond pure entertainment typically associated with watching sport. It is a double promise of success that caters to both material and symbolic aspirations of modern men and, to a lesser extend, women – the fact itself symptomatic as it reveals the link between modern sport and male fantasies. This promise is a cornerstone of the discourse surrounding global sporting events like Olympic Games or football World Cup. They are supposed to provide a big opportunity for host nations to show off, demonstrating their alleged development and success to the literally whole world that is watching. In the same time these events promise even more wealth and development stemming from them: a growing infrastructure, a boost to tourism, urban renewal, foreign investments and general prosperity. One of the major dilemmas of progressive politics – “recognition or redistribution” as it was once formulated by Nancy Fraser – seems to be rendered completely obsolete by the promise articulate by FIFA or IOC: modern sport delivers both!
The logic of phantasy is here to see: modern sporting events are discursively built on imaginary realization of collective, national desire. In the times of fluid deterritorialization they offer a promise of solid sovereignty: The sport will make us all wealthy and proud! However, as it is often the case with the screen of phantasy, it is built to conceal a much more somber, traumatic reality – or rather the Real – lurking behind. As pride gives way to nationalism and chauvinism, the promised wealth melts away under a firm grasp of the market. The massive, spectacular global sporting events, when seen through the lens of their legacy and not their promises, turn out to reconfirm traditional material hierarchies: the rich get richer and the poor are left with piles of debt to service for decades. The recent cases of football World Cup in South Africa and Brazil or the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro offer dramatic examples of the inconvenient truth that the culture of modern sport is a social performance of inferiority trauma built on dangerous promise of solid sovereignty.
Provincializing Trauma: A Case of Mr. Holmes
In the title of my paper I intentionally refer to Dipesh Chakrabarty’s Provincializing Europe: Postcolonial Thought and Historical Difference (2000), because I would like to argue that the modernist concept of trauma should be critically and urgently revisited in different, historically and geographically specific ecologies of practices in order to become an updated and more useful analytical tool. As a visible negation of a particular type of human subjectivity and sexuality, causal and linear progress and narration, it is part and parcel of modernity and its conceptual framework. Postcolonial scholarship is strongly committed to untangling these universals. However, it is interested mostly in demonstrating that the origins of liberalism in modern Europe have been commensurate with, and deeply implicated in, colonialism, slavery, capitalism, and imperial politics. It leaves psychoanalysis and trauma beyond the scope of its main interest.
In the context of postcolonial studies, the paper offers a critical reassessment of the modernist concept of trauma, through a close reading of Mitch Cullin’s novel Mr. Holmes (2005). The novel shows a new, post-Second World War incarnation of the fictional detective who not without a reason has been recognised to be an embodiment of modernism. Aptly intertwining Holmes’ recollections of his recent travel to Japan devastated by atomic bomb and much older events, particularly his last unsolved case from the year 1902, Cullin depicts dynamic and ephemeral assemblages of human and non-human elements that resists any form of rationalization within the frame of the modernist concept of human subject and the logic of linear progression. In this way he not only reflects upon the modernist concept of collective and individual trauma but also insists on a necessity of its redefinition.
Into the Landscape: Traumatic Performances and Holocaust Bystanders
A recent shift in Holocaust studies towards researching the Shoah decentralised ‘by bullets’ (P. Desbois), outside the largest extermination camps, in the Central and Eastern European ‘bloodlands’ (T. Snyder), and the growing body of comparative genocide studies and developing research on transnational memory of the Holocaust, has resulted in a greater focus on the spatial realm of historic traumas. This is epitomised by the emergence of new methodological and/or descriptive categories, such as Holocaust landscapes (T. Cole), landscapes of postmemory (B. Caplan), traumascapes (M. Tumarkin), terrorscapes (R. Van der Laarse), geotrauma (T. Matts & A. Tynan), prism (R. Sendyka), and topographies of suffering (J. Rapson), to name only a few.
At the same time, another category has been spatialised: testimony. Whereas testimonies of Holocaust survivors have practically established a separate genre with its own poetics and rules – usually depicting a motionless witness in the intimate interior of a private home or the neutral space of a library – accounts of bystanders, in contrast, have been collected for only the last twenty years, primarily to identify the victims, localise the killing sites and commemorate them, and to bring testimonies into the landscape. Hence, interviews with bystanders are often conducted outdoors, usually in the spaces where they have spent their whole lives, in surroundings they conceptualise with vernacular vocabulary and spatial categories. Moreover, interviewees often take their interlocutors ‘where it happened’ and tell the story in situ – in the unmemorialised genocide sites of Central and Eastern Europe.
In my paper, I aim to show this peculiar entanglement of post-traumatic landscape and testimonial practices of bystanders. Hence, I will analyse several video testimonies from the ‘Yahad – In Unum’ archive, in which bystanders not only identify the place of now invisible slaughter, but also performatively engage themselves, through repeated visits, showing the places to others and, finally, re-enacting the scene of events by adopting various roles (victims, perpetrators, onlookers). As I will try to show, these performative practices and bystanders’ indexical relation to the landscape – where trauma is no longer visible – shed new light on issues of spatialised trauma, testimony and mourning.
Anti-Fragile Urbanism: Catastrophe beyond Trauma
In my speech I seek to address architectural and urban projects that challenge the traumatic impact of urban catastrophes. In particular, I want to analyse Kengo Kuma’s environmental architecture and his theoretical writing, in which he breaks with the Western nature/culture opposition. I would like to situate his approach in the context of Jane Jacobs’ theory of urban planning and Nicholas Nassim Taleb’s concept of anti-fragility, both of which contest the modern obsession with security. In her influential book The Death and Life of Great American Cities, Jacobs praised the self-organising power of the urban tissue, which is able to respond to unpredictable and even destructive stimuli. In his more recent books, on the other hand, Taleb has exposed the modern myth of our capacity to exercise absolute control over complex phenomena (especially in economics).
I have chosen to discuss these particular theories because they convincingly show how we can re-evaluate catastrophes and re-frame them as non-traumatic events (or expand the notion of trauma so as to acquire positive connotations). I assume that cultural traumas are – at least in part – socially produced, and contemporary vulnerability to trauma stems from the modern obsession with security. This tendency can be traced back as far as the beginning of the Enlightenment, which was conceptualised by Voltaire (after the earthquake in Lisbon) as Western civilisation’s movement towards a state of absolute control and security. I will argue that, although this myth has been debunked on many occasions, it still haunts Western culture. For this reason, it is important to come up with and discuss notions and values that will allow us to break away from this paradigm.