Memory, Trauma, and History

Memory, Trauma, and History: Essays on Living with the Past

Copyright Date: 2012
Pages: 336
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Memory, Trauma, and History
    Book Description:

    In these essays, Michael S. Roth uses psychoanalysis to build a richer understanding of history, and then takes a more expansive conception of history to decode the cultural construction of memory. He first examines the development in nineteenth-century France of medical criteria for diagnosing memory disorders, which signal fundamental changes in the understanding of present and past. He next explores links between historical consciousness and issues relating to the psyche, including trauma and repression and hypnosis and therapy. Roth turns to the work of postmodern theorists in connection with the philosophy of history and then examines photography's capacity to capture traces of the past. He considers how we strive to be faithful to the past even when we don't care about getting it right or using it productively. Roth concludes with essays defending pragmatic and reflexive liberal education. Drawing on his experiences as a teacher and academic leader, he speaks of living with the past without being dominated by it.

    eISBN: 978-0-231-52161-1
    Subjects: History, Philosophy, Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Illustrations
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xii)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. xiii-xxxvi)

    Memory, Trauma, and History is comprised of essays that fall into five overlapping subject areas: history and memory; psychoanalysis and trauma; postmodernism, scholarship, and cultural politics; photography and representation; and liberal education. The oldest essays in this book were first drafted at the end of the 1980s, and the most recent ones in 2010. Over these twenty or so years I have continued to pursue issues emerging from those that first drew me to academic work, issues that orbit around the question of how people make sense of the past. Memory, Trauma, and History contains work written for academic audiences...

    • 1. Remembering Forgetting: Maladies de la Mémoire in Nineteenth-Century France
      (pp. 3-22)

      The attempt to understand how a culture lives with or against its past often leads to a consideration of rituals, ceremonies, monuments, and written history. When we want to know about the ways people recollect the past and represent it, we want to know about individual as well as social memory. Individual memory is notoriously difficult to comprehend, and we are currently witnessing resurgences of interest both in social memory and in the ways in which the brain stores and organizes memories. The works of Oliver Sacks and Israel Rosenfield have brought neurobiology to a popular audience, and treatments of...

    • 2. Dying of the Past: Medical Studies of Nostalgia in Nineteenth-Century France
      (pp. 23-38)

      Eugène L***, born in Paris, was sent to a wet nurse in the Amiens area and brought back to his family when he was two years old. The strength of his limbs, the firmness of his flesh, his coloring, the vivacity and gaiety of his character, everything indicated that he had been well cared for and that he was a vigorous child. During the fifteen days that his nurse remained at his side, Eugène continued to enjoy the most robust health; but as soon as she left he became pale, sad and morose. He was unresponsive to the caresses of...

    • 3. Hysterical Remembering
      (pp. 39-74)

      Hysteria was surely the most prominent and memorable maladie de la mémoire of the nineteenth century: it served as an intersection for many points of cultural contestation, becoming a marker for positions on issues of gender, sex, mind/body, professionalization, and secularization, to name only a few. And hysteria has remained a privileged site for discussing these issues in critical and historical writing over at least the last twenty-five years. Just as the conceptualization of memory and forgetting were at the core of writings on hysteria in the late nineteenth century, so recent writings continue to debate the ways we are...

    • 4 . Trauma, Representation, and Historical Consciousness
      (pp. 77-86)

      Trauma is a problem both for psychoanalysis and for historical consciousness. At the core of the problem are the links among trauma, repetition, and the dilemmas of representation (particularly narrative representation). Those dilemmas and the demand for acknowledgment through some form of representation are crucial for understanding contemporary debates about memory and its putative recovery, and for coming to terms with some of the most pressing issues with reference to the construction of historical meaning. A useful place to begin discussion of these matters is with models of trauma against which psychoanalysis originally defined itself, particularly those of Jean-Martin Charcot...

    • 5. Trauma: A Dystopia of the Spirit
      (pp. 87-103)

      This chapter examines how the terrain demarcated by the concept of trauma has become a crucial form of negative utopia of the late twentieth and early twenty-first century. Utopia has come to designate a place that cannot be designated, a nowhere of perfection in which order reigns. A utopia points away from the messy, complicated world in which we are condemned to live toward a harmonious world in which everything is balanced in working simplicity. Dystopias have a negative perfection in which some form of working simplicity nonetheless still squashes what we hold most dear.

      The word “dystopia” is cited...

    • 6. Falling into History: Freud’s Case of “Frau Emmy von N.”
      (pp. 104-116)

      Studies on Hysteria is a curiously hybrid text. It belongs to the prehistory of psychoanalysis, and one of the interests it has for us is that in it we can see Freud in the process of breaking away from, even as he is nourished by, a variety of influences: Meynert, Charcot, Breuer, and Bernheim, to name just a few. We can also see Freud staking out a terrain for psycho-analysis: the effects of the remembered past, mediated through desire, on the present.

      The “effects of the past” that concern Freud and Breuer are, of course, the symptoms of hysteria. Hysteric...

    • 7. Why Freud Haunts Us
      (pp. 117-124)

      There’s an old man we go to see when we are feeling bad, or just confused. He doesn’t say much. He sits behind us when we lie down on the couch. We can hear him breathing, and we know that it’s cigar smoke we smell. The old man doesn’t really tell stories, but we start telling stories when he is around. It seems he makes us talk, if only because he refuses to say much. We know what he wants. Not just any old stories will do. He wants to hear about our secrets, about our longings. We can start...

    • 8. Why Warburg Now?
      (pp. 127-136)

      Now that we have come at least full circle in the humanities concerning the nature of interdisciplinarity and the value of apprenticeship and training, we may be able to examine more coherently the nature of disciplinary authority. Some of those who attacked this authority in the past have come to defend their version of it as they have grown older and more established in their chosen fields. What a surprise! Interdisciplinary programs now defend their own turf with the same zeal as the old departments against which they once rebelled.¹ When I first gave this chapter as a lecture at...

    • 9. Classic Postmodernism: Keith Jenkins
      (pp. 137-144)

      Keith Jenkins has been beating the postmodern drum for some time now.¹ He is, please forgive the phrase, an old-school postmodernist. He continues to sample some of the best beats from those cherished vinyls: Hayden White on literary form and relativism, Jacques Derrida on undecidability. Jenkins even goes way down in the alley to remind us of Jean Baudrillard’s “illusion of the end.” Jenkins’s brief text is meant to be heard over the din of the pop music assaulting the ears of history students from the corporate radio stations of the discipline: its golden oldies from E. H. Carr to...

    • 10. Ebb Tide: Frank Ankersmit
      (pp. 145-154)

      For the last decade or so recognition has been spreading that the linguistic turn that had motivated much advanced work in the humanities is over. The massive tide of language has receded that connected analytic philosophy with pragmatism, anthropology with social history, philosophy of science with deconstruction; we are now able to look across the sand to see what might be worth salvaging before the next waves of theory and research begin to pound the shore. As language recedes there is much of talk of ethics, but also about intensity; of post colonialism but also about empire; of the sacred...

    • 11. The Art of Losing Oneself: Anne Carson and Decreation
      (pp. 155-161)

      The creative self is the central figure of the romantic wing of modernity, and its roots can be found at least as far back as the Book of Genesis. In her recent volume of poems and essays Anne Carson pursues decreation, a less familiar figure, but one whose ancestry is just as deep as our cultural memory. Simone Weil, the twentieth-century French philosopher, mystic, and activist, defined decreation as a program for getting the self out of the way while making something new. Sometimes this program is imposed on the self by violent outside forces, leaving the person traumatized, without...

    • 12. Inquiry as Hope: Richard Rorty
      (pp. 162-172)

      Philosophy as Cultural Politics appeared early in 2007, just a few months before its author succumbed to pancreatic cancer.² Richard Rorty, the most widely read and influential American philosopher of the last fifty years, brought together in this collection essays on topics ranging from atheism to the linguistic turn, from justice to romanticism. Although readers familiar with Rorty’s work will find little new in these articles written over the last ten years (as he himself acknowledges in the preface), they do illuminate how what he called “conversational philosophy” draws on historical thinking to redescribe political and social issues in ways...

    • 13. Photographic Ambivalence
      (pp. 175-188)

      In this chapter I focus on three topics that arose at a conference sponsored by the journal History and Theory devoted to photography and historical interpretation. These topics concern the capacities and impact of photography as a practice for representing the past:

      (1) Photography’s incapacity to conceive duration

      (2) Photography and the “rim of ontological uncertainty”

      (3) Photography’s “anthropological revolution”

      Each of these can be related to how photography affects our ability to think of being in another place or time than the one we are in now. This problem has a long history. It animated the work of the...

    • 14. Why Photography Matters to the Theory of History
      (pp. 189-204)

      Georges Didi-Huberman’s Images in Spite of All: Four Photographs from Auschwitz and Michael Fried’s Why Photography Matters as Art as Never Before approach photography with very different theoretical agendas.³ The former is a short, polemical study concerned with epistemological and ethical questions that arise from visual representations of the Shoah; the latter is a large, richly illustrated tome concerned with the ontological lessons explored by contemporary art photography. Didi-Huberman is focused on small photographic traces of mass murder that can change our relation to history; Fried is focused on large-scale images that can change our relation to art. Nevertheless the...

    • 15. Ordinary Film: Péter Forgács’s The Maelstrom
      (pp. 205-213)

      The opening of The Maelstrom (1997) presents a silent image of small, seemingly fragile beings tossed on a stormy sea. Silence draws us out—where are we and what are we looking at?—and then the film pushes us back. The remainder of the film, with only a few punctuations, uses sound (music, cries, sound effects) to bring us along. But we start with silence and the sea—drawing us out. Where are we being taken?

      When the sound emerges near the beginning of The Maelstrom, we see people drawn to the waves that crash ominously against a floodwall. They...

    • 16. Graves of the Insane, Decorated
      (pp. 214-222)

      Now we see them on the street corners of our cities, on the ramps to our highways, sleeping in the parks. But do they choose to be there? Are they mad? Now we know that the insane make up a significant part of our prison populations. But how do we know when a person in prison is insane? Now we know that mental illnesses are diseases for which we can seek cures. But what do we know about where the mad go? Do we know where madness brings them?¹

      In the early 1960s, when the forces of imagination and fantasy...

    • 17. On a Certain Blindness in Teaching
      (pp. 225-233)

      By Christmas I will be in the hospital.” Those are the words I remember best. They bespoke a knowledge that was frightening. She said them with certainty and with urgency. “By Christmas I will be in the hospital. This has happened before. I can feel it coming.” She stared at me intently. “OK, what happens now that he KNOWS. What changes, what remains the same? What will he do with this knowledge?” What did I say? I recall some lame questions such as “Are you getting some help?” and “What kind of medication are you taking?” Perhaps they were not...

    • 18. Beyond Critical Thinking
      (pp. 234-238)

      The antivocational reputation of the humanities has been a source of pride and embarrassment for generations. The persistence of this reputed uselessness is puzzling given the fact that an education in the humanities allows one to develop skills in reading, writing, reflection, and interpretation that are highly prized in our economy and culture. Sure, specific training in a discrete set of skills might prepare you for Day 1 of the worst job you’ll ever have (your first), but the humanities teach elements of mind and heart that you will draw upon for decades of innovative and focused work. But we...

    • 19. Good and Risky: On the Promise of a Liberal Education
      (pp. 239-244)

      On the very first page of her slim book Not for Profit: Why Democracy Needs the Humanities, philosopher Martha Nussbaum warns, “we are in a crisis of massive proportions and grave global significance.”¹ She’s not talking about a calamity caused by climate change, nor is she referring to nuclear proliferation, global poverty, or unchecked population growth. No, the worldwide crisis that frightens Nussbaum is the decline of a model of liberal education based on the arts and humanities. Although a liberal arts education has never been common in most of the world, she thinks that this decline puts contemporary industrial...

  11. Notes
    (pp. 245-280)
  12. Index
    (pp. 281-300)