EDKINS_Trauma-Memory-Politics

EDKINS_Trauma-Memory-Politics - Trauma and the Memory of...

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Unformatted text preview: Trauma and the Memory of Politics Jenny Edkins Ufliversigi of [Wales Aberysmyzh CAMBRIDGE _‘ 6 UNIVERSITY PRESS PUBLISHED BY THE PRESS SYNDICATE OF THE UNIVERSITY OF CAMBRIDGE The Pitt Building, Trumpington Street, Cambridge CB2 1RP, United Kingdom CAMBRIDGE UNIVERSITY PRESS The Edinburgh Building, Cambridge, CB2 ZRUJ UK 40 \West 20th StreetJ New York, NY 10011—421 1= USA 477 Williamstown Road= Port Melbourne; VIC 3207, Australia Ruiz de Alarcon 13, 28014 Madrid; Spain Dock House, The Waterfront, Cape Town 8001, South Africa hrtpflfwmvtambridgeorg © Jenny Edkins 2003 This book is in copyright. Subject to statutory exception and to the provisions of relevant collective licensing agreements, no reproduction of any part may take place Without the written permission of Cambridge University Press. First published 2003 Printed in the United Kingdom at the University Press, Cambridge fipeface Plantin 10/12 pt System EXTEX 28 [TB] A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library ISBN 0 521 82696 9 hardback ISBN 0 521 53420 8 paperback The publisher has used its best endeavours to ensure that the URLs for external websites referred to in this book are correct and active at the time of going to press. However, the publisher has no responsibility for the websites and can make no guarantee that a site will remain live or that the content is or will remain appropriate. For John Know what has happened, do not forget, and at the same time never will you know. 7 Maurice Blanchot Contents List of illustrations Preface 1. Introduction: trauma, violence and political community The traumatic dimension of the political Practices of trauma 2. Survivor memories and the diagnosis of trauma: the Great War and Vietnam Survivor memories 1914—1918 Memory and trauma time The diagnosis of trauma Forgetting Vietnam Disciplined memories Conclusion 3. War memorials and remembrance: the London Cenotaph and the Vietnam Wall The Cenotaph Flowers and wreath-laying The Vietnam Wall The ‘things’ Sacrificial memory — bodies of state Conclusion 4. Concentration camp memorials and museums: Dachau and the US Holocaust Memorial Museum ‘Holocaust’ memorials Dachau concentration camp memorial Relics at Auschwitz Narrative museums Commercialisation, denial and truth Conclusion page Xi xiii 20 25 29 42 45 51 54 57 60 67 73 84 91 108 111 127 135 149 153 165 171 ix 1 Introduction: trauma, violence and political community The essence of the trauma is precisely that it is too horrible to be new membered, to be integrated into our symbolic universe. All we have to do is to mark repeatedly the trauma as such. — Slavoj Ziiek‘ In the aftermath of a war or catastrophe comes the reckoning. The dead and the missing are listed, families grieve and comfort each other, and memorials are erected. If it is a war that has been won, commemoration endorses those in power, or so it seems at first glance. Victory parades, remembrance ceremonies and war museums tell of glory, courage and sacrifice. The nation is renewed, the State strengthened. Private grief is overlaid by national mourning and blunted — or eased i by stories of service and duty. The authorities that had the power to conscript citizens and send them to their deaths now write their obituaries. But returning combatants tell a different tale. Survivors are subdued, even silent. Many witnessed the deaths of those around them. They can- not forget, and some are haunted by nightmares and flashbacks to scenes of unimaginable horror. In their dreams they re—iive their battlefield ex— periences and awake again in a sweat. First World War veterans were said to be suffering from shell shock. By the end of that war, 80,000 cases of shell shock had been treated in units of the Royal Army Medical Corps and 30,000 evacuated for treatment in Britain. Some 200,000 veterans received pensions for nervous disorders after the war.2 This epidemic led to a reconsideration of psychoanalytic theory, then based on the notion of dreams as the fulfilment of unconscious wishes. Much contemporary work that seeks to understand what is now called trauma stems from 1 Slavoj Ziiek, For They Know Not What They Do: Enjoyment as a Political Factor (London: Verso, 1991), 272—3. 2 Martin Stone, ‘Shelishock and the psychologists’ in The Anatomy of Madness: Essays in the History of Psychiatry, ed. W. F. Bynum, R. Porter and M. Shepherd (London: Tavistock, 1988), 11: 242—71, quoted in Allan Young, The Harmony of Illusions: Jamming Postelraumaric Stress Disorder (Princeton University Press, 1997), 4172. 2 Trauma and the memory of politics this period and from an attempt to understand why traumatic events are re—lived time and time again by survivors. By the Second World War it was no longer only service personnel (not themselves necessarily volunteers) who were intimately affected by state— organised violence. Aerial bombing campaigns drew civilian populations into the conflict. The bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945 was horrific and overwhelming in its brutality. And the genocidal policies of the Nazi regime in Germany led to the deaths of millions in concentration camps, open—air shootings and ghettos. In the aftermath of genocide, when a state has turned on people who considered themselves its citizens, the dead have no names and no burial place because their families are killed too. Memorialisation is difficult if not impossible. It can be many years before memory surfaces in the public arena or indeed before there is a willingness to listen to survivors’ testimony. States are implicated more thoroughly than in the case of war, both the state in which the genocide occurred and those that stood by while it happened. Nevertheless, eventually, after a lapse of time or a change in the political landscape, a narrative takes shape. Events are named, memorials and museums set up, and the identity of at least some of the victims established. Following the Nazi genocide of the 19405, many of the survivors emerged with a compelling need to bear witness and an overwhelming conviction of the importance of doing so. They were largely ignored. It was not until much later that what became known as ‘the Holocaust’ grew into a topic of fascination. But whereas traumatic stress as a result of combat is thought far—fetched by some, the status of Holocaust sur— vivor has generally had a special aura.3 What survivors have witnessed has long been recognised as ‘unimaginable’ and ‘unspeakable’, although - these epithets have often served as an excuse for neither imagining it nor speaking about it. The Holocaust has been a largely proprietary event: it was ‘narrated by Jews and non—Jews alike as a collective (and sole) prop- erty of the Jews, as something to be left to, or jealously guarded by, those who escaped the shooting and the gassing, and by the descendants of the shot and gassed’."‘ It belongs to the Jews (or to the Jewish state) and others feel debarred from talking about it. Work by feminists in the 19703 argued that the symptoms of victims of rape and incest were similar to those of combat survivors. After a lengthy 3 In Israel in the 19503 the aura was one of failure: survivors were regarded as ‘the epitome of the Jew as helpless schlemiel, a counterexample to the new Israeli Jew’ (Yaron Ezrahi, Rubber Bullets: Power and Conscience in Modern Israel (Berkeley: University of California, I 997), 1 47. 4 Zygmunt Bauman, Modernity and the Holocaust (Cambridge: Polity, 1989), viii—ix. Introduction: trauma, violence and the political 3 campaign that included Vietnam veterans, the term ‘post-ttaumatic stress’ was finally written into the American Psychiatric Association‘s manual in 1980.5 Childhood abuse and trauma, although still controver— sial, became something that could be discussed, first in women’s groups and later more widely. Sigmund Freud’s work in Vienna in the 1890s had led him to conclude that symptoms of what was then called hysteria in his ' women patients could be traced back to childhood abuse. He published his findings and conclusions in 1896 in a paper entitled ‘The Aetiology of Hysteria”, where he put forward the view that ‘at the bottom of every case of hysteria there are (me or more occurrences of premature sexual experi— ' ence. . . . I believe this is an important finding’.6 But he did not pursue this line, it was unacceptable to him and to his contemporaries.7 He argued instead that women were in some sense responsible for their own abuse. _' He replaced his original analysis of hysteria (the seduction theory) with . _. theories of infantile sexuality and the Oedipus complex. Ironically, it was only during his work with shell shock after the First World War that Freud _Z returned to the study of what we now call psychic trauma. Of course, in the case of childhood abuse and rape as with shell shock and earlier with hysteria, the people concerned were regularly regarded as having either caused their traumatic experiences a by their own behaviour, or as a ful— rfilment of their unconscious wishes — or imagined something that had not .actually occurred. Women were accused of having wanted to be raped, soldiers of faking their illness in a cowardly attempt to avoid fighting, and . _ children’s reports were seen as exaggerated and unbelievable. Events that give rise to what we categorise today as symptoms of trauma _. generally involve force and violence. Often this is a threat to those peo— .:_ ple involved, their lives and integrity, as in rape, torture or child abuse; ' sometimes it also involves witnessing the horrific deaths of others, for example in wartime combat or in concentration camps. The victim of ' - trauma feels they were helpless in their enforced encounter with death, violence and brutality. This is not always the case. For example, on the - whole, Vietnam veterans were not in situations where they were trapped in the same way as First World War soldiers in the trenches or concen— tration camp victims. In most cases, they were perpetrators of violence '_ 5 Judith Lewis Herman, Hammer and Recovery: from Domestic Abate to Political Error (London: Pandora, 1992), 32. . 5 Sigmund Freud, ‘The Aetiology of Hysteria”, quoted in Alice Miller, Thou Shel: Not Be ' ' Aware: Society’s Betrayal of the Child, trans. Hildegarde and Hunter Hannum, new ecln (London: Pluto Press, 1998), 117. 7 Herman, Fannie and Recovery, 19. Alice Miller discusses this issue and quotes extensively from Freud’s 1896 lecture (Miller, Thou Shah Not Be Aware, 209—20). 1 am grateful to _ Annick Wibben for this reference. 3 l i i 4 Trauma and the memory of politics rather than victims.8 But it seems that to be called traumatic e to produce what are seen as symptoms of trauma — an event has to be more than just a situation of utter powerlessness. In an important sense, it has to entail something else. It has to involve a betrayal of trust as well. There is an extreme menace, but what is special is where the threat of violence comes from. What we call trauma takes place when the very powers that we are convinced will protect us and give us security become our tormentors: when the community of which we considered ourselves members turns against us or when our family is no longer a source of refuge but a site of danger. This can be devastating because who we are, or who we think we may be, depends very closely on the social context in which we place and find ourselves. Our existence relies not only on our personal survival as individual beings but also, in a very profound sense, on the continuance of the social order that gives our existence meaning and dignity: family, friends, political community, beliefs. If that order betrays us in some way, we may survive in the sense of continuing to live as physical beings, but the meaning of our existence is changed. Commonplace solutions to do with who and what we are and what life might be provided by culture, religious beliefs, patriotic sentiment or close family relationships are overwhelmed. Any illusion of safety or security is broken. Events seen as traumatic seem to reflect a particular form of intimate bond between personhood and community and, most importantly, they expose the part played by relations of power. For the child, abuse involves betrayal by the person the child should most be able to trust. For the conscript, it is the state that breaks faith and deceives. Both cases involve relations of power. Witnessing violence done to others and surviving can seem to be as traumatic as suffering brutality oneself. Here a sense of shame is paramount. The survivor feels complicit in the betrayal perpetrated by others. In this sense the survivor of a rape or of incest is ashamed for the protagonist of violence against them as well as for themselves. Taking part in violence oneself can evoke a similar shame — as was the case with Vietnam veterans — though this of course is not at all to be equated with wit— nessing violence done by others.9 The camp survivor is filled with shame for the deeds done by the guards, and because the inmates were powerless to prevent them. As Primo Levi remembers, ‘the shame . . . drowned us after the selections, and every time we had to watch or submit to some outrage: the shame . . . that such a crime should exist, that it should be 8 Young, Harmony of Illusions, 283. 9 See, for example, Primo Levi, The Drowned and the Saved, trans. Raymond Rosenthal (London: Abacus, 1989), 2. Introduction: trauma, violence and the political 5 I ._.introduced irrevocably into the world of things that exist’.10 The combat . '3 veteran has not only seen his comrades killed or mutilated but has himself _' -' brutally slaughtered enemy soldiers — and in some cases betrayed his own . supposed code as a warrior (or as a person) when he has terrorised and ' vic 'mised civilians. Events of the sort we call traumatic are overwhelming but they are also a revelation. They strip away the diverse commonly accepted meanings '_ by which we lead our lives in our various communities. They reveal the . contingency of the social order and in some cases how it conceals its own . impossibility. They question our settled assumptions about who we might } be as humans and what we might be capable of. Those who survive often I feel compelled to bear witness to these discoveries); On the whole, the rest of us would rather not listen, A frequent excuse '. is that the horrors survivors testify to are too terrible. They are “unimag— inable’: we need not listen because we cannot hear. Robert Antelme, describing the encounter of the American liberators with camp survivors at Dachau in Germany at the end of the Second World War, says that I the word ‘unimaginable’ is ‘the most convenient word. When you walk around with this word as your shield, this word for emptiness, your step becomes better assured, more resolute, your conscience pulls itself together.’11 But in particular those who would try to prevent survivors _ from speaking out are the powerful, those who have perhaps more of a stake than most in concealing the contingency of forms of social and '- political organisation. This may include, for example, governments who have sent soldiers into battle, men who benefit from a structure in which _' women and children are subservient and vulnerable, states who have turned on a section of their own citizens in genocides or deportations. The testimony of survivors can challenge structures of power and author— 'ity. Moreover, this challenge can in some regards transcend boundaries ' of culture and social group.12 It is what Michel Foucault referred to as . ‘the solidarity of the shaken”. '7 On the other hand, do contemporary forms of political community have 3 _ an ironic connection with the events that we have been discussing? Do po— '- litical communities such as the modern state survive in part through the -'_ scripting of these events as emergencies, or even, indeed, as traumatic? Or '- even by the production of events that can appear as exceptional, beyond '10 Primo Levi, If This is a Man and The Truce, trans. Stuart Woolf (London: Abacus, 1987), 188. 11 Robert Antelme, The Human Race, 289—90, quoted in Sarah Kofman, Smothered Wyrds, trans. Madeleine Dobie (Evanston, Illinois: Northwestern University Press, 1998), 38. Z 12 Cathy Caruth, Unclaimed Experience: fianma, Narrative, and History (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1996), 56. 6 Trauma and the memory of politics the norm? In modern political communities in the west, our faith in the social order and our search for security are invested in systems that them— selves are productive of and produced by force and violence. This point is no surprise to women of course, who have long had to separate their no— tions of safety from the patriarchal structures in which they live. Battered women would not recognise the picture of the family as a source of pro— tection and stability, for examplefi‘he contemporary form of political community, the state, relies for its existence on the assumption that it can compel its citizens to fight (and die) for its sovereignty. It proffers security in return for obedience. As a political unit it is produced and defined by organised violence. States are founded on violence, whether it takes the form of war, revolution or civil conflict. And although once formed a state may appear peaceable enough, internally and externally, physical violence remains a tool that only the state is allowed to use. Attempts by others i vigilante groups, opposition movements, criminals — to use violence are seen as unacceptable. In Max Weber’s definition, “the state is that human community which (successfully) lays claim to the monopoly of legitimate physical violence within a certain territory’.13 The right to use violence, in other words, is the prerogative of the state. And it makes use of this prerogative. For example, the modern nation- state works by processes of enforced exclusion, and it can change the definition of who precisely will be excluded at any time. Exclusion does not always entail expulsion: there is also the excluded ‘enemy within’, a label famously used by Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in Britain at the time of the miners’ strike in 1984. The modern state, then, is a con— tradictory institution: a promise of safety, security and meaning alongside a reality of abuse, control and coercion. l As we saw, some feminists came to the conclusion that relations be- tween the sexes are like a war, with the casualties being rape victims, bat~ tered wives and sexually abused children. The parallel between women and war veterans was used in the 19703 and 1980s to draw attention to the plight of women and the widespread exploitation of patriarchal power by men, which had, apart from the early work by Freud and Joseph Breuer on hysteria, been neglected.14 If we push the similarities further, taking the insights gained from the study of sexual abuse in families and applying them to other events categorised as traumatic, what do we find? What if, 13 Max Weber, Weber: Political Writings, trans. Ronald Spiers, ed. Peter Lassman and Ronald Spiers (Cambridge University Press, 1994), 310—1 1. ‘4 Sigmund Freud and Joseph Breuer, Studies on Hysteria, trans. James Strachey and Alix Strachey, The Penguin Freud Library, vol. III, ed. James Strachey and Alix Strachey (London: Penguin, 1974); Herman, Fatima and Recovery. Introduction: trauma, violence and the political 7 instead of likening family relations to a war, we compare the treatment of _ 3' populations in wartime with the treatment of women in families? It turns _'_ out that we have a parallel exploitation of power in political communities, 1'. which we might call political abuse. Political authorities are using their power over their citizens to abuse and torture them or to compel them to take part in abhorrent acts, acts which violate their sense of self~worth and -. which provoke intense shame, humiliation and an...
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