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Trauma Culture

Trauma Culture: The Politics of Terror and Loss in Media and Literature

E. Ann Kaplan
Copyright Date: 2005
Published by: Rutgers University Press
Pages: 224
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  • Book Info
    Trauma Culture
    Book Description:

    It may be said that every trauma is two traumas or ten thousand-depending on the number of people involved. How one experiences and reacts to an event is unique and depends largely on one's direct or indirect positioning, personal psychic history, and individual memories. But equally important to the experience of trauma are the broader political and cultural contexts within which a catastrophe takes place and how it is "managed" by institutional forces, including the media.In Trauma Culture, E. Ann Kaplan explores the relationship between the impact of trauma on individuals and on entire cultures and nations. Arguing that humans possess a compelling need to draw meaning from personal experience and to communicate what happens to others, she examines the artistic, literary, and cinematic forms that are often used to bridge the individual and collective experience. A number of case studies, including Sigmund Freud's Moses and Monotheism, Marguerite Duras' La Douleur, Sarah Kofman's Rue Ordener, Rue Labat, Alfred Hitchcock's Spellbound, and Tracey Moffatt's Night Cries, reveal how empathy can be fostered without the sensationalistic element that typifies the media.From World War II to 9/11, this passionate study eloquently navigates the contentious debates surrounding trauma theory and persuasively advocates the responsible sharing and translating of catastrophe.

    eISBN: 978-0-8135-4116-7
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-x)
    E. Ann Kaplan
  4. Introduction: 9/11 and “Disturbing Remains”
    (pp. 1-23)

    This book is about the impact of trauma both on individuals and on entire cultures or nations, and about the need to share and “translate” such traumatic impact. My study of trauma and its cultural politics opens with reference to 9/11 because the catastrophe offers insight into some of the book’s main themes, namely that trauma produces new subjects, that the political-ideological context within which traumatic events occur shapes their impact, and that it is hard to separate individual and collective trauma. The experience of 9/11 also demonstrates the difficulties of generalizing about trauma and its impact, for, as Freud...

  5. Chapter 1 “Why Trauma Now?”: Freud and Trauma Studies
    (pp. 24-41)

    Trauma is often seen as inherently linked to modernity. Kevin Newmark, for instance, drawing upon Walter Benjamin’s groundbreaking work, stresses the break in consciousness that modernity represents, as “it occurred historically to interrupt once and for all the unified structure of what we continue to call ‘traditional’ experience” (238). Modernity, deeply intertwined with imperialism, consumerism, and Fascism, as Paul Gilroy has so lucidly shown inAgainst Race, is seen to produce basic twentieth-century experiences, such as the catastrophic event and global cross-cultural conflict. Indeed, it is partly because of accumulated twentieth-century traumatic events that psychologists, sociologists, and humanists are investigating...

  6. Chapter 2 Memory as Testimony in World War II: Freud, Duras, and Kofman
    (pp. 42-65)

    I have argued that the model of trauma as dissociation in individuals involves too rigid a view of what happens to memory in extreme situations. Research by scholars working on memory has been helpful in foregrounding the dangers of holding too inflexibly to one version of brain circuitry as regards what happens to memory in trauma. For the idea that a traumatic event overwhelms the cortex and thus is not cognitively processed would mean that the event is completely unavailable to memory. This does not seem to be verified by how people experience trauma; frequently the subject does have memories,...

  7. Chapter 3 Melodrama and Trauma: Displacement in Hitchcock’s Spellbound
    (pp. 66-86)

    This chapter investigates cultural trauma, and argues that politics intervenes in how such trauma is “managed.” How is collective trauma translated across different groups with differing relationships to a traumatic event? May cinema, in its classical and dominant Hollywood form, “translate” an event for a culture, unconsciously colluding with dominant political forces? These are some of the questions addressed in what follows.

    The question of collective or cultural trauma is a difficult one. While individual trauma is always linked to the social sphere, given that social conditions shape trauma’s impact (e.g., 9/11 and the memoirs studied in chapter 2), traumatic...

  8. Chapter 4 Vicarious Trauma and “Empty” Empathy: Media Images of Rwanda and the Iraq War
    (pp. 87-100)

    While prior chapters have focused on different techniques film directors or authors used in representing a particular mode of trauma, here I contribute to film studies first by using data from interviews with trauma therapists to illuminate what happens to spectators of traumatic events in popular media; and secondly, by developing the concept of “empty empathy” to understand the effect of other kinds of media reporting about catastrophes.

    Psychologists have been studying how the narratives therapists hear in the course of treating trauma survivors may evoke such strong reaction that the therapist is “vicariously” traumatized, but film scholars have rarely...

  9. Chapter 5 “Translating” Trauma in Postcolonial Contexts: Indigeneity on Film
    (pp. 101-121)

    In focusing ontranslationin this chapter as yet another modality for sharing trauma, I build upon ways in which trauma has been discussed hitherto. I move from studying the pattern of violence and its ensuing effects, to exploring translators who mediate across difference. My effort may be seen as itself an act of translation in which I explore texts representing other such acts already underway or imagined.

    I will focus on cross-cultural conflict in Australia, Canada, and the United States, looking at select contact-zones between Western and indigenous peoples in order to investigate processes of translation. Since the 1980s...

  10. Chapter 6 The Ethics of Witnessing: Maya Deren and Tracey Moffatt
    (pp. 122-135)

    Building on discussion of documentary films representing “testimonies” of indigenous women in chapter 5, this chapter explores to what degree an ethics of witnessing involves different psychic mechanisms and aesthetic strategies than those studied earlier. How should one differentiate between empathic reactions, including vicarious traumatization, in a reader, listener, or viewer, and witnessing? Arguably the difference involves distance; empathic sharing entails closeness but may lead to the overidentification of vicarious trauma. Witnessing has to do with an art work producing a deliberate ethical consciousness, such as we saw earlier in testimonies but with even greater distance.

    Martin Hoffman implies that,...

  11. Epilogue: “Wounded New York”: Rebuilding and Memorials to 9/11
    (pp. 136-148)

    This books ends, as it began, with 9/11 and its aftermath. The great yawning crematorium at the end of Manhattan continues to fester like a sore without bandages or healing salve. The great pit can be watched from inside the spacious Winter Garden, increasingly the site to which relatives of victims return to peer into the crematorium as if into their loved one’s grave. I have returned many times to gaze as well, still in disbelief at what I am seeing—namely the footprints of those great towers now no more, surrounded by the “disturbing remains” of so many.


  12. Notes
    (pp. 149-170)
  13. Works Cited
    (pp. 171-180)
  14. Index
    (pp. 181-192)
  15. Back Matter
    (pp. 193-194)