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Aftermath: Violence and the Remaking of a Self

Copyright Date: 2002
Pages: 184
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  • Book Info
    Book Description:

    On July 4, 1990, while on a morning walk in southern France, Susan Brison was attacked from behind, severely beaten, sexually assaulted, strangled to unconsciousness, and left for dead. She survived, but her world was destroyed. Her training as a philosopher could not help her make sense of things, and many of her fundamental assumptions about the nature of the self and the world it inhabits were shattered.

    At once a personal narrative of recovery and a philosophical exploration of trauma, this book examines the undoing and remaking of a self in the aftermath of violence. It explores, from an interdisciplinary perspective, memory and truth, identity and self, autonomy and community. It offers imaginative access to the experience of a rape survivor as well as a reflective critique of a society in which women routinely fear and suffer sexual violence.

    As Brison observes, trauma disrupts memory, severs past from present, and incapacitates the ability to envision a future. Yet the act of bearing witness, she argues, facilitates recovery by integrating the experience into the survivor's life's story. She also argues for the importance, as well as the hazards, of using first-person narratives in understanding not only trauma, but also larger philosophical questions about what we can know and how we should live.

    Bravely and beautifully written,Aftermathis that rare book that is an illustration of its own arguments.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-4149-3
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-xiv)
  4. CHAPTER ONE Surviving Sexual Violence
    (pp. 1-22)

    On July 4, 1990, at 10:30 in the morning, I went for a walk along a peaceful-looking country road in a village outside Grenoble, France. It was a gorgeous day, and I didn’t envy my husband, Tom, who had to stay inside and work on a manuscript with a French colleague of his. I sang to myself as I set out, stopping to pet a goat and pick a few wild strawberries along the way. About an hour and a half later, I was lying face down in a muddy creek bed at the bottom of a dark ravine, struggling...

  5. CHAPTER TWO On the Personal as Philosophical
    (pp. 23-36)

    Russell’sProblems of Philosophywas one of the first philosophy texts I read, and I was so drawn to the idea of knowledge as “impersonal, . . . abstract and universal” that it has taken me nearly twenty years to come to see, gradually, the appeal of Nietzsche’s view of philosophy as a kind of disguised autobiographical narrative. I was aware that, for centuries, philosophers had written in the first-person singular, but the “serious” ones, such as Descartes, did so as part of an argumentative strategy to be employed by any reader to establish, ultimately, the same universal truths. They...

  6. CHAPTER THREE Outliving Oneself
    (pp. 37-66)

    Survivors of trauma frequently remark that they are not the same people they were before they were traumatized. As a survivor of the Nazi death camps observes, “One can be alive after Sobibor without having survived Sobibor.”² Jonathan Shay, a therapist who works with Vietnam veterans, has often heard his patients say, “I died in Vietnam.”³ Migael Scherer expresses a loss commonly experienced by rape survivors when she writes, “I will always miss myself as I was.”⁴ What are we to make of these cryptic comments?⁵ How can one miss oneself? How can one die in Vietnam or fail to...

  7. CHAPTER FOUR Acts of Memory
    (pp. 67-84)

    Dori Laub quotes a Holocaust survivor who said, “We wanted to survive so as to live one day after Hitler, in order to be able to tell our story.”² As Laub came to believe, after listening to many Holocaust testimonies and working as an analyst with survivors and their children, such victims of trauma “did not only need to survive in order to tell their story; they also needed to tell their story in order to survive.”³ Telling their story, narrating their experiences of traumatic events, has long been considered—at least since Freud and Janet⁴—to play a significant...

  8. CHAPTER FIVE The Politics of Forgetting
    (pp. 85-100)

    A few months before my assailant’s trial, I went to Grenoble to look over legal documents and discuss the case with my lawyer. I also met with theavocat général, who had possession of the dossier for the case and, with some reluctance, agreed to show it to me. It included depositions, police records, medical reports, psychiatric evaluations, and photos of my bruised, swollen face and battered body, of my assailant’s scratched face, which I’d remembered so well, and of his muddied clothes, which I’d never really noticed. There were also photographs of the disturbed underbrush by the roadside, my...

  9. CHAPTER SIX Retellings
    (pp. 101-118)

    According to Aristotle, the first and most important element of a tragedy is the plot—the story, the narrative— defined as “an imitation of an action that is complete in itself, as a whole . . . which has beginning, middle, and end.”² But narratives, at least those that are not tragedies, need not be linear or complete: a plot line could be a circle, a spiral, a parabola, a zigzag, a dot that went for a walk. A little walk that changes everything.

    As I use the term, a “narrative” does not need to have a beginning, middle, and...

  10. Afterword
    (pp. 119-124)

    On January 27, 2001, about six months after I had submitted this manuscript, two of my dear friends and colleagues, Susanne and Half Zantop, were stabbed to death in their home a few miles away from Dartmouth College. They were deeply loved members of this community—a wonderfully close-knit community of friends, scholars, social activists, and neighbors they had done so much, in over twenty-five years here, to create and sustain. Susanne had been my official and unofficial mentor at Dartmouth, standing by me for the past decade. She set the standard with her own stellar example and never wavered...

  11. Acknowledgments
    (pp. 125-128)
  12. Notes
    (pp. 129-146)
  13. Bibliography
    (pp. 147-156)
  14. Index
    (pp. 157-166)
  15. Back Matter
    (pp. 167-167)