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Yochai Ataria · David Gurevitz

Haviva Pedaya · Yuval Neria Editors

Handbook of
Trauma and
Interdisciplinary Handbook of Trauma
and Culture
Yochai Ataria • David Gurevitz
Haviva Pedaya • Yuval Neria

Handbook of Trauma
and Culture
Yochai Ataria David Gurevitz
Department of Neurobiology The Interdisciplinary Center Herzelia
Weizmann Institute of Science Herzelia, Israel
Rehovot, Israel
Yuval Neria
Haviva Pedaya Columbia University Medical
Department of the History of Israel Center and the New York State
Ben Gurion University Psychiatric Institute
Beer-Sheva, Israel New York, NY, USA

ISBN 978-3-319-29402-5 ISBN 978-3-319-29404-9 (eBook)

DOI 10.1007/978-3-319-29404-9

Library of Congress Control Number: 2016939236

© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2016

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Printed on acid-free paper

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The registered company is Springer International Publishing AG Switzerland
To Adi, who is my home in the chaotic darkness, my citadel in a
strange and alienated world.

To my beloved children Matan and Yuval.

For Rachel, with Love.

To all those who shared with me their wanderings.

To Yochai.

I am grateful to my wife Mariana, and my children Michal,

Oren, and Maya. Without the love and strength you have given
me, my scientific work was not possible.

The editors are grateful to Mikael Rubin for his exhaustive editorial work,
and to Peter James and Ari Lev Plat for their editorial assistance.


Introduction ........................................................................................... xv

Part I Representations of Trauma

1 Literature as Trauma: The Postmodern Option-Franz

Kafka and Cormac Mccarthy ...................................................... 3
David Gurevitz
2 Cultural Trauma and the Media.................................................. 27
Allen Meek
3 Television: A Traumatic Culture ................................................. 39
Dan Arav
4 Popular Trauma Culture: The Pain of Others
Between Holocaust Tropes and Kitsch-Sentimental
Melodrama..................................................................................... 51
Anne Rothe
5 The Trauma of Modernism: Between Existential
Indeterminacy and Allegoresis ..................................................... 67
Dennis Sobolev
6 Before Recognition: On the Aesthetics of Aftermath ................ 87
Lisa Saltzman
7 From Hiroshima to Fukushima: Comics and Animation
as Subversive Agents of Memory in Japan ................................. 101
Ory Bartal
8 Performative Recollection: Koizumi Meiro
Representations of Kamikaze Pilots and the Trauma
of the Asia-Pacific War in Japan ................................................. 117
Ayelet Zohar
9 Architecture and Trauma ............................................................. 133
Teresa Stoppani
10 Art as the Transport-Station of Trauma ..................................... 151
Bracha Lichtenberg Ettinger

x Contents

Part II Theory of Trauma

11 The Trauma of Philosophy ........................................................... 163

Frank Seeburger
12 Irresponsible Nonsense: An Epistemological
and Ethical Critique of Postmodern Trauma Theory ............... 181
Anne Rothe
13 The Death of the Witness in the Era of Testimony:
Primo Levi and Georges Perec..................................................... 195
Yochai Ataria
14 Walking, Walking Out, and Walking Through:
Transitional Space and Traumatic Time..................................... 217
Haviva Pedaya
15 Trauma and Monotheism: Sigmund Freud’s Moses
and Monotheism and the Possibility of Writing
a Traumatic History of Religion .................................................. 251
Koji Yamashiro
16 The Crisis of Manhood ................................................................. 267
Yochai Ataria
17 Laius Complex and Shocks of Maternality:
With Franz Kafka and Sylvia Plath ............................................ 279
Bracha Lichtenberg Ettinger
18 Fear, Trauma, and Posttraumatic Stress Disorder:
Clinical, Neurobiological, and Cultural Perspectives ................ 303
Mikael Rubin, Maya Neria, and Yuval Neria

Part III Case Studies of Collective Trauma

19 Some Reflections on Transmitting the Memory

of the Holocaust and its Implications, Particularly
in Israel .......................................................................................... 317
Saul Friedländer
20 Placing Collective Trauma Within Its Social Context:
The Case of 9/11 Attacks .............................................................. 325
Emily Joyner, Katharine Reiner van der Hoorn, Ari Platt,
Mikael Rubin, Erel Shvil, and Yuval Neria
21 Masculinity, Spirituality, and Male Wartime
Sexual Trauma............................................................................... 339
R. Ruard Ganzevoort and Srdjan Sremac
22 Killing the Killer: Rampage and Gun Rights
as a Syndrome................................................................................ 353
Kirby Farrell
Contents xi

23 Loss, Traumatic Bereavement, and Mourning

Culture: The Israel Example ....................................................... 365
Eliezer Witztum, Ruth Malkinson,
and Simon Shimshon Rubin
24 Fear and Silence in Burma and Indonesia:
Comparing Two National Tragedies and Two
Individual Outcomes of Trauma.................................................. 377
Robert Lemelson and Seinenu M. Thein-Lemelson
Conclusion: Trauma and Culture: How Trauma
Can Shape the Human Mind ............................................................... 393
Yuval Neria and Yochai Ataria

Index ....................................................................................................... 397


Dan Arav, Ph.D. School of Media Studies, The College of Management

Academic Studies (COMAS), Rishon LeZion, Israel
Yochai Ataria, Ph.D. Department of Neurobiology, Weizmann Institute of
Science, Rehovot, Israel
Ory Bartal, Ph.D. Department of History and Theory, Bezalel Academy of
Arts and Design, Jerusalem, Israel
Bracha Lichtenberg Ettinger, Ph.D. Marcel Duchamp Chair and Professor
of Psychoanalysis and Art, European Graduate School (EGS), Saas-Fee,
Kirby Farrell, Ph.D. Department of English, University of Massachusetts,
Amherst, MA, USA
Saul Friedländer, Ph.D. Chair in Holocaust Studies, History Department,
UCLA, Los Angeles, CA, USA
R. Ruard Ganzevoort, Ph.D. Amsterdam Centre for the Study of Lived
Religion, Faculty of Theology, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, Amsterdam,
The Netherlands
David Gurevitz, Ph.D. The Interdisciplinary Center, Herzelia, Israel
Katharine Reiner van der Hoorn, M.A. Columbia University Medical
Center and the New York State Psychiatric Institute, New York, NY, USA
Emily Joyner, M.A. Columbia University Medical Center and the New
York State Psychiatric Institute, New York, NY, USA
Robert Lemelson, Ph.D. Department of Anthropology, University of
California, Los Angeles, CA, USA
UCLA Semel Institute of Neuroscience, Los Angeles, CA, USA
Foundation for Psychocultural Research, Pacific Palisades, CA, USA
Ruth Malkinson, Ph.D. International Center for the Study of Loss,
Bereavement and Human Resilience, University of Haifa, Haifa, Israel
Allen Meek, Ph.D. School of English and Media Studies, Massey University,
Palmerston North, New Zealand

xiv Contributors

Maya Neria, B.A. Middlebury College, Middlebury, VT, USA

Yuval Neria, Ph.D. Columbia University Medical Center and the New York
State Psychiatric Institute, New York, NY, USA
Haviva Pedaya, Ph.D. Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, Jewish History
Department, Elyachar Center for Sephardi Heritage, Ben-Gurion University,
Beer-Sheva, Israel
Ari Platt, B.A. Columbia University Medical Center and the New York
State Psychiatric Institute, New York, NY, USA
Anne Rothe, Ph.D. Department of Classical and Modern Languages,
Literatures, and Cultures, Wayne State University, Detroit, MI, USA
Mikael Rubin, M.A. Psychology Department, University of Texas at Austin,
Austin, TX, USA
Simon Shimshon Rubin, Ph.D. International Center for the Study of Loss,
Bereavement and Human Resilience, University of Haifa, Haifa, Israel
Lisa Saltzman, Ph.D. Professor and Chair of History of Art and the Andrew
W. Mellon Foundation Chair in the Humanities, Bryn Mawr College, Bryn
Mawr, PA, USA
Frank Seeburger, Ph.D. Department of Philosophy, University of Denver,
Longmont, CO, USA
Erel Shvil, Ph.D. Columbia University Medical Center and the New York
State Psychiatric Institute, New York, NY, USA
Dennis Sobolev, Ph.D. Department of Hebrew and Comparative Literature,
University of Haifa, Haifa, Israel
Srdjan Sremac, Ph.D. Amsterdam Centre for the Study of Lived Religion,
Faculty of Theology, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, Amsterdam, The
Teresa Stoppani, M.Arch., Ph.D. School of Art Architecture and Design,
Leeds Beckett University, Broadcasting Place, Leeds, UK
Seinenu M. Thein-Lemelson, Ph.D. Institute of Personality and Social
Research (IPSR), University of California, Berkeley, USA
Eliezer Witztum, M.D. Division of Psychiatry, Faculty of Health Sciences,
Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, Be’er Sheva, Israel
Koji Yamashiro Faculty of Humanities, Hebrew University of Jerusalem,
Jerusalem, Israel
Ayelet Zohar, Ph.D. Art History Department, Tel Aviv University, Tel Aviv,

Yochai Ataria, David Gurevitz, Haviva Pedaya,

and Yuval Neria

Previous scholars who discussed the evolution of mental trauma as a research

field identified its origin as related to the nineteenth-century railway accident
(e.g., Farrell 1998; Leys 2000; Luckhurst 2008). They connected trauma with
modernity, since one of the most important characteristics of the modern age
has been railway transportation (Thacker 2003). Seltzer (1997), for instance,
suggested that the “modern subject has become inseparable from categories
of shock and trauma” (p. 18). Essentially, such scholars defined mental
trauma not merely as a by-product of the industrial era but rather went a step
further, suggesting that if railways are indeed the icon of modernity then
mental trauma stands at the very core of this era, as a constitutive phenome-
non that has shaped the structure of its cultural discourse.
The association between trauma and culture, however, has much deeper
and long-standing roots. The stories of Cain and Abel, the Binding of Isaac,
the Binding of Ishmael (after his laughter), and the Crucifixion of Jesus can
all be viewed as traumatic events that stand at the core of the monotheistic
culture. In this sense, trauma itself lies at the heart of Western culture. Bearing
this in mind, this book seeks to remap and expand the relationship between
trauma and culture.
When attempting to describe the multifaceted relations between trauma
and culture two questions seem to lie at the core of such an effort: First, in
what ways traumatic events are represented in specific cultures? and second,
in what ways collective traumas may shape the structure of culture?
The current volume has three parts. The first part is focused on represena-
tions of trauma in culture. The second and the third parts of the book focus on
the different ways collective trauma may shape the structure of cultures.
While the second part of the book attempts to discuss theoretical aspects of
trauma-indcued cultural changes, the third part presents a number of case
studies of collective trauma.
In the first part, Geurvitz (Chap. 1) examines the relationship between
trauma and literature, illustrated by an analysis of the works of Franz Kafka
and Cormac McCarthy. The following three chapters discuss various associa-
tions between trauma and the media. First, Meek (Chap. 2) describes the
development of cultural trauma as a concept over the past 100 years and how
this idea came to be linked with visual media. Arav (Chap. 3) then seeks to
shed light on the moving image in general, and television in particular, as a
major factor in the establishment of the contemporary culture of trauma.
Lastly, Rothe (Chap. 4) argues that melodrama is the dominant narrative

xvi Introduction

mode for representing experiences of victimization and suffering, discussing

how kitsch and sentimentality are encoded at the paradigmatic mode of
reception. In the fifth chapter, Sobolev examines the relationships between
modernism, literature, and trauma; this essay stresses the uniqueness of
Hopkins’ hermeneutics of trauma and emphasizes the existence of a shared
hermeneutic repertoire for dealing with trauma. Further, Saltzman, in the
sixth chapter, explores the unique relations between trauma and representa-
tion by attending to a set of cultural works including architectural, artistic,
and literary—all inspired by the tragic events of 9/11 2001. The seventh and
the eighth chapters both deal with representations of World War II in Japanese
culture: while Bartal (Chap. 7) examines how the memory of the nuclear
holocaust is treated in Japanese comics and animation, Zohar (Chap. 8)
explores the kamikaze projects of Koizumi Meiro and the manner in which he
portrays the trauma of the perpetrator in Japan. The final two chapters of the
first part focus on artistic topics: Stoppani (Chap. 9) aims to explore the
trauma of architecture and Ettinger (Chap. 10) seeks to define art as a
transport-station of trauma and, in so doing, characterize artistic work in
terms of processing and representing trauma.
The second part of the book explores theories of trauma and culture more
broadly. In the first chapter, Seeburger (Chap. 11) argues that philosophy is
forced to confront what can be viewed as its own defining trauma. From such
a perspective, the very history of philosophy can be told as a tale of trauma.
Following this, Rothe (Chap. 12) critiques the trauma theory presented by
scholars such as Ruth Leys, Wulf Kansteiner and Harald Weilnböck. In par-
ticular Rothe analyses the transformation of the concept of trauma from sig-
nifying the psychological aftereffects of extreme violence into a metaphor for
a stipulated postmodern crisis of signification. As such, it argues that trauma
theory is both nonsensical and irresponsible. In the next chapter (13) Ataria
examines the notion of bearing witness through a comparison of two Jewish
writers: the Italian Holocaust survivor Primo Levi and the French novelist
Georges Perec. The next two chapters examine the relationship between
trauma and Monotheism. Pedaya (Chap. 14) analyzes the act of walking as a
basic reaction to trauma and adversity. The projection of trauma in exploring
space is examined through its manifestation in Jewish time perception, par-
ticularly the Messianic concept of time and its progression as developed by
the Kabbalists—born out of the Spanish Expulsion. The strong affinities
between walking as dispersion and collecting, with its internal identity con-
struction, illuminate the modern conceptions of both Benjamin and Freud.
Following this, Yamashiro (Chap. 15) discusses one of the most important
questions regarding monotheistic religions: can we rewrite the birth, develop-
ment, and death of the monotheistic religions as traumatic history? This chap-
ter represents a starting point for such an attempt. Ataria (Chap. 16) then
seeks to examine the notion of manhood following the Vietnam War, present-
ing what can be considered to be the trauma of the white man in the
USA. Ettinger (Chap. 17) conceptualizes the Laius Complex, articulating and
offering a critique of the paternal subject’s (the analyst’s) desire to scarify the
son—based upon an impulse that can reach a degree of Laius delirium—
which is projected on the analyzed (“son”) in a psychotic countertransfer-
Introduction xvii

ence. Lastly Rubin, Neria, and Neria (Chap. 18) explore the complex
relationships between trauma and fear, examining how they intertwine in the
context of their most relevant psychopathology—posttraumatic stress disor-
der (PTSD).
The third part of the book presents a number of case studies of collective
trauma. Friedländer (Chap. 19) critically discusses key cultural patterns by
which Israelis process memories of the Holocaust. Joyner, Neria, and col-
leagues (Chap. 20) examine sociocultural aspects of the emotional responses
to the 9/11 2001 attacks. Following this, Ruard and Sremac (Chap. 21) exam-
ine the unique relationships between male wartime sexual trauma, masculin-
ity, and posttraumatic spirituality. Farrell, in the fourth chapter (22), examines
the Sandy Hook school rampage in Newton Connecticut and the radical fire-
arms advocacy that followed, which can be viewed in the context of traumatic
aftermath. In the following chapter (23), Witztum, Malkinson, and Rubin
address conceptual issues regarding traumatic bereavement and culture in
Israel. Lastly, in the final chapter (24), Seinenu Thein-Lemelson and Robert
Lemelson explore the relationship between the personal experience of trauma
and larger cultural and political processes that can shape individual outcomes
through an examination of two historic national tragedies in Southeast Asia:
one in Burma and the other in Indonesia.

1. Farrell, K. (1998). Post-traumatic culture. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.
2. Leys, R. (2000). Trauma: A genealogy. Chicago and London: University of Chicago
3. Luckhurst, R. (2008). The trauma question. London: Routledge.
4. Seltzer, M. (1997). Wound culture: Trauma in the pathological public sphere. October,
80, 3–26.
5. Thacker, A. (2003). Moving through modernity: Space and geography in modernism.
Oxford: Manchester University Press.
Part I
Representations of Trauma
Literature as Trauma:
The Postmodern Option-Franz 1
Kafka and Cormac Mccarthy

David Gurevitz

that the mechanisms of breakdown and dissocia-

1.1 Postmodern Literature tion, lacuna and loss, memory lapses and forget-
and Trauma: Intersecting ting, utterance and silence, similarity and
Paths difference, forgiveness and atonement, desire and
impotence, disintegration, fragmentation, and
This chapter deals with the relationship between ecstasy—all central features of posttrauma and
the discourse of trauma in contemporary society posttraumatic discourse—are also key terms in the
and the contribution of literature to its conceptual- postmodern poetics of contemporary literature. In
ization. It seeks to demonstrate the ways in which other words, the postmodern approach is, in fact, a
posttraumatic thinking is similar to literary writing critical confrontation with the traumatic nature of
and its interest in writing as trauma, and how the the literary experience itself. Analysis of the works
posttraumatic mind drove the work of Franz Kafka of the two authors will show the paradoxical allure
in “In the Penal Colony” and Cormac McCarthy in of trauma as an intense experience, despite, and
Blood Meridian: Or the Evening Redness in the perhaps because of, the acute suffering it entails.
West. The aim of this discussion is not merely to The discussion below begins with theoretical
identify traumatic themes in these authors’ work, aspects of the cultural discourse of trauma, fol-
but to describe reading, writing, and deciphering lowed by the parallels between posttraumatic dis-
the text as reflective processes that depict them- course and traumatic discourse in postmodern
selves in posttraumatic terms.1 It is my contention literature. The conclusions are then applied to the
analysis of two major works of literature, one from
the early twentieth century and the other more
The traumatic body is created when its skin (both physical
recent, in which the contribution of the authors,
and metaphorical) is penetrated. The fissure allows for the
transformation and devastation of the inner organs on the Franz Kafka and Cormac McCarthy, to the contem-
physical and mental levels. Trauma and its clinical, media, porary discourse of trauma is examined.2 As I will
and cultural meanings have been discussed extensively.
See, Agamben (1998), Alexander (2004:1–30, 2012),
Badiou (2002), Blanchot (1995), Caruth (1995), Derrida (1996), McNally (2003), Rothe (2011), Seeburger (2013),
(2001), Dineen (1999), Douglass and Vogler (2003:1–53), Spiegel (1986:61–78), and Young (2007:21–48).
Elsaesser (2014), Herman (1992:175), Kleinman and 2
If space allowed, it would also be interesting to examine
Kleinman (2009:288–303), LaCapra (1998), Laplanche
the aspect of trauma in the works of Thomas Pynchon,
and Pontalis ([1967] 1973:214–217), Leys (2000), Loftus
Primo Levi, David Foster Wallace, Michel Houellebecq,
D. Gurevitz, Ph.D. (*) and others, all of whom deal, inter alia, with the social
The Interdisciplinary Center, Herzelia, Israel effects of the link between trauma and paranoia in contem-
e-mail: porary society.

© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2016 3

Y. Ataria et al. (eds.), Interdisciplinary Handbook of Trauma and Culture,
DOI 10.1007/978-3-319-29404-9_1
4 D. Gurevitz

attempt to demonstrate, despite the differences in The postmodern reaction4 framed modernism as
mentality and culture, and the distance of time, the late, traumatic, presence of progress in the
both writers address the issue of trauma in a world heart of the twentieth century. This contention
of nihilistic and unexplained evil, an evil that led to a new historization of modernism: not as
threatens to impose a rule of postapocalyptic a utopian site of freedom by virtue of faith in
death. The chapter ends with a look at the funda- science, morality, and art, but rather as a dystopic
mental structures that help create the postmod- place depicted as the circles of hell.
ern poetics of contemporary literature. The same period saw the emergence of a
Kafka and McCarthy serve as the cornerstones new posttraumatic philosophy: “post-Auschwitz”
of this discussion. Close analysis of their work humanity, suddenly confronted with the impossi-
will reveal the ways in which literature writes ble task of finding an explanation for the atrocities
trauma into society. This postmodern literature, and expressing what the mind refused to take in,
which rejects the utopian project of modernism, was forced to acknowledge the unbridgeable,
no longer conceives of language as a mechanism incommensurable,5 gap between the universality
of redemption. Instead, it is depicted as a tool of
oppression, working relentlessly to silence and
Postmodernism is critical of modernism, focusing pri-
alienate. Literature now focuses on the very
marily on criticism of the redemptive attitudes (both polit-
moment of traumatic crisis, a moment repre- ical and aesthetic) of modernism and enlightenment.
sented both on the thematic level of the work and It follows three major avenues: (1) Questioning the con-
on the reflective level of its creator. Through the cept of the autonomy of knowledge and the ability of sci-
ence to reach the truth, (2) deconstruction of the unified
act of writing, this moment becomes an event that
subject or text in which it appears in favor of a hybrid
is already indicative of the world “after the Fall,” subject that makes room for cultural and ideological dif-
after the end of time. The compulsive repetition ferences, and (3) deconstruction of the representation of
that characterizes the pathology of the traumatic language: the text says “more” and “less” than the speaker
intended and language can no longer be said to represent
experience is thus reflected in literature.
reality. Through the act of writing, language reveals the
The postmodern “shift” illustrated by the balance of power between the elements existing within it.
works of Kafka and McCarthy occurred in a spe- For a definition of the postmodern condition, see,
cific historical context. In the mid-twentieth cen- Baudrillard (1983), Bollas (1995), Derrida ([1967] 1976),
Dews (1987), Docherty (1993), Huntington (1998),
tury, the discourse of extermination (Auschwitz)
Jameson (1991), Lyotard (1984, 1993), Rabinow (1986),
thrust itself into the humanistic and rational Silverman (1990), Spence (1984), and Wheale (1995).
messages, and optimistic myth of European Analysis of the postmodern elements in the works of
enlightenment, like an uninvited and unnerving Kafka and McCarthy reveals the world in a state of uncer-
tain ontology dealing with a posttraumatic reality that has
guest. Faced with the supremacist, mythical,
been normalized in the language and culture.
and racist discourse of Nazism, modernism 5
Incommensurability is a term from the philosophy of sci-
found it difficult to continue to represent the ence that denotes that two scientific systems cannot be
values of enlightened society (Bauman, 2013).3 judged by the same standard, even if there is no logical
contradiction between them. It is impossible to “translate”
one system of thought into the other. On the cultural level,
Modernism refers to an inclusive cultural and ideological the traumatic experience involves, among other things,
approach from the Renaissance to the first half of the the inability to find a common standard of measurement
twentieth century. It lauded the heroic nature of the “new,” between the language of the victimizers and that of their
while turning its back on the traditional values that victims (Lyotard, 1984). Incommensurability is a major
dominated past history. The proponents of modernism issue in Kafka’s “In the Penal Colony”: there is a total
stressed faith in reason and science, opposed ideologies of divide between the normative human language of the
political oppression, and saw art as a potential path to Traveler observing the killing in the colony, and the ideo-
human redemption. As an art movement, modernism logical “magical” language spoken by the unseen agents
refers to literature and fine art from the second half of the of the regime. The foolish attempt to translate from one to
nineteenth century to the mid-twentieth century. The issue the other drives the violence and grotesque evil in the
of the end of modernism has been the subject of consider- story. A similar situation is depicted in McCarthy’s Blood
able controversy. See, for example, Blumenberg (1985), Meridian, where it is impossible to find a common
Bradbury and McFarlane ([1976] 1991), Calinescu denominator between the sublime language of evil spoken
(1987), Giddens (2013), Greenberg ([1961] 1993), by Judge Holden and the somewhat naïve human lan-
Habermas ([1985] 1987), Hall (1992), and Kolb (1986). guage of his protégé, the Kid.
1 Literature as Trauma: The Postmodern Option-Franz Kafka and Cormac Mccarthy 5

and rationalism of “civilized society” (presumably (utterance) that exists beyond one’s own linguistic
including language as a universal and rational habits is represented as alien and seemingly inde-
foundation shared by murderers and their victims) cipherable. Paradoxically, it is through this pro-
and the appalling personal/magical dimension of a found encounter with that which cannot be said
“sublime” language reserved for the murderers that one can sense the rejected, the denied, and the
alone (Lyotard, 1988a). The experience of “other.” If the traumatic experience of Auschwitz
Auschwitz therefore marked a crisis in language reflects the distant and inexpressible echo of the
itself, as indicated by Adorno famously question- ontological gap denoted by the term “differend,”
ing whether it was at all possible to write poetry then it also represents the traumatic symptom of a
after Auschwitz. Could language carry the burden wound that cannot be presented or discussed,
of semantic and emotional pain after one had been along with healing. In other words, the boundaries
exposed to the filth, degradation, abuse, obliteration, of the trauma are pushed to the limit where the
and impotence manifested by the concentration horror silences the victim and the witness, while
camps? The sad conclusion: language can no longer at the same time it generates a therapeutic process
serve as a universal safety net to be spread out in that holds out for the possibility of symbolic
time of existential distress. recovery in the world that has collapsed.
According to Jean-Francois Lyotard (1988b), It is no coincidence, therefore, that a key con-
this crisis of language and culture gives rise to the cept in postmodern discourse (the differend)
notion of the “differend,” or the dispute that closely resembles an issue in the posttraumatic
ensues when the discourse of one side cannot be discourse of literature. Both fora speak of the
reconciled with the pain in the discourse of the need to find new paradoxical ways to talk about
other. A differend emerges when the need to give the crisis and the immeasurable suffering and to
expression to the dispute becomes urgent. attempt to express the inexpressible, or as Celan
Theorizing the gap makes it possible to release the put it, “the snow of that left unspoken.”7 Both
silenced voices that are not heard in the dominant
discourse. Thus, repressed memory, the memory the sublime indicates an indecipherable sphere whose
that has been erased and forgotten by the language essence is associated with both the beauty and the evil in
of the majority, can be recovered. Acknowledging the world. It represents the postmodern category of the
“unpresentable,” as well as the parallel experience of the
the differend therefore means acknowledging fractured effectiveness of the distorted traumatic text that
one’s own pain and that of others, the inability to repeatedly punishes the subject.
say what one wants to say, and the inability to 7
With a variable key:
express the inexpressible. Insofar as the differend With a variable key you unlock the house in which drifts
relates to that which cannot be expressed through the snow of that left unspoken.
language, it also appertains to the sublime Lyotard Always what key you choose depends on the blood that
spurts from your eye or your mouth or your ear.
(1990)6. It is the moment at which the distant voice
You vary the key, you vary the word that is free to drift
with the flakes.
According to Kant’s Critique of Judgment the “sublime” What snowball will form round the word depends on the
and the “beautiful” are two categories for defining aes- wind that rebuffs you.
thetic pleasure. The beautiful is an emotional and mental Paul Celan, Von Schwelle zu Schwelle. © 1955 Deutsche
experience arising from rational judgment and aimed at Verlags-Anstalt, München, in der Verlagsgruppe Random
producing pleasure without any purposefulness. The sub- House GmbH. English translation © Michael Hamburger,
lime lies beyond the intellectual category of the beautiful taken from Poems of Paul Celan (Third edition, 2007).
because it deals with aesthetic emotion whose object is Here, “the snow of that left unspoken” fills an abandoned
the infinite, the oceanic, the inexpressible, etc. Thus, the house which the speaker seeks to open with “a variable
sublime reaches outlying regions whose borders cannot be key,” a sort of impromptu skeleton key that opens doors
defined and are consequently dangerous places in which onto the emptiness and frost inside. This is a metaphor for
the subject is enveloped in the immeasurable, the thrilling, the frozen death of the negative language that speaks of
and the infinite. As the sublime relates to the inexpress- the “unspoken.” The word drifts with the flakes and a
ible, it is also a sign of our powerlessness to comprehend snowball forms around it, connoting the moment at which
and “write” reality. In the works of Kafka and McCarthy, it becomes devoid of meaning.
6 D. Gurevitz

seek to release the voice of the “other” (whether where the subject is drawn to the extreme, which
internal or external), who is a victim of the post- offers infinite pleasure, but also anxiety, humilia-
trauma. Another procedure that similarly strives tion, and madness. These are the magical regions
to deal with the lacuna at the heart of posttrau- of the unimaginable, the inexpressible, etc. In
matic discourse is suggested by the deconstruc- other words, the real relates to the trauma, except
tivist philosopher, Jacques Derrida (Arav & that the trauma plays out in the heart of everyday
Gurevitz, 2014; Derrida, 2001).8 According to experience. That is, the real reflects the ongoing
Derrida, there is an enduring tendency for vio- presence of the trauma in daily life and language,
lence in Western philosophy which he terms which is embodied by the symbolic order as well.
“logocentrism.” Characterizing Western thinking Thus, the language of the culture as a whole, which
from Plato to Marx, logocentrism is a commit- gives presence to the “big Other,”9 also contains
ment to logos (i.e., authority, speech, the divine, unrecognized elements of the real, the subject’s
meaning), which entails a search for the source, traumatic regions. From this perspective, trauma is
the core, the one coherent meaning. It therefore an integral part of “normal” perceptible experience
pushes out alien, hybrid, or “impure” elements and reflects the culture’s social life and ideologies.
that are inconsistent with the ideology of a This conceptualization adds a further dimension to
dominant authoritative center. Commitment to the collaboration between postmodern (and post-
such a “presence” is challenged by oppositionary structuralist) discourse and the cultural discourse
forces that seek to tear it apart, similar to the of trauma. The innovative nature of Lacan’s theory
disintegration of the self on the mental level. The lies in the bold manner in which he positions
whole, integrative presence is eradicated by the trauma as part of the repressed, subconscious
posttraumatic experience. The release of the myr- experience, the product of the desolate symbolic
iad voices running through the mind of the trauma order of culture. His approach allows for a novel
victim is part of a painful process of recovery that view of trauma as the main subject of cultural
requires willingness to feel pain as one acknowl- endeavors, thereby serving as a convenient plat-
edges the violent, inexplicable, and devastating form for the analysis of the traumatic elements,
nature of the world. This nature is revealed in dif- those that threaten our very lives, in contemporary
ferent types of writing, such as archival writing, literature.
whose sole purpose is to provide a response to It is clear, therefore, that postmodernism per-
the crisis of time and disintegrating, fragmented ceives the world, and language, as sites of trauma.
memory (Derrida [1998], 2002). Ironically, we can see that the breakdown in the
According to psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan, unity of the world and the subject, one of the
traumatic recognition of the crisis in language par- foundation blocks of postmodernism, is compa-
allels recognition of the “real.” Lacan (1977) rable to the posttraumatic experience as described
defines the real as one of three orders, the others in philosophy, psychology, psychoanalysis, the
being the imaginary and the symbolic. The real media, and literature (Felman & Laub, 1992).
relates to the most painful experience, the time and
place of the trauma. It includes perilous regions 9
The “big Other” refers to absolute otherness that cannot
be assimilated through identification. It is impossible to
integrate or connect with this radical otherness. It is like
The connection between Derrida’s deconstructivist phi- an inaccessible father figure that may take the shape of
losophy and the discourse of trauma seems only natural. constructions such as the law, the absolute, truth, ideol-
Derrida describes language as a mechanism constantly ogy, and so on. The unconscious inherent in language is
rejecting the initial meanings of the text. The text contains the discourse of the “big Other.” In Kafka’s story, the
elements of fragmentation, erasure, ruptures of memory, secret sentence inscribed on the body of the condemned
schizophrenia, and ecstasy. These elements, which under- signifies the inaccessibility of the law. In McCarthy’s
mine the consistency of the text, depict it in traumatic novel, Judge Holden fills the symbolic function of the
terms. For the link between Derrida and poststructuralism “big Other,” whose violence, both evil and sublime,
and the discourse of trauma, see, Berger (1999), LaCapra controls the helpless subjects over whom he rules (Lacan,
(1998), and Stolorow and Atwood (2014). 1988).
1 Literature as Trauma: The Postmodern Option-Franz Kafka and Cormac Mccarthy 7

Exposing the trauma reveals the mental and To conclude, the literary works examined
moral price we pay in an effort to maintain the here each strives, in its own manner, to voice
optimistic illusion of modernism and enlighten- criticism of the decline and fall of the world,
ment (Gray, 2013). Indeed, postmodernism arose of language, and of the meaning of suffering,
in opposition to the belief in the all-encompass- and thereby to contribute to the understanding
ing, redemptive unity proposed by modernism. of posttraumatic discourse in contemporary
The totalization10 of the world, a product of this society. The flight of Icarus and Daedalus, a
way of thinking, did not allow for heterogeneity, master craftsmen from Greek mythology, may
for the multiple voices inhabiting the subject to serve as a metaphor for this condition. The
find expression. Absolutist thinking prevents us efforts of this pair ended in disaster when the
from discerning the repressive mechanism silencing wings Daedalus fashioned for his son could
other voices that are not part of the redemptive not withstand the destructive and vengeful
and revolutionary message of modernity. In contrast, heat of the sun, a symbol of light, knowledge,
the posttraumatic messages in postmodern dis- and human rationality. When Icarus flew too
course enable us to trace the symptomatic pres- close to the sun, the wax in his wings melted,
ence of these voices in contemporary literature. plunging the son of the architect/inventor/art-
While the paradoxical representation of the ist into the sea, where his head hit the bottom
traumatic wound in the postmodern era may and he was killed. This traumatic flight, a
come in a variety of forms, all of them, in essence, naïve yet explicit analogy for both the heights
turn pain into a social commodity (Rothe, 2011). that modernism can reach and its potential to
The horrific apocalyptic scenarios that have crash, appears again and again in contempo-
already played out (such as 9/11) have made rary postmodern literature, which presents the
trauma a sensational commodity of popular culture uncompromising, incessant presence of the
sold by the media (Ibrahim, 2011). Literature cultural trauma that has been intensified by
written (and read) today must therefore contend commercialization. The depiction of “falling”
with the decline of public suffering, with it hav- heroes whose reality is a state of trauma and
ing become part of the normalized discourse that defeat, and the conversion of language itself
has converted catastrophe (emotional turmoil, into a site of trauma, represent the new trends
pain, atrocity, “filth”) into a legitimate consumer in the trauma discourse in literature in recent
product. Its function is no longer to appall, but on decades. This literature thus presents the
the contrary, to preserve and comfort (Alexander, “ground zero” of faith, an ongoing dialog with
2004). What, then, is the role of postmodern lit- itself and its own death, as a value system.
erature, which seeks on the one hand to describe Through the analysis of the works of Kafka
the vicious cycle of pain, and on the other to offer and McCarthy below, I will attempt to map the
new ways to subvert the evil that created it, par- avenues taken by art to cope with the massive
ticularly in an era when the options for social presence of traumatic, recurring, and mean-
criticism are limited? One of the aims of this ingless evil in the contemporary world.
chapter is to identify these options.

1.2 Franz Kafka’s “In the Penal

The term “totalization” refers to a hegemonic process in Colony”: Trauma, Writing,
which the dominant ideology forces itself on the interpre-
tation of a political, philosophical, or literary text.
Body, Play
Poststructuralist critique, which gave birth to this term,
seeks to counter the trend of focusing on the universal uni- Any discussion of language as trauma must look
fying nature of the text, arguing in favor of identifying the to Kafka as its first source or anchor. Stories like
ruptures within it which allow for minority voices to be
“The Judgment,” “A Report to an Academy,”
heard. In the works of Kafka and McCarthy, the totality of
the text can be seen to break down, offering a rare peek at “AHunger Artist,” and “In the Penal Colony” all
the force striving to enforce totalization on the subject. deal with a single obsession: the desperate
8 D. Gurevitz

attempt to decipher and depict a world of intrin- its intricate and precisely calibrated parts. It oper-
sic and impersonal violence that absurdly con- ates with great efficiency, turning out the indus-
nects the victimizers and their victims in a trial products for which it was designed: the dead
meaningless universe. This condition denies the bodies of victims manufactured by the inscrip-
possibility not only of redemption, but also of tion of “blood writing” (the sentence). Through
comprehending the meaning of the suffering his death, the pain of the condemned man
imposed on the victims. The only thing that is strapped into the machine creates the “law,” the
certain is that humanity is constantly on trial, mysterious supreme power whose commands the
awaiting sentence, and can expect neither divine machine obeys. This reading of the story
mercy nor the security net provided by knowl- (Fracchia, 2008, pp. 37–38) evokes a comparison
edge. Indeed, a basic premise of this postmodern between the capitalist processes of production
pessimism is that it is no longer possible to trust involved in the legal torture of the condemned
in political, moral, or artistic redemption of the (which testifies to the power of law) and similar
sort previously proposed by the “European way descriptions in Marx’s Capital ([1867] 1992), in
of seeing things” and the spirit of enlightenment. which capitalist production is given manifest
The story “In the Penal Colony,” written in physical form, with exploitation and injustice of
1919, occupies a unique place in Kafka’s work, the workers “carved” into their bodies. Just like
as it describes a collective trauma that takes place Kafka’s killing machine,11 “capital” inscribes its
under a colonial, totalitarian regime in which ideological messages on the worker’s body.
both the victimizers and the victims have a role to Thebody is brutally yoked to the capitalist sys-
play. They are brought together in a wondrous tem of production for one purpose alone. Through
and appalling, almost “sublime,” manner around physical pain, the hegemonic messages of class,
the killing machine that operates in the penal or the “law” working in its name, are inscribed on
colony, torturing its victims to death by inscrib- the wretched workers chained to the logic of the
ing their sentence on their body. The intricate deadly machine.
sadistic device enables the victim to “under- To set aside this Marxist interpretation of
stand” the sentence by following the “blood Kafka’s story for a moment, the death of the
writing” carved into his body (which he cannot condemned can also be seen as a ritual, the end
actually see). This raises the question of the pos- product of an “old custom” practiced in the
sibility of indirectly deciphering a mysterious colony from time immemorial. Here, violence
text that is hidden from the condemned and most occupies a “sublime” sphere beyond the goal of
likely not entirely clear to the executioner him- profit-making oppression the execution was
self, who is obeying a higher system, a vague meant to promote (as per the Marxist interpre-
enigmatic regime that employs the machine and tation). In other words, the killing is a special
functions in Lacanian terms as the “big Other,” event that cannot be “understood,” whose mean-
an authority inaccessible to the “self” and to all ing cannot be represented by a decipherable text.
those involved in the killing. Thus, the execution As noted above, this reality of an incomprehen-
is performed by a sophisticated apparatus that sible message is shared by the Condemned Man
carefully “programs” the torture of the victim
and culminates in his death (at the end of a
meticulously crafted 12-h “artistic” performance The Marxist interpretation of the story sees the killing
machine as an allegory of the exploitation of the worker
that causes unimaginable pain), after which the
by the capitalist system (Scarry, 1985: 246–248). Marx
corpse is thrown into a pit dug in advance. used the metaphor of capitalism “carving” its ideology
In a certain sense, the death of the victim can onto the back of the worker to describe its manner of
be said to be rational in that the killing is orches- exploitation. This metaphor, which characterizes Marx’s
writing in the mid-nineteenth century, sounds particularly
trated by a strict capitalist economy, which links
Kafkaesque. In Kafka, as well, the tortured body is a
the tortured body and the measure of suffering physical body that resists any form of “writing,” or
produced, to the quality of the machine, with all abstract verbal expression of the message.
1 Literature as Trauma: The Postmodern Option-Franz Kafka and Cormac Mccarthy 9

and the Officer, as well as by the outside observer body of the victim. The same failure is demon-
dubbed the Traveler, a traveling dignitary who strated when the Officer offers the Traveler the
has been asked by the New Commandant to offer grotesque explanation, spiced with black humor,
his opinion of the legalized killing in the colony that the illegible, highly embellished script spells
being carried out before his eyes. This reality is a out the ludicrous text, “Be just.”
precise replication of the scheme of trauma, the The trauma depicted by the “just” act of killing
inability to understand a life-threatening event, does not derive only from the horrific evil, whose
and thus the inability of the victim, witness,12 or form may have changed over the generations but
victimizer himself (the Officer) to describe or which still continues to claim lives, but also from
represent it. This lacuna is expressed in Kafka’s the inability to understand the ontological scheme
text as the inability of the traveler/observer/wit- that puts it in action, the “divine” absolute evil
ness to decipher the sentence written in the drawing behind it. The lack of understanding is also
he is shown, which is soon to be inscribed on the reflected in an intertwining of the spheres: the
rational sphere describing a legalized (albeit con-
troversial) procedure, an impersonal “industrial-
An integral part of the question of representing trauma ized” capitalistic execution; and the semimagical
relates to the collapse of reliable witnesses, whose func-
sphere of artistic violence verging on the total,
tion is to testify to the trauma and insert it into the histori-
cal memory of a society. This issue has received the divine. Given the shocking lack of a clear
considerable attention, e.g., Felman and Laub (1992), boundary between them, the two spheres com-
LaCapra (1998), and Laub (1995). It is regarded as a sig- plement each other in a sickening, uncanny
nificant problem, since, as Felman and Laub explain, “to
(Freud, [1919] 2003) manner, despite the fact
bear witness is to take responsibility for truth” (1992:
204). The question is whether the posttraumatic witness is that, ontologically speaking, they are opposites.
capable of taking on this responsibility, since the testi- At the hybrid moment in which the rational and
mony of the survivor is generally regarded as unreliable, the irrational (the presentable and the unpresentable,
based on an imagined narrative, biased by personal mem-
respectively) come together, we find ourselves
ory, or influenced by present fantasies, all of which funda-
mentally alter the construction of the traumatic narrative facing a new ontology that engenders a harsh
in the mind. Another problem with the survivor’s testi- deconstruction of the very possibility of under-
mony is that it is by nature fragmented and incomplete, standing and interpreting the radical economy of
attesting less to what occurred and more to the emotional
suffering imposed by the all-powerful and arbitrary
pathological response to the event as a result of the suffer-
ing experienced by the witness. Even the testimony of the “big Other.” This enigmatic economy establishes
outside observer to a traumatic event is considered sus- and maintains the principles of normalcy in the
pect since it raises pointed questions about the circum- world portrayed in the story.
stances that enabled this individual to survive, and how
In this situation, there is real danger that the
those circumstances affect the reliability of the report.
Furthermore, the “crisis of witnessing” that distinguishes appalling rite of suffering will become a nihilistic
contemporary critical discourse is associated with the and formalistic ritual whose absurd demonic sur-
construction of memory and testimony by agents of mem- vival is an end in and of itself. The purpose of the
ory such as cinema and television, which contribute to
event appears to be to sanctify the meaningless
producing the visual image of truth as part of the “rhetoric
of truth” disseminated by the media. violence despite the changing identity of the
In Kafka’s story as well, the issue of the Traveler’s testi- victims over time. Thus, the overriding aim of
mony is critical to understanding the meaning of evil in the procedure is not to pass judgment in a “trial”
the text. It is because he anticipates that the Traveler will conducted on the bloody body of the condemned,
present the New Commandant with damning testimony
but to perpetuate the official practice of the
that the Officer takes the drastic step of submitting his
own body to the machine in a masochistic and impossible “artistic” killing project for generations to come.
desire to become one with the source of power of the “big What this implies is the consecration of form
Other.” Moreover, the witness’s hasty retreat from the val- over content: unfathomably violent formalism
ley of death does not necessarily ensure that the “enlight-
takes the shape of an artistic event.
ened world” he represents will immediately take a stance
against the dictatorial regime in order to end the reign of Indeed, Kafka stresses the artistic aspects of
terror in the penal colony. the killing machine (the “device” or “apparatus”
10 D. Gurevitz

as the Officer calls it) and of the execution itself, pronounced aestheticization of the machine
carried out as a carefully choreographed ritualis- serves to underline the fact that it is an all-
tic performance. The structure of the machine is encompassing system shared by both victims and
described in aesthetic detail: “It was a huge affair victimizers, the two groups described by Deleuze
The Bed and the Designer were of the same size and Guattari as the “mechanics,” an integral part
and looked like two dark wooden chests. of the machinery.14
The Designer hung about two meters above the In addition to the aestheticization of the
bed; each of them was bound at the corners with apparatus and its depiction as an omnipotent
four rods of brass that almost flashed out rays in “desiring machine,” the inscription on the body
the sunlight. Between the chests shuttled the of the condemned also abounds with aesthetic
HARROW on the ribbon of steel.” (Kafka, elements. “The script itself runs round the body
[1919] 2002, p 100). The heart of the device, the only in a narrow girdle; The rest of the body is
“harrow,” equipped with glass needles that carve reserved for the embellishments.” (Kafka, [1919]
the sentence in blood on the body of the victim, is 2002, p 105), the Officer explains. They are
also described formalistically. The machine is empty decorations and embellishments that in no
encased in glass, like a museum exhibition case way help to decipher the text carved into the
that enables visitors to enjoy the aesthetic object. body. This “secret” message, hidden within an
The brass rods of the apparatus gleam, and the elaborate, artistic, “calligraphy,” is only legible
harrow is shaped like a human body and was to the Officer, who operates the machine.
designed by a master craftsman to ensure that the The total absurdity of his testimony, which
excruciating process will produce the greatest attributes the execution to a minor disciplinary
possible physical effect.13 At the end of the infraction of the Condemned Man—he offended
meticulously contrived torture, the dead body his superiors—merely magnifies the atrocity.
falls in an “incredibly soft flight” into the pit. Similarly, at the pinnacle of its popularity, the
The entire procedure is described as the coordi- execution carried out through lethal writing was
nated operation of rollers that drive the harrow an imposing ritual, a spectacle performed
and carve the murderous sentence into the flesh “in front of hundreds of eyes,” including wide-
of the condemned. Everything seems to be aimed eyed children, all enthralled by the aesthetic
at maximizing the atrocity, hierarchically, func- workings of the machine and drawing immense
tionally, and aesthetically. To use the term coined pleasure from the mute suffering of the con-
by Deleuze and Guattari (1985), it is a “desiring demned, denied even the right to scream by a
machine” intended to generate the greatest lump of felt stuffed in his mouth.
amount of general desire possible. It is a system Clearly, then, Kafka centers his description
of production whose output is excitement and around the aesthetics of violence, expressed in
desire, even if its nature is pain and death. The the death/pleasure desires of the spectators, the
Officer (who functions not only as executioner,
but also as absurd judge), and the victim alike.
The apparatus, or the killing machine, can serve as an
allegory of the mechanics of power. The upper section, the
inscriber, is the supreme power with its mysterious ideol- According to Deleuze and Guattari (1985), desiring is
ogy that shines down from above and demands that its not generated by the principle of lacuna; it is not move-
orders be carried out by the lower ranks. The middle rank, ment toward the object in which it is represented. Instead,
the harrow, is responsible for operations. Made of a series desiring is a machine activated by the “positive” and pro-
of glass needles, it carves the “blood writing” of the sen- ductive. The desiring machine produces an infinite series
tence into the body of the condemned. The lowest section, of sensations. In Kafka, the breakdown of the machine
the quivering bed to which the condemned is strapped, rep- stems from its “strong degree of unity,” as the authors
resents the metaphoric possibility of “sleep”: the man’s explain at the end of the first chapter of their book.
subconscious directs him against his will to absorb repres- Thisunity, into which “the man enters completely,” may
sive ideological power gleaming down on him. This power halt the random movement of desiring, and consequently,
normalizes and creates the subjects under it. the machine itself falls apart.
1 Literature as Trauma: The Postmodern Option-Franz Kafka and Cormac Mccarthy 11

Indeed, throughout the process, the victim coop- which must continue, regardless of the “human
erates in his annihilation, in some strange way flesh” that feeds the killing machine (the
even appearing to find joy in the pain. Everyone regime), whose hunger is never satiated. The
is drawn into the aesthetics of the horror. repetitive operation of the machine is compul-
The Officer, for example, realizing that the sive. Rather than processing, or “understand-
Traveler’s report may be damning and may put ing,” the early symptom, preserved in the
an end to what he refers to as his “life’s work,” ritualistic memory of the killing rite, the Officer
immediately releases the lucky Condemned Man (and the machine) prefer to configure this
and takes his place under the harrow. And then symptom of the past (the repressed memory) as
something wondrous happens: the machine a pattern of behavior in the present. The
cooperates fully with the new body within it: machine/officer (they exist in symbiosis) per-
“The officer, however, had turned to the machine. petuate the type of “Repetition compulsion”
It had been clear enough previously that he described by Freud ([1914] 1958). The machine
understood the machine well, but now it was turns the unprocessed symptom in the memory
almost staggering to see that how he managed it into the object of perverse ecstasy for the pres-
and how it rise and sink several times till it was ent self. It appears to be beyond human control,
adjusted to the right position for receiving him; becoming the metaphysical embodiment of the
attached only the edge of the Bed and already it was repressed traumatic evil that cannot be con-
vibrating;” (Kafka, [1919] 2002, p 118). The col- tained, represented, identified with, or “worked
lusion between violent evil, represented by the through” in order to comprehend the world
machine at work, and its changing victims is through the tragic experience of pain.
symptomatic of the reality portrayed in the story. The breakdown of the machine, in an act of
It is the depiction of a horrific interface between self-destruction, can be seen as acknowledge-
the human body and mechanized evil, which is ment of the failure to deal with the repressed
inhuman and uncontrollable. The instrument of memory at the core of the past history of the
murder (or the murderer) and the victim have murderous law that administers the penal colony.
become one. The former murderer (the Officer, Consequently, the secret “artistic message”
decked out in a fancy uniform with silver braids inscribed on the body of the condemned is also
and tassels) is now the new victim, offering him- incomprehensible, and the text the Officer
self willingly to ensure that the ritual of execu- “deciphers” for the Traveler (and witness to the
tion in the modern valley of death, this “ancient killing) contains an element of grotesque, sarcas-
rite” of human sacrifice, will survive forever. tic evil. “Be just,” he spells out, seemingly asking
The Officer’s suicide is indicative of his nearly the foreigner to exercise fair judgment in regard
psychotic devotion to the “big Other.” It is an to his horrendous “life’s work.” Since his efforts
attempt to identify with the inaccessible source appear doomed to failure in light of the damning
of divine/satanic power, which he construes as report expected from the Traveler, he opts for an
the “law.” The result is the destruction not only of absurd suicide in order to preserve the existence
the man, but also of the machine. In an extreme of the violent ritual in the colony. As we have
act of lawlessness, it leaves behind the controlled seen, however, this “voluntary” act is not a solution,
violence that characterized its normal operation but a problem: it intensifies the psychotic symp-
and becomes a formless instrument of murder tom by “acting out” the compulsive repetition,
that annihilates both itself and its naïve and fanatic thereby causing the entire system to collapse in
victim, who wanted only to “unite” with it. on itself.
Similarly, the aesthetic sphere in the story The Officer’s choice of suicide might be inter-
eagerly works hand in hand with the sphere of preted in a different manner as well, not only as a
pure violence. Here, too, there is a perverse crucial turning point in the story, but also as
symbiosis that maintains the ritualistic atrocity symptomatic of a body rebelling against the law
12 D. Gurevitz

to which it is supposedly subject. Unlike the first leading to the apocalyptic destruction of the
body, that of the condemned prisoner, which apparatus and creating a situation of sublime hor-
surrenders itself to the bloody sentence, the sec- ror that can no longer be represented within the
ond sacrificial body, that of the Officer, resists the confines of the law. Thus, through a radical act of
inscription of the sentence in its flesh. The act of self-sabotage, the “aesthetic body,” expressing
writing, however indecipherable, does not occur, the poetic protest of terror, overrides the lawful
and the Officer’s death is not described as a body (on which the sentence was meant to be
just or lawful process (an “execution”), but as inscribed) and reopens the issue of legalized
“murder, pure and simple.” His body thus rebels killing in the penal colony.
against the very act of writing, it protests against This raises the question of how we are to
the will of the law to bring it under its control, to understand the hasty retreat of the Traveler from
write it into the legitimate representations of the site of terror, the penal colony, whose land-
society. From this perspective, the subject can be scape is reminiscent of hell in Dante’s Divine
created only through the codes inscribed on its Comedy. Does his escape indicate the moral
body. That is, only the act of writing enables the bankruptcy of the enlightened world, demon-
narrativization of the body (Grosz, 1995, p. 33). strated by the fact that this representative of the
This rebellious body, which Lyotard refers to as liberal “European way of seeing things” cannot
an “aesthetic” or “infant” bodily mode (Lyotard, face the horror of the real when the sentence is
1989; Neal, 1999), resists being written as a not carried out through the symbolic experience
story, refuses to be represented in the culture. It is of inscribing the text on the victim’s body? Or
primitive and heterogeneous, an outlaw seeking perhaps the opposite is the case, perhaps his
freedom and denying signification. It exists escape is to be read as ironic identification with
within the traumatic presence of the symptom, the broken machine, with the law that has suf-
here and now, and is not represented by the fered a fatal blow? The machine itself appears to
(legalized) “writing” of the sentence. Its rebellion have decided to “take the gloves off” and stop
is apparent from the very beginning, as the mech- maintaining the illusory façade that it is engaged
anism of law is incapable of “digesting” it.15 As a in the artistic, “aesthetic” representation of the
result, the entire system spins out of control, atrocity. Instead, it takes it to new apocalyptic
heights. “Out of alignment,” it breaks down and
15 becomes nothing more than a meat grinder,
Lyotard’s interpretation of “In the Penal Colony” relates
to the contrast between the rebellion of the primitive, leaving intact the traumatic message of an age of
anarchistic aesthetic body, which is not represented, and “sound and fury” that is beyond the modernistic
the obedience of the body inscribed by society and recog- hope of redemption.
nized by the law. “Law,” here, refers to the way in which
Or could it be the opposite? Could the magni-
the human body becomes part of the community and
society, the way in which the law conceptualizes and fication of the horror, represented by the machine
generalizes the body so that it will be understood, subject self-destructing, paradoxically be meant to offer
to judgment and punishment, etc. According to Lyotard, a ray of hope for change, the possibility that the
the law does not recognize the natural body before it is
dictatorial/colonial reign of terror will destroy
established in the dominant cultural discourse. Indeed,
the writing cut into the body of the condemned in Kafka’s the ontological underpinnings of its own evil
story is a clearly visible text, since constantly washing regime? As is often the case in Kafka’s works,
away the blood is a vital part of the operation of the here, too, the answer appears to be “all of the
apparatus. However, when the Officer decides to commit
above.” Kafka’s texts preclude any attempt to
suicide and places himself in the machine, he becomes a
resistant aesthetic body that does not submit to the authori- interpret them, to clarify and comprehend the
tative and controlling writing of the law. Given this fact, it meaning of the terror. “The horror! The horror!”,
is not surprising that the law “went wild,” that the killing Kurtz’s last words in Joseph Conrad’s Heart of
machine lost its power and could no longer write the
Darkness (1902) as well as the concluding line
social law (the sentence) on the body of its victim. For this
interpretation, which links Kafka with the postmodern of Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now
philosophy of Lyotard, see Curtis (1999). (1979), can also serve to connote the bankruptcy
1 Literature as Trauma: The Postmodern Option-Franz Kafka and Cormac Mccarthy 13

of the “comprehensible world” in Kafka’s story, The hurried departure of the Traveler, the
as well as the entire history of the penal colony. “honorable” enlightened observer, is more read-
Its mechanism of legalized murder is halted ily understandable if we consider the difficulty
when the most extreme violence is directed not of deciphering the meaning of the sentence
at the body of the victim, but at the method of administered by the killing machine as it cuts
punishment itself. Ultimately, the system of wounds/words into the body of the condemned.
internal destruction, the mechanism of self-anni- “You’ve seen that it’s not easy to figure out the
hilation which is built into the apparatus, has the inscription with your eyes,” the Officer explains
final say. to the puzzled Traveler, “but our man deciphers
The parties that are witness to the twisted it with his wounds.” The question is whether the
scene of horror are therefore given the impossible victim does indeed decipher the symbolic mes-
task of interpreting its meaning. The reality sage through his real pain. One possibility is that
seems to freeze both the reader and the Traveler he does not, that, in fact, no one can comprehend
in a state of traumatic paralysis in which the his- the text: not the victim; not the observer, who
tory of the customary punishment in the penal needs it to be spelled out for him in order to
colony is wiped out and sinks into oblivion. judge the degree of humanity of the penal colo-
Trauma becomes the fate of the Traveler, the ny’s method of punishment; and not even the
observer/judge who represents normative human- Officer, who can seemingly read the script but
ity still nostalgic for a world in which terms like conveys it in a biased context of self-interest or a
“law,” “justice,” “guilt,” and “defense” are not ludicrous context devoid of any logic. He reports
just empty words used as a villainous caricature that it says “Be just,” implying that it means for
of enlightened values. This “European” world the Traveler to “be just” in passing judgment on
offers no more than a restrained response to the the enigmatic event.
traumatic ritual played out before its eyes. This is an indication of the severe problem
The“enlightened witness” makes do with a visit of communication in the story. The Officer
to the grotesque grave of the Old Commandant. speaks French, a language no one else, includ-
Despite his opposition to the ancient rite of exe- ing the Condemned Man, is familiar with; the
cution, he flees the colony precipitately, like text carved into the body of the condemned is
Jonah fleeing Nineveh without considering the illegible and undecipherable; and the various
consequences of his departure (Jon. 1). In other sides have no way to refer to the incommensu-
words, the supposedly wise judge, who con- rable gap in interpretation, that is, they are
demns the “evil judge,” the Officer who commits totally incapable of defining the “differend.”
suicide by submitting his own body to sentenc- All of them appear to be obeying the radical
ing, cannot necessarily bring about a historic authority that holds sway (the“big Other”),
change in the annals of the penal colony, and which remains mysterious and indeterminate.
chooses instead to leave the tainted landscape In the colony’s form of punishment, all sides
behind as quickly as possible.16 are party to a performative act of naked power
that reifies its existence before the crowd of
cheering awestruck spectators watching the
The hasty departure of the Traveler, who is a witness to “blood economy” through which the colonial
the horrific acts in the penal colony, might be compared to regime “reveals” itself to its native subjects. Its
the behavior of witnesses called upon to contend with
lethal public presence, demonstrated on the
trauma in the works of Camus. The Plague portrays a situ-
ation of absurd traumatic evil with which the people in the body of the condemned, instills an awareness of
city are struggling. The witnesses to the evil, Jean Tarrou horror. The function of the practice, as Foucault
and Dr. Rieux, fight the plague and ultimately bring it to an (1977) shows in Discipline and Punish: the
end. The Fall depicts a different situation. Here, a “judge-
Birth of the Prison, is to make the occasion a
penitent” who happens to see the suicide of a young woman
cannot fulfill his moral duty as a witness. He avoids testify- public spectacle in which the punishment is
ing, unwilling to face evil and rise up against it. “absorbed” into the flesh of the offender, while
14 D. Gurevitz

at the same time enhancing control over the madness, abjection (Kristera, 1982),17 and death
populace by turning the machine’s theater of hor- (Canfield, 2003). Symbolic language remains
rors into an “ideological state apparatus” (to use unreadable, flawed, and incomprehensible to all
Althusser’s term) that normalizes the subjects’ parties. The Traveler cannot decipher the script
thinking and thereby precludes any subversive and the condemned man only comes to under-
notions (Cumberland, 2013, p. 207). stand it when it kills him. Moreover, the various
The pronounced aesthetics of the design of the sides do not understand each other’s language
chilling process adds to the blinkering of the and are incommensurably unfamiliar with their
masses: extravagant aestheticization of the appa- manner of speaking. They do not recognize the
ratus of naked power makes it possible to control “differend,” which could open a window onto a
the specious thinking of the oppressed. In con- deeper philosophical apprehension of the pain of
trast to modernism, which employs the aesthetic the “other” or the crisis of language, an insight
sphere in its efforts to create a better political and that might unite them.
moral world, exposing the contemptible strata- Thus, the text collapses because of its incom-
gem of its use to promote oppression (Benjamin, prehensible arbitrariness, without the users being
1986), postmodernism contends that art joins able to recognize the “différance” (a term coined
with the meaningless violence of the crazed by Derrida) that undermines the “logos” and nul-
apparatus, collaborating with it and glorifying it. lifies sensible meaning. Once again, language is
In this traumatic version of art, it takes no posi- seen to be a central site of breakdown, analogous
tive initiative to counter violence by means of to the fractured body of the condemned. Even in
what Benjamin dubs the “politicization of art,” death, this body remains undefined, unknowable,
that is, revealing the aesthetic artifice and iden- unsignified by social codes, or in other words,
tifying the political interests it serves. meaningless. The terminal violence of the text is
Consequently, the only option available to art is therefore fundamental and primal. It is a violence
to lie. The aesthetic calligraphy embellishing the of unexplained justification that turns abuse into
text on the body of the condemned in Kafka’s both a generative and a preserving act through
story is empty decorations that serve merely to
accentuate the naked, total, random violence
they hide. 17
The concept of “the abject” is drawn from Julia
It goes without saying that “In the Penal Kristeva’s “Powers of Horror: An Essay on Abjection”
Colony” also relates to “writing” per se. Writing (1982). It refers to the element of baseness, contempt,
fulfills two functions in the story: it phrases the filth, and degradation in human experience, the primitive
text of the sentence; and it carries out that sen- narcissistic nature of the organism, associated with
amorphic bodily fluids, in its prelinguistic phase.
tence by the very act of being written. Writing is The “abject” is the sense of panic communicated by the
thus a performative event that reifies the meaning body before it becomes a “self.” The humiliating presence
of the text on the naked body of the victim. It is of the void, the presence of the other in what could have
stripped of its abstract symbolic dimension and been the self, arouses horror. The situation depicted in
Kafka’s story might also be said to present the human
becomes an undertaking that physically imple- body as it loses the self, as if it were in the first phase of
ments its intent, an action (Butler, 1993) that can- bodily fluids and other degrading metabolic functions.
not be undone or appealed. This is an expression The condition created by Kafka’s killing machine could
of its inherent power. Writing ends in death, that be seen as a supreme effort to demean the body and
display it in total, horrifying breakdown and regression.
is, the completion of the text is synonymous with For this interpretation of “In the Penal Colony,” see
the death of the victim. The text is therefore Muller (2006). Similarly, in McCarthy’s novel the body
lethal, the work of a sophisticated killing machine seems to break through its boundaries. The Judge’s body
of words that merges the various linguistic func- is carnivalesque, demonstrating excess by its unrestrained
physicality. Through its grotesque proportions, the carni-
tions together and channels them all toward the val body illustrates the conjunction between humor and
Lacanian “real,” where there is only anxiety, horror. See Covington (2011) and Stinson (2007).
1 Literature as Trauma: The Postmodern Option-Franz Kafka and Cormac Mccarthy 15

which naked power controls the totalitarian real- The fractured, incomprehensible text is thus a
ity portrayed in the story. traumatic event that cannot be represented or
The ontological dimension of writing as an deciphered by language. From the start, it fore-
absurd act of murder (similar to the sentences goes its communicative function, breaking down
carried out in other stories by Kafka and in before our eyes just as the machine carrying out
Camus’s The Stranger) is accentuated even more the sentence breaks down, just as the tortured
by the use of the aesthetic terms of “play” to body of the condemned breaks down. Along with
describe the inscription on the body. Playing is them, the legitimacy of the “source,” the baseless
an intense aesthetic activity that highlights the “logos” of the speakers and writers (the inscrib-
imaginary nature of the event, which is limited to ers), the agents of power and authority over the
the autonomous world in which the “rules of the body of the victim, breaks down as well.
game” apply. These rules are explicitly distinct This senseless violence prevails over all the par-
from the laws and behavioral codes in the real ticipants in the narrative event: the third-person
world (Huizinga, 2014). In Kafka’s story, how- narrator, who is evidently not omniscient and
ever, the writing steps outside the borders of the does not “understand” the story he is telling; the
autonomic aesthetic because it is lethal: the script condemned who does not understand the sen-
kills. This is a game of death, not an autonomous tence until its violent completion; and the reader,
flight of imagination characteristic of humanity, who is shocked by the lack of any indication of
but a loss of humanity behind a veil of meaning- an explanation for the event or a “solution” her-
less artistic embellishment. The “writing”18 alding future remedy of the absurd violence. Nor
cannot be understood in terms of either the auton- are the witnesses to the traumatic event capable
omous aesthetic world or the world of justice of understanding it on the symbolic level or of
established by law. The text is a surrealist carica- issuing a public warning against it. As Felman
ture of the sentence that does not even pretend and Laub (1992) demonstrate, there are no wit-
to reflect transparency of the legal proceedings. nesses to the evil that generates trauma. The only
The procedure begins with the presumption of witness who might have carried the memory of
guilt, or as the Officer explains, “guilt is always traumatic evil outside the penal colony, the
beyond a doubt.” Traveler, who was apparently given a mandate by
the New Commandant to appraise the justice and
18 legitimacy of the execution ritual, has trouble
In his early book Of Grammatology ([1967] 1976),
Derrida introduces the term “writing” (écriture) as a cen- finding the “way out” of the horrific spectacle
tral concept of deconstruction. It deals not with represen- described in the story. Although he states firmly
tations of the world, but rather creates a world of that he is “opposed to this procedure,” he cannot
multiplicity that stresses the signifier, not the signified
stop it. Ironically, it is his implied humanitarian
(i.e., the idea or definitive meaning). It therefore continu-
ally rejects meanings, expressing the flow of the text that intervention that causes the Officer to switch
denies rigid conceptualization. Applying this concept to roles and go from executioner to victim in an
Kafka’s story raises the question of whether it is the mul- absurd and desperate attempt to restore the killing
tiplicity of hybrid meanings carved in blood by the writ-
power of the crumbling machine and promote the
ing on the body of the condemned that makes it impossible
for the parties to the ritual to decipher the text. This would obsessive notion that the execution ritual must
not appear to be the case, as here the writing literally kills. continue for all eternity, whatever the cost.
The condemned man understands the script only through The testimony of the witness, the last human
his pain, which cannot be represented in words (i.e., sym-
barrier to the atrocity, collapses because it
bolically). The meaning of “pain” cannot be compre-
hended, but only felt in a semiconscious state, which is, in immortalizes the death scene and makes it even
essence, traumatic. If for Derrida writing frees because it more absurd. In addition, it is hard to ignore the
recognizes the fragmentation and breakdown of meaning, fact that the Traveler hastens to depart from the
for Kafka writing leaves its victim in a state of despera-
penal colony, and we are told nothing of his
tion. Screaming in pain, he is entirely immersed in a phys-
ical reality of suffering that cannot be understood, future plans, what he means to do, and whether
deciphered, etc. he has any intention of taking the issue further,
16 D. Gurevitz

that is, informing the world of the injustice and trauma or does it simply perpetuate it? In other
horrific acts whose logic he has been unable to words, although literature can report on the
determine. Thus, at the end of the story the reader traumatic nature of reality, it is sabotaged by
is left with the trauma, not knowing if it will be the absurdity of writing itself. The allegory of
reported to the untainted, “enlightened” world, the undeciphered text of evil might therefore be
which in any case is powerless to deal with it seen as ars poetica revealing the infirmity of
firmly. The only hint we are given of any resis- Kafka’s writing. Literature can reach only to the
tance are a few bizarre mysterious words regard- edge of “negative dialectics” (Adorno, 1973); it
ing a prophecy that the Old Commandant will can report on the abyss of the text, on the unful-
rise from the grave and lead his followers in a filled desire to uncover the traumatic secret
preposterous rebellion against the “aesthetic of inherent in writing itself, but it cannot present
violence” that has taken over the colony and the the positive synthesis that emerges at end of the
world. conflicted act—the meaning of writing.
One final issue regarding the breakdown of
writing relates specifically to the writing of
Kafka and its traumatic dimension. Writing is 1.3 Cormac McCarthy:
presented in the story as an act of self-violence, The (Traumatic) Intoxication
a murderous inscribing machine that destroys of Dirty Death
itself and its creator, leaving him with no illu-
sions as to the heroic status of the writer as the “This you see here, these ruins wondered at by
tribes of savages, do you not think that this will be
redeemer of the world. Can we not see an anal-
again? Aye. And again. With other people, with
ogy here between the avoidance of representing other sons” (McCarthy, [1985] 1992, p. 141).
and deciphering the text inscribed on the body
of the condemned and Kafka’s avoidance of any Despite the difference in time between “In the
attempt to decipher the demonic, traumatic Penal Colony,” written at the start of the twenti-
world around him?19 If the analogy is true, and eth century, and Cormac McCarthy’s Blood
the killing machine is merely a brutal metaphor Meridian: Or the Evening Redness in the West,
for the self-destructive “text machine,” can writ- from the end of the century, there is a strong con-
ing serve as an instrument of release from the nection between them. Kafka writes about the
terrifying landscapes of European reason during
In his early book Of Grammatology ([1967] 1976), World War I; McCormac writes about the night-
Derrida introduces the term “writing” (écritures) as a central marish landscapes of America’s historical mem-
concept of deconstruction. It deals not with representations ory of the Mexican-American war and its
of the world, but rather creates a world of multiplicity
aftermath in the mid-nineteenth century. Kafka
that stresses the signifier, not the signified (i.e., the idea or
definitive meaning). It therefore continually rejects relates to the collapse of justice grounded in
meanings, expressing the flow of the text that denies rigid Kantian reason in an absurd, violent world in
conceptualization. Applying this concept to Kafka’s story which it takes the form of punishment and death
raises the question of whether it is the multiplicity of hybrid
rituals; McCormac regards the murderous ritual
meanings carved in blood by the writing on the body of the
condemned that makes it impossible for the parties to of killing off the Native Americans in the regions
the ritual to decipher the text. This would not appear to be along the border with Mexico (the classic setting
the case, as here the writing literally kills. The condemned for Westerns) to be the birth of violence as a fun-
man understands the script only through his pain, which
damental American experience. Furthermore, the
cannot be represented in words (i.e., symbolically).
The meaning of “pain” cannot be comprehended, but only works of the two authors reveal a basic common
felt in a semi-conscious state, which is, in essence, trau- denominator: a perception of the violent manner
matic. If for Derrida writing frees because it recognizes the in which language traps us in a meaningless trau-
fragmentation and breakdown of meaning, for Kafka writ-
matic reality, and the corresponding proposition
ing leaves its victim in a state of desperation. Screaming in
pain, he is entirely immersed in a physical reality of suffer- that the dialectics between violent ritualistic evil
ing that cannot be understood, deciphered, etc. and the futile yearning for redemption delineates
1 Literature as Trauma: The Postmodern Option-Franz Kafka and Cormac Mccarthy 17

the narrow borders of humanity in the contempo- trauma21 for its own benefit. The trade in Indian
rary world. scalps finances the American irregulars, the vio-
Like Kafka, McCarthy centers his story lent movement of settlers westward is motivated
around a killing machine, in his case, a war by imperialist aims as well as economic advan-
machine. And here, too, violence does not appear tages, and so on. Although the horror of death is
as the opposite pole to rational justice, but as an set in different historical and geographical land-
integral part of it. In Kafka’s story, the Officer is scapes in the two works, they describe a similar
judge and executioner, and ultimately willing transhistorical experience: the yearning of repre-
victim as well. The same can be said of Judge sentatives of civilization for the sadomasochistic
Holden in McCarthy’s novel. Both works tell a sublime of death, the desire to rise above limited
tale of continuous death rituals conducted by human language and reach the treacherous myth-
their “judges” with dubious zeal. And at the core ical heights where violence is normalized and
of both are strategies of colonial punishment/ becomes an intrinsic part of the thinking and con-
abuse carried out on the bodies of the natives (the sciousness of victimizers and victims alike.
condemned in “In the Penal Colony” and Native Forboth Kafka and McCarthy, the encounter
Americans in Blood Meridian). The two writers with the breakdown of language is an impassable
describe a mechanism of colonial power that barrier. Language becomes the place where the
involves performative abuse which appears on horrible, and even the “pornographic,” meet the
the body as a public testament to guilt, and com- wondrous and infinite. This barrier is used to
pels the natives to submit to the excessive vio- create a caricature of the modernist project of
lence of the colonizer.20 Shockingly, the works of freedom (Dacus, 2011).
Kafka and McCarthy also highlight the disturb- Blood Meridian presents the journey of a
ing link between murderous violence and beauty. character known only as “the kid” through a
Both describe a powerfully aesthetic world cre- series of atrocities in the borderlands as he rides
ated out of war and death, a world in which the along with his savage mentor and spiritual guide,
aesthetics of violence creates social unity. Judge Holden. As in all classic Westerns, the
The two authors also portray trauma as a pri- final battle is waged between the innocence of the
mal force. In their worlds, trauma has generative kid and the satanic evil of the Judge (Benson,
power; although destructive, it is a potent life 2011). This struggle, which has a religious, ritu-
force as well. In Blood Meridian, it is in a con- alistic nature, takes place in the mythical space of
stant state of acting out, expressed in the feverish the genre, a squalid saloon replete with whores,
activity of the killing machine operated against drunks, and a dancing bear dressed in a crinoline,
the Native Americans. It thereby embodies the who is shot to death on stage. The description of
full potential of capitalist logic, which exploits the saloon corresponds with the picture of hell in
the tradition of the Yuma Indian tribes: a place of
games and dancing among the dead (Peebles,
For a postcolonial interpretation of “In the Penal 2003, p. 240). Indeed, the whole scene is set in a
Colony,” see Boehmer (1993), Cumberland (2013), Kohn
saloon of horrors, where lethal temptations have
(2005), Lemon (2011), McClintock (2004), Walder
(1998), West (1985), and Zilcosky (2003). The mecha- the final word.
nism of colonial oppression, which imposes and “writes”
the history of the trauma on the bodies of the natives,
appears both in Kafka and in McCarthy. In Kafka’s story, Capitalist logic is behind the murderous mechanism in
it is a penal colony run by a reign of draconian punish- both works. In Kafka, the killing machine represents
ment directed toward criminals breaking colonial laws. industrialization of the execution rite. The purpose of its
In McCarthy’s novel it is the colonial history of America operation is to ensure the survival of the totalitarian cap-
and the appalling acts carried out by the settlers on Native italist regime, which exploits technology for the political
Americans in the mid-nineteenth century. Both works oppression of the population. In McCarthy, the gang’s
express harsh criticism of the brutal apparatus of oppres- killing raids on the Indians are also designed to further
sion of the colonizer, which shapes the mentality of the capitalist aims by taking over the territory and resources
oppressor and oppressed alike. of the natives.
18 D. Gurevitz

At the end of the story, the kid’s death in the compulsive repetition of death and prevents
deadly arms of the Judge in an outhouse signifies historical time from flowing on, marks the bor-
the ultimate degradation of humanity and the ders of the trauma depicted in the novel.
unquestioned victory of the “dirty” and demonic “It makes no difference what men think of war,
over the alternative possibilities of catharsis and said the judge. War endures. As well ask men what
redemption. In this state, all that is left are the they think of stone. War was always here. Before
remnants, or “excretions” of the body. The trau- man was, war waited for him. The ultimate trade
awaiting its ultimate practitioner” (McCarthy,
matic reduction of existence to anal matter is an [1985] 1992, p. 245).
expression of the crisis in reality and the break-
down of the language used to describe it: lan- As with Kafka’s killing machine, here, too, the
guage itself becomes “befouled” when it depicts ritualistic presence of war and violence are
the collapse of the human body into a pool of enduring primal elements that invariably find
excrement. man guilty. And here, too, the killings are the
Paradoxically, the devastation brings together work of an “ultimate practitioner” of his trade, a
the divine and the contemptible, the “pure” and master artisan, again linking death and beauty.
the “impure,” the humorous and the demonic, The opinions voiced by the learned “judge”
creating a “dark revelation”—one of many on (whether the character is meant to be a caricature
the road to the shaping of America’s traumatic of a satanic man ironically labeled “judge” or a
history (LaCapra, 1998). former judge turned mass murderer), which con-
Far out on the desert to the north dust spouts rose tain echoes of a Nietzschean pantheism and
wobbling and augured the earth and some said proto-fascistic notions, are not mere theoretical
they’d heard of pilgrims borne aloft like dervishes musings. Throughout the story, he puts them into
in those mindless coils to be dropped broken and action through atrocious acts that verge on por-
bleeding upon the desert again and there perhaps to
watch the thing that had destroyed them lurch nographic perversion. He abuses the scalped
onward like some drunken djinn and resolve itself Indians, sadistically throws two pups into a river,
once more into the elements from which it sprang. and plays judge and executioner for infirm raid-
Out of that whirlwind no voice spoke and the ers or horses that jeopardize the future of the
pilgrim lying in his broken bones may cry out and
in his anguish he may rage, but rage at what? apocalyptic campaign of killing to which he is
And if the dried and blackened shell of him is committed, as if he is obeying the command of
found among the sands by travelers to come yet some mysterious dark master. His depraved acts,
who can discover the engine of his ruin? which trigger the heights of his philosophical
(McCarthy, [1985] 1992, p. 106)
teachings, are especially chilling and heinous
There is no explanation for the extreme violence because they are also the favorite pastimes of
in the book. The dervishes fly in the air, but their this “great ponderous djinn” (McCarthy, [1985]
flight is “mindless.” There is rage at this human 1992, p. 88). His broad education is troubling as
defeat, but is there anything to address it to, any- well. He is well-versed in paleontology, astron-
one to blame? Total ruin is a fact “on the ground,” omy, mineralogy, natural philosophy, ontological
but what is the theological principle that justifies theories on the nature of being, and more. Yet this
it? Once again we are faced with the absolutist man, who is in the habit of lecturing knowledge-
rule of chaotic death, the “dirty death” that gener- ably about the nature of man and the world, is
ates trauma, whose dark logic does not go beyond also a despicable monster who leads a gang of
the fierce desire to turn living by the sword into a degenerate murderers. McCarthy paints the sin-
crazed universal human ideal. The main effect of ister portrait of a pedophile, a psychopath (remi-
this tale of devastation is obliteration—the oblit- niscent of Chigurh in his novel No Country for
eration of threatening nostalgia, of history, of Old Men) whose mental disorder and murderous
memories, of the piles of ruins that reconstruct philosophy go hand in hand in horrifying har-
the vision of destruction in the same place at a mony with the “humanism,” aesthetics, education,
different time. This principle, which echoes the macabre sense of humor, intelligence, and fondness
1 Literature as Trauma: The Postmodern Option-Franz Kafka and Cormac Mccarthy 19

for rhetoric that he displays to a band of mad radiates from a band of wandering pilgrims/
death-defying outlaws as they make their way mercenaries is blended with the sublime inspiring
through life in total darkness. beauty of the colors of the desert, the rocks
This darkness is accentuated by the fact that painted red with blood in the sunset, etc. These
he is a “judge,” supposedly an agent of the law, cinematographic spectacles, which we are accus-
whose knowledge of history and progressive tomed to seeing in Westerns, are given new
education is turned into a sickening caricature meaning by McCarthy.
and whose legal expertise becomes a cynical They rode on and the sun in the east flushed pale
lever for his ruthlessness. The figure of a violent streaks of light and then a deeper run of color like
savage judge might be expected to surprise us. blood seeping up in sudden reaches flaring plane-
However, if we consider Walter Benjamin’s wise and where the earth drained up into the sky at
the edge of creation the top of the sun rose out of
“Critique of Violence” (1986), we may realize nothing like the head of a great red phallus until it
that violence lies at the foundation of the meta- cleared the unseen rim and sat squat and pulsing
physics of law, as it is both a generative and a and malevolent behind them. (McCarthy, [1985]
preserving principle. Turning a judge into a vio- 1992, p. 43)
lent judge exposes the sublime, uplifting, dark
moments when the law is seen to be stripped With the elements of extraordinary beauty fused
bare, primal, baseless, an unrestrained, uninhib- with elements of harsh phallic violence, the
ited expression of pure primitive violence, before world is seemingly created anew. Man is con-
it is covered over by forests of symbols designed demned to a life in which the sexual, violent, and
to hide the pre-legitimized abyss from which it “masculine” intrudes disturbingly into an already
sprang (Dorson, 2013). The distinct constitutive threatening mix of the sublime and the horrify-
violence of the law also resounds through “In the ing. We are sucked into a surreal aesthetic. Like
Penal Colony.” There, too, the rite of execution the lost pilgrims, we are captivated by a violent
by killing machine is construed as a substantive beauty. This reality, described in a baroque, ritu-
organizing principle of the life of the society alistic, repetitive style, declares the creation of a
itself, explaining the attempt to preserve it for new world with a dark “suzerain” as overlord. Its
generations to come. aesthetic can be seen in the strangely deadly and
The character of the learned psychopath is poetic desert landscapes, which serve as liminal
fully revealed in his perverse vision of the “suzer- regions22 between the human and the bestial,
ain,” the ultimate power that defines existence. As between indifferent nature and the caravans of
the judge explains: “Only nature can enslave man lost people seeking to bring about a traumatic
and only when the existence of each last entity is
routed out and made to stand naked before him 22
Blood Meridian is set in a specific area, the borderlands
will he be properly suzerain of the earth” between the USA and Mexico. The borderland, however,
(McCarthy, [1985] 1992, p. 195). What distin- is not solely geographical. It is also expressed in other
guishes the suzerain, according to the demonic fictitious spaces, such as the border between the human
and the bestial, between the judge’s exceptional intelli-
judge, is that he is the supreme ruler who “rules
gence and his animalistic drives, which turn his learned
even where there are other rulers.” He seals fates; theories into dark parodies of themselves. A liminal read-
he is the Minister of Death. This is precisely how ing of the novel would see it as a series of rites of passage
the judge behaves throughout; he is responsible and radical training rituals. It would point to the danger-
ous region of the borderline as a space the undermines the
for a series of violent and sadistic events described
conventional binary distinctions between civilization and
by McCarthy (similar to Kafka) with a distant lawlessness, between natural and human, between sym-
objectivity. After a while, this style of writing bolic and real, between the historical tale of the Glanton
ceases to appear menacing to the reader. gang that operated in the region in 1849 and the mythici-
zation of history which turns it into a primordial and
The radical nature of the process becomes
enduring campaign of violence beyond the history of
clearer if we turn our attention to the virtuoso man- human civilization. See Andreasen (2011), Engebretson
ner in which the sadistic and suicidal violence that (2011), Rothfok (2004).
20 D. Gurevitz

change in history. It is an arid intermediate space This atavistic world is dominated by the elec-
constituting a heterotopia, 23 as Foucault (1986) trifying, seductive, and petrifying power of death,
defines it: a zone comprised simultaneously of which serves in the works of both Kafka and
two worlds, two time systems, or two symbolic McCarthy as the supreme criterion for authority.
systems. This heterotopia is the site of a clash In Blood Meridian, the ruler worships war and
between the social/historical space and the per- death, seeing them as the primal generative force.
verse fictional space; it presents the outrageous Similar to the fascist views in the novels of Ernst
and imaginary in relation to the corresponding Jünger, such as Storm of Steel (1929), death is
acceptable and real. Thus, the borderlands where regarded as the foremost source of human exalta-
the horrors take place are at one and the same tion, which is achieved in the aesthetic sphere in
time the historical space of documented American which play meets war. As the judge explains:
history and the twisted apocalyptic space por- Games of chance require a wager to have meaning
trayed through the demonic character of the at all. Games of sport involve the skill and strength
judge. The same is true in Kafka’s story, in which of the opponents and the humiliation of defeat and
the real and fictional boundaries of the penal the pride of victory are in themselves sufficient
stake because they inhere in the worth of the prin-
colony are depicted as an exotic heterotopian cipals and define them. But trial of chance or trial
space where the normalized and legal meets the of worth all games aspire to the condition of war
perverted and sick, with the two clarifying and for here that which is wagered swallows up game,
critiquing each other. player, all. (McCarthy, [1985] 1992, p. 246)
The unconventional aesthetic accorded both
the fictional space and the judge who fashions War is thus the supreme principle of the conflict,
himself as its overlord creates a new form of the progenitor of all existence. The universal
radical and depraved authority, which has prece- conflict, expressed on both the micro and macro
dents in the history of ideas. Carl Schmitt, a levels, gives birth to the existence that shapes
German intellectual known as the “crown jurist mankind. Indeed, the judge’s “war games”
of the Third Reich,” similarly contended that the uphold the Heraclitean tenet, “we must know that
power of the ruler stemmed from his ability to war is common to all and strife is justice, and that
decide questions of life and death, to suspend all things come into being through strife neces-
routine life and declare an enduring state of sarily” (Fragment B80). Aestheticizing war by
emergency ([1922] 2006). In effect, this state of turning it into a game triggers a dangerous pro-
emergency is a political heterotopia. By declaring cess which makes violence legitimate because it
such a condition, the law exempts itself from is “beautiful.” This beautiful game ends in death.
universal application and from preserving the The very term “war games,” which exists in many
basic rights it is meant to uphold in order to languages, implies a consummate aestheticization
ensure public safety for a given period. In Blood of the violence and killing native to every war
Meridian, this is also the theory of the maniacal (Benjamin, 2008).
judge, who speaks of a ruler whose “authority The “war game” the judge is attempting to
countermands local judgments” (McCarthy, explain involves a wager, and the ultimate wager
[1985] 1992, p. 195). Here, the extraordinary cir- is, of course, for life or death. As the sick parody
cumstances, the “state of emergency,” are embod- of an aestheticist of the humanistic tradition, he
ied in the disturbing fusion of violence and continues to unravel his philosophy.
beauty. It is the permanent state of the world in
the novel, a world without judge or justice, with- Suppose two men at cards with nothing to wager
save their lives. Who has not heard such a tale?
out law, without the principle of restraint deriving A turn of the card. The whole universe for such a
from the social charter in rational society. player has labored clanking to this moment which
will tell if he is to die at that man’s hand or that
man at his. What more certain validation of a
For a heterotopian reading of Blood Meridian, see man’s worth could there be? This enhancement of
Holmberg (2009). the game to its ultimate state admits no argument
1 Literature as Trauma: The Postmodern Option-Franz Kafka and Cormac Mccarthy 21

concerning the notion of fate. The selection of one story, the judge (and executioner) oversees a
man over another is a preference absolute and
ritual of death that resembles an ancient rite of
irrevocable…This is the nature of war, whose
stake is at once the game and the authority and the human sacrifice to blood-thirsty gods of unknown
justification. Seen so, war is the truest form of identity. And in both cases, the “last man stand-
divination…. War is the ultimate game because ing” (the Traveler in Kafka and the kid in
war is at last a forcing of the unity of existence.
McCarthy) is helpless to stop the terror rising out
War is god. (McCarthy, [1985] 1992, pp. 246–247)
of the apocalyptic ruins of the world. The merging
According to the judge, decisions of life and of the act of devastation with the act of artistic
death subsume all “lesser” considerations, creation makes this situation untenable. It leaves
“moral, spiritual, natural” (McCarthy, [1985] the reader face to face with the deranged
1992, p. 247). They are supreme decisions potency of evil, an evil clad in a seductive and
regarding all things causal, rational, and deter- perverse beauty that is eternal, indifferent, and
ministic. And these decisions can be made at the irredeemable.
toss of a coin. In other words, the judgment is
made by blind luck. Once the coin lands the
man’s fate is sealed, without any rational expla- 1.4 “Beyond Good and Evil”:
nation for the decision. Indeed, the judge is ready Trauma as Generative
to toss a coin at anything and everything: he pur-
chases two pups by tossing a coin at a Mexican The works by Kafka and McCarthy illustrate
boy and then pitches them into the river with amajor posttraumatic trend in contemporary
theatrical sadism (McCarthy, [1985] 1992, discourse. In the punitive worlds they describe,
p. 189); he performs a coin trick before the aston- there is no attempt to recover from or remedy the
ished eyes of Brown, one of the lost pilgrims trauma. Furthermore, in both stories the trauma
riding toward hell, and “the coin returned back furthers ideological colonialist needs and is thus
out of the night and crossed the fire with a faint an integral part of the political unconscious of
high droning and the judge’s raised hand was modern and contemporary capitalism. In the
empty and then it held the coin” (McCarthy, postmodern world, the ritualistic recurrence of
[1985] 1992, p. 243). Thus, he devotes his life to trauma can no longer lead to change or recovery.
two things: a portrayal of the world as an eternal It does not even raise awareness of the differend,
war game designed to produce a random and that is, of the differences that prevent one side
contingent “unity of existence”; and the desire to from comprehending the language of suffering of
prove that evil, death, and ritualistic beauty are the other. The strategy of resolving conflicts by
inextricably interwoven. cognitively processing the pain and open wound
It is clear, that for the judge, the trauma, that is (i.e., the trauma) is no longer available. When
the impossibility of separating the aesthetic from trauma cannot be processed, or “written,” it can-
the horrific, is a generative element at the very not be overcome. It becomes a wild fantasy that
foundation of life.24 Both here and in Kafka’s generates reality in the present. An ontological
crack is thus opened in the foundations of the
By way of generalization, it could be said that much of contemporary world, which adopts evil as an
McCarthy’s work deals with the traumatic. The Road experience of ecstasy and empowerment that is
(2006) is a postapocalyptic tale of the survival of a father much more potent than the passive and feeble
and son after the destruction of the familiar world; No
experience of good. Evil and suffering are per-
Country for Old Men describes a posttraumatic reality
through the character of its antihero, the psychopathic ceived as primal elements that delineate the
murderer Chigurh; and Blood Meridian portrays the borders of a nihilistic outlook.
personal trauma of the kid amid the violence-ridden bor- Our historical memory is based on precisely
derlands and the genocide of the Native Americans, as
this evil. The memory of evil is repressed and
well as the national trauma of shaping American identity
and the fundamental violence of the American political becomes incapable of recognizing the roots of
subconscious (Benson, 2011). its influence on the present. Since evil is not
22 D. Gurevitz

spread out before us for all to see its deformi- he continuously aspires to an aestheticization of
ties, it cannot spark a process of admission of his traumatic material that is sublime and “dirty”
guilt/atonement/forgiveness. The only thing that at one and the same time. Here, too, hybrid litera-
remains of the demented memory is unbridled ture seems unable to unravel the web of internal
ecstatic writing with its enigmatic violence. contradictions and relegates to the writer the task
We must admit, however, that the two authors of redeeming the world. Although it makes con-
exert considerable effort in attempting to “tell certed efforts to draw close to these impossible
the trauma,” despite the fact that the narrator borders, it never makes it to the promised land.
(especially in Blood Meridian) is in danger of As both writers are drawn into their own enticing
being bewitched by its allure and fascination, and terrifying narratives, they document a society
without any real ability to free himself and offer in a manic state of acting out. The ironic escape
an option of cleansing, reparation, and absolu- from the trauma comes from reframing it as a
tion (Collado-Rodríguez, 2012). new source of growth and narrative power char-
If trauma exposes the concealed wound and acterized by a high degree of self-awareness.
shatters the wholeness of the subject and the If, on the personal clinical level, “adapting to
coherent unity of the world, then in the postmod- trauma” signifies recovery from the disorder, on
ern era fragmentation as a cultural condition is a the cultural level we are confronted with a reality
given. This fits neatly into the capitalist discourse that defines trauma as part of the new social order
dealing with the banalization and normalization it serves. Here, trauma is no longer outside the
of the traumatic fantasy as part and parcel of its symbolic order of the culture, but within it; it is
“commercial realism.” As McCarthy puts it, no longer the language of the “other,” but our
compulsive war and trauma create the unseen own language which has been normalized, inter-
“unity of existence.” In contrast to the modernist nalized, and undergone a new process of medi-
outlook, which sees trauma as an instrument of calization and representation that includes the
wisdom and an opportunity to redefine human blind power it entails. Formulating trauma as a
destiny, in the postmodern world we are envel- fundamental element of a rational society has far-
oped in radical fatalism and pessimism that lays reaching effects. It seeks to position the pain and
bare the perilous seductiveness of trauma—the masochistic pleasure of the traumatic experience
total collapse of the enlightened scientific/moral as an integral part of the social and media fabric.
rationalism of the West and the conversion of The appeal of the extreme, the historical sublime,
trauma into a sickening cultural and marketing the horrifying, and the “real” (e.g., videos of
strategy of extreme potency. ISIS’s atrocities) in contemporary culture are all
It is due to this potency that the traumatic illustrations of this new reality. Lack and lacuna,
symptom becomes the source of narrative inten- absence and emotional dissociation, the break-
sity and pleasure. The narrator in “In the Penal down of language and communication, loss and
Colony” relates the ritualistic events with an repetitive memory—all characteristic of post-
emotional indifference that does not hide the traumatic syndrome—are thus also the basic ele-
“pleasure of telling,” evidenced, for example, in ments of postmodern poetics today.
the dramatic climax of the story when the Officer This poetics is diametrically opposed to the
decides to sacrifice himself on the altar of the primary ideals of modernism and enlightenment:
mad machine that unexpectedly spins out of con- optimism, hope, rationalism, redemption through
trol. At the same time, it is clear that he does not art, etc. The two examples discussed above indi-
find redemption in the narrative pleasure. cate that this sort of redemption is no longer pos-
“Writing” as an indecipherable trap is also a sible. Rather, they fuse the aesthetic and the
major feature of his story. It is no longer a demonic to describe a condition of being drawn
redeeming and comforting act, but continues in by the power of the traumatic experience with-
down its own demonic path. Similarly, it is hard not out any attempt to resist it. They depict the post-
to notice McCarthy’s captivation with himself as modern reality in which trauma is part of Western
1 Literature as Trauma: The Postmodern Option-Franz Kafka and Cormac Mccarthy 23

rationalism and capitalism. The pleasure/pain Blood Meridian. Southwestern American Literature,
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Cultural Trauma and the Media
Allen Meek

heroism associated with particular historical

2.1 Introduction events. Cultural trauma narratives, however,
often falsify the terrible facts of modern mass
In recent decades, cultural trauma has become a death in which most individuals are given no
widely accepted form of collective identity in opportunity to act heroically. Moreover, by iden-
images and narratives transmitted through mass tifying with these narratives, individuals and
media and information networks. The iconic cul- groups have the opportunity to lend support for to
tural trauma of the twenty-first century so far is acts of political and military retribution and the
the World Trade Center catastrophe of September further destruction of innocent life.
11, 2001. The idea of cultural trauma, however, This essay explains some of the complex rela-
can be traced at least back to Freud and has been tions between cultural trauma and modern media.
associated with many events including the The first section examines how a cultural trauma
Holocaust, Afro-American slavery, the bombing narrative about 9/11 fosters collective identification
of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the Vietnam War, with the victims and how this can also falsify
and the assassination of John F. Kennedy. Cultural understandings of the larger political implications
trauma narratives tell stories about heroes and of the event. The next section explains the develop-
martyrs. By associating catastrophic events with ment of cultural trauma as a concept over the past
heroic persons and acts, these narratives attempt 100 years and how this idea became linked with
to redeem unbearable losses and shameful acts: visual media. The essay then goes on to explain
in short, they rewrite history. how the experience of shock is embedded in media
In the late nineteenth century and first half of culture and how the idea of cultural trauma becomes
the twentieth century, psychological trauma was aligned with the perceptual habits and psychologi-
associated with biological degeneration, in the cal reflexes of the media viewer. This section
case of female hysterics, or cowardice, in the case explains the historical relation between psycho-
of combat trauma. Today, trauma is no longer a logical research on trauma, the visual recording of
shameful sign of weakness and those who iden- human behavior, and the manipulation of viewer
tify with cultural trauma share the honor of the responses. Cultural trauma, then, is not just a popu-
lar narrative about identity but a new experience of
collective identity in a technologically mediated
A. Meek, Ph.D. (*)
society. The essay concludes with some further
School of English and Media Studies, Massey
University, Palmerston North, New Zealand thoughts about the political implications of this
e-mail: mediated experience of trauma.

© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2016 27

Y. Ataria et al. (eds.), Interdisciplinary Handbook of Trauma and Culture,
DOI 10.1007/978-3-319-29404-9_2
28 A. Meek

2.2 Case Study: 9/11 Nazi genocide to the arena of mass entertain-
ment. The 1960s had been characterized by the
On May 15, 2014 Barack Obama gave a speech anguish of the Civil Rights and antiwar struggles
at the opening of the National September 11 and the assassinations of the Kennedy and Dr.
Memorial and Museum in which he related the King. If post-Vietnam identity invoked the spec-
moving story of the “man in the red bandanna”: a ter of military defeat, shame at American atroci-
young man who had risked, and ultimately lost, ties, collective mourning, and depression then
his own life to help others escape the burning the Holocaust promised a return to a redemptive
South Tower of the World Trade Center. This narrative in which the Americans acted as libera-
young man, Wells Crowther, embodied the “spirit tors and defenders of human freedom. The
of 9/11: love, compassion, sacrifice.” 9/11, pro- Hollywoodization of Vietnam and the Holocaust
claimed Obama, will always remain part of for the first time allowed audiences to identify
American identity: “We stand in the footprints of with the position of the traumatized victim, even
two mighty towers … Nothing can ever break us. if that victim tended to belong to, or look like,
Nothing can change who we are as Americans.” mainstream America rather than Vietnamese or
Although he was not President at the time of the East European Jews—or African-Americans.
2001 attacks, this was not the first time that This was not enough, however, to dispel the
Obama publicly invoked the trauma of 9/11. In specter of military failure. The Gulf War of 1991
his 2011 speech announcing the assassination of was proclaimed by President George Bush as a
Osama bin Laden, Obama also vividly described new demonstration of American strength and a
the events of that September day. On this earlier victory that settled the score of the defeat in
occasion the evocation of the attacks had a differ- Vietnam.
ent purpose: to justify a military intervention on Obama’s narrative about “the man in the red
foreign territory and, some would say, to justify bandana” exemplifies this process. A civilian,
an act of political retribution. In both speeches, who had the great misfortune of working in the
the President’s use of video to address the targeted building, managed to rescue some of his
American people, whether “live” on television or coworkers before being killed in the building’s
on the Internet, made the trauma of 9/11 the basis collapse. This is the kind of story that we expect
of a common history and purpose and evoked a to hear in news stories and Hollywood movies
shared sense of grief and resolve. about disaster and war. The passenger who saves
The idea of trauma as a marker of cultural others during a plane crash, shipwreck, or an
identity is not new in America. After the defeat earthquake performs a spontaneous act of hero-
in Vietnam, American psychotherapists working ism. Soldiers who are killed in war, whether they
with war veterans developed the diagnostic cat- act heroically or not, have sacrificed their lives
egory of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). for their country. But the bombing of civilians,
Hollywood responded immediately with movies the incarceration and genocide of populations in
such as Coming Home and Deer Hunter that fea- camps and killing centers, and the spread of
tured traumatized veterans home from the war. urban terrorism, has changed the political status
After the years of antiwar protest in which of victims of catastrophe. Giorgio Agamben
returning veterans had often been reviled by the (1998) has argued that these civilian victims fall
public, these Hollywood narratives allowed the into the category of homo sacer (a figure he
soldier’s combat trauma to be shared with his retrieves from archaic Roman law) “who may be
loved ones, family, and, implicitly, the larger killed and yet not sacrificed” (p. 8). Civilians
American community. This was the same period who are killed in modern war, genocide, and ter-
that the ABC miniseries Roots (1977) presented rorism are dehumanized populations targeted for
the story of African American identity emerging destruction: “collateral damage,” “subhumans,”
from the trauma of slavery, followed by “enemies of the state,” etc. Turning those civil-
Holocaust (NBC 1978) which first brought the ians who are killed into martyrs conceals the
2 Cultural Trauma and the Media 29

reality that most of the victims did not give their As our lives have become increasingly satu-
lives for their country or for their beliefs but rated by communication technologies and infor-
were simply disposed of as part of a hostile mili- mation networks, our collective identification
tary or political agenda. with “traumatic events” has apparently increased.
Stories of heroism falsify the terrible fate of Catastrophes cannot now be recalled without
modern mass death. If we hear a story of heroic entire series of associated media images or
resistance or selfless courage in Auschwitz we “flashbulb memories” (Zelizer 1992, p. 5) from
know that it can never change the fact that mil- photojournalism, television news, and Hollywood
lions were gassed. For this reason Agamben dramatizations. Like traumatic memories, media
rejects the term “Holocaust” because it connotes images appear in sudden and often disconcerting
sacrifice rather than mass killing. The “man in ways in our daily lives, they impact us with their
the red bandana” is a hero who is fashioned by drama and immediacy, and they almost always
political rhetoric to represent the victims of the show us events that are distant in space and time.
9/11 attacks, most of whom were not martyrs for Since the JFK assassination television has made
a cause but objects of violent destruction. the traumatic event the moment in which every-
Narratives about particular individuals who gave day schedules are suspended and viewers are
their lives for others construct a community of captivated by dramas unfolding in real time.
victims around a sacrificial hero and thereby Does trauma, then, promise some authentic expe-
attempt to redeem catastrophe through a narrative rience of community that is otherwise felt to be
of nationhood, shared values and beliefs, and car- lacking in our lives? Trauma promises us a return
ing for others. to a shared understanding of history, breaking
At one level this is a straightforward process through the screen of visual information that has
of political refashioning: an event that revealed a numbed our responses, and reengaging us in
failure of national security, now becomes a sym- social life. It is because this promise wields so
bol of the resilience of the American people. But much symbolic power that we need to critically
it also shows an attempt to contain the traumatic examine the claims that surround cultural trauma
impact of events that have the potential to cause and its uses by academics, media professionals,
social panic and political instability. Events that and political leaders.
revealed the vulnerability of civilian populations
are thereby transformed into monuments of col-
lective strength. Instead of the WTC as an endur- 2.3 Cultural Trauma
ing symbol of economic power, its very absence and the Media
becomes a monument to the spirit of American
community that will endure forever. It is the job The term cultural trauma appears to suggest the
of political leaders to turn defeats into victories shared psychological experience of specific
and construct powerful narratives about collec- events. The idea of shared trauma, however, sits
tive identity. What is new is that trauma has uneasily with the fact that different individuals
become an acceptable way to define that shared and groups often respond to similar events and
identity, rather than something that is shrouded in experiences in different ways. As Allan Young
guilt, fear, and secrecy. Of course there are (2007) has shown, research reveals that most
many—some of whom participate in the 9/11 people do not develop trauma symptoms even
Truth movement—who do see 9/11 as shrouded when exposed to conditions sufficient to cause
in guilt, fear, and secrecy. But there is now a PTSD (p. 21). Cultural trauma implies not that
widely held belief, after generations of psycho- everyone in a society had the same experience
therapy, mediated catastrophe, and celebrity cul- but that certain events have been given extraordi-
ture, that trauma is an acceptable and legitimate nary status for a society. Just as a psychological
basis of identity. trauma has long-term effects on individuals and
30 A. Meek

communities, cultural trauma suggests social and requires psychological defenses for survival and
political conflicts that remain unresolved, losses trauma is experienced only when these defenses
that are difficult to mourn, events that are difficult are suddenly shattered.
to represent or symbolize. When events achieve Media not only insulate us from shock, they
the status of cultural trauma, however, they have also deliberately induce shock. News and enter-
become symbols of the collective that mean more tainment media attempt to capture our attention
than the sum of collective psychological suffer- with images that shock and surprise but they also
ing. On the other hand, psychological trauma is allow us feel insulated from threats of actual vio-
never without cultural, social, and political lence and destruction. For many Americans the
dimensions, whether it be caused by child abuse, 9/11 attacks disrupted this safe distance and
rape, war, genocide, colonization, ecological posed a new kind of threat: the destruction of
catastrophe, etc.: to be abused is to suffer the mis- civilians by bombs had always happened in other
use of social authority and responsibility, vio- countries but now civilians were vulnerable to
lence is authorized by governments and political attack at home. For these reasons, media images
leaders, and natural environments are impacted of the 9/11 attacks may indeed have been trau-
by human behavior and technology. matic for many people. If psychological trauma
Cultural trauma is composed of images and had been suffered by the entire population, how-
narratives that convey the impact and threat of ever, this would have been more widely disrup-
catastrophe on large populations. Modern visual tive of social life. The continued functioning of
media play and important role in the transmission normal social behavior and social institutions
of cultural trauma images and narratives. The fol- after 9/11 suggests that psychological defenses
lowing sections explain some different aspects of remained in place for most people. After 9/11
this process: media played its role in both transmitting and
containing the threat of psychological distress by
repeating certain images and censoring others
2.3.1 The “Protective Shield” and by producing narratives of collective suffer-
ing, solidarity, and retribution.
Freud’s account of the “protective shield” against
shock in Beyond the Pleasure Principle (1920)
explained how the conscious mind developed a 2.3.2 Historical Trauma
“thick skin” to block out external threats by
learning to anticipate them with acceptable levels Since Freud the analysis of psychological trauma
of anxiety. Only when the shield was pierced by has repeatedly been extended to larger claims
an unforeseen force did experience become trau- about cultural beliefs and historical events. As
matic. Freud’s theory was adapted by Walter early as Totem and Taboo (1913), Freud related
Benjamin in the 1930s to develop his own account trauma to the collective psychic repression of
of shock in modern urban societies. Photography acts of violence in prehistoric society. Community
and film, argued Benjamin (2003), function as was founded on a shared sense of guilt. In his
shields that protect the psyche against the intru- final work, Moses and Monotheism (1930), Freud
sive stimuli of modern life. The inhabitants of explained Judaism in terms of the trauma of
large cities learn to accept or avoid sights of monotheistic faith, which he argued made greater
social deprivation while going about their busi- psychological demands than polytheism. This
ness, while in various forms of news and enter- text could be seen as Freud’s explanation of why
tainment media an ordinary person might witness the Nazis sought to be rid of the Jews: they
scenes of suffering and death on a daily basis. If wanted to free themselves once and for all from
these sights are too disturbing or distressing the the burden of guilt imposed by the one God.
individual will not be able to cope with the tasks Freud explained political violence in terms of a
and challenges of everyday life. Modern life deeper “traumatic” social memory; i.e., societies
2 Cultural Trauma and the Media 31

attempt to release themselves from collective American veterans of combat in Vietnam, lead-
feelings of guilt and anxiety by expelling or kill- ing to the formulation and acceptance of Post
ing “alien” individuals and groups. This concep- Traumatic Stress Disorder as a diagnostic cate-
tion of historical trauma reached its culmination gory. In the book that resulted from this research,
in Theodor Adorno’s (1973) often-cited postwar Home from the War (1973), Lifton proposed that
comments about the fate of culture “after the televising of the war contributed to massive
Aschwitz.” Adorno proposed that after human psychic numbing among the American public.
beings had been reduced to disposable “garbage”
in the death camps, culture could no longer
address timeless human values; after Auschwitz, 2.3.4 Testimony
culture had been traumatized by irreparable dam-
age to the individual’s sense of subjective mean- In the 1990s, cultural trauma was taken up by lit-
ing and purpose. erary criticism, leading to the emergence of
trauma studies as a successful interdisciplinary
paradigm in the academic humanities. Shoshanna
2.3.3 “Psychic Numbing” Felman’s and Dori Laub’s Testimony (1992) was
the first book to bring together discussion of liter-
These conceptions of media as a protective shield ary texts, psychotherapy with Holocaust survi-
and political violence as an historical trauma vors, and film and video documents. Laub
come together in postwar America with reference discussed therapy with Holocaust survivors and
to the bombing of Hiroshima, the Nazi death video testimony recorded and archived at Yale
camps, and the Vietnam War. For the first time, while Felman included a long essay on Claude
the sense of an unconscious historical trauma Lanzmann’s film Shoah (1985), which was com-
merges with psychotherapeutic research on sur- posed entirely of testimony by survivors and wit-
vivors of war and catastrophe and a critique of nesses and included no archival images. This
mass media. Robert Jay Lifton’s (1967, 1973) book was a defining text for trauma studies and
studies of Hiroshima survivors and Vietnam vet- established a tendency to look for authentic rep-
erans continued in the tradition of Freud insofar resentations of trauma in serious literature and
as they moved from individual case studies to film or in testimonial documents as opposed to
broader claims about the psychic history of entire mass media dramatizations. This influential
societies. He proposed that Americans were trau- book, however, itself participated in a larger trend
matized by guilt for bombing Hiroshima and for in which the Holocaust assumed a new promi-
this reason failed to address the full implications nence in international popular culture.
of weapons of mass destruction. Lifton went
beyond Freud when he addressed the role of mass
media in constructing narratives about catastro- 2.3.5 Identity Politics and Moral
phe that served as psychological defenses against Universals
disturbing historical realities. Photographs and
film footage that documented the effects of the Trauma has formed part of a philosophical cri-
atom bombs dropped on the Japanese were con- tique of collective identity and violence but it has
fiscated by the American authorities and hidden also come to signify a sense of cultural participa-
from public view for decades. In place of these tion and belonging. The rise of trauma studies in
documents, Americans were presented with the the 1990s was preceded by the identity politics of
image of the mushroom cloud as a symbol of the 1960s and 1970s: Civil Rights, antiwar, femi-
technological power and a source of Cold War nism, and Gay Liberation. The legacies of slav-
anxiety. After his work with Hiroshima survi- ery, racism, war, domestic violence, and rape
vors, Lifton went on to do psychotherapy with were central concerns of these struggles against
32 A. Meek

social and political oppression. Struggle was 2.4 Media, Medical Research,
articulated through speaking out, breaking the and Shock
silence surrounding prejudice and abuse, and giv-
ing testimony to the suffering experienced by Cultural trauma has become a way of articulating
oppressed individuals and groups. This politics claims about historical responsibility for suffer-
of grievance has often been subject to ridicule by ing and injustice. Because these claims often lead
the dominant culture and attacked as “political to what some call the “politics of blame,” other
correctness.” Cultural trauma has more recently discourses argue for cultural trauma—particu-
been universalized in the work of theorists such larly in the case of the Holocaust—as a concern
as Jeffrey Alexander (2012) and Daniel Levy and for all humanity. This universalizing rhetoric
Natan Sznaider (2006), who see the Holocaust as tends toward a liberal humanist perspective on
constitutive of new moral paradigms and transna- history and politics and tends to ignore the ways
tional identities. Michael Rothberg (2009) has that trauma is premised on a medicalization of
also shown how discourses about the Holocaust social identity. Today, older theological or philo-
are historically interwoven with those about sophical conceptions of suffering related to a
European colonialism and anticolonial struggles. sense of loss, injustice, and evil have been largely
The legacies of racial violence, genocide, and replaced by psychological and psychiatric under-
war crimes have become highly significant in the standings of human experience as driven by bio-
contemporary politics of memory. International logical processes (Young 1977). The widespread
relations can be swayed by the acknowledgment use of the term “trauma” is symptomatic of this
of, or failure to acknowledge, responsibilities for shift. Although psychological trauma is often
past crimes, and injustices. Within nations, dif- understood as an analogy for a physical wound,
ferent ethnic groups and minorities seek recogni- the two concepts, as Allan Young has explained,
tion for sufferings experienced by previous are actually linked genealogically. The “discov-
generations. These struggles for recognition can ery” of traumatic memory was based in the scien-
be understood as therapeutic for communities tific observation of physical symptoms. The first
that suffer from collective trauma; or as self- cases of psychological trauma were caused by
conscious constructions of identity seeking railway accidents and the impact of a physical
political gain; or even as reinscriptions of aggres- shock that did not leave evidence on the body but
sive, xenophobic, and racist forms of identity instead was registered through a disturbance of
that a deeper understanding of historical injus- the nervous system, giving rise to compulsive
tice would discredit. Dominick LaCapra has behaviors (Young 1977, pp. 246–247).
explained these different articulations of cultural Evidence of the physiological damage caused
trauma in terms of Freud’s distinction between by fear, or fright, further embedded psychologi-
“working through” and “acting out”: the subject cal and emotional responses in biology. Trauma
of trauma must either come to a gradual recogni- is biological, but its location in the nervous sys-
tion of the unconscious source of their suffering tem makes it one step removed from the physical
or be doomed to compulsively repeat the original world: one can suffer psychological trauma with-
scenario in new situations (LaCapra 1998). The out experiencing any overt physical injury.
influential writings of theorists like LaCapra, Modern media further removes trauma from the
Alexander, and Rothberg have made cultural physical world by simulating the experience of
trauma a universal paradigm for understanding violence and catastrophe and thereby allowing
contemporary identity. There is a danger, how- the viewer to experience a “virtual” trauma.
ever, that this universalization of trauma might Photography and moving images also allow us to
prevent us from inquiring into the specific insti- witness threatening events at a safe distance. This
tutional and technological changes that have is one reason why psychological trauma has been
given trauma the cultural authority it assumes aligned with mediated experience in contempo-
today. rary instances of cultural trauma.
2 Cultural Trauma and the Media 33

In The Empire of Trauma (2009), Didier it makes the psychological individual a model for
Fassin and Richard Rechtman explain that before understanding entire societies. Psychological
the Vietnam War combat trauma was usually trauma is often aligned with liberal humanist
treated with suspicion and seen as cowardice. conceptions of politics and history that fail to
Since the official recognition of PTSD, however, consider the role of technological media in shap-
the condition of victimhood as a legitimate form ing individual and collective experience and
of identity has become widely accepted. Although identity. But if we take a step back from Freud to
many people may still see traumatized war veter- consider the earlier conception of trauma
ans and even victims of rape and domestic abuse advanced by his mentor, Jean-Martin Charcot,
as social outsiders or deviants (and somehow we see a more direct convergence between medi-
deserving of their suffering), the idea that the cal research and technological media which
defeat in Vietnam was traumatic for Americans became the basis of later forms of mass entertain-
or that the Holocaust is a trauma for all Jews is ment and politics. Cultural trauma is not aligned
acceptable to many who identify with these with mass media because it allows a collective
national or ethnic groups. Fassin and Rechtman empathy for, or identification with, the suffering
discuss the convergence of psychiatric therapy, of others. Rather it is because the conceptual ori-
political rhetoric, and media coverage in the gins of the “traumatic” subject are medical and
adoption of trauma as the central paradigm for technological, taking human life as an object to
understanding 9/11. As they point out, there is a be recorded, analyzed, and manipulated. This
slippage between the sense of trauma as a psy- medico-technological model of the human sub-
chological disturbance and its “metaphorical ject was carried over from the physiological
extension disseminated by the media” (p. 2) in study of trauma into research on the responses of
which an entire nation can be said to have experi- media viewers, particularly with respect to the
enced a traumatic event. In the television cover- physiological impact of shock.
age of the Vietnam War there remained unresolved Many of the pioneers of photography and film
tensions between the new freedoms of the news were also engaged in medical and scientific
media, the military agendas of the state and pub- research. For example, Charcot used photogra-
lic support for, or opposition to, the war. The nar- phy to study the pathological symptoms of hys-
rative of Vietnam as a shared trauma for terical women. The hysteric seemed possessed by
Americans was constructed later in Hollywood uncontrollable, compulsive gestures that could
films such as The Deer Hunter. The spectacular only be understood through close attention to the
nature of the World Trade Center catastrophe and minutiae of her movements and behaviors, which
the immediate evidence of American civilians as were then interpreted as pathological symptoms.
victims of terrorism, however, made it possible to For this purpose the camera proved to be an
impose a political consensus about the collective invaluable tool. The gestures of hysterics were
trauma suffered by Americans and the necessity extensively documented in photographs, many of
of military response. which were made available to the public in pub-
One way to better understand and perhaps lished albums (Didi-Huberman 2003).
move beyond this enshrining of victimhood is to Albert Londe, the photographer who worked
excavate its origins in medical discourses, the at Charcot’s clinic, was a friend of Etienne-Jules
politics of mass societies, and the development of Marey, the inventor of chronophotographie, or
technological media. Freud continues to cast a time photography. Marey trained as a doctor spe-
long shadow over cultural trauma: from his own cializing in research on cardiology and blood cir-
speculations on the origins of society in collec- culation, which he combined with an interest in
tive violence, through Adorno’s notion of the mechanical functions of hydraulics. He saw
Auschwitz as a trauma for Western culture, to the human body as a machine and he set out to
Lifton’s claims about psychic numbing in discover the laws that govern physiological pro-
America. The danger in this line of thought is that cesses (Braun 1992, pp. 11–13). This led him to
34 A. Meek

the study of movement. But the intricacies of of Taylorism and Fordism, in which efficiency
human movement were not visible to the human became understood as the domain of management,
eye. Again the camera provided the technology based on the analysis of the worker’s movements
that could record movement in all its microscopic removed from the site of production. The worker
detail. Marey’s photographic studies decomposed lost control of the pace and output of his/her activi-
movement into discrete gestures and transformed ties. Skill and experience was now subordinated to
individual actions into graphic information. As surveillance and analysis. Centralized planning and
with Londe’s photographs of hysterics, Marey’s control sought to quantify and standardize labor.
studies of movement allowed the gestures and Frank Gilbreth, who worked with Frederick
behaviors of individuals to be studied and form Winslow Taylor, extended the research of pioneers
the basis of generalizations. The individual mani- such as Marey and Muybridge, through photo-
fested the symptom of a general pathology or graphic studies of worker’s movements. The visual
acted out the biological trait of the species. records of skilled workers’ gestures established
As a scientist, Marey was interested in using standards for others to follow.
the camera to analyze movement, not to produce This attempt to monitor, control, and exploit
an illusion of movement for the purposes of human labor by recording and analyzing it as
entertainment. Nevertheless, Marey’s serial visual information is related to cultural trauma
images of bodies in motion became the earliest through the uses of shock. Ivan Pavlov’s research
filmed images to be screened for the public. The on human reflexes showed that the administering
Lumière brothers were familiar with Marey’s of shock demanded attention but also numbed
work and solved the problem of how to project emotional and intellectual responses. Mass media
moving images. Marey’s greatest legacy, how- drew on this research, using shock to capture
ever, is the scientific management of labor. audience attention. This also rendered audiences
August Chauveau, who became the director of unresponsive, requiring continual intensification
the Institute Marey after Marey’s death, con- of visual and aural impact in order to achieve the
ducted studies on muscular fatigue. His pupil, required effect (Beller 2006). The manipulation
Jules Amar, conducted further such studies on of attention at work and through media images
inmates of a prison in Algiers, requiring the pris- formed a new cultural experience conditioned by
oners to carry weights up to the point of exhaus- mechanical repetition and sudden shock. With
tion. In 1914 Amar published the results of his the incorporation of visual experience in the
research in The Human Motor. The visual organization of both labor and leisure in indus-
recording and study of human movement forms trial societies, argues Jonathan Beller, the human
the basis of studies of industrial labor oriented subject encounters his/her self-image in a techno-
toward maximizing production and profit. These logical form. The responses and choices made by
studies were also extended to media viewers in the worker-consumer are integrated through
order to direct their responses and behaviors as physiological research informing technological
consumers. design and communication. This refashioning of
The use of moving pictures for the purposes of human behavior is pioneered in industrial mass
managing both labor and entertainment are not production and further refined by digital technol-
unrelated but actually integrated in industrial ogies and information networks.
mass production and consumption. In his study For Pavlov, the nervous system was a
of this history of labor management, also called “medium for the translation of signaled stimuli
The Human Motor (Rabinbach 1990), Anson into responses” (Beller 2006, p. 123) and his
Rabinbach describes the attempt in the nineteenth experiments on dogs included electric shocks.
century to “harmonize the movements of the body As Allan Young explains, the victims of these
with those of the industrial machine” (p. 2). This experiments learned to associate pain with other
view of the worker as an extension of the machine environmental factors. Sensory stimuli associ-
formed a central part of the productivist ideologies ated with the memory of the shock later caused
2 Cultural Trauma and the Media 35

the victim to relive the distressing experience. surprise and distress viewers and by integrating
The victim was thus conditioned to respond in them into narratives about collective identity the
two possible ways: by following routines that media supply both the trauma and the treatment.
sought to avoid the upsetting stimuli, or assuming In this, the entertainment industries can be under-
a completely passive attitude (psychic numbing). stood to follow the model set by the medical
Young notes a third possible reaction, which he establishment. In Manufacturing Victims
links with posttraumatic stress disorder: victims (Dineen 1999), Tara Dineen argues that the
seek out circumstances that repeat the original “Psychology Industry” exploits human suffering
trauma. The distressing memory produces endor- to produce victims as the objects of diagnosis,
phins that tranquilize the subject, leading to an treatment, and, ultimately, profit. She writes of
addiction to the repeated behavior (Young 1977, three methods by which this process is achieved:
pp. 257–258). psychologizing, pathologizing, and generalizing.
Media technologies are designed to capture Psychology translates experiences into theoreti-
human attention and this requires the individual cal constructs and applies these constructs to
to adapt his or her “protective shield” against people through labels (such as “traumatized”)
intrusive sensory information. When this protec- and then generalizes them to the point that
tive apparatus is breached the effect is “trau- extreme experiences of violence become con-
matic.” Images that have a traumatic effect fused or equated with more mundane forms of
achieve a special status and become connected to distress (p. 27). She argues that Lifton’s interpre-
other series of media images that hold the specta- tation of the experiences of Hiroshima and
tor in place as a member of an imagined commu- Holocaust survivors follows this pattern of pro-
nity or social network. Shock becomes a primary ducing theoretical abstractions (such as “the sur-
way that individuals and groups define them- vivor”) that then become generalized and applied
selves, and thus fit “traumatic” narratives about in different situations. Dineen’s criticism is per-
cultural identity. Shock is part of the everyday suasive to the extent that cultural trauma narra-
experience of humans in technologically tives take a specific individual’s or group’s
advanced societies, making media images an experiences and translate them into moral univer-
important feature of cultural trauma. The suffer- sals. However, if we take into account the role of
ing of those who have suffered actual violence or technological media and shock in fostering iden-
abuse or who have experienced some catastrophic tification with cultural trauma, Lifton’s account
event has been aligned with collective identity of psychic numbing can be understood as useful
through a media apparatus that administers and and insightful.
manages shock for a mass audience. The media For over a century modern visual media has
audience’s expectation of, and appetite for, shock been shaping certain kinds of responses and
transmitted by mass media and information net- expectations which have gradually been inte-
works has enabled the successful promotion of grated into broader cultural and political pro-
cultural trauma as a basis for membership in a cesses. Catastrophes, political upheavals, and
political community and a shared experience of economic crises attract intense media coverage
history. fostering mass anxiety and leading to demands
for the restoration of social order and stability. In
such situations, public figures, intellectuals and
2.5 The Politics of Mediated media commentators construct trauma narratives
Trauma which seek to make sense of disruptive and dis-
turbing experiences for large groups of people.
Shock can form part of voyeuristic pleasure but For this reason such situations also offer impor-
can also foster identification with the position of tant opportunities for political leadership and
victim. Media provides its own version of psy- new political initiatives. What Frank Furedi
chotherapy: by presenting images and stories that (2004) has called “therapy culture” has tended to
36 A. Meek

replace narratives of political engagement or can make sense of this spectacle of suffering and
protest with those that emphasize emotional and destruction contributes to the numbing and emo-
psychological vulnerability. Moments of catas- tional disengagement of the viewer. The viewer
trophe and crisis allow mass media to construct experiences a loss of meaning. Cultural trauma
moments of national consensus and communities narratives fill this vacuum by allowing the viewer
of mourning. Through ritual performances such to identify with the position of victim and trans-
as commemorative ceremonies and funerals, the late their own cultural and political disorientation
media orchestrates a collective and communal into membership in a community.
emotional response. But doesn’t the preoccupation with cultural
Images of human suffering are commodities trauma and the Holocaust follow a similar logic?
that circulate in competitive media markets. The The Holocaust has become a symbol of “absolute
iconography of violence and pain in commercial evil” in modern societies where there is increas-
media tends to falsely universalize human suffer- ing fragmentation of shared moral values. The
ing because it is unable to reconcile the moral universality imputed to the Holocaust also rela-
ambiguity surrounding exploitation for profit, on tivizes the ongoing crimes and injustices perpe-
one hand, and the need to inform the public on trated by other modern states, particularly the
the other. Those who suffer are also pathologized, liberal democratic societies in which the
their experiences turned into trauma narratives Holocaust has achieved such cultural promi-
that circulate as a form of symbolic capital in nence. As Anne Rothe (2011) puts it: “redemp-
various medical, legal, political, and mediated tive narratives serve to transform the pain of
contexts (Kleinman & Kleinman 2009, p. 295). others into politically anesthetizing mass media
What is often left out of these professional dis- commodities” (p. 15). The Holocaust, narrated in
courses is any acknowledgement of the ways that popular forms such as novels, films, television
the “victim” understand their own experience. dramas, children’s books, and comics, has begun
These “traumatized” populations are denied to function as a master narrative of victimization
political agency and become objects of pity, char- allowing for, or encouraging, widely divergent
ity, or worse, idle curiosity. individuals and groups to identify themselves
Since the end of the Cold War, humanitarian with the roles of victim or benevolent savior.
interests have become the new justification for The “events of September 11” have become
Western military interventions that receive inten- an iconic example of the ways that spectacular
sive media coverage and are seen by governments and dramatic media images played a role in defin-
as opportunities to give a public display of high ing America as the victim of hostility, envy, and
moral values and aspirations. Media representa- malicious attack. The impact and authority of
tions construct other nations in crisis as chaotic these images also overshadowed the more com-
scenes of suffering and violence without mean- plex history of conflict and violence from which
ing, except for their evident need for rescue by the attacks emerged. Fatima Naqvi (2007) asks
the West. Philip Hammond (2007) has proposed why Western societies, who remain in positions
that these humanitarian interventions are exam- of economic and military dominance, tend to rep-
ples of “Western narcissism and the search for resent themselves as victims (p. 1). With the
meaning” (p. 49), in which the West attempts to breakdown of many social structures that in the
recover its sense of moral purpose and legitimacy past defined cultural belonging and status, identi-
by way of catastrophes suffered by others: “their” fication with the victim may appear to promise an
suffering is “our” therapy. Hammond’s critique alternative legitimacy. Victimhood is an affirma-
of Western humanitarianism can be extended to tion of social belonging. In an age when visual
the widespread acceptance of cultural trauma media provide a limitless supply of images of
narratives. The visual consumption of violence human suffering, the overwhelming majority of
and catastrophe creates an expectation of shock which happens outside Western societies, their
and horror. The absence of political analyses that claim to victimhood takes on a particularly
2 Cultural Trauma and the Media 37

hollow ring. While images and dramatizations of Braun, M. (1992). Picturing time: The work of Etienne-
Jules Marey (1830-1904). Chicago: University of
the Holocaust may allow contemporary audi-
Chicago Press.
ences to identify with the position of innocent Didi-Huberman, G. (2003). Invention of hysteria: Charcot
victim, images of starvation, genocide, and torture and the photographic iconography of the Salpêtrière.
in distant parts of the world confront the West Cambridge, MA, London: MIT Press.
Dineen, T. (1999). Manufacturing victims: What the psy-
more directly with its responsibility for perpetu-
chology industry is doing to people. London:
ating, directly or indirectly, violent oppression. Constable.
Often the application of psychological con- Felman, S., & Laub, D. (1992). Testimony: Crises of wit-
cepts to cultural criticism has been focused on nessing in literature, psychoanalysis and history.
New York: Routledge.
the role of modern visual media as the mode of
Furedi, F. (2004). Therapy culture: Cultivating vulnera-
transmission. In academic trauma studies, this bility in an uncertain age. London and New York:
has meant trying to determine the most authentic Routledge.
means to convey the reality of historical experi- Hammond, P. (2007). Media, war and postmodernity.
London and New York: Routledge.
ences through images and stories. But these
Kleinman, A., & Kleinman, J. (2009). Cultural appropria-
approaches have tended to ignore the cultural tions of suffering. In U. Linke & D. T. Smith (Eds.),
and technological transformations that have Cultures of fear: A critical reader (pp. 288–303).
made trauma a central narrative in modern soci- London and New York: Pluto Press.
LaCapra, D. (1998). History and memory after Auschwitz.
eties. Our understanding of historical trauma
Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press.
needs to address the ways that mediated forms of Levy, D., & Sznaider, N. (2006). The Holocaust and mem-
shock open up new spaces for rearticulating and ory in the global age. Philadelphia: Temple University
repositioning collective identity. Cultural trauma Press.
Lifton, R. J. (1967). Death in life: Survivors of Hiroshima.
allows a society to assume the role of victim, dis-
New York: Random House.
placing the guilt associated with perpetrating Lifton, R. J. (1973). Home from the war: Vietnam veter-
violence against others. It also allows popula- ans: Neither victims nor executioners. New York:
tions to be defined as subjects of therapy or Simon & Schuster.
Naqvi, F. (2007). The literary and cultural rhetoric of vic-
actors in a collective psycho-drama. Meanwhile,
timhood: Western Europe, 1970-2005. Hampshire,
the suffering of other populations remains silent New York: Palgrave.
and invisible. Rabinbach, A. (1990). The human motor: Energy, fatigue,
and the origins of modernity. Berkeley, Los Angeles:
University of California Press.
Rothberg, M. (2009). Multidirectional memory:
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tion. Stanford: Stanford University Press.
Adorno, T. (1973). Negative dialectics. New York: Rothe, A. (2011). Popular trauma culture: Selling the
Continuum. pain of others in the mass media. New Brunswick, NJ,
Agamben, G. (1998). Homo sacer: Sovereign power and London: Rutgers University Press.
bare life. Trans. Daniel Heller-Roazen. Stanford, CA: Young, A. (1977). Suffering and the origins of traumatic
Stanford University Press. memory. In A. Kleinman, V. Das, & M. Lock (Eds.),
Alexander, J. (2012). Trauma: A social theory. Cambridge: Social suffering (pp. 245–260). Berkeley, Los Angeles,
Polity. London: University of California Press.
Amar, J. (1920). Human motor; or the scientific founda- Young, A. (2007). Post-traumatic stress disorder of the
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Beller, J. (2006). The cinematic mode of production: America. In A. Austin Sarat, N. Davidovitch, &
Attention economy and the society of the spectacle. M. Albertstein (Eds.), Trauma and memory: Reading,
Hanover and London: UP of New England. healing, and making law (pp. 21–48). Stanford:
Benjamin, W. (2003). On some motifs in Baudelaire. In Stanford University Press.
H. Eiland & M. W. Jennings (Eds.), Walter Benjamin: Zelizer, B. (1992). Covering the body: The Kennedy
Selected writings volume 4, 1938-1940 (pp. 313–355). assassination, the media, and the shaping of collective
Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. memory. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Television: A Traumatic Culture
Dan Arav

contemporary digital derivatives (YouTube,

3.1 Introduction Instagram, etc.,), individuals in Western society
are, more than ever before, exposed to trauma in
From its inception, the moving image has been a its various and sundry forms, both on the indi-
major component in the assimilation of the cul- vidual and the collective levels.
ture of trauma into everyday life.1 Today, by It should be noted that the link between the
means of the veteran medium of television and its traumatic experience and the medium of televi-
sion exists only in the cultural-aesthetic sphere.
Both the moving image and trauma as a concept are the In point of fact, according to the common view-
products of modernity and of the Industrial Revolution. point found in both scientific and cultural dis-
Recognition of trauma on both the scientific and the course, when it comes to reality, the traumatic
public levels is, as noted, tied to the strong relationship
with the emergence of the railroad and the numerous
experience and the medium of television are
railroad accidents since its inception. As railroad acci- positioned precisely at opposite ends of the
dents began to introduce spectacular images of destruc- equation. Trauma is defined as an anomalous
tion and disaster into the public imagination that are not occurrence that takes place outside the symbolic
related to the battlefield, the medical profession began
to encounter psychological symptoms among the survi-
order, making it an experience that is difficult, if
vors. Like other scientific developments, the cinema, not impossible, to report on, bear witness to and
whose origins date back to the late nineteenth century, is become engaged in. In contrast, the popular for-
an expression of progress—a machine harnessed for the mat and content of the medium of television
sake of investigating the world and human beings. If we
so desire, we can find an anecdotal connection between
consistently claim to be an accurate, reliable,
railroad accidents, which epitomized the post-traumatic and complete reflection of reality (Fiske, 1987,
condition, and the documentary film by the Lumière pp. 17–37). Television realism is based on an
brothers, The Arrival of a Train at a Station (1896). The ongoing attempt to blur and conceal the means
images from this first film to be screened commercially
aroused anxiety in the hearts of its viewers, who in their
by which the message is transmitted. More than
imaginations transformed the train rushing across the anything else, television seeks to incorporate
screen into a horrifying reality from which they had to into the hearts and minds of the viewers the
flee. belief that the reality visible on the screen is
D. Arav, Ph.D. (*) ostensibly “the thing itself” without any media-
School of Media Studies, The College of tion, shaping or personal or ideological factors
Management Academic Studies (COMAS),
involved in the process. “The view of television
7 Yitzhak Rabin Blvd., Rishon LeZion
7502501, Israel realism is often expressed by the metaphors of
e-mail: transparency or reflection—television is seen

© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2016 39

Y. Ataria et al. (eds.), Interdisciplinary Handbook of Trauma and Culture,
DOI 10.1007/978-3-319-29404-9_3
40 D. Arav

either as a transparent window on the world or are manifested on television and to consider
as a mirror reflecting our own reality back to us” the major role played by this experience in
(Fiske, 1987, p. 18). Trauma, then, appears to be contemporary television discourse. This chap-
the exact opposite of television. In effect, what ter is unique in that it positions trauma not only
can be said about trauma is that it denies realism as a popular phenomenon represented in vari-
and persistently refuses to find any relationship ous ways on the screen, but also as a central
between the signifier and what it signifies “in concept used to decipher the logic behind the
reality.” This tension between the television operation of the medium itself. The focal point
medium and trauma appears to be what has of the chapter lies in the following distinction:
given rise to the entire complex of associations On the one hand, it views the culture of trauma
and reciprocal relations between the two. as a cultural product shaped primarily by tele-
In contemporary culture and particularly vision, while on the other hand it perceives the
Western culture, the moving image constitutes a television medium as a major means of work-
major channel for leisure and entertainment. As ing through trauma, on the personal level and
a means directed at mass consumption, the tele- in particular on the collective level.
vision medium is umbilically tied to market In an attempt to consider all the associations
logic. It is widely considered to be an aesthetic between trauma and television, I have divided the
form characterized by contemporary capitalism topic into two arenas for discussion:
and as a medium that acts to reinforce the pre-
vailing political-economic system. In effect, 1. Television as a form of traumatic utterance
television operates in two dimensions: On the and as a generator of trauma.
one hand, to generate interest, excitement, iden- This discussion is based upon the deter-
tification, and ongoing attention as responses ministic technological tradition that sees the
from its audience, televised content must present development of technology as the first and
an unstable reality marked by innovation, con- foremost factor in shaping the development of
flict, and crisis. On the other hand, and at the society. It is also based on the doctrine of phi-
same time, for both aesthetic and ideological losophers such as Bruno Latour (1992) and
reasons the text presented on television con- others, who contend that the contemporary
stantly strives for closure: for solutions to the media experience has been established by a
dramatic plot and for a return to order even if unique and independent pattern based on the
this is only an illusion.2 This duality is diffused incorporation of the world of machines into
over the role of television trauma. Television as the human space. Accordingly, the discussion
a medium that strives to capture attention medi- focuses on technology per se and on the
ates trauma to the masses. At the same time, as a unique aesthetic attributes of television as
medium that works out of and in the name of the machine and identifies how these are associ-
prevailing order, television strives in various and ated with trauma. This leads to a discussion of
sundry ways to process and normalize collective televised content and of how the media repre-
trauma. sents “Trauma” events and a consideration of
This chapter, then, seeks to map the various what is, in fact, televised trauma.
expressions of the traumatic experience as they 2. Television as a mechanism for working
through trauma; posttraumatic memories on
Researchers who see the medium of television as a trans- television.
parent means of promoting the values of the dominant Here, the discussion focuses on an attempt
culture tend to see the text as “closed,” a text whose inter- to consider the extent to which modern media
pretation is in line with the prevailing values. Alongside
influences the traumatic experience within
these are those who stress the “openness” of the text and
its freedom to be interpreted in different ways by different the individual and in the public sphere. What
groups and in different contexts. role does television play in “marketing”
3 Television: A Traumatic Culture 41

trauma and in assimilating it into the public human experience, with that which radically does
imagination? And how, if at all, has technology not conform to what is expected, the medium of
been harnessed to work through individual and television—“the preeminent machine of decon-
collective trauma? The possibility of seeing textualization” (Doane, 1990, p. 225)—can be
the medium of television as a platform for seen as an effective and sophisticated mecha-
rehabilitation and recovery, or at least for nism that constantly strives to produce trauma.
working through trauma, is examined by In essence, this decontextualization can be
means of several aesthetic mechanisms that seen as the core of the traumatic mechanism of
serve the medium in its operation. Central to television. Every televised representation,
this notion are the practices of testimony and whether realistic or metaphorical, contains the
reconstruction. The practice of testimony is potential for trauma. Yet this statement must be
implemented on television as an inherent part clarified as follows: Trauma cannot be identified
of diverse television texts, ranging from the with televised conflict. While the television text
news and documentary broadcasts to reality is based on the ongoing structuring of artificial
shows, talk shows, and commercials, thus conflicts, trauma is precisely the outcome of the
marking the medium itself as a mechanism inability to represent conflict. While television
for testimony. The act of televised reconstruc- conflicts are solved by adopting a coherent,
tion (or televised reenactment) aims at pro- organized, and binary position, trauma in effect
ducing an agreed-upon version of reality denies the binary concept and the basic ability
while exploiting the unique technical possi- to normalize conflict by means of an organizing
bilities offered by this medium. One method principle.
that stands out in this aesthetic-technological Time, and specifically the time a television
process is the use of slow motion, which is consumer spends watching the screen, is televi-
discussed in detail. Ultimately, slow motion sion’s ultimate commodity. As the first and fore-
and other major aesthetic mechanisms seem most mechanism of capitalism, the television
to lead to a nostalgic aestheticization of medium seeks to produce an ongoing viewing
trauma and in fact to concealing its threaten- experience that will “nail” the television viewer
ing essence. This is the stage at which the to the screen while creating a continuing experi-
trauma of television subjugates itself to the ence of decontextualization. Hence, media con-
economic logic on which the television sumers (of television and the Internet) appear to
medium is based and to the consumers’ built- surf or hop from channel to channel without any
in expectations of pleasure. This is the stage connection to space, time, or genre. Narrative,
at which trauma turns into a commodity, to a coherence, and rationality often have no signifi-
paradoxical territory of objects marked by a cance in the consumer’s viewing experience. The
mixture of terror and entertainment. result is a random bricolage of pieces of television.
The culture critic Raymond Williams (1974)
stressed the notion of flow. According to him, the
3.2 Television as a Form textual content moves from one image to another
of Traumatic Utterance in an incessant flow of its own. This flow can be
and as a Generator seen on the shopping channels and on CNN and
of Trauma MTV. John Ellis (1982) conceives of this as seg-
mentation, contending that television does not
Traces of symbolic trauma are inherent in every represent textual development, but rather a rapid
television text. In effect, television is a trau- turnover of segments that have been formulated
matic form. If trauma can still be defined as an into blocks of images. Neil Postman (1985)
experience that is formulated as the result of an maintains that the television text lacks causality,
encounter with that which has deviated from the that it is a text without a beginning or an end, and
42 D. Arav

that its major message is inherent in the words Television’s intensive focus on terrorism and
“and now to ….” The logic of the broadcast disasters seems to have reached its peak in the
schedule and the way it is presented require that coverage of the collapse of the Twin Towers in
the viewing experience be shaped according to a September 2001. Images of this incident, which
narrative flow, even if it lacks coherence, to make has been described as the greatest event in televi-
it difficult for the viewer to “escape” to other sion history, provided the background for the
channels. rapid development of a new research field focus-
The television text, the medium’s basic forma- ing on trauma generated by watching television
tive approach, can be compared to the traumatic (Ahern et al., 2002, 2004; Bernstein et al., 2007;
condition. In essence trauma is anomalous; it Pfefferbaum, Pfefferbaum, North, & Neas, 2002).
deviates from the flow of time and from causal- Special interest in this field was generated not
ity. Like the traumatic experience, an experience only by the extreme nature of this event, its
that blurs the boundaries between present and dimensions and its position at the core of
past, television is also a paradoxical experience. America’s sense of power. The way this incident
Its flow is discontinuous and sporadic. Its frag- was mediated to the public—through a live and
mented, nonlinear text lacks causality, under- developing broadcast to millions of people
mining continuity, and normal routine. worldwide glued to their television sets—has led
Nevertheless, it is important to recognize the two researchers, many from the behavioral sciences,
as distinct one from the other. Trauma is an event to wonder whether television indeed constitutes a
that is difficult, if not impossible, to contain venue for trauma. Is exposure via the television
within the narrative of life. In contrast, the prin- screen to disturbing events, such as incidents of
ciple underlying the television medium is based mass terrorism, likely to be traumatic? (Eth,
on setting out a series of small shocks, which are 2002; Putnam, 2002).
sufficiently regulated so as to keep viewers alert It should be noted that most of the studies in
but not so shocking as to disturb them. the above field have discovered some sort of
Considering that television is totally embed- association between level of exposure to televi-
ded within a clearly capitalist context and that sion during broadcasts of catastrophes and disas-
broadcasting organizations across the globe are ters and an increase in the prevalence of
powerful corporations, the medium functions as posttraumatic syndrome. Yet this relation is not
an anchor of conformity. As a medium operating direct. Usually another individual factor is needed
within and in the name of the system, television that loads watching television with the potential
acts to preserve and reinforce the status quo. The for trauma. It should be remembered that expo-
authoritative text produced in the television sure is not only measured by the amount of time
workshop proposes a resolution or annulment of devoted to watching but also by the quality of the
the conflict, even if only symbolically and thus exposure, by the degree of the viewer’s involve-
strives for an illusionary return to maintaining ment and by various other personality factors that
order. Commercials, sports events, news items, can have an impact on this issue.
and in essence all television texts are organized One way or another, the role of television in
around a dramatic format and use a rhetoric of the Twin Towers disaster and other shocking inci-
conflict that simultaneously strives for resolution. dents generated renewed awareness of the way in
Hence, every (television) conflict is in essence an which television helps in positioning trauma, in
introduction to the required lesson, to the desired packaging it as content that can be duplicated and
solution (even if only partial) and to a soothing recycled in various ways and intensities and in
catharsis. Its appearance signals that additional vigorously marketing it. Awareness of the role of
conflicts will arise and be solved, and so on and television in shaping public memory as a trau-
so forth. matic memory has also increased.
3 Television: A Traumatic Culture 43

3.3 Television as a Mechanism compulsive repetition of horrifying images plays

for Working Through a role in flattening and erasing the trauma. This
Trauma; Posttraumatic form of television processing is essentially anti-
Memories on Television historical and always belongs to the present. It
may not be an exaggeration to claim that this
As in other discussions considering the nature endless repetition is likely to be reminiscent of
of the television medium, the matter of working the repetition compulsion that is often the fate of
through the trauma also entails two quite con- trauma victims (Arav, 2004).
tradictory approaches. The first sees television By its very nature, television is a medium
as a medium that does not at all facilitate work- based upon repetition: repetition of what is
ing through trauma, while the second assigns known and safe, of what is “obvious” and of what
television a central role in working through “we’ve already seen.” Clearly, despite televi-
trauma, while imbuing it with personal and col- sion’s promise of new development and renewal,
lective meanings. in practice the medium is inexorably tied to cir-
cularity and repetition.
Psychoanalysts like Freud and Lacan devoted
3.3.1 Television: An Endless a significant amount of thought to the concept of
Repetition repetition. In their view, repetition has one goal:
to not remember. Repetition serves a fixed goal:
According to the first approach, television causes the transition from knowing to not knowing.
the human experience to atrophy. It does not per- What the subject repeats is the trauma itself
mit structuring the collective past by means of (Freud, 1914).
overcoming the individual past because it isolates Freud referred to the repetition of a traumatic
the subject from authentic experiences. Thus, experience as the “repetition compulsion.” In his
instead of private and individual moments, televi- early writing Freud interpreted this repetition as
sion recycles stereotypical versions of the past, a an attempt to control the traumatic event. Later
past that does not belong to anyone in particular. and in contrast to other theoreticians, Freud did
“Instead of experience and memory, television’s not make do with this explanation and formulated
past, whether funny or not, evokes laughter and the concept of the “death drive.” According to
distance; it is a dissociated, dated history, out of Freud, repetition is an instinct, “an urge in organic
synch with the present, with nothing, now, to do life to restore an earlier state of things” (Freud,
with us—it is over and thus, paradoxically, ahis- 1920, p. 36). “Repetition compulsion” overrides
torical and nostalgic” (Mellencamp, 1990, all conscious intentions and objects vigorously to
p. 242). Television in effect traps the viewer in a change. In his view, the explanation of repetition
region that is devoid of time, in which authentic as an attempt to gain control over the trauma does
experiences are not possible. It merely produces not give expression to what he called the
in the present, “a celebration of the Instantaneous” “demonic” character of the repeated experience.
(Doane, 1990, p. 222). Mellencamp sums this up However, other psychoanalysts claim that rep-
as follows: “TV triggers memories of TV in an etition is a spontaneous attempt to assimilate a
endless chain of TV referentiality” (Mellencamp, traumatic event. Russell, for example, believes
1990, p. 242). that “what is reproduced is what the person needs
Indeed, Mellencamp claims that television to feel in order to repair the injury” (Russell,
synchronizes memories of television, ending 2006, p. 610). Caruth (1995), in contrast, dimin-
with the atrophy of experience. This is the reason ishes the centrality of repetition in structuring the
that representations of trauma on television do trauma and places the stress on forgetting.
not have a disturbing impact on the viewer; in According to her, only by means of and within
effect they are not a direct confrontation with the inherent forgetting can the experience be felt
event but rather a repetition of it. Thus, even the from the outset. What is recorded in the victim’s
44 D. Arav

brain is not only what he or she sees but in effect Disregarding these memories leads to expression
both things: the memory of the event itself and as acting out these conflicts rather than remem-
the distortion the event undergoes by means of bering them (Freud, 1914). According to Lacan,
remembering the trauma. Lacan associates repe- this “acting out” is not only derived from the fail-
tition with the symbolic order. According to him, ure to consciously remember the past, but also
the repetition compulsion results from displace- from the inability to communicate this failure to
ment of the original and initial impulse of some the other. The refusal of the other to listen to the
signifier. The repetition brings back to conscious- subject causes the subject to give up on verbal
ness the signifier upon which the instinct was dis- communication and to channel his failure toward
placed, while repressing its initial content (Lacan, acting out. The subject is not conscious of this
1977, p. 50). In contrast, the philosopher Gilles acting out. By actively turning the object out-
Deleuze considered repetition an expression of ward, it becomes an alternative disclosure of the
difference (Deleuze, 1995). In his view, every act cause, of the repressed memory. Thus, acting out
of writing is in effect repetition, but this is a form is a fraudulent unconscious pattern of action that
of writing with a difference. In a situation in compulsively repeats itself and is defensively
which the only raw materials are the set of signs turned upon the other.
already existing in language, the original has no
meaning. History, therefore, is always a recon-
struction of the past. 3.3.2 Working Through Television
It appears, then, that the notion of repetition is
central to the very nature of the television The second approach is concerned with the
medium. The format of the “rerun” is based pri- encounter between trauma and television. It
marily on constant repetition, as is the concept of considers the process through which television
an “open studio” or continuous live broadcast: reworks the raw material of news into a struc-
repetition of what is already known, of a collec- tured narrative format as a process that essen-
tion of the most dramatic images that can be tially resembles the notion of working through.
found. For shocking events of all sorts, repetition The therapeutic situation engenders the granting
becomes the essence. Does the uncompromising of meaning and the generation of structure as
repetition of peak events (the explosions of the the attribute that individualizes the work of the
Columbia and Challenger space shuttles, the therapist. Working through is a critical interpre-
Twin Towers disaster in New York, the tsunami tive process that enables the subject to acknowl-
in Southeast Asia) turn the event into a visual edge the existence of repressed elements and to
spectacle, a show seen as something that can be release himself from the suffering entailed in
controlled? It can be claimed that repetition cre- the mechanism of repetition. Ellis (1999) claims
ates a sense of continuity and control when con- that television, in striving to explain and to pro-
fronting a violent event. Yet, against the backdrop vide additional information and perspectives
of the television medium’s ability to provide con- regarding the raw material of the news, seeks to
text (that is, to present events in their full histori- grant greater stability to images of disorder.
cal complexity) on the one hand and in view of Television refocuses and reframes, turning the
the compulsive repetition of the chain of images items it contains into a narrative. According to
on the other, it can also be claimed that television Ellis, working through is a diverse process that
practically erases the event. It closes off its view- takes place in a variety of programs and content
ers in an area lacking pain and time, where they fields, including talk shows, soap operas, docu-
cannot confront and work through the past. mentary films, dramas, and feature films (Ellis,
Converting remembering into repetition is 1999). In practice, the link between the process
not, as noted, a major line of thinking in Freud’s of working through on television and the trau-
discussion of the response to trauma. In his view, matic experience appears to be fully manifested
repressing events from past memory causes these in two major clinical/television practices: testi-
repressed memories to take the form of actions. mony and reconstruction.
3 Television: A Traumatic Culture 45

3.4 Testimony practice customary in this medium. An “eyewitness”

is a key actor and a basic component of the televi-
The developing discourse regarding the role of sion text. Moreover, the television text claims the
testimony and the status of eyewitnesses has status of a testimony that carries unequivocal
become a major part of contemporary discus- proof of factual truth. In essence, it can be said
sions of trauma and posttrauma. “To testify is that in view of the massive use of eyewitnesses
(thus) not merely to narrate but to commit one- on television and considering the perspective that
self, and to commit the narrative, to others, to sees the text itself as testimony, discussion of the
take responsibility—in speech—for history or for role of the witness and consideration of the status
the truth of an occurrence, for something which, of testimony in culture have become extremely
by definition, goes beyond the personal, in hav- relevant and urgent.
ing general (not personal) validity and conse- Like the status of the eyewitness in legal prac-
quences” (Felman, 1991, p. 39–40). Testimony is tice—which is based on investigating the truth—
discourse in practice, the pledge to tell, to gener- media, and in particular the moving image, sing
ate a speech act as tangible proof of the truth. The the praises of eyewitness testimony: the one who
ability of testimony to exist relies upon the pres- was out there “in the field” and who saw the
ence of an event and on a later, though reliable, events with his or her “own eyes.” This close and
report after the event. Yet 70 years after the direct contact, and yet, at the same time free of
Holocaust and in view of the traumatic history of any real involvement in the event, is captivating
the second half of the twentieth century, recogni- to a medium that proudly waves the flag of real-
tion of the crisis in testimony is growing. ity. The growing trend toward using testimony
Researchers such as Felman and Laub see trauma “from the field” can be seen as part of the conven-
as an epistemological crisis that extends beyond tions of the news genre, which seeks—through
individual therapy and points to the difficulty its format—to signify control and the return of
accessing our historical experience (Felman & order. The witness provides his version and thus
Laub, 1992). Laub ties this crisis to the question reorganizes the shattered reality into a more or
of the witness and testimony. According to him, less coherent story that binds the exceptional
the Holocaust led to “the collapse of testimony,” event into the symbolic order. And indeed, testi-
for the history of the Holocaust ostensibly took mony given directly to the camera can be seen in
place “without any witnesses.” Its terrible cir- news broadcasts, documentary films, historical
cumstances made it impossible to be “part of the feature films, police reconstructions, reality
event” and to survive as well, so that the histori- shows, commercials, and other formats as well.
cal commandment “to bear witness” could not be Witnesses are everywhere. They all contribute to
carried out (Laub, 1995).3 creating the illusion of direct knowledge of real-
In opposition to this dual viewpoint focusing ity, without any externality interests.
on the tension between the commandment to testify In view of the power of personal and ostensi-
and the crisis of testimony, the testimony of tele- bly unmediated testimony, often given in reveal-
vision is positioned as a major component of the ing and moving close-up photos, considerations
regarding the validity of eyewitness testimony
are often pushed to the side. What, in effect, is the
Another expression of the crisis in testimony brought witness giving testimony about? Does being
about by the Holocaust is inherent in the representation
present at an event actually bring someone closer
plane: the absolute philosophical distance between the
language of the murderers and the language of their vic- to the “truth”? Or does being there, close to what
tims (Agamben, 1999; Lyotard, 1983, 1989), the inability is happening, conceal the “big picture” from the
to talk about death while using customary language and witness and limit his or her understanding of the
the claim that Auschwitz is “an historical fact” even
event? And what about the validity of testimony
though it has no place in the language—all these make
historical testimony virtually impossible, for it demands given after some time has gone by? The idea that
breaking through rational thought itself. time is liable to blur and weaken the witness’s
46 D. Arav

memory is pushed to the side. Is it even possible In this new era, testimony is tantamount to truth,
to consider testimony as “authentic” in view of and personal confession is the passionate object
the fact that testimony is mediated by other testi- of the confessor and of the audience as well. In
monies and representations of the event? And this medium, whose underlying principle relies
what is the fate of testimony when it is given a on the illusion of the intimacy it generates among
second and third time? Does repeating the testi- its recipients, generates “easy conditions” for the
mony guarantee that the story will be preserved, witness. These conditions transform the testi-
or does it lead to change? In particular, to what mony into an object of temptation, a basic com-
extent is the testimony subject to the representa- ponent of the economics of televised images. The
tional regime, to the set of preliminary expecta- witness and the medium of television are engaged
tions built by its representational context? How in a relationship of symbolic exchange. By virtue
are general and market interests involved in the of appearing on television, the witness is glori-
process? None of these questions are apparent to fied. In the eyes of the viewers he is seen as
the television viewer. someone whose testimony is important.
Even more problematic criticism of the reli- Television also benefits from this relationship. In
ability of eyewitness testimony has been raised appearing on television, the witness enhances the
by the post-Freudian school of thought, which halo on which the broad acceptance of television
has gained prominence in recent years. This is based: the direct and unmediated contact it
movement has challenged the view of individual sells, the strong belief that television testifies to
memory as something sacred and immune and what “really” happened.
has rejected the very existence of repressed mem-
ory. For example, the American researcher
Elizabeth Loftus (Loftus, 1996; Loftus & 3.5 Reconstruction,
Kitchum, 1994) stresses the structuring of mem- Reenactment
ory by means of information acquired after the
fact. According to her, memories of events that In essence, the photographic image contains
are perceived as difficult when they occur will be within itself a reconstruction of the past. Every
easily recalled. If indeed the testimony of an eye- photograph testifies to what already was, bears
witness is likely to be based, in whole or in part, witness that the event occurred (Barthes, 1980).
on implanted memory, it may be that the media Every testimony, photographic or otherwise, is a
also behaves in a similar manner. An eyewitness, text of reconstruction. The trauma victim can
like the general public, is exposed to versions of also be seen as someone who carries within him-
the past that are vigorously marketed by the self a reconstructed version of the past—one that
media, seen here as a powerful creator of false is partial, complex, and inaccessible.
and implanted memories. To reconstruct is to create anew. Reconstruction
Television, then, is deeply involved in the is the renewed construction of some order of
question of the status of testimony today. In things, usually of what has gotten out of control
effect, the medium has played a major role in and requires repair. Reconstruction assumes that
undermining the status of the witness and of tes- it is possible to discover the true reason, to recre-
timony as a major element in the effort to estab- ate the approximated order of things, to reliably,
lish a collective memory. Today “the aesthetics of and accurately revive the past. In effect, both on
testimony” appears to be replacing testimony the personal and on the social level, reconstruc-
itself. Before our very eyes the genre of testi- tion—in the media, in law, in art, and in other
mony and confession is being transformed into fields of endeavor—can be seen as an agreed
ritual and media convention. When the witness upon social ritual relying on sophisticated tech-
becomes a permanent resident on the television nology and intended to stimulate a sense of faith
screen, his testimony, rather than testifying to an and control over reality. It is also a ritual, entail-
event, in essence testifies to a new cultural condition. ing an effort to restore the social order.
3 Television: A Traumatic Culture 47

In being faithful to its “obligation” to provide often than not he or she will describe it as an
viewers with a reliable and accurate picture of experience absorbed by his or her senses in slow
reality, the medium of television frequently offers motion.
them artificial reconstructions. When the natural Televised representations of horrific events
order, that is the ongoing supply of images from will often appear to be slowed down. That which
an event, is disrupted, when there are no “real” is extreme and deviant more often than not is rep-
pictures from the scene of the event, the medium resented as an artificial, unnatural, and fantastic
employs simulations, by means of hyperrealistic form of reality. Hence, the extreme aestheticiza-
technologies and familiar aesthetics, that trans- tion of the process or event that generates the
form the reconstruction into an undisputable pic- trauma (the collapse of the Twin Towers shown
ture of the truth. A central aesthetic component over and over again in slow motion) is intensified
of televised reconstruction is slow motion. This to the point of transforming it into a purely aes-
deviation from the “normal” pace of life, i.e., the thetic experience that attracts attention by virtue
representation of time at a slower pace, creates an of its performative qualities, which have been
effect of conspicuousness, distinction, and devia- enhanced by the medium. The viewer’s yearning
tion (Madsen, 1973, p. 185). for these aesthetic images signifies the beginning
Slow motion thus simultaneously serves to of a process in which what is traumatic seeps into
realize two goals of television: One is the attempt what is nostalgic and entertaining.
to take things out of context—removing an event
from the ordinary order of events in order to sig-
nify it as exceptional. The other is the restoration 3.6 Nostalgia
of order—the moderation of the event and the
slowing down of its visual (moving) images in The exhaustive blending of the private and the
order to break it down and examine it, and thus to public, between repetition and reconstruction,
moderate it and return it to the symbolic order between eyewitness reports and the commercial-
(Arav, 2004). ization of testimony, penetrates and influences
Slow motion has two ostensibly contradictory the content and form of collective memory.
dimensions. Alongside the extreme sense of real- Currently the place occupied by trauma seems to
ism that stresses the medium’s “investigative” be taken over by nostalgic sentiment. The pattern
abilities, slow motion, which suspends cinematic of acting out, as described above, that is derived
time for the sake of imaginary and unrealistic from the inability to provide a representation of
time, also provides an almost contradictory feel- the object (in this case, the traumatic experience)
ing: the sense of artificial reality, expropriated and is based upon the element of repetition, is
from the precise context of time and place. found in the sense of nostalgia based on the rep-
Hence, in addition to its investigative and disas- etition of what is known, a fitting framework for
sembling role, slow motion serves to enhance and its operation. If acting out aims at an excess sense
glorify the moment by generating a flood of feel- of vitality that denies the wound and the unpro-
ings of longing and fond remembering. cessed pain, nostalgia transforms the reality of
From this, it should be understood that slow the past into something alive in the present. Like
motion is an aesthetic form that corresponds acting out, nostalgia also refuses to work through
with—and perhaps even dictates—the symbol- the past in order to transform it into a meaningful
ism of trauma. Images in slow motion have memory. The mechanism of nostalgia focuses on
already been assimilated into the public imagina- excess activity, on virtual activity in the present,
tion as an aesthetic platform for the representa- as a substitute for the inability to remember. The
tion of an extreme event experienced on the nostalgic image produces a sentimental substitute
personal or public level. Thus, when the victim of whose entire mission is to deny the fact that this
a trauma describes the instigating event, more is a matter belonging to the past. Addiction to
48 D. Arav

nostalgia creates a sense of excess vitality and, suspension of the patient’s defenses. Later he
with respect to reality, thus withholds from the claimed that the ordinary psychoanalytic process
individual any thoughts of denial or criticism. based on conversation and free association could
The notion that television speeds up the trans- also result in the patient achieving abreaction.
formation of traumatic memory into a type of Thus, if, as argued above, watching television
melancholic nostalgia certainly has major psy- is liable to arouse trauma, at the same time the
chopolitical significance. The repeated and nos- medium is likely to serve as a means of abreac-
talgic representation of war through the ritual of tion. Watching a televised documentary or fea-
fixed media images can be seen as a process of ture film focusing on an incident similar to the
denial that operates continually and efficiently to one generating the trauma is likely to flood the
blur the factor generating the collective trauma, trauma victim with the repressed emotions and to
i.e., the state of ongoing war. It may be that the bring him to catharsis. This can take place in the
disturbing association between traumatic experi- therapeutic space or under any other viewing
ence and an exhibitionist, nostalgic television conditions.
culture instills within us dangerous illusions, At this point the circle is closed. Television as
because of the idea that the discourse of trauma a medium and an instrument mediating the pri-
will lead us to redemption and serenity. It is pre- vate and public spheres blurs and shapes the trau-
cisely the popularization of the use of the concept matic experience as a televised commodity
of trauma that is what covers up the condition of subject to the medium’s constraints of content,
political helplessness and despair. format, and socioeconomic context. On the other
hand, under the sponsorship of the television
medium, a shocking private event is transformed
3.7 The Moving Image into a public spectacle and is ultimately returned
as a Clinical Means to the individual in the form of a televised recon-
struction intended to heal him.
We cannot conclude this essay without wonder-
ing at the use of the moving image as a possible
practice in therapy with the victims of certain 3.8 Conclusion
types of trauma. The television archives and the
medium’s diverse techniques are often turned This chapter has attempted to describe the central
into therapeutic tools by the therapist in order to mechanisms that integrate trauma into the con-
confront the patient with the trauma-generating temporary television culture. The traumatic expe-
experience (Moore, Chernell, & West, 1965). rience—an experience that ostensibly cannot be
In order to achieve emotional relief intended conceptualized—is translated into the prime raw
to release the individual from the memory of the material for producing attractive content. Major
traumatic experience, Freud introduced the practices of the televised text, among them testi-
concept of abreaction, a therapeutic method mony and reconstruction, emerge as essential in
based on recalling and reenacting the traumatic the establishment of the contemporary culture of
experience in a controlled environment. trauma.
Abreaction is designed to lead the patient to The question of the extent to which television
undergo the emotional experience which was is likely to function differently remains open. The
suppressed in the original incident, which thus basic rules of the medium, its customary regime
leads to catharsis. When the victim experiences of images and its economic logic will not change
crying, anger, a desire for revenge, and the like, in the near future. Television’s promise to pro-
the emotion that accompanied the traumatic vide a clear picture of reality and the public’s
experience is released and the memory of the yearning for a “happy end” and for closure and
traumatic experience is moderated and can be order—even if these are merely an illusion—will
contained. Freud believed that abreaction could continue to accompany contemporary society for
be achieved through hypnosis, which ensures many years to come.
3 Television: A Traumatic Culture 49

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Durcharbeiten. (Weitere Ratschläge zur Technik der
Popular Trauma Culture: The Pain
of Others Between Holocaust 4
Tropes and Kitsch-Sentimental

Anne Rothe

shared ideas and cultural trends in imagined

4.1 Introduction communities are generated and disseminated
through the interaction of mass media products
The representation of what Susan Sontag (2004) and the vast audiences that consume them, the
has famously described as the pain of others is representation of victimhood and oppression,
not restricted to postmodern trauma theory and violence, and suffering—which are considered
the select examples from the literary and filmic inherently traumatizing experiences without dif-
canon that constitute its limited empirical cor- ferentiation2—has to be analyzed precisely in
pus as most scholarship in literary and cultural popular culture artifacts.3
studies would still suggest.1 According to the According to Bruno Latour (1987), a concept
alternative paradigm proposed here, it is pre- succeeds based on its degree of associative power
cisely the question trauma studies scholarship to bind otherwise heterogeneous ideas, i.e., the
has left out that ought to be explored: namely, extent to which it functions as a discursive knot.
how the ubiquitous notion of trauma functions Expanding Latour’s argument from the natural
in contemporary culture. And since collectively sciences to representation at large and popular

As the idea of trauma widely disseminated through the
Caruth (1995), Caruth (1996), and Felman and Laub mass media reflects little of the PTSD concept beyond the
(1992) are the inaugural texts in trauma theory. Their vague notion that it describes a psychological reaction to
exclusive focus on canonical literature and film has an experience of extremity, the cultural history of the psy-
become paradigmatic in trauma studies scholarship. See, chiatric concept will not be discussed here.
for instance, Horwitz (2000), King (2000), Whitehead 3
Since postmodern trauma theory, which emerged in
(2004), Robson (2004), Kaplan (2005), and Nadal and
1990s American literary studies by way of a questionable
Calvo (2014). Only Roger Luckhurst (1998) has acknowl-
expansion of Yale deconstruction and psychoanalysis into
edged the ubiquity of depictions of trauma, victimization
a general theory of representation, ignored popular culture
and suffering in popular culture and sought to integrate
as a source for empirically verifying the mostly specula-
them into an analysis of the subject in canonical represen-
tive arguments and, moreover, the reception of such spe-
tations. However, in his monograph (Luckhurst, 2008), he
cialized academic discourse is limited to the discursive
focuses on analyses of trauma in the literary and filmic
space of the academic ivory tower, trauma theory scholar-
canon. See also Rothe (2011) for a more extensive discus-
ship bears no relation to my notion of popular trauma cul-
sion of popular trauma culture.
ture and will therefore not be discussed here. For detailed
A. Rothe, Ph.D. (*) and convincingly argued epistemological and ethical cri-
Department of Classical and Modern Languages, tiques of trauma theory see Leys (2000), Kansteiner
Literatures, and Cultures, Wayne State University, (2004), Kanseiner and Weilnböck (2008), and Weilnböck
487 Manoogian Hall, Detroit, MI 48202, USA (2008). See also my own critique of postmodern trauma
e-mail: theory in chapter 12.

© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2016 51

Y. Ataria et al. (eds.), Interdisciplinary Handbook of Trauma and Culture,
DOI 10.1007/978-3-319-29404-9_4
52 A. Rothe

culture in particular, I suggest that the trauma melodrama provided the narrative paradigm that
concept functions as a discursive knot in contem- would subsequently be employed for the ubiqui-
porary Western and especially American popular tous representations of pain and suffering, vic-
culture due to its vast associative powers of gen- timization, and oppression in the mass media.
erating connections between disparate ideas. As I The Holocaust became such a prominent compo-
have argued in Popular Trauma Culture (Rothe, nent of American memory because it could be
2011), when American collective memory trans- politically appropriated. Cast in quasi-religious
formed the Holocaust from an event in European terms as the embodiment of ultimate evil, the
history into a metaphor for evil, it generated the ahistorical notion of Nazism provided the United
narrative paradigm—the basic plot structure and States with an exculpatory screen memory that
core set of characters—for representing such minimized the crimes perpetrated throughout
vastly diverse experiences as child abuse, American history. If the Holocaust is defined
Holocaust survival, war combat, terminal illness, a priori as ultimate evil, the forceful seizure of
and addiction recovery.4 the New World and the destruction of Native
This chapter will be structured as follows: American life, slavery and segregation, the
After tracing the emergence of trauma culture’s nuclear bombing of Japan, and the Vietnam War
exemplary plot paradigm and cast of characters pale in comparison (Cole, 1999; Novick, 1999).
in American Holocaust discourse, I will explore And while a serious and sustained encounter with
the transition from the victim to the survivor fig- its own crimes “might imply costly demands on
ure as the preeminent protagonist and the trans- Americans to redress the wrongs of the past, con-
formation of witness testimony into victim talk. templating the Holocaust is virtually cost free: a
Subsequently, I will discuss melodrama as the few cheap tears” (Novick, 1999, p. 15).
dominant narrative mode of representing expe- Moreover, when cast in the moral universe of
riences of victimization and suffering in trauma melodrama, where good and evil are both abso-
culture and the kitsch sentimentality they encode lute and hence clearly distinguishable subject
as their paradigmatic mode of reception. This positions, the Holocaust can provide the simple
chapter concludes with a discussion of moral certainties sought in an increasingly com-
consuming trauma kitsch as fantasies of wit- plex and divided late-capitalist America. As
nessing in a dubious search for late-modernity’s Michael Berenbaum, the former director of the
holy grail of authenticity. US Holocaust Museum noted, “people don’t
know what good or evil are, but they are certain
about one thing: the Holocaust is absolute evil”
4.2 Holocaust Tropes (cited in Wieviorka, 2006, p. 117). The Holocaust
thus not only allows Americans “to know the dif-
Popular trauma culture emerged when the geno- ference between good and evil,” as Raul Hilberg
cide of European Jewry became a core constitu- put it,5 but also functions as the negative foil
ent of American collective memory because its against which America defines itself as its good
dominant mode of emplotment as good-versus-evil and innocent Other (cited in Cole, 1999, p. 13).
As such, the Holocaust enables Americans to cel-
Nancy Miller and Jason Tougaw (2002, p. 4) noted in ebrate and reinforce their traditional values by
passing that the incorporation of the Holocaust into defining them as the antithesis of Nazism
American national memory has “produced a discourse—a
(Novick, 1999, p. 13) and therefore serves a core
set of terms and debates about the nature of trauma, testi-
mony, witness, and community.” James Young (1988, sociopolitical function in “the fundamental tale
p. 118) stated that it generated a new plot archetype. And of pluralism, tolerance, democracy, and human
Gary Weissman argued that although the Holocaust played rights that America tells about itself” (Berenbaum
no role in American history, it has become such a core
cited in Cole, 1999, p. 14).
component of US culture that the term not only references
the genocide of European Jews but also its emplotment in
American collective memory. Cited in Cole, Selling, 13.
4 Popular Trauma Culture: The Pain of Others Between Holocaust Tropes… 53

Prefigured by the stage and movie adaptation indeed the most spectacular, namely when Yehiel
of Anne Frank’s diary, the Holocaust entered the Dinor, better known under his nom de plume of
American public sphere with the television Ka-Zetnik as the author of the best-selling
broadcasts from the 1961 trial of Adolf Holocaust novel House of Dolls, fainted when
Eichmann in Jerusalem. The trial not only intro- he testified (Wieviorka, 2006, pp. 80–81). As
duced the significant notion that the genocide of the televised witness testimony represented the
European Jewry constituted a distinct event, Holocaust as spectacular stories of unimaginable
separate from the Second World War, and a horror and “the television audience of the world
defining moment in twentieth century history wanted only the moments when the surviving
but it also marks the advent of popular trauma witnesses testified,” (Wieviorka, 2006, p. 84)
culture.6 It introduced stories of extremity into the dominant mode of reception successfully
the public sphere via the mass media, expanded encoded was not the history lesson the prosecu-
the subject position of witness and the genre of tion had intended for the trial itself but rather the
testimony beyond the legal realm, and replaced titillating spectacle of horror kitsch that would
the victim, preeminently represented by Anne become paradigmatic for mass media represen-
Frank, with the survivor, represented by the wit- tations of the pain of others in popular trauma
nesses and subsequently by Elie Wiesel, as the culture.
core protagonist in Holocaust memory. Prior to the trial, all Holocaust victims, includ-
Information about the trial was not only ing survivors, were either absent from the public
widely disseminated via radio and newspapers, sphere or stigmatized as naïve and weak, because
such as Hannah Arendt’s famous reports for The they had neither fled nor resisted. While the mur-
New Yorker, subsequently published as Eichmann dered victims were thus blamed as at least par-
in Jerusalem, but also and especially through the tially responsible for their killing, they were
new medium of television. Although it was the simultaneously cast as quasi-saints, redeemed by
first trial filmed in its entirety, the American tele- their suffering and unjust deaths. Survivors had
vision broadcasts focused on the testimony of experienced condescension because they had
Holocaust survivors and thus both reflected and been humiliated like the victims but were not
reinforced the significance attributed to the wit- ascribed the status of sanctified innocents but
ness accounts by the prosecution who cast survi- were rather further stigmatized as ruthless col-
vors rather than legal experts as core figures laborators who had only survived at another’s
because the primary function of the trial was not expense (Novick, 1999, pp. 138–140). Only when
to establish the defendant’s guilt but to constitute the broadcasts from the Eichmann trial generated
a history lesson for the world (Wieviorka, 2006, the subject position of the historical witness,
p. 56). As most survivors had no knowledge of which ascribed social significance to experiential
crimes for which Eichmann could be legally held knowledge of victimhood and suffering, were
accountable, they did not serve as eyewitnesses Holocaust survivors transformed from shunned
in the juridical sense but were ascribed the new pariahs into revered heroes and their survival
social function and subject position of historical came to signify perseverance and strength,
witnesses (Wieviorka, 2006, p. 80). Moreover, as success, and accomplishment (Wieviorka, 2006,
they were accompanied by dramatic displays of pp. 86–88). Most immediately indicative of this
raw emotions, survivors’ narratives of persecu- transvaluation was the fact that both the prosecu-
tion were far more suitable for televisual repre- tor’s and the judge’s office in Jerusalem were
sentation than complex juridical accounts of “being bombarded with hundreds of requests
Eichmann’s role in the so-called Final Solution. from people who wished to testify” (Wieviorka,
In fact, the scene shown most frequently on TV is 2006, p. 86). In the United States, the trial more-
over imbued the survivor with the Christian
For discussions of the Eichmann trial as a cultural and notion of sanctification and purification through
media event see Wieviorka (2006) and Shandler (2000). suffering that had been restricted to the dead
54 A. Rothe

victims while also casting them as victors in the least because the redefinition was enabled at the
Social-Darwinist struggle for the survival of the expense of the non-surviving victims, who were
fittest. The figure thus merged the role of saint and discursively employed as the accomplished sur-
victorious hero. vivor’s failed Other. In reclassifying surviving
Although the discursive shift from the ambig- genocidal persecution from a source of shame
uous figure of the victim to the survivor as the into one of pride, Wiesel thus echoes the Social
preeminent Holocaust representative, when the Darwinist notion of survival fitness (Chaumont,
latter was redefined in solely positive terms, was 2001, p. 228).7 Nevertheless, Wiesel’s untenable
initiated in the realm of early Israeli political cul- duality of the shame of victimhood and the pride
ture via the generation of the social role and sub- of survival and hence the infusion of American
ject position of historical witness at the Eichmann Holocaust memory with Social Darwinism
trial, subsequently, the transition was largely became paradigmatic. As the narrator of Tova
generated in American culture, most significantly Reich’s satirical novel My Holocaust observed:
by Elie Wiesel. Acting as “a self-appointed “In this world if you survive, you win, and if you
spokesman-of-sorts for the survivor generation” win, you’re good. […] If you don’t survive, you
(Cole, 1999, p. 16), Wiesel is America’s lose. If you lose, you’re nothing. […]. Why had
“emblematic survivor” (Young, 1995, p. 17) and, they survived? Luck, it was luck, they said. But
at least until the 1993 premier of Schindler’s List, they didn’t believe it for a minute. It was the
he was also its most important public interpreter. accepted thing to say, so as not to insult the mem-
Wiesel casts the Holocaust as an incomprehensi- ory of the ones who hadn’t survived, the ones
ble sacred mystery of the negative sublime that who, let’s face it, had failed. […] The real truth,
could only be approached by the new priesthood they knew, was that they had survived because
of survivors. His divinations are dominated by they were stronger, better—fitter. Survival was
paradoxes, particularly the notion that despite its success” (Reich, 2007, p. 17).
uniqueness—an untenable axiom based on the Although the Eichmann trial was conceptual-
analogy of Jewish religious chosenness rather ized as a large-scale history lesson, it did not
than historical analysis—and supposed incom- define the Holocaust as a complex socio-political
prehensibility, the Holocaust contains universally event but rather as the sum total of the individual
relevant lessons (Novick, 1999, p. 201). And testimonies given in the Jerusalem court and in
seeking to transform the Holocaust from a front of the vast audiences of the Western media
source of shame into one of pride, he furthermore (Wieviorka, 2006, p. 71). It thus introduced the
argued that unlike victimhood, survivorship notion that the past is best understood via witness
comprised a status that was earned rather than testimony, rather than the analytical and self-
imposed, and therefore constitutes an accom- critical discourse of professional historians. This
plishment (Fackenheim, Steiner, Popkin, & notion was reinforced by Elie Wiesel’s ascent to
Wiesel, 1967, cited in Wieviorka, 2006, pp. 102– America’s preeminent survivor and “most influ-
103). While some prominent survivors, most ential interpreter of the Holocaust as sacred mys-
notably Primo Levi, have argued against trans- tery” (Novick, 1999, p. 274) as he promoted the
forming survivors into modern-day heroes, interrelated rise of the survivor to the preeminent
saints, and prophets, it was Wiesel’s notion that representative and of the testimonial genre as the
they had achieved the ultimate in surviving their paradigmatic narrative for representing both the
intended destruction, which imbued them with Holocaust and subsequently all other experiences
the pride of accomplishment, that became para-
digmatic in American Holocaust discourse. 7
Following Wiesel’s logic, one could even argue that
While their prior collective demonization as ruth- while the Nazis had cast the Aryan race a priori as the
superior one, the Holocaust had shown that it was indeed
less collaborators was both unethical and histori-
the Jews, at least those among them who had passed the
cally inaccurate, elevating survivors to proud and ultimate test of survival fitness, who were truly the fittest
accomplished heroes is likewise untenable not race.
4 Popular Trauma Culture: The Pain of Others Between Holocaust Tropes… 55

of victimization and suffering. Hannah Arendt moting “the substitution of testimonies, suppos-
remarked in her critical commentary on the trial edly real history, for the history of historians.”
that most of the witnesses did not posses “the rare While she does acknowledge the therapeutic
capacity for distinguishing between things that potential of testimony for reestablishing the sur-
had happened to the storyteller more than 16, and vivors’ dignity and validating their experience,
sometimes 20, years ago and what he had read which many had feared would not be believed,
and heard and imagined in the meantime” she emphatically asserts that “the concentration
(Arendt, 1963, p. 224). While this view became a camp experience does not confer any prophetic
dominant notion in Holocaust historiography,8 it talent” to the survivor (Wieviorka, 2006, p. 134).
remained marginal in the public sphere because She even provocatively questions the social func-
the mass media embraced the contrary idea that tion of witness testimony and cites Holocaust
witness testimony constitutes the optimal survivor and psychoanalyst Anne-Lise Stern who
resource for understanding the past. In fact, likewise challenged the doctrine that testimony
Wiesel’s promotion of witness testimony was provides important lessons. “We are expected,
coupled with the demotion of critical scholarship. we are urged to testify ‘before it is too late,’ Stern
He not only declared that “any survivor has more explains, “yet what knowledge do they hope to
to say than all the historians combined about gain? What deathbed confession, what family
what happened” (cited in Novick, 1999, p. 201) secret, do they expect to hear? Where is all this
but even stipulated about “the scholars and phi- listening to survivors leading, whether by those
losophers of every genre,” that “Auschwitz, by who have had little education or by those who are
definition, is beyond their vocabulary” (cited in overeducated?” Aptly summarizing the ubiqui-
Weissman, 2004, p. 48). tous Holocaust commodification, she answers:
Both the witness figure and the discourse of “Toward sound bites, I fear, which future genera-
testimony have come to occupy such a prevalent tions will play with and enjoy. It’s happening
position in Western culture since the Eichmann already” (cited in Wieviorka, 2006, p. 134).
trial that Annette Wieviorka not only described Similarly, Alexander von Plato (2007, pp. 151–
this as the era of the witness but scathingly criti- 152) has cautioned that Holocaust video testimo-
cized the notion that witness testimony is nies will be considered footage because in today’s
increasingly replacing historiography as the pri- media landscape “talking heads” have minimal
mary discourse about the past. She considers this entertainment value.
development to be most strongly promoted by the The function of such testimony sound bites is
Shoah Visual History Foundation. Unlike the to authenticate the media product because in the
video testimonies collected for the Yale Fortunoff era of the witness, it is no longer the historian
Archive, which were intended to supplement the who is employed to signify the factual accuracy
necessary abstractions of Holocaust historiogra- of documentaries (Kansteiner, 2006, p. 324) but
phy, the Shoah Visual History Foundation claims rather the witness, whose emotional testimony
to provide an “exhaustive picture of the life of signifies the pseudoauthenticity of Reality TV
Jewish communities in the twentieth century,” a that audiences have come to expect and consume
notion Wieviorka (2006, p. 116) criticizes as pro- en mass in pursuit of trauma culture’s holy grail
of authenticity. The new genre of survivor testi-
8 mony thus rose to such discursive dominance in
Lucy Dawidowicz (1976, pp. 11–12), for instance,
argued that survivor accounts must be categorically American culture that not only is the Holocaust
excluded as primary sources for Holocaust historiography misleadingly understood as the sum total of sur-
because they are not only based on imperfect observation vivor testimonies (Wieviorka, 2006, p. 116), but
and flawed memory but also “full of discrepancies” and
it also generated the paradigm for representing
“distorted by hate, sentimentality, and the passage of
time” as well as by the inclusion of “hearsay, gossip, diverse experiences of victimization and suffer-
rumor, assumption, speculation, and hypothesis.” ing in American culture.
56 A. Rothe

4.3 Figuring Trauma Culture statement will change the very individuals “about
whom it was supposed to be the truth” (Hacking,
The subject positions and social roles of victim 1991, p. 254), which generates a continuous
and survivor, witness and perpetrator constitute interactive feed-back loop. In imagined commu-
instances of what philosophers call human kinds nities, such new ways for people to be are not
and distinguish from natural kinds. Unlike natu- only generated through the immediate social
ral kinds like, say, thunderstorms or bacilli, interaction between individuals but also and
human kinds do not exist independently of our especially via the interaction of consumers and
knowledge about them because “they come into media products. Hence, the subject positions of
being hand in hand with our invention of the cat- victim and perpetrator, survivor, and witness rose
egories labeling them” (Hacking, 1996, p. 236). to cultural dominance in Western culture when
Michel Foucault thus argued in the History of the Holocaust entered the public sphere with the
Sexuality that while male–male and female– broadcasting of victim testimony from the
female sexual acts existed prior to the invention Eichmann trial via radio and television.
of the category of homosexuality, the people When modernity transformed suffering from
engaging in them were not homosexuals. an ordinary experience into a psychopathology
Analogously, the broadcast of witness testimony and separated it from the body in pain by trans-
by surviving Holocaust victims from the ferring suffering into the psyche, it became a
Eichmann trial transformed the meaning of vic- symptom of chronic illness. This entitled those
timhood, introduced the subject positions of wit- who suffered to help but only if they fulfilled the
ness and survivor into the public sphere, and social expectations of the victim role. Moreover,
disseminated these newly generated human kinds help is solely cast in the individualistic terms of
widely. While people had of course suffered, died therapeutic discourse, which depoliticizes vic-
from, or survived both natural disasters and man- timization and thus reinforces the status quo that
made catastrophes before, they neither thought of generated such experiences. Moreover, while
themselves nor were perceived by others in pre- contemporary Western culture largely patholo-
cisely these paradigmatic trauma culture catego- gizes suffering, it also still honors the pre-modern
ries. Furthermore, while our knowledge about Christian notion that the suffering caused by a
natural kinds changes over time, the changing body in pain purifies the soul and sanctifies the
knowledge does not have any direct effect on sufferer. This tradition has influenced American
them, only the human actions based on new Holocaust memory and popular trauma culture at
knowledge does, such as killing bacilli with vac- large to the extent that, despite the pathologiza-
cines (Hacking, 1996, pp. 228–230). Human tion of suffering and the association of the victim
kinds, however, are directly impacted by the position with such negative attributes as weak-
knowledge created about them because, as Ian ness and helplessness, when recast as survivor,
Hacking (1991, p. 254) explains, “the available the figure continues to be revered as a modern-
classifications within which [people] can describe day saint as suffering is invested with redemptive
their own actions and make their own constrained value and reinterpreted as sacrifice. The pseudo-
choices” create new ways for people to be. While religious reevaluation of victimhood as sacrifice
“people classified in a certain way tend to con- is reflected in the public persona of Elie Wiesel as
form to or grow into the ways they are described” Christ figure (Novick, 1999, p. 274) and espe-
Hacking (1995, p. 21) writes, “they also evolve cially in the term “Holocaust,” which, derived
their own ways, so that the classifications and from Greek via Late Latin, signifies a burnt sacri-
descriptions have to be constantly revised.” In ficial offering, to name the genocide of European
other words, human kinds not only evolve as cat- Jewry. The transformation of sufferers into a fig-
egories over time like natural kinds, because our ure Joseph Amato (1990, p. 48) termed saint-
knowledge about them changes, but also because victims became dominant in Western culture not
something collectively agreed upon as a truthful only because of its roots in Christianity but also
4 Popular Trauma Culture: The Pain of Others Between Holocaust Tropes… 57

because of the ethical imperative that senseless In the melodramatic universe of trauma cul-
suffering, particularly when gratuitously inflicted, ture, perpetrator and victim are understood as
is unjust. We thus attribute meaning to suffering dichotomous subject positions and, cast as the
and transform it into sacrifice in order to believe embodiment of the absolute innocent and good,
that, despite appearances to the contrary, the victims are ascribed the status of ultimate moral
world is predominantly good and just.9 authority based on the notion that physical
Trauma culture is moreover characterized by pain purifies the soul and sanctifies the sufferer.
the conflation of suffering and victimhood as “As once the upper classes, especially the nobil-
everyone who suffers is considered a victim. The ity, defined the good,” Joseph Amato (1990,
quintessential trauma culture notion of “I suffer, p. 157) writes, “now victims—the downtrodden,
therefore I am” can thus be extended as “I suffer, the oppressed, the humiliated—were equated
therefore I am a victim.” However, the equation with the good.” From a strictly synchronic per-
of victimhood and suffering constitutes a logical spective, victim and perpetrator are indeed mutu-
fallacy: While all victims suffer, not everyone ally exclusive social roles, such as torturer and
who suffers is a victim, because some forms of tortured or child abuser and abused child.
suffering are not the result of victimization. A However, a diachronic perspective, say, the his-
victim is someone whose suffering was caused, tory of Stalinist persecution in the Soviet Union
either intentionally or accidentally, by another or the witch hunts of supposed communists in the
(Giesen, 2004, p. 46). In other words, unlike the United States under McCarthy, illustrates that
discursively wider notion of suffering, the con- one may be simultaneously victim and perpetra-
cept of victimhood requires that the subject posi- tor or occupy these subject positions subse-
tion of its Other, the perpetrator, be occupied. quently in either order and through numerous
Hence, when we casually speak of, say, cancer or changes. As victims can become perpetrators and
earthquake victims we essentially anthropomor- vice versa, these subject positions are not abso-
phize the disease or disaster because the suffering lute and binary but relative and fluctuating.
was not caused by a human agency.10 Although Conflating victims and perpetrators with absolute
logically fallacious, the conflation of suffering good and ultimate evil respectively—which
and victimhood constitutes an ethically justified became ubiquitous when Holocaust emplotment
demand for equal recognition of all forms of suf- as suffering and redemption melodrama gener-
fering, whether caused by a perpetrator or not. ated the paradigm for representing all victimiza-
tion experiences in American culture—is thus
misleading. While the infliction of gratuitous
This notion dominates the moral universe of many
violence may well constitute our notion of abso-
Holocaust survivors who find it intolerable to think that
their suffering and survival were solely arbitrary and there- lute evil, we know at least since the introduction
fore retroactively attribute meaning and purpose to it. of the trauma concept by Jean-Martin Charcot,
Giesen (2004, p. 46) argued that only if at least vague Pierre Janet, and Sigmund Freud more than 100
information about the quake and the risk to human lives years ago that, contrary to the Christian notion,
had been available, yet no or insufficient warning was
extreme suffering does not ennoble (Luckhurst,
given, i.e., if the deaths and injuries are at least in part
based on human action, is there term “victim” justified. 2008, pp. 34–49). It neither imbues anyone
His argument can be extended to individuals who suffer with permanent innocence and righteousness
from the pain caused by physical illness. Only if the ill- nor instills in then a guaranteed life-long dedica-
ness was caused and/or exacerbated, for instance through
tion to the fight against inhumanity, persecution,
misdiagnosis and/or mistreatment, does a patient consti-
tute a victim. While the fact that the author-narrators in and oppression. Zygmunt Bauman (1998, p. 36)
so-called pathographies, auto/biographical narratives of even provocatively argued that victims are not
terminal illnesses, particularly AIDS and cancer, claim “guaranteed to be morally superior to their vic-
victim status based on their suffering, constitutes a core
timizers” and Joseph Amato (1990, p. 196), who
example of the fallacious conflation of suffering and vic-
timhood, it also reflects the need of all who suffer to see shares Bauman’s ethical critique of infusing vic-
their suffering if not lessened then at least recognized. timization experiences with redemptive value
58 A. Rothe

and transforming victims into quasi-saints, even an owed party. Infused with the pop therapeutic
proposed that nothing “guaranties that today’s discourse of the self-help industry, victim talk
victims won’t be tomorrow’s victimizers.” also ascribes the status of the mentally infirm to
Trauma culture also altered our understanding victims. While telling personal stories of victim-
of perpetration. Traditionally, “perpetrator” des- ization can be therapeutically beneficial and in
ignated someone who—sanctioned and protected defining victims as legitimately ill, therapeutic
by sociopolitical and economic hegemonies— discourse sanctions their need for help and sup-
intentionally caused another to suffer by gratu- port, it also defines them as chronically sick, per-
itously inflicting physical pain. However, the vast manently damaged, weak, and helpless people.
bureaucracies of advanced capitalist societies As victim talk asserts that the psychic damages of
have made the human agencies responsible for victimization are irreparable and that suffering
facilitating the socioeconomic contexts that gen- constitutes the dominant aspect of victims’ lives,
erate large-scale victimization—through exploi- it asserts that victim status and its benefits are for
tation, unemployment, poverty, and the life. As Joseph Amato (1990, p. 164) put it, “once
destruction of the environment in the so-called you were granted membership into the official
developed world and extreme poverty, starvation, family of ‘suffering victims,’” no good fortune—
and preventable diseases in the developing whether superior education, wealth, or other per-
world—impenetrable and only rarely attributable sonal successes—will erase your victim role and
to individuals. Consequently, the perpetrator role hence your right for preferential status. Claims to
has been generalized and tends to be attributed to the privileges of victim status established “in
abstract entities like life, society, the government, terms of the moral patrimony of past suffering”
or, for the politically left-minded, to the inher- (Amato, 1990, p. 18) culminated in the notion
ently inhumane economic order of capitalism. that ancestral victimhood can be inherited, which
However, anthropomorphizing such abstract enti- is central particularly to secular Jewish identity.
ties serves to hide the actual perpetrators, so that However, as Zygmunt Bauman (1998, p. 34)
claims for recognition and compensation cannot acerbically criticized the notion of so-called
be addressed to them, but are rather made to soci- vicarious Holocaust victimhood, anyone “bask-
ety at large. It also serves to ensure that the status ing in the fame of his ancestral martyrs without
quo that generated the insidious victimization paying the price of the glory” is “living on a bor-
inherent in the capitalist, patriarchal, ethnocen- rowed identity—as martyrs by appointment, mar-
tric, and hetero-normative hegemony remains tyrs who never suffered.”
unquestioned. Since in capitalism’s market economy the
Global capitalist competition forces victims, inherently relative commodity value of any entity
who have little or no other resources to contend is determined by the ratio of supply and demand,
for power, to translate their suffering into a moral establishing one’s own right to the victim posi-
currency (Amato, 1990, p. 157). Consequently, tion and its moral capital requires denying it to
the largely altruistically motivated discourse of others in order to keep supply low and demand
testimony, which primarily seeks to prevent the high. As Michael Bernstein (1994, p. 85) put it,
victimization of others and/or commemorate “once victimhood is understood to endow one
non-surviving victims, increasingly degenerated with special claims and rights, the scramble to
into a rhetoric Martha Minow (1993) dubbed vic- attain that designation for one’s own interest
tim talk. It asserts that in order to right their group is as heated as any other race for legiti-
wrongs and reestablish the equilibrium of justice, macy and power.” In the victim talk world, peo-
victims must be compensated for their suffering, ple thus “exchange testimonials of pain in a
whether through pecuniary reparation, like West contest over who suffered more” (Minow, 1993,
Germany accorded Holocaust survivors, or via p. 1430) and generate what Bauman (1998, p. 35)
indirect benefits of preferential treatment, as dubbed a “pecking order of pain” reminiscent of
granted by the American affirmative action program, the rivalry among the tuberculosis patients in
thus defining victims not only as a wronged but Thomas Mann’s Magic Mountain, “who quickly
4 Popular Trauma Culture: The Pain of Others Between Holocaust Tropes… 59

established their own hierarchy of prestige and 4.4 Emplotting Trauma Kitsch
influence measured by the size of their pulmo- as Melodrama
nary caverns.” When testimony became victim
talk, it quickly spiraled into infinite blame game Represented as kitsch-sentimental melodrama,
cycles in which everyone seeks to outsuffer com- the pain of others was transformed into popular
peting claims in order to assert their own preemi- entertainment commodities in the mass media of
nent position in what Peter Novick (1999, p. 195) television, commercial cinema, and popular lit-
described as the “Victimization Olympics.” erature. The kitsch concept originates in mid-
Consequently, American politics degenerated nineteenth century German culture and has been
into “a competition for enshrining grievances,” in explored in two distinct research paradigms:
which “every group claims its share of public Mass culture theorists define kitsch as a style
honor and public funds by pressing disabilities derivative and imitative of higher art styles
and injustices” (Novick, 1999, p. 8) and even which it reduces to banal, trite, and predictable
“the most banal causes adopt, exploit, and thus formulas and stock motifs.11 As a cheaply mass-
cheapen the moral rhetoric of suffering owed” produced product lacking craftsmanship and
(Amato, 1990, p. xxiii). artistic refinement, they define kitsch as symp-
Victim talk rhetoric and the inflation of victim tomatic of mass culture. Contrary, the popular
claims undermined the commodity value of vic- culture approach proposes that kitsch objects
timhood’s moral capital and engendered a change reflect as much creativity as the products of
in signification, so that the victim figure was highbrow culture and therefore the distinction
understood as simultaneously denoting a saintly between high and low art forms is without
hero and a weak loser in fight for the survival of grounds (Binkley, 2000, p. 133). However, Sam
the fittest. Alison Cole (2006, p. 17) argued that Binkley (2000, p. 134) argued that kitsch should
the victim became such a key concept in neither be understood as exhibiting the same
American culture precisely because of its “very innovative, avant-garde features as high art nor
susceptibility to diverse, indeed, opposing, inter- as its failed, inferior version but rather that it
pretations, and applications” as they “facilitate should be understood on its own terms because it
contestation and render keywords pregnant with exhibits its own distinct aesthetic: It celebrates
meaning.” However, trauma culture is emplotted banality and advocates continuity, conformity,
according to the simplistic good-versus-evil and routine. It proposes simple moral truths,
structure of melodrama, which requires unam- which are repeated over and over, thus reducing
biguous characters. In order to disambiguate the complexity by relying on well-rehearsed formu-
paradigmatic representative of trauma culture, las, clichés, and conventions. Most importantly,
the victim was increasingly replaced by the survi- kitsch relishes in sentiment and expresses “a joy
vor, a transition that had been prefigured in in feeling itself, whether that feeling is elation,
American Holocaust discourse. Although the sorrow, or fondness” (Binkley, 2000, p. 142).
survivor is an inherently composite figure The sentiment that kitsch artifacts both depict and
because it fuses such diverse discourses as Social evoke in consumers not only reduces the intri-
Darwinism, Christianity, and Holocaust memory, cacy of human emotions and sweetens them with
it is solely defined in positive terms. And while melancholy and nostalgia but it also manipulates
the meaning of survival was vastly expanded the audience’s emotive responses to indulge in
metaphorically to signify that one’s life was no the pleasure of their own sentimental arousal and
longer dominated by the victimization experi- thus represses a reception mode marked by criti-
ence rather than that one had defied a threat to cal distance (Binkley, 2000, p. 145). Last but not
one’s life, it nevertheless became the ultimate
achievement in trauma culture and increasingly 11
Clement Greenberg (1986, pp. 5–22), for example,
replaced traditional notions of accomplishment dichotomizes kitsch and high art in his classic essay
and heroism. “Avant-Garde and Kitsch.”
60 A. Rothe

least, kitsch transvalues its aesthetically anti- by the spectacle of suffering: fascination, horror,
innovative features to signify authenticity, mod- interest, excitement, pleasure.” Unlike Kundera,
esty, sincerity and frankness, and—assuming a who understands kitsch sentiment as derivative
pseudo-democratic posture of naïveté and anti- of the genuine emotional reaction, Boltanski
elitism—asserts that it is both representative of thus considers the altruistic and the selfish mode
the essence of human nature and universally of reception as mutually exclusive. Margalit
comprehensible (Binkley, 2000, pp. 140–141). (1988, p. 208) analogously reinterprets
Avishai Margalit (1988, pp. 215–216) argued Kundera’s notion of second-tear-jerking kitsch
that kitsch should not only be conceptualized as sentimentality. He argues that an artifact consti-
an aesthetic but as a moral category because it tutes kitsch in its purest form when it evokes the
“distorts reality by turning the object (or event) second tear without the first and when the audi-
represented into an object of complete inno- ence’s emotional response is thus entirely disin-
cence” and claims that the ontologically inno- genuous and narcissistic.
cent are constantly being menaced by evil Kitsch’s proclivity for formulas, tropes, stock
incarnate and therefore “have to be relentlessly plots, and set pieces generates familiarity but in
protected from those plotting their destruction.” turn also produces banality and therefore, as
The quasi-religious innocence ascribed to the Andy Warhol wrote, “when you see a gruesome
victim-cum-survivor protagonist is central to the picture over and over again, it doesn’t really have
reception because it enables and even enforces any effect” (cited in Sturken, 2007, p. 284). The
the troublesome ease with which consumers dominant mode of reception encoded into the
align themselves with this subject position and emplotment of mediatized others’ suffering in
dictates a particular, predetermined emotional popular trauma culture is thus the kitsch senti-
response. Margalit (1988, p. 208) invokes the mentality signified by Kundera’s metaphor of the
well-known reflections on kitsch sentiment as an second tear because in turning quintessentially
economy of the second tear in Milan Kundera’s political subjects into individual tragedies, or
The Unbearable Lightness of Being: Whereas rather melodramas, it conveys the idea that the
the first tear signifies a genuine emotional narcissistic indulgence in one’s own sentimental
response of sorrow, kitsch sentiment is expressed response constitutes an appropriate reaction.
by the second tear. It does not emerge from direct While trauma kitsch narratives ostensibly repre-
involvement with the object of feeling but rather sent an apolitical world, they actually remove the
constitutes a derivative response, a meta-tear experiences of victimization, oppression, and
shed upon the perception of the first tear, allow- suffering from the social, political, and economic
ing and encouraging the audience to relish in contexts that enable or at least permit them and
their own emotional arousal. Luc Boltanski suppress the critically distanced mode of recep-
(1999, p. 92) similarly describes the dominant tion from wherein political action can arise. In
mode of reception encoded in atrocity photo- other words, as they proclaim that no matter what
graphs as the “sweetness of being moved to happens, whether genocide or child abuse or
tears” when “a certain joy is mixed with sad- lesser evils, there will always be a happy ending
ness” and analogously argued that there are two when good wins over evil, victims become survi-
gazes for looking at the mediatized and hence vors and perpetrators are punished, trauma kitsch
distant suffering of others: The altruistic gaze, narratives suggest that socioeconomic hegemo-
which gives rise to the genuine emotional nies need not be changed through political action.
response of sorrow that Kundera termed the first In conveying the message that teary-eyed senti-
tear, is “motivated by the intention to see the ment is an adequate reaction, trauma kitsch rein-
suffering ended” (Boltanski, 1999, p. 92). And forces the oppressive hegemonies of late-modern
akin to Kundera’s disingenuous second-tear capitalism that have generated or at least enabled
response, Boltanski (1999, p. 21) writes that the violence and victimization, pain, and suffer-
there is also “a selfish way of looking which is ing over which mass media audiences have shed
wholly taken up with the internal states aroused many a second tear.
4 Popular Trauma Culture: The Pain of Others Between Holocaust Tropes… 61

Trauma kitsch elicits such an escapist and imagination—on an inherently infantilized and/
politically acquiescing mode of reception because or feminized ontologically innocent victim is
it emplots all forms of injustice and oppression, juxtaposed to the realm of the quotidian and
violence and suffering as melodrama. According exists unrecognized as Gothic melodrama’s dark
to Peter Brooks (1976, p. 14), in its “effort to secret of which the mundane world is, or at least
make the ‘real’ and the ‘ordinary’ and the ‘pri- pretends to be, ignorant.
vate life’ interesting,” melodrama infuses the Originating in postrevolutionary France, the
realm of the quotidian with the sublime. However, genre of melodrama “expresses the anxiety
in the post-sacred era, the sublime no longer sig- brought by a frightening new world in which the
nifies solely the sacred but also the supremely traditional patterns of moral order no longer pro-
evil. Moreover, melodrama thrives on the simul- vide the necessary social glue” and thus reflects
taneity of extreme situations, events and emo- the insecurities and anxieties of the new post-
tions, and the ordinary world of the every day. secular age of the enlightenment (Brooks, 1976,
It indulges in “strong emotionalism; moral polar- pp. 19–20). Analogously, as the dominant mode
ization and schematization; extreme states of of emplotment of victimhood and violence in the
being, situations, actions; overt villainy, persecu- mass media today, melodrama echoes the trepi-
tion of the good and final reward of virtue; dations and angst brought about by a world in
inflated and extravagant expression; dark plot- which mundane life is increasingly experienced
tings, suspense [and] breathtaking peripety” as a constant struggle for survival and thus as
(Brooks, 1976, pp. 19–20). Melodrama furthermore insidiously traumatizing. Anthony Giddens aptly
“represents both an urge toward resacrilization described the infinitely complex institutions and
and the impossibility of conceiving sacralization practices of the late-modern world as disembed-
other than in personal terms” (Brooks, 1976, ding because they “uproot individuals from the
pp. 16–17), which is why good and evil are per- ‘protective cocoons’ that flood social interac-
sonalized, i.e., they are embodied by characters tions, cultural outlooks and experiences with
lacking in psychological complexity because cohesive meanings, and tie daily life to funda-
they represent allegorical absolutes. When “good mental patterns of trust and reassurance”
and evil can be named as persons,” Brooks (1976, (Binkley, 2000, p. 135). As modern societies
p. 17) writes, “evil is villainy; it is a swarthy, offer individuals “unprecedented choices in con-
cape-enveloped man with a deep voice.” While sumer goods, ethical outlooks, and life plans,”
evil is thus embodied by the figure of the Gothic the “routines, recurring practices, comforting
villain, good is represented by the ontological cosmologies, and world views” of conventional
innocence ascribed to Christian virginal virtue, life are shattered (Binkley, 2000, p. 135). They
which the Romantics merged with the nostalgic- generate a sense of omnipresent but intangible
utopian notion of innate childhood innocence threat thus undermining our sense of ontological
into the Gothic figure of the maiden-in-distress. security because life’s uncertainties and existen-
Trauma kitsch particularly evokes the tradition of tial questions are also no longer bracketed by the
Gothic melodrama which is “preoccupied with comforting conventions of the premodern world
nightmare states, with claustration and thwarted (Giddens, 1990, p. 17).
escape, with innocence buried alive and unable to In merging the aesthetic conventions of kitsch
voice its claim to recognition” and “with evil as a and melodrama, the mass media representations
real, irreducible force in the world, constantly of the pain of others in American popular culture
menacing outburst” (Brooks, 1976, pp. 19–20). pretend to maximally re-embed the late-modern
Analogously, in trauma kitsch, the violence individual. They counter “the excessive personal
gratuitously inflicted by a hypermasculine perpe- freedom, the uncertainty and the risk of modern
trator—of which the ahistorical Nazi figure and social life […] with a return to a sense of conti-
the child-abusing father figure are the paradig- nuity, a ‘closed system’ […] in which cultural
matic representatives in the American popular forms are predictable, continuous and repetitive”
62 A. Rothe

(Binkley, 2000, p. 149). Simulating premodern tive, just as the idea of paradise succeeds an
embeddedness, trauma kitsch reassures its con- awareness of paradise lost.” And it is precisely
sumers’ threatened sense of ontological security “the reification of authenticity” that “results in an
by convincing them that what is to come will ontological fiction called the ‘real thing’”
resemble the familiar and the world is predict- (Ruthven, 2001, p. 169). As the desire for the
able and safe. And in depicting the increasingly “real thing” constitutes a pseudo-nostalgic long-
global, technocapitalist world by reducing its ing for something that never actually existed,
infinite complexity to melodrama’s simplistic authenticity constitutes the ever-elusive holy
and highly moralistic good-versus-evil universe grail of our late-modern era. Moreover, late-
reassures consumers that all is well that ends modern individuals turn less to such grand narra-
well. tives as religion and political ideology than to
However, the re-embedding nature of depict- mass-produced media commodities to satisfy that
ing the pain of others as kitsch-sentimental “‘passion for the real,’ that thirst for rapturous,
melodrama is undermined by the fact that the authentic experiences” (Cole, 2006, p. 16).
vast majority of the plot casts ontological inno- Contemporary Western culture is, moreover, per-
cence as constantly threatened by seemingly meated by what Richard Sennett (1977, p. 259)
omnipotent evil, which moreover lurks every- characterized as an ideology of intimacy wherein
where under the surface of mundane life. The only the personal, emotional, and experiential are
simultaneity of overt optimism and covert angst ascribed the status of being authentic and real.
is paradigmatic for melodrama as genre, as plot However, as ordinary life is considered mundane
paradigm in Gothic novels, and as the dominant and hence inauthentic, authenticity is ascribed to
mode for emplotting the pain of others as politi- personal experiences of extremity, or rather to its
cally anesthesiatizing “feel-good horror” stories supposed vicarious experience via the reception
(Reich, 2007, p. 99) in contemporary American of media representations. In other words, con-
popular culture. As audiences seek more and sumers oxymoronically ascribe the capacity to
more reassurance that, despite appearances to satiate a nostalgic longing for something desig-
the contrary, the world is predictable and all will nated as “real,” “true” and “authentic” to the con-
be well, they look in all the wrong places. sumption experience of the pain of others
Despite the repetitively formulaic plots and their emplotted as kitsch-sentimental tales of suffering
overtly optimist redemptive-happy endings, and redemption.
emplotting victimhood and violence, pain and However, it is not only the ubiquitous survival
suffering as kitsch-sentimental melodrama narratives of trauma-and-redemption kitsch in
covertly reinforces the consumer’s sense of mainstream cinema, television, and popular lit-
omnipresent but intangible danger paradigmatic erature but also the touristic engagement with sites
of trauma culture. of atrocity that are ascribed the quasi-mystical
power to imbue consumers with the authenticity
they feel lacking in their own lives.12 Particularly
4.5 Consuming Trauma Kitsch Nazi concentration camps have become tourist
attractions (Young, 1994). Dark tourism, as John
While many late-modern individuals experience Lennon and Malcolm Foley (2000) termed it, is
their lives as existentially threatened and inher- becoming increasingly popular because places
ently traumatizing, they also find them mundane
and banal, interchangeable and unoriginal, lack- 12
For a discussion of the popular literature genre of so-
ing meaning and a deeper purpose, in short, as called misery memoirs and the representation of experi-
inauthentic. As K.K. Ruthven (2001, p. 149) ences of victimhood and violence on daytime TV talk
shows as trauma kitsch and trauma camp, see Anne Rothe,
writes, “the concept of ‘authenticity’ appears to
Popular Trauma Culture: Selling the Pain of Others in the
be extrapolated from the inauthenticities of Mas Media (New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press
everyday life as an imaginary and ideal alterna- 2011), pp. 83–135 and pp. 49–82, respectively.
4 Popular Trauma Culture: The Pain of Others Between Holocaust Tropes… 63

of mass killings are ascribed the status of sacred notion of “witnessing” from signifying the for-
sites. While visitors seek a quasi-religious expe- mer to the latter. The ubiquitous metaphorical
rience of the negative sublime, they engage in the uses of “witness,” “memory” and their respective
consumption relation characteristic of all tour- derivatives—including “vicarious witnesses,”
ism. In fact, as the sites of dark tourism enable “secondary witnesses,” “retrospective witnesses,”
the modern-day pilgrims to generate fantasies of “witness’s witness,” “witnesses by adoption,”
witnessing traumas they did not suffer and sup- “witnesses through the imagination,” “postmem-
posedly gain “a trace of authenticity by exten- ory,” “prosthetic memory,” “secondary memory,”
sion” (Sturken, 2007, p. 11), they offer trauma and “vicarious memory”—facilitates this blur-
culture’s ultimate consumer product. While these ring because their imprecise meanings merge
modern-day pilgrims seek to enter a realm where “both the survivor’s recall of lived experiences
past and present merge because it exists outside and the nonwitness’s familiarity with Holocaust
of quotidian time–space, Ruth Kluger scathingly narratives” (Weissman, 2004, p. 92). Contrary to
criticized such sentimental journeys of trauma convention in Holocaust studies scholarship and
tourism in her renowned Holocaust memoir Still commemorative practice, Weissman (2004, p. 5,
Alive. She not only rejected the sacralization of 25) designates those who have neither experien-
atrocity sites and insisted that they were empiri- tial knowledge of the Holocaust, and hence know
cally real places rather than imaginary spaces of it only in mediated form, nor an immediate,
some negative utopia but also proposed the familial connection to the genocide as “nonwit-
notion of timescapes to signify the categorical nesses.” He argues that they are predominantly
difference of the same place at different times Jewish and that the Holocaust constitutes a core
and consequently between its experience as a identity marker for them. The term, Weissman
concentration camp on the one hand and a memo- explains, stresses that anyone who did not experi-
rial and tourist site on the other (Kluger, 2003, ence it, “did not witness the Holocaust, and that
pp. 67–68). Trauma culture thus gave rise to what the experience of listening to, reading or viewing
Michael Bernstein (1994, p. 91) termed an ideol- witness testimony is substantially unlike the
ogy of the extreme and described as the belief experience of victimization” (Weissman, 2004,
that “the truth lies in the extreme moments which p. 20). Stating what should be obvious, Weissman
‘ordinary bourgeois life’ covers over.” However, (2004, p. 20) argues, that while nonwitnesses
ascribing life lessons and some mystical ultimate “can read books or watch films on the Holocaust,
truth to consuming media representations of oth- listen to Holocaust survivors, visit Holocaust
er’s pain and suffering is both absurd and deeply museums, take trips to Holocaust memorial sites
unethical. Particularly deploring the American in Europe, research and write about the Holocaust,
fascination with Holocaust horror, Bernstein look at photographs of the victims,” they are not
(1994, p. 84, 89) thus emphatically rejected the witnessing the Holocaust but rather consuming
notion of in extremis veritas and argued that our its myriad representations.
beliefs and values ought to be developed and The untenable notion of defining a supposedly
tested in the routines of everyday life. authentic secular American-Jewish identity by
Similarly, Gary Weissman (2004, p. 137) cri- engaging in literal and metaphorical trauma
tiqued the idea of turning the Holocaust and/or tourism via “sites or texts where the Holocaust
its representation into a mystery of the negative may be vicariously experienced” (Weissman,
sublime that could reveal some ultimate truth 2004, p. 4) can be extended to the media con-
about human nature as “a kind of existential sen- sumption of the pain of others at large in trauma
timental education.” Moreover, he emphatically culture’s paradigmatic quest for authenticity.
rejected the epistemologically and ethically And since trauma kitsch emplotments of violence
untenable analogy between the personal experi- and victimhood as suffering and redemption
ence of the Holocaust and the consumption melodramas not only promise that good wins
experience of its representation generated in over evil and we are thus safe despite the disem-
American culture via the vast extension of the bedding nature of late-modernity’s institutions
64 A. Rothe

and practices, but they also offer a false sense of I will explore its infusion with Social Darwinist
authenticity, they satisfy the late-modern indi- ideas in postapocalyptic Hollywood disaster
vidual’s two most dire needs and are therefore movies and Reality TV shows. In the dystopian
produced and consumed relentlessly. universe evocative of the concentration camp that
is depicted in screen representation of the posta-
pocalyptic world, the survivor figure must neither
4.6 Epilogue: Survivors Made give up the fight for survival by turning into one
in America of the walking dead, i.e., a victim-cum-corpse
that evokes both the figures of the Zombie and
Rather than ending this chapter in the traditional the Muselmann, nor must he succumb to the ruth-
discursive mode of narrowing down the argument less Social Darwinist ethics of every-man-for-
in a conclusion, I would like to open it up and himself, i.e., their survival must not come at the
propose new ideas that could be explored by expense of another’s life. Essentially, the para-
briefly looking ahead at my next book project, digmatic Armageddon survivor is the ultimate
which will trace the genealogy of the survivor American hero. Physically and spiritually strong
figure in American culture. It is tentatively titled and defiant, he embodies both the warrior and the
Survivors Made in America: Intersections savior. And unlike the figure of the Holocaust
between Holocaust Memory, Social Darwinism survivor, he saves not only himself but also others
and Popular Culture. After exploring the survi- and, trumping even the Christ figure, exhibits
vor as a quintessentially American figure because such exceptional survival skills that saving others
it is a variation of that other ur-American figure does not even require sacrificing himself.
of the self-made man, who not only overcame the The survivor figure largely sheds the aura of
impossible but did so without relying on others, I Holocaust sanctity and fully embraces the notion
will analyze the ascent of the survivor figure in of the survival of the fittest on the ultimate
American Holocaust memory. In addition to the Reality TV show Survivor. Although the genre is
Eichmann trial, it was particularly the American European in origin and Survivor is marketed
translation of Wiesel’s Night from the original toward an increasingly global media audience, it
French in 1959 and his subsequent rise to celeb- is an inherently American show as it reflects and
rity status that significantly impacted the geneal- in turn reinforces both conformity and individu-
ogy of the American survivor figure. Comparing alism. While these two core American ideals
his memoir to the earlier, Yiddish version, I will seem incongruous, they coexist on the show as
argue that while Wiesel had previously cast him- they do in US society. Conventionally good-
self as a victim forever inscribed by his memo- looking participants minimally clad in the iden-
ries, in Night he reinvents himself as the saintly tikit of pseudonative gear advocate conformity.
and heroic survivor who could overcome the However, the team spirit overtly espoused is fake
traumatic past that would become paradigmatic because the ultimate ideal promoted is ruthless
in American Holocaust memory. The Yiddish individualism with Social Darwinist overtones as
urtext has thus been out of print for decades and every participant seeks to be the last survivor and
was never translated into any language because it win the million. As being voted off by the audi-
contradicts Wiesel’s public persona. I will more- ence in a natural selection process of sorts as well
over discuss Wiesel as a public figure and media as enduring serious discomforts, to which partici-
event by analyzing select speeches, essays, inter- pants nevertheless expose themselves voluntarily
views, documentaries, video testimony, newspa- in a pursuit of quick riches, constitute the only
per articles, letters sent to him by readers, and danger, the show reflects the most radical seman-
last but not least two Oprah Winfrey Show tic extension of the notion of survival to date.
Specials that featured Wiesel and his famous In media products created for intergender
memoir. audiences, the survivor is a decidedly masculine
In tracing the discursive journey of the survi- figure, self-reliant in his defiance of impossible
vor figure beyond American Holocaust discourse, odds, i.e., a survivor by nature. Only in narra-
4 Popular Trauma Culture: The Pain of Others Between Holocaust Tropes… 65

tives produced primarily for female audiences, Binkley, S. (2000). Kitsch as a repetitive system: A
Problem for the theory of taste hierarchy. Journal of
particularly the interrelated discourses of popu-
Material Culture, 5(2), 131–152.
lar feminism and self-help literature, is the figure Boltanski, L. (1999). Distant suffering: Morality, media,
female. However, unlike the male figure, the and politics. Cambridge: Cambridge University
female one must undergo a metamorphosis by Press.
Brooks, P. (1976). The melodramatic imagination. Balzac,
overcoming her supposedly inherent state of vic-
Henry James, melodrama, and the mode of excess.
timhood and be transformed from a weak and New Haven: Yale University Press.
helpless victim into a strong and self-reliant sur- Caruth, C. (Ed.). (1995). Trauma. Explorations in mem-
vivor. In fact, the plot is structured around this ory. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.
Caruth, C. (1996). Unclaimed experience. Trauma, narra-
transformation and despite the overt message of
tive, and history. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University
female empowerment in these texts, written pri- Press.
marily for and to a significant extent by women, Chaumont, J.-M. (2001). Die Konkurrenz der Opfer:
many of whom consider themselves feminists, Genozid, Identität und Anerkennung. Lüneburg: Zu
they instead reflect and reinforce traditional gen-
Cole, T. (1999). Selling the holocaust. From Auschwitz to
der stereotypes. Not only is the paradigmatic Schindler: How history is bought, packaged and sold.
survivor figure defined as inherently male in tra- New York: Routledge.
ditional gender terms but the supposed normalcy Cole, A. (2006). The cult of true victimhood: From the
war on welfare to the war on terror. Stanford: Stanford
and rightness of masculinity is furthermore rein-
University Press.
forced because the transformation process advo- Dawidowicz, L. (1976). A holocaust reader. New York:
cates overcoming such negative and traditionally Behrman House.
feminine attributes as weakness and helplessness Fackenheim, E., Steiner, G., Popkin, R., & Wiesel, E.
(1967). Jewish values in the post-holocaust future: A
by replacing them with such positive character-
symposium. Judaism, 3, 266–299.
istics as strength and defiance conventionally Felman, S., & Laub, D. (1992). Testimony. Crises of wit-
associated with masculinity. nessing in literature, psychoanalysis and history.
Just as I did in this chapter, I will take up and New York: Routledge.
Giddens, A. (1990). The consequences of modernity.
expand upon select aspects of the analysis in an
Stanford: Stanford University Press.
epilogue in order to end the monograph in a dis- Giesen, B. (2004). Triumph and trauma. Boulder, CO:
cursive mode of opening up rather than the more Paradigm.
traditional one of narrowing down the argument Greenberg, C. (1986). The collected essays and criticism.
Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
in a conclusion. The epilogue will bring the dis-
Hacking, I. (1991). The making and molding of child
cussion of the survivor figure full circle as it abuse. Critical Inquiry, 17(2), 253–288.
returns to Holocaust discourse in order to engage Hacking, I. (1995). Rewriting the soul. Multiple personal-
in an ethical critique of the survival lessons ity and the sciences of memory. Princeton: Princeton
University Press.
increasingly advocated in self-help literature that
Hacking, I. (1996). Making up people. In T. C. Heller
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order to survive the apparently ubiquitous threats individuality and the self in western thought (pp. 222–
to one’s life in present-day America. 236). Stanford: Stanford University Press.
Horwitz, D. (2000). Literary trauma: Sadism, memory,
and sexual violence in American women’s fiction.
Albany: SUNY Press.
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The Trauma of Modernism:
Between Existential Indeterminacy 5
and Allegoresis

Dennis Sobolev

from the perspective of the cultural representations

5.1 Introduction of the objective and the universal, the former
strategy of dealing with the traumatic tends to
This essay has two goals; these goals are both deny the accessibility of the generally meaning-
opposed to one another and mutually comple- ful if the problem of the personal, the experien-
mentary. First, it aims to underscore and analyze tial, and the painful is ignored. In contrast, the
two general hermeneutic strategies of the cul- latter hermeneutic strategy insists that the per-
tural absorption and transformation of traumatic sonal and the traumatic can be meaningfully
experiences, which seem to be highly significant articulated only if the temptation of their subli-
for the understanding of the European and mation into the transpersonally meaningful and
American literatures of the nineteenth and the the figurative is thoroughly resisted.
twentieth centuries. These two hermeneutic Already this cursory description of the major
strategies may be roughly defined as the search interpretative strategies, whose poetic realization
for an ultimate philosophical ground for the tran- will be scrutinized in this essay, makes it clear
scendence of the traumatic, on the one hand, and that a significant element of philosophical and
the acknowledgement of the insuperable seman- hermeneutic radicalism is implied by both of
tic indeterminacy of human existence, on the them. Moreover, this essay will focus on the
other, which however does not render the human cultural hermeneutics of the movement that is
experience of suffering and trauma ontologically habitually represented as essentially and often
vacant. Therefore, when viewed from the per- radically posttraumatic: literary Modernism.
spective of the significance of the subjective, the Correspondingly, the philosophical radicalism of
former strategy elevates the human and the pri- these strategies will be analyzed in their textual
vate into a figure for the universal, whereas the realizations in extremis—in the hope that this
latter intensifies its materiality and refuses to choice of a textual corpus will make both herme-
empty them into the realm of the occasional and neutic strategies more palpable and more easily
the contingent. Correspondingly, when viewed comprehensible. At the same time, even though
the representation of literary Modernism as post-
traumatic is common among literary scholars
D. Sobolev, Ph.D. (*) and cultural historians, the exact modalities of
Department of Hebrew and Comparative Literature, the traumatic, as it is associated with Modernism,
University of Haifa, 199 Abba Khoushy Blvd.,
Mt. Carmel, Haifa 31905, Israel need further explanations. Moreover, as these
e-mail: explanations will differ from some of the major

© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2016 67

Y. Ataria et al. (eds.), Interdisciplinary Handbook of Trauma and Culture,
DOI 10.1007/978-3-319-29404-9_5
68 D. Sobolev

clichés that have been repeatedly used in the ond reason why this essay focuses on Hopkins’s
discussions of literary Modernism, and especially writings: even in comparison to writings that are
of its so-called “High Modernism” phase, the as unrepeatable and often idiosyncratic as most
entire first section of this essay will address the major Modernist texts are, Hopkins’s poems are
question of the modalities of the traumatic behind usually considered to be among the most com-
the Modernist literary tradition. Without denying plex, the most inimitable, and the most idiosyn-
the traumatic nature of specific historical cratic. By the same token, the analysis to follow
events—and, first and foremost, the horrors of will demonstrate the extreme singularity of the
the First World War—this section will argue that “counterpointed” relation between the two major
the historical framework of Modernism fore- poetic strategies of the traumatic in Hopkins. It is
grounds its relation to another modality and this textually-oriented clarification of the singu-
probably a deeper layer of traumatic experience, larity of his hermeneutics of the traumatic—its
which will be labeled as a “rupture in the epis- complex and unrepeatable specificity, the singu-
teme.” It is partly because of these historical and larity of the biographical circumstances that
somewhat polemical reasons that this essay will underlay it, its religious and philosophical
focus on the texts of the first Modernist in the assumptions, and its poetic articulations—that is
English language—Gerard Manley Hopkins— the second major goal of this essay.
whose poems were written a few decades before On a broader theoretical scale, it is this very
the First World War, even though they were pub- duality—one may say, a paradox—that is at stake
lished in its wake. Significantly, however, as will in this chapter. On the one hand, as will be shown
be shown throughout the analysis to follow, like below, Hopkins’s representations and conceptu-
much later “High Modernist” writings, Hopkins’s alizations of the traumatic are strikingly personal
poems are both explicitly posttraumatic and use and singular; as such, they stubbornly resist any
the two above-mentioned radical hermeneutic attempts at their generalization in the form of a
strategies of the conceptualization of mental and general theory of “poetry and trauma.” On the
physical suffering. Furthermore, if in the micro- other hand, as already said, in its complex, dia-
cosm of a few sonnets these strategies can be ana- logical and dialectical form, Hopkins’s poetry
lyzed in a relatively detailed and textually-oriented articulates the two major Modernist strategies of
manner, a comparable analysis of their specific confronting the traumatic. Without a doubt, in
textual realizations in Ulysses or The Trial would Modernist literature the repertoire of such herme-
require a full-length book. This “microcosmic” neutic strategies of the traumatic is not limited to
analysis, however, as will be stressed in the con- these two, nevertheless these strategies seem to
cluding section of this essay, is carried out in be central both for Modernist literary practices
order to foreground the hermeneutic strategies and cultural self-consciousness. To use
that are common for literary Modernism, in Althusser’s well-known term in a slightly modi-
general. fied sense, such core hermeneutic strategies may
At the same time, as general as these goals be called “cultural dominants.” It is from the rep-
may seem, this chapter does not aspire to propose ertoire of these cultural dominants of the herme-
any general theory of the hermeneutics of trauma neutics of the traumatic, as they are accessible in
in Modernism, let alone a general theory of the a given period, that any writer—and probably
cultural hermeneutics of the traumatic. No such any human being—is forced to construe, to con-
theory seems to be possible. On the contrary, as it struct, to write, to efface, and to rewrite anew, his
seems, every period, every cultural movement or her own cultural hermeneutics of trauma. It is
and probably every writer have to deal with the because of this reason that no general theory of
traumatic anew, finding his or her own language, the poetic hermeneutics of trauma is possible;
struggling to utter the ultimately ineffable, ago- nevertheless, what seems to be both possible and
nizing over the impossibility of transcending the deeply necessary is the theoretical description
ultimately intranscendable. And this is the sec- of the historically specific repertoire of these
5 The Trauma of Modernism: Between Existential Indeterminacy and Allegoresis 69

dominant components of the hermeneutics of used in two essentially different senses: as a

trauma. Correspondingly, it is with an eye on this name for a loosely defined literary movement and
difficult combination of analytical necessity and as a designation for a social and cultural period—
the impossibility of synthesis that this essay will in other words, as the designations for the two
have to proceed. components of a relation that, following C. S.
Peirce, may be called “indexical.” Yet, applying
the term “index” to literary Modernism may also
5.2 Modernism, Trauma, be misleading. In terms of Peirce’s semiotics,
and a “Rupture “index” is supposed to be based on a relation
in the Episteme” between a cause and an effect; correspondingly,
in different introductory books and courses on
Probably, the first thing most students of litera- cultural theory, the notion of “index” is frequently
ture learn about Modernism is that the social and explained through the example of smoke’s rela-
cultural changes that underlay its advent were of tion to fire. In this sense, the Althusserian insis-
a deeply traumatic nature. When it comes to tence on the “relative autonomy” of different
details, however, the First World War is usually “spheres” of culture may provide a necessary
discussed as the major traumatic event, and correction to this relation of causal determinism,
Modernism in literature—as being directly as implied by the notion of “index” (Althusser,
related to it. Probably, almost no one would 1971, p. 130). At the same time, given this redefi-
doubt that there is a significant element of his- nition of the semiotic structure of the index by
torical truth in this statement; nevertheless, means of the notion of relative autonomy, the
under closer scrutiny the problem turns out to be underscoring of the indexical nature of literary
much more complicated. As will be stressed Modernism seems to be crucial for its under-
below, literary Modernism emerged long before standing. It is in this sense of an intimate indexi-
the First World War; correspondingly, the trau- cal relation to a very broad range of social,
matic developments that underlay its emergence political, scientific, technological, and cultural
went far beyond the repeatedly discussed trauma developments that literary Modernism differs
of “the Great War,” even though it is indeed the from more narrowly defined art trends such as
influence of this trauma that played a pivotal role Neo-Classicism, Symbolism, Futurism, or
in the recognition of the traumatic nature of a Hyperrealism. Certainly, each of these trends was
much broader range of human experience in the also related to its social and cultural milieu
first half of the twentieth century. All this, how- through an elaborate texture of various and het-
ever, seems to require much more detailed erogeneous relations, and each of these trends
explanations. had an indexical element to them. Yet, in literary
Literary Modernism was much more than a Modernism this indexical element was essen-
change in style, in literary emphases or the tially radicalized.
modalities of cultural susceptibilities. However It is no less significant that Modernism articu-
unforgettable, complex, and philosophically sig- lated and attempted to come to terms with the
nificant works it produced, as an artistic move- social and cultural developments that were struc-
ment Modernism in literature and the visual arts tured by rupture and essential discontinuity.
was also what C. S. Peirce called an “index” Once again, a brief explanation seems to be nec-
(Peirce, 1932, pp. 143–144)—a visible cultural essary at this point. For a cultural historian, the
phenomenon and a sequence of cultural develop- perception of the social and cultural processes
ments that possessed an intrinsic quality of a associated with early Modernism is somewhat
symptom, which pointed to much broader and paradoxical. At least until the First World War,
far-reaching social, political, and cultural those people who lived through these develop-
changes. Therefore, it is not occasional that in ments usually experienced them as being basi-
scholarly literature “modernism” is now being cally continuous with the past, even though it
70 D. Sobolev

was widely recognized that the pace of change far-reaching the changes they were beginning to
was steadily increasing. In contrast, from a retro- witness would actually be, and how traumatic
spective viewpoint, in modernism a cultural rup- this transition to a new social and cultural world
ture seems to be much more conspicuous than would prove to be.
cultural continuity; moreover, in all probability, As regards the retrospective temporalization
this was the most significant “rupture” within the of this rupture in the episteme, different disci-
history of European culture since the sixteenth plines suggest slightly different temporal frame-
century. A mention of the sixteenth century is works for the historical conceptualization of
not occasional in this context; since the early modernism (Armstrong, 2005; Bradshaw &
works of Foucault, the transition to “the Age of Dettmar, 2005; Faulkner, 1977; Lewis, 2007).
Reason” has been considered an archetype of a Sometimes a given event can be chosen as a sym-
cultural rupture, as opposed to the belief in the bolic beginning; among the earliest events mark-
basically continuous nature of cultural processes ing the beginning of this “long modernism,” the
that was dominant at that time (Foucault, 1970, 1859 publication of Charles Darwin’s On the
1972). Although, since then, Foucault’s work Origin of Species is sometimes mentioned, as the
has frequently been criticized (yet even more 1865 exhibition of Edouard Manet’s “Olympia”
frequently defended) from different perspec- is mentioned as the symbolic beginning of mod-
tives, his model of the uneven development of ern art. There is a general consensus, however,
culture, where periods of relative continuity are that modernism as a broad cultural term applies
interrupted by the moments of discontinuity, is to the period beginning somewhere around the
usually accepted. It is such moments, when the 1870s. Correspondingly, it is to this period that
basic patterns of perception and the conceptual- literary Modernism as indexical to a radical
ization of experience undergo a relatively rapid change in the episteme, with all the traumatic
change that early Foucault referred to as a “rup- implications of this rupture, may be reasonably
ture” in the “episteme.” applied. Significantly for the following discus-
Without a doubt, “modernism” in the broader sion, the first of Hopkins’s mature poems, The
socio-cultural sense indicates such a rupture in Wreck of the Deutschland, was written in 1875;
the episteme; and even in comparison to the six- his last sonnets were composed shortly before his
teenth and seventeenth century this change hap- death in 1889.
pened very quickly. Within a few decades, an The attitudes towards this epistemic rupture
entire cultural world became partly non-exis- were various and changing. As the usual histori-
tent, while another unknown world was rapidly cal narrative goes, although the horrors of rapid
emerging—whose promises and losses it was urbanization, mass poverty, the new forms of
still difficult to foresee or estimate. In retro- alienation and exploitation, as well as the
spect, it may well turn out that nowadays—with increasing destruction of the natural environ-
the advent of the “digital era,” virtual communi- ment, were often lamented, in most cases the sci-
cations, social networks, and the massive relo- entific and technological advances of the time
cation of traditional industries to the space that were enthusiastically welcomed and applauded.
only 20 years ago was habitually labeled as “the It was only the advent of the First World War that
Third World”—we are living through another radically changed these dominant and usually
break in the episteme. Yet, it may equally turn optimistic attitudes towards the gradually emerg-
out that these are only surface changes that do ing new social and cultural world. This positive
not affect the basic patterns of thought and emphasis was replaced by the stress placed on
experience. This is, however, one of those ques- the destructive and traumatic character of these
tions that the actual participants of historical new developments, as well as the millions of
events can rarely answer. At the same time, it dead, the trenches, the gas, and the tanks.
seems that those who lived during the early Correspondingly, for many decades it was
modernist period did not know how deep and repeatedly suggested that a considerable part of
5 The Trauma of Modernism: Between Existential Indeterminacy and Allegoresis 71

literary Modernism—both in its broader sense on which the hermeneutics of traumatic human
and in the narrow sense of “High Modernism” in experience could be based was paralleled by the
literature—was born out of these new types of cultural processes that created the situation when
postwar posttraumatic experience, its articula- “mythology, religion, and philosophy” could no
tion and scrutiny. Indeed, the modalities of the longer function as such grounds for “the interpre-
traumatic, as they are identified and articulated tation of experience” (Krutch, 1931, p. 12).
in different Modernist texts, range from personal The Modernist hermeneutics of dealing with
losses and suffering—through the poverty and this combination of traumatic experiences with
alienation of growing urban spaces, the direct the loss of a reliable hermeneutic ground is the
descriptions of the horrors of the First Word War main subject of this essay. As has already been
and the partial collapse of European narcissistic said, in focusing on what may seem to be only a
cultural self-perceptions—to the general percep- case study—the analysis of the two main herme-
tion of human existence with its anxiety and fini- neutic strategies in the poetry of Gerard Manley
tude as intrinsically traumatic. Hopkins—I would like to explore the two main
There are two main objections to this familiar strategies of confronting the traumatic experi-
representation. First, as has already been said, the ences that underlie the literature of Modernism:
beginning of cultural modernism, when it is con- their radical allegorization, in the hope of arriv-
ceptualized in the above sense of a rupture in the ing, to use Hopkins’s own words, at a stable
episteme, is usually identified by contemporary “ground of being,” (The Wreck of the Deutschland,
research at around the 1870s. Second, many of l. 254) and, conversely, the recognition of the
the central texts of literary Modernism, including essential and insurmountable semantic indeter-
those by Hopkins, Conrad, Joyce, Kafka, or Bely minacy of human existence. What makes
were written before the First World War. Little Hopkins’s work especially significant from this
known before the war or even totally unknown, point of view is not only its capacity for exempli-
these writers seem to be those few whose cultural fying these major hermeneutic strategies, nor
sensitivities to social and cultural changes, as even the fact that Hopkins seems to be the first
well as the traumatic nature of these changes, poet to articulate both of them, while stressing
went beyond the usual self-perceptions and self- their explicit relation to traumatic experiences.
representations of the pre-War European cul- No less significant than this simultaneous articu-
tures. Correspondingly, from the historical point lation of the opposed interpretative strategies in
of view, it is not the emergence of Modernism, their relation to suffering is the dialectical and
but rather its mass appeal, its perception as being dialogical relation between them, even though in
able to speak directly about modern experiences, Hopkins neither synthesis nor interpretative rec-
that is related to the First World War. What had onciliation are achieved through this dialectics.
earlier been perceived as a personal problem of Nevertheless, this is not an example of Adorno’s
this or that person, suddenly revealed itself as a “negative dialectics” either (Adorno, 1973).
common destiny, as the essentially tragic and Although this is indeed a dialectics without a
traumatic nature of modern cultural and social synthesis, it is not a denial of a possibility of such
experience. At the same time, an understanding synthesis. As will be shown below, while at the
of this traumatic core of modern experience was level of Hopkins’s poetic practice the traumatic
becoming increasingly difficult. As Joseph Wood and painful experience is laid bare, the unre-
Krutch stresses in The Modern Temper (1931, solved tension between the two major hermeneu-
pp. 3–14), since the mid-nineteenth century the tic strategies opens itself to this experience
traditional strategies of interpreting human expe- without being able to heal, contain, rationalize, or
rience and the human place in the world, in gen- efface it. Without a doubt, as a psychological
eral, appeared as less and less reliable. As a condition this position is almost unbearable. Still,
result, at the time of the emergence of Modernist in contrast, as a poetic and philosophical stance it
literature, the growing need for a stable ground prefigures the entire history of Modernist litera-
72 D. Sobolev

ture in its repeated attempts to come to terms bly the greatest poet of the generation. At least at
with this essential openness to the trauma of this biographical level, a comparison to Kafka
human existence. Let us see. immediately comes to mind. In 1918, however—
and the timing is significant given the role of the
First World War in the change of literary sensi-
5.3 The First Modernist bilities, preferences, and perceptions—Hopkins’s
friend Robert Bridges, now a poet-laureate, pub-
Gerard Manley Hopkins was not only one of lished a thin volume of the former’s poems,
those writers whose work suddenly became accompanied by a preface that seemed more to
famous following this change in cultural percep- apologize for their publication than to assert their
tions and sensitivities; it was discovered in the literary value in any direct and unequivocal man-
most literal sense of the word. Nowadays, ner. At the same time, it is only the second 1930
Hopkins is usually considered as one of the great- edition that brought Hopkins his present fame, as
est nineteenth-century poets, and he is one of the well as the lasting and far-reaching influence on
most often anthologized ones. For most readers, a several generations of English-language writers.
mention of his writings—first of all poetic, but Examining the scholarly literature that focuses
also philosophical, theological, and ars-poetic— on his influence on both sides of the Atlantic, one
immediately brings to mind their paradoxical gets the feeling that it is much easier to mention
combination of condensed visionary insights those poets who were not influenced by Hopkins
with some of the most tragic lines in modern than to list those who were; this list comprises
poetry, philosophical meditations with a direct such diverse and often opposed poets as W. H.
confessional mode. Over the course of the entire Auden and Dylan Thomas, Elizabeth Bishop and
history of twentieth-century literary scholarship, Sylvia Plath, Robert Lowell and Ted Hughes,
a handful of his poetic works has proved to be Theodore Roethke and Seamus Heaney, as well
one of the most difficult scholarly problems as many others, both religious and secular, philo-
(Hartman, 1966, pp. 1–2). Hopkins’s poems are sophical and confessional. Put briefly, if in terms
known, often notoriously so, for their extreme of a broader cultural history Hopkins’s writings
complexity and semantic condensation, their rev- are indexical of that rupture in the episteme,
olutionary poetic language, rhetorical virtuosity, which has been discussed above and whose
and the dislocation of familiar linguistic usage, as meaning became comprehensible only much
well as their intellectual tensions and unresolved later, in more narrow terms of literary history his
questions. Given these difficulties of his poetic poems influenced and prefigured many of the
idiolect and his poetic forms, the difficulties that most significant achievements in twentieth-
often seemed to be insurmountable for even his century English-language poetry.
most close poet-friends, it is a most notable and A brief detour through the biographical circum-
somewhat paradoxical fact that his poetic stand- stances of Hopkins’s life seems to be indispens-
ing outside the English-speaking world—from able for understanding the hermeneutically-
France and Italy to Japan and Korea—often oriented discussion that follows. In his Oxford
seems to be even higher than within it. years, he was an outstanding student, brilliant in
In his lifetime, however, he was unable to pub- almost everything; he was awarded “double first”
lish a single work out of a relatively broad spec- and called “the star of Balliol” (referring to
trum of his undoubtedly great texts. Even his Balliol College of Oxford University, where
friends tended to consider his poems as idiosyn- Hopkins studied) by Benjamin Jowett, who
crasies, whereas his colleagues and students in would later become the Master of the college.
Dublin—at a provincial college which by that Hopkins could have chosen any path to success,
time had a reputation of being second-rate—were be it social or academic, but he chose differently.
totally unaware of the fact that the person with In 1866, he converted to Roman Catholicism
whom they met on an everyday basis was proba- “just” because he thought that among different
5 The Trauma of Modernism: Between Existential Indeterminacy and Allegoresis 73

trends in Christianity and European philosophy, in one of his letters: “I have 557 papers on hand:
Catholicism was the closest to the truth; corre- let those who have been thro’ the like say what
spondingly, as an individual choice, this was the this means” (Hopkins, 1955a, p. 123). In 1887,
right thing to do. Notably, Hopkins did not make he checked 1795 exams, and in other years—
this decision in an act of blind passion; and he between 1300 and 1800 (O’Flynn, 1987–1988,
was well aware of the social consequences of his p. 176). The quantity was not the only problem.
choice, even though he was probably incapable His notebook from the Dublin period indicates
of assessing their entire range. His conversion an almost unbridgeable gap between his stan-
caused a deep crisis in relations with his family— dards and the actual level of these exams.1 In
a crisis and alienation he was never able to over- addition, trying to be as scrupulous and attentive
come altogether. Given the social and cultural an examiner as he could, Hopkins spent much
restrictions still imposed upon Catholics, this time calculating the exact grades and even
also meant an end to an academic career at a divided the points he gave into fractions. “In the
major institution, as well as blocking many other battered exercise-book called Hopkins’s “Dublin
social paths. Shortly after the conversion, Notebook” there are pages and pages containing
Hopkins would join the Jesuits and become a thousands of examination ticks, marks, and
priest. He would go through long periods of train- occasional comments” (White, 1992, p. 372).
ing at Roehampton, Stonyhurst, and St. Beuno’s This kind of work, alongside teaching, con-
and would also work as a priest at some of the sumed practically all his time. In a letter to his
poorest parishes in England, where he witnessed mother, Hopkins writes: “I labour for what is
mass suffering, poverty. and human degradation. worth little… And in doing this almost fruitless
Despite the relatively rare moments of respite, work I use up all opportunity of doing any other”
like his “salad days” at St. Beuno’s, Hopkins felt (Hopkins, 1956, p. 185). Among others, this
increasingly isolated from any intellectual milieu, drudgery almost excluded any opportunity for
where he could find understanding or appropriate writing poetry. He died from typhoid fever a few
interlocutors; he became increasingly depressed. years later.
As far as we know from his letters, diaries, and The brief biographical review presented
retreat notes, he never regretted his choice and above2 is not meant to be a causal explanation of
never wavered in his allegiance; yet, there was the traumatic experiences of Hopkins’s life in
also a gradual understanding that at the personal Dublin, but only as a background to more easily
level this choice was essentially and irreparably understand these experiences, their major modal-
destructive. In The Wreck, he describes his con- ities, and poetic expression. In the final analysis,
version as “I did say yes/O at lightning and lashed depending on one’s background and specific cir-
rod” (ll. 9–10). cumstances, receiving professorship at the age of
The worst days, however, were yet to come. forty at a second-rate institution with loads of
In 1884, Hopkins was transferred to Dublin, paperwork may be experienced as a significant
which in those days was in a state of dilapidation success or a temporary obstacle, as a minor fail-
and mass poverty, and appointed the Professor of ure or as one’s life tragedy. For Hopkins, how-
Greek at Catholic University, which was also ever, it was closer to the latter. His letters written
going through difficult days. Here as a Catholic, in Dublin testify that he suffered from constant
Hopkins was alienated from other Englishmen; fatigue, anemia, emotional exhaustion, intense
as an Englishman, he was alienated from the
Irishmen. Formally, he received a substantial sal- 1
Norman White writes: “Confronted with endless piles of
ary; yet, as he was a Jesuit, his salary reverted to examination scripts, he was shocked by the poor standard
the university as “a part of the much-needed of answers, and by their grammar, expression, and spell-
funds for running the establishment” (Hopkins, ing… Hopkins’s bewildered and hopeless remarks reveal
the fastidious distance between his standards and those of
1956, p. 185; Martin, 1991, p. 363). If before he the students…” (White, 1992, pp. 371–372).
was often overburdened with work, now this bur- 2
For more detail, see Martin (1991), Mariani (2008),
den became unbearable. In 1884, Hopkins wrote White (1992).
74 D. Sobolev

physical and mental suffering, incessant anxiety interpreted. However, it is this stable hermeneutic
about the urgent work that needed to be com- ground that gradually began to disappear in the
pleted, the long periods of insomnia, the recurrent second half of the nineteenth century, even
feeling that he was gradually dying and, most though it was only in the twentieth century that
importantly, deep depressions (White, 2002). European cultures faced and came to understand
However, the bouts of depression he feared most the entire range and consequences of this disap-
were those when he felt that madness might be pearance. At the same time, for a relatively long
approaching (Hopkins, 1955a, p. 139; Hopkins, while, Hopkins felt that he was able to reestablish
1955b, pp. 216, 222, 282; Hopkins, 1956, p. 256; this hermeneutic ground for the interpretation of
Hopkins, 1959b, p. 262). experience through the very radicalism of his act
In sum, although Hopkins’s did what he of conversion. At the beginning of the twenty-
thought was philosophically, theologically and first century, Badiou would comment that truth as
ethically right, this decision proved to be self- an “event” emerges through faithfulness to it
destructive. He found himself lonely and isolated, (Badiou, 2001, pp. 40–56). In a letter to Canon
far from his family and his country, overburdened Dixon, only a few years before his “dark son-
with relatively useless work, completely unknown nets,” Hopkins writes:
as a poet, almost unable to pursue his literary When a man has given himself to God’s service,
writings, and doomed to unceasing suffering. It is when he has denied himself and followed Christ,
only after the First World War that a comparable he has fitted himself to receive and does receive
split between the world of thought and actual from God a special guidance, a more particular
providence. This guidance is conveyed partly by
existence would become a much more com- the actions of other men, as his appointed superi-
monly-shared cultural experience. Nevertheless, ors, and partly by direct light and inspiration.
it is in Dublin that Hopkins wrote a series of son- (Hopkins, 1955a, p. 93)
nets that are variously referred to as “the terrible
sonnets,” “the dark sonnets” or “the sonnets of Thus, according to Hopkins, both external
desolation.” It is in these sonnets that he attempted events and inner inspiration are more than just
to re-confront these experiences in the hopes of personal success or failure; they are the signs of
making sense out of them. As will be shown divine will. A strange, almost puritan (or evan-
below, in these sonnets, while laying bare the gelical, to use a nineteenth century term), strain
various elements and causes of suffering, the of thought surfaces in this letter. The results of
hovering despair and the fear of approaching Hopkins’s incessant self-scrutiny were different
madness, Hopkins simultaneously followed both at different times. “My heart,” he writes in the
hermeneutic paths outlined above: the typologi- autobiographical part of the 1875 The Wreck of
cal redemption of these experiences through the the Deutschland, “but you were dovewinged, I
complex figure of allegoresis and its reversal, and can tell,/Carrier-witted, I am bold to boast,/To
the denial of their comprehensibility to the human flash from the flame to flame then, tower from
mind. These sonnets proved to be an inexhaust- the grace to the grace” (ll. 22–24). Significantly,
ible source of influence and inspiration for this was written in the period when Hopkins
twentieth-century poetry. believed that he was making constant religious
progress and when he even permitted himself to
return to poetry, at a time when he still felt the
5.4 Hopkins’s Strategies “direct light and inspiration” to which he refers
of the Hermeneutics in the quotation above. However, as I have
of the Existential shown elsewhere, under closer scrutiny even
this relatively early text is structured by an
Translating suffering into meaning usually essential and insurmountable split between
requires a relatively stable semantic foundation, thought and existential experience (Sobolev,
on the basis of which human experience can be 2011, pp. 304–324).
5 The Trauma of Modernism: Between Existential Indeterminacy and Allegoresis 75

The same is true on a broader scale. In tance buys them quite./Death or distance soon
Hopkins’ poetry, hermeneutic certainties, consumes them: wind,/What most I may eye
which are based on clear theological declarations after, be in at the end/I cannot, and out of sight is
and doxological statements, were increasingly out of mind” (ll. 5–11) Thus, tacitly replacing the
counterpointed with hermeneutic uncertainty and literal sense of the verb “to go” with its meta-
loss. In order to better understand this process, phorical meaning, Hopkins turns from an
one may want to take a few steps backward and unnamed man with a lantern to the “men” he has
examine two poems that preceded the articula- encountered during his life. Significantly, these
tion of this double hermeneutics in the Dublin men are commodified: death “buys” and “con-
“dark” sonnets. “The Lantern out of Doors” sumes” them. In this final bargain with death,
focuses on a comparable alloy of human loneli- they turn into passive objects rather than human
ness and divine concern. Hopkins describes a beings; they are represented as inanimate and
strange light in the night, and then, suspending incapable of returning one’s affection. They
the explanation of its origin, in the second qua- come and go; little unifies them with other human
train turns to the existential realm: to the insuper- beings; nothing remains of them in human
able loneliness of the human being as the memory. The human being is alone. As Joseph
existential condition. Relating these apparently Brodsky would put this almost a 100 years later:
disparate subjects to one another, the sestet inter- “Man is alone, like a thought that is being forgot-
prets the symbolic meaning of light in the first ten” (Brodskii, 2014, v. 1, p. 688).
quatrain in terms of the human condition, as it is It is at this point in the articulation of human
described in the second. Hopkins begins: loneliness and reification that a radical herme-
Sometimes a lantern moves along the night. neutic turn takes place. After a seeming digres-
That interests our eyes. And who goes there? sion, Hopkins explains the symbolic meaning of
I think; where from and bound, I wonder, where, the light he has seen in the first quatrain: divine
With, all down darkness wide, his wading light? love and concern. In contrast to the first quatrain,
(ll. 1–4)
now that the vision of a passing unfamiliar man
As the poem opens with this vision of a glim- has been metaphorized and the theme of existen-
mering light in the darkness, Hopkins stresses the tial loneliness has been articulated, this transla-
contrast between the “wading” light that he sees tion of the vision of light in symbolic terms
and the surrounding night. The symbolic impli- becomes especially meaningful. It is precisely
cations of this vision are quite clear: light is the because of this insuperable mundane loneliness
central Biblical symbol of God, and light in dark- that this translation of light as divine concern
ness is a conventional image for divine concern. becomes significant not only in metaphysical, but
Moreover, as Gardner has pointed out, in also in existential terms. At the same time, antici-
Hopkins, in full accordance with the Biblical pating much more direct expressions of herme-
convention, fire and light are “divine symbols” neutic disruptions, Hopkins refrains from explicit
(Gardner, 1948, 1: pp. 154–155). This symbolic allegorization; he does not say, for example, that
answer, however, is to be withheld up to the end this wandering light in darkness is the sign of
of the sonnet; at the beginning of the poem, God’s love and presence. Instead, he turns
Hopkins discusses the origin of the light in directly to divine concern, translating the figura-
strictly realistic terms. The suspension of a sym- tive meaning of the first quatrain into the literal
bolic meaning, which this reticence creates, meaning of the sestet. In the second tercet, the
enables him to introduce the second central interplay between the existential and the religious
theme of the sonnet: the theme of human loneli- comes to the fore. Hopkins writes: “Christ minds:
ness. Moreover, this suspension makes it possible Christ’s interest, what to avow or amend/There,
to foreground the experience of loneliness and its eyes them, heart wants, care haunts, foot follows
significance in strictly existential terms. Hopkins kind,/Their ransom, their rescue, and first, fast,
continues: “Men go by me…/…till death or dis- last friend” (ll. 12–15). Thus, explicitly responding
76 D. Sobolev

to the description of human loneliness in the first One of the first poems to register this transfor-
tercet and implicitly allegorizing the vision of mation is the sonnet “The Candle Indoors.” This
light in the octave, Hopkins concludes that it is poem is especially interesting for the current dis-
God who is both the Guide and the Friend. His cussion since, as Hopkins himself says, it is “a
choice of anthropomorphic diction, in turn, fore- companion to the Lantern” (Hopkins, 1955b,
grounds the intersubjective dimension of his rela- p. 84) discussed above. Moreover, both sonnets
tionship with God, and thus stresses that divine center on light, its sources, and symbolic poten-
concern, as Hopkins describes it, is not just tran- tial. However, the differences are no less signifi-
scendent supervision or the indifferent perfection cant. If the former poem describes the relationship
of the world mechanism of the deists. This rela- between the human being and divine presence in
tionship belongs to the experiential, and not only the world, the latter analyzes that between him
to the theoretical plane. Miraculously, this trium- and the divine presence within the human soul.
phant revelation seems to resolve all the prob- And if the former celebrates the potential of hap-
lems: his “first, fast, last friend” is certainly piness in ultima solitudo, the latter foregrounds
incomparable to any other kind of friendship. It is its potential poignancy. As in the previous poem,
also noteworthy, however, that this happiness is “The Candle Indoors” begins with the same cen-
extremely precarious: not only the speaker’s hap- tral image: that of a light in darkness; and, like-
piness, but the very meaningfulness of his life wise, though the symbolic implication of this
hinges on the permanent feeling of divine con- light is clear enough, it is to be withheld up to the
cern through which the experience of ultimate sestet. The first quatrain describes, rather realisti-
human loneliness can be confronted, interpreted, cally, the picture of a lit candle, burning in the
and overcome. night; significantly, not all the elements of this
This conclusion means that Hopkins’s herme- picture can be potentially translated into sym-
neutics implies the possibility of the extremes of bolic terms: “yellowy moisture,” for example,
happiness and despair. On the one hand, in his cannot. At the same time, the adjective “blear”
“nature sonnets” of 1877–1878 complete detach- already hints to the fact that the vision presented
ment from the world, disinterestedness, and dis- at the beginning of the poem is only a proleptic
possession, make possible the intuition of divine image of a clearer vision to be achieved; and the
presence in nature; Hopkins becomes able to tran- word “blissful” foreshadows the translation of
scend the limitations of his earthly existence and light as grace. The second quatrain, which is also
to partake in the eternal being of God (Sobolev, closely related to the existential realm, describes
2011, pp. 27–89). The God of Hopkins’s poetry is the presumed origin of this light; the candle helps
a constant and sensitive listener to the human unnamed hands to perform their daily drudgery
being, an interlocutor who answers through his (“fingers ply”). Going back to the autobiographi-
natural manifestations. At the same time, if God cal digression above, it is significant that this
ceases to answer, all these blessings inevitably theme of drudgery is related to Hopkins’s own
turn into causes for suffering. The dazzling vision presence as well. Describing his walk, he writes:
of nature becomes meaningless without the inter- “I plod wandering”; and since this phrase is the
nal confidence in divine presence; as Hopkins direct continuation of the previous one (“fingers
says in the notes on Parmenides: “All things are ply/I plod”), it brings to the fore another sense of
upheld by instress and are meaningless without it” the verb “to plod”: to drudge. This is still not
(Hopkins, 1959a, p. 127). Moreover, self-caused drudgery in the sense of the thousands of exams
detachment, which once enabled the intuition of Hopkins had to check in Dublin; yet it is note-
divine presence, has to prevent him from partici- worthy that in describing his thought, he intro-
pating in the mundane life of the world, which duces additional overtones of hard work. This
could become a consolation. The dazzling world parallelism implicitly makes his idle curiosity
of poetic vision turns into a wasteland and plunges (his “a-wanting” to find out the source of light)
into darkness. closer to the hard work of “the eagerer a-wanting
5 The Trauma of Modernism: Between Existential Indeterminacy and Allegoresis 77

Jessy or Jack/There God to aggrandise, God to of spiritual truths, Hopkins uses some elements
glorify” (ll. 7–8); and thus it becomes a proleptic of the experience described in the octave in order
image of the sestet’s allegorization of this “won- to express an ethical imperative, pointing to a
dering” as a spiritual quest for grace. way from the darkness of external existence to
At first sight, however, the phrase quoted the light of inner life: to the realm of grace, of
above (”God to aggrandise, God to glorify”) divine presence. Within this allegorical space,
seems rather obscure; the only thing that becomes already detached from the realistic plane, the
immediately clear is that “Jessy or Jack” refer to sense of Hopkins’s elliptical vocative “you”
the archetypal common people. The question to becomes extremely broad: potentially it may
be asked is why is their daily mundane work a mean Hopkins himself, his archetypal working
sign of “eagerer” desire to praise and “glorify” men and even the reader; it may apply to every-
God; and the answer to this question must be body from priest to peasant. The problem he
looked for in Hopkins’s prose. In his notes on the addresses now is that of the relation between
Principle of Foundation, he writes: grace and humanity in general.
It is not only prayer that gives God glory but work. At the same time, the last line of the quotation
Smiting on an anvil, sawing a beam, whitewashing above seems to pose a problem; it is not clear
a wall, driving horses, sweeping, scouring, every- why the human being, rather than God, is called
thing gives God some glory if being in his grace the “master” of the heart, of the realm of grace. In
you do it as your duty. To go to communion wor-
thily gives God great glory, but to take food in philosophical terms, an answer can be once again
thankfulness and temperance gives him glory too. found in Hopkins’s prose; according to him, the
(Hopkins, 1959b, pp. 240–241) arbitrium, the elective will, which corresponds to
the spiritual rather than empirical realm, is indeed
Thus, like prayer, the exhausting earthly work unconditionally free (1959b, p. 149). In addition,
of common men and their faithfulness to duty, Hopkins writes that it is only when man returns
glorify God. However, in order to be able to do to grace (“candle”) that he can become free:
this, they must perform their duties “in his grace.” become the “master” of his inner life, of his
Correspondingly, if “Jessy or Jack” want to “home”; otherwise, this home belongs to the
“aggrandise” God by means of their work, they devil. Nevertheless, even given this explanation,
have to make sure that their lives are open to a disruptive undercurrent is still present in these
grace; it is only this experience of grace that can lines. As already mentioned, in the first tercet
turn the speaker’s and his common people’s neither the “candle” nor “home” is literal any
“a-wanting” to praise God into a prayer. This more; the symbol has invisibly turned into an
understanding, in turn, helps to account for the allegory: into the figure based on disruption
transition from the octave to the sestet. (Benjamin, 1977; de Man, 1983). This seemingly
Although in this sestet Hopkins does not minor shift foreshadows the development of the
explicitly address the question of whether his poem and mirrors a significant semantic differ-
common people receive grace, he turns directly ence between “The Candle Indoors” and its ear-
to the meditation upon the relationship between lier “companion,” “The Lantern out of Doors.”
grace and the unnamed “you.” He begins with an At first sight, up to this point the two poems
imperative: “Come you indoors, come home; conform to each other. However, there is also a
your fading fire/Mend first and vital candle in conspicuous difference: if in the former poem
close heart’s vault;/You there are master, do your light (divine presence) is “outdoors” in the exter-
own desire” (ll. 9–11). It is worth noting that in nal world, in nature, the latter indicates the only
realistic terms this imperative applies neither to place of communication with God: the inward-
Hopkins nor to his common men: on the one ness of the soul. However, nowhere—neither
hand, they are already inside; on the other hand, here nor his other poems or prose—does Hopkins
this house is not his. Breaking the symbolic con- say that the divine presence within the human
tinuity between the material world and the realm soul is given to direct sensuous intuition (Sobolev,
78 D. Sobolev

2011, pp. 74–89). If in the earlier sonnet he lays bare a split between it and existential experi-
refrained from discussing this split in the very ence, which defies explanation.
center of the human soul, now the dark side of his At the same time, this is not the denial of a
conception of the human being comes to the fore. possibility of the hermeneutics of human existence.
The inner life is referred to by means of the In the sestet, Hopkins addresses an unnamed
metaphor of the “vault” (“in close heart’s vault”), “you” rather than himself, and correspondingly
which is hardly separable from its sense of a manages to avoid the personal consequences of
burial chamber. Death is smuggled into the very both the implicit separation of the human soul
center of the soul; and this ambivance only pre- from divine presence in nature, which is seen
figures the final statement of the poem, the state- against the background of “The Lantern out of
ment which becomes especially palpable against Doors,” and those of separation from the revital-
the background of its companion poem. In the izing divine presence within the soul, which is
second tercet, Hopkins implicitly, yet unequivo- stated explicitly. In “The Candle Indoors,”
cally, states that grace is inaccessible to his Hopkins both describes this experience and
unnamed interlocutor, to everyman: “What hin- distances it. Yet, he distances himself from it
ders? Are you beam-blind, yet to a fault/In a only for a while, and it is only a little later that he
neighbour deft-handed? Are you that liar/And, will return to this experience in his dark sonnets.
cast by conscience out, spendsavour salt?” (ll. And if “The Candle Indoors” seems to retain a
12–14). certain equilibrium between light and darkness—
Whatever the explanation, it is clear enough between divine imperative in the first tercet and
that the human being cannot return to the divine the statement of the inaccessibility of grace in the
presence within his or her soul. “What hinders” second—in these sonnets the speaker is plunged
remains unexplained: this concluding tercet con- deep into the experience of pain, loss, and dark-
sists entirely of sentences with question marks. ness; the world of divine concern turns into a wil-
Hopkins propounds different hypotheses (hypoc- derness. Nevertheless, this change would not
risy, bad conscience), which might be able to make Hopkins reject his existential hermeneutics
explain this essential detachment of the human as self-delusionary and stick to the assumption
being from divine presence, but none are pre- of the ultimate loss of meaning; paradoxically, it
sented in the form of assertion. Significantly, in is this spiritual “wilderness” and darkness that
this tercet Hopkins draws upon the imagery from will provide a number of partial typological
the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5–7; answers to the unresolved questions of “The
MacKenzie, 1990, p. 405). Referring to the piv- Candle Indoors.”
otal point of evangelical history, he tries to
account for the separation of the soul from God,
but he cannot. At the same time, in the tercet the 5.5 In the Wilderness:
function of imagery is not restricted to this allu- Between Loss and Hope
sion to the Sermon on the Mount; it is interwoven
within the sonnet’s own tropological texture as A paralyzing experience of the wilderness had
well. When Hopkins writes “beam-blind,” he already been described by Hopkins in one of his
evokes both the blindness to the beams of light, early poems, which, though untitled, is tradition-
which are mentioned in the first quatrain, and the ally published under the title “A Soliloquy of one
metaphorical beam that a hypocrite and sinner of the spies left in the wilderness.” The poem
cannot see in his own eye (Matthew 7:3). The vis- evokes an episode from Numbers (13–14), in
ible beam of light at the beginning of the poem which 12 spies, the vanguard of the Israelites, are
turns at its end into the proverbial beam in the eye sent by Moses to have a look at the Promised
of the sinner, into an ultimate symbol of the lat- Land. The spies, frightened by the inhabitants of
ter’s separation from grace. In contrast to “The this land, though delighted by its beauty and rich-
Lantern out of Doors,” the hermeneutics of light ness, decide to bring back false news and try to
5 The Trauma of Modernism: Between Existential Indeterminacy and Allegoresis 79

dissuade the Jews from continuing their march. they can also be interpreted in entirely different
Hopkins’s account of the story, however, sig- directions. In other words, the feeling of God’s
nificantly differs from the Biblical narration. His immanence and that of his transcendence are
spy is frightened not by the inhabitants of this contingent on an interpretative system. By the
land, but rather by the wilderness itself and by same token, what determines poetic expression is
surrounding death: “To-day/In hot sands peril- not only the experience itself, but rather its rela-
ous/He [Moses] hides our corpses dropping by tion to a hermeneutic code and the latter’s possi-
the way/Wherein he makes us stray” (ll. 45–48). ble responses to the changes in one’s existential
What was supposed to be the Promised Land, situation. Correspondingly, one must analyze in a
turns out to be a desert, a wasteland; and the spy more detailed manner the hermeneutic strategies
cannot but yearn for a normal life, a normal atti- of Hopkins’s presentation of existential experi-
tude towards the world, for human happiness ence, as well as the strategies by means of which
(“Egypt, the valley of our pleasance, there!… he used to interpret the religious significance of
The comfortable gloom/After the sandfield and his suffering and disappointments.
the unreined glare!” (ll. 13, 16–17). The spy ends Hopkins’s notes and diaries show that he
his soliloquy in despair. repeatedly examined his life, again and again
Hopkins’s reasons for changing the Biblical scrutinizing it as a text. As already mentioned,
narrative were never stated explicitly; yet one the justification of this hermeneutics was also at
may arguably surmise that already at this early hand; Hopkins believed that after the self-
stage he was aware of the dark side of his philo- sacrifices he had made, his experiences must
sophical and religious position with its radical- have a divine meaning inscribed in them. The
ism, and already knew that its promised land of question to be asked now is what could be the
divine presence could easily turn into a spiritual meaning of suffering and loneliness, failure and
wilderness. At the same time, he could not be loss, inner emptiness and the constant feeling of
unaware of the fact that the narrative of the spies exhaustion, about which Hopkins repeatedly
is one of the traditional Christian examples of a wrote during his Dublin years. On the one hand,
failure of faith. And in this early poem, Hopkins they could be interpreted as divine signs of rejec-
who still feels God’s immanent presence in the tion, which, in all probability, foreshadow eternal
world, makes a clear-cut distinction between damnation. In this case, one’s sorrowful life is
himself, as a poet, and this voice which fails to only a proleptic image of eternal pain. On the
withstand the test of faith in the wilderness. Later other hand, theologically, there exists another
on, however, the situation changes. By the end of way to account for Hopkins’s suffering, his sense
the 1870s, Hopkins’s poetry undergoes a radical of personal failure and even internal “darkness,”
change: the epiphany of divine presence in nature as it is depicted in the dark sonnets and will be
turns into inescapable loneliness, and Baroque discussed below in more detail. They can be
exuberance makes way for harshness and seem- interpreted as a personal temptation, which is
ing simplicity. During the almost 100 years of sent by God to the most upright and beloved. As
Hopkins studies, various hypotheses have been such, they merge with Christ’s temptation in the
propounded in order to explain this change; most wilderness (Matthew 4:1–11; Luke 4:1–22) and
of them suggest that it resulted from Hopkins’s his agony on the cross; pain becomes a sign of
constant exhaustion and feelings of loneliness, as divine presence and redemption. Moreover,
well as the disappearance of God from his life. although in itself this interpretation is not neces-
However, in human life (save, perhaps for that of sarily related to mysticism, in Hopkins’s poetic
the mystics) God neither appears nor disappears world, where divine presence and concern are
directly. Instead, certain events or psychological constantly stressed, suffering and darkness as the
conditions, which in themselves may belong to signs of divine concern could easily be followed
completely mundane experience, can be inter- by a mystical echo (Sobolev, 2011, pp. 72–89).
preted as divine presence or absence; yet, as such, Hopkins’s later poems show that it is the latter
80 D. Sobolev

hermeneutic possibility that he often embraced, many others before and after him, he repeats
even though the interpretation of inner emptiness Jeremiah’s question, “why do sinners’ ways pros-
and pain as a proleptic image of damnation could per?” (l. 3) and then contrasts the prosperity of
not be discarded either. This possibility of the the sinners to his own ruined life (“Oh, the sots
dual interpretation of suffering explains, to a and thralls of lust/Do in spare hours more thrive
considerable extent, the doubleness of Hopkins’s that I that spend/Sir, life upon thy cause,” “disap-
late poetry with its paradoxical combination of pointment all I endeavor end[s],” “thou dost
the painful sense of detachment from God with defeat, thwart me,” (ll. 7–9, 4, 6–7). By the time
the acute awareness of spiritual proximity to him. of the sonnet’s composition, Hopkins had already
If the former is expressed in the famous invoca- voiced the theme of personal failure in its relation
tion of the “dearest” “that lives alas! away” (“I to the incomprehensible divine will and the prob-
wake and feel,” l. 8); the latter surfaces in the lem of divine justice in one of the dark sonnets,
self-identification with Biblical heroes, in imita- “To seem the stranger”: “Only what word/Wisest
tio Christi, and the direct invocations of God. my heart breeds dark heaven’s baffling ban/Bars
Let us take a closer look. Describing his life in or hell’s spell thwarts” (ll. 11–13). To understand
Dublin, Hopkins repeatedly stressed his ostensi- the full significance of this insistence, one should
ble lack of inspiration and his inability to create. recollect Hopkins’s remark that he expects to
Paradoxically, these were the years when he receive special guidance from God; now this
wrote perhaps the most beautiful and, without guidance seems only to point out his failures in
doubt, the most tragic verses in the English poetry contrast to the prosperity of sinners. In the sec-
of the century; yet, an understanding of this was ond tercet of “Thou art indeed just, Lord,”
not what his incessant self-scrutiny yielded. In Hopkins adds that divine injustice does not apply
September 1885, he writes to Robert Bridges: “If only to external mundane failures; his internal
I could but produce work I should not mind its life is permeated with the constant feeling of
being buried, silenced, and going no further; but exhaustion and internal emptiness: “But not I
it kills me to be time’s eunuch and never to beget” build; no but strain,/Time’s eunuch, and not breed
(Hopkins, 1955b, p. 222). This is a simple indica- one work that wakes” (ll. 12–13). This internal
tion, unredeemed by any consoling interpreta- emptiness is even more poignant for, unlike
tion. Nevertheless, Hopkins’s attitude towards his earthly injustice, it cannot be ascribed to human
ostensible internal emptiness was not always like vices; it must be the direct manifestation of divine
this; in January 1888, he writes to the same will.
Bridges: “All impulse fails me: I can give myself Nevertheless, the first line of the sonnet is a
no sufficient reason for going on. Nothing comes: statement of faith, of the ability to withstand suf-
I am a eunuch—but it is for the kingdom of heav- fering and emptiness. Although Hopkins implies
en’s sake” (Hopkins, 1955b, p. 270). In contrast that he has forfeited the certainty of divine jus-
to the previous description of inner emptiness tice, he uses his soliloquy to restate it. He begins
and exhaustion, here Hopkins interprets them as the sonnet with an invocation to God (“Thou art
necessary, perhaps even as a purgatory: as a way indeed just, Lord”) and ends it with an even more
to heaven, as a sign of the highest hope. Both this direct address: “Mine, O thou lord of life” (l. 14).
self-representation as a “eunuch” and the inten- He stresses that, regardless of exhaustion and
sity of faith, which is so conspicuous in this line, pain, God is still his God (“Mine”). Furthermore,
are reproduced in one of most his famous son- in using the imagery of the battle and argument
nets, “Thou art indeed just, Lord.” with God, the sonnet evokes both Jacob and Job.
Apparent duality characterizes it. The sonnet Implicitly comparing himself to Job (“Thou art
voices internal pain, bitterness, and resentment; it indeed just, Lord… but, sir, so what I plead is
centers on an outcry of pain. There is a broader just,” ll. 1–2), he insists on both his uprightness
picture as well; Hopkins portrays a world that is and his right to speak to his creator. To compare
bereft of providence and divine justice. Like himself to Jacob–Hopkins’s “I contend/With
5 The Trauma of Modernism: Between Existential Indeterminacy and Allegoresis 81

Thee” (ll. 1–2) explicitly echoes Jacob’s struggle (Rose, 1977, p. 207). “I wake and feel the fell of
with God at Peniel in Genesis 32—means even dark not day,” writes Hopkins, “What hours, O
more: Hopkins’s confidence that eventually he what black hours we have spent/This night! What
will be blessed and will get a new life; “I have sights you, heart saw…//But where I say/Hours I
seen God face to face, and my life is preserved” mean years, mean life…” (ll. 1–3, 5–6). Human
(Genesis 32:30). Moreover, significantly, it is not life and unceasing suffering become intrinsically
only Hopkins’s self-portrait, but also his descrip- and intimately linked to each other, whereas no
tion of ubiquitous mundane injustice, that are explanation of this relation is suggested. In addi-
inseparable from Biblical overtones. The first tion, as has been repeatedly noted by scholars,
two lines of the sonnet, as well as the climactic Hopkins’s self-representation evokes the tradi-
moment of the articulation of divine injustice tional images of the sufferings of the damned,
(“Why do sinners’ ways prosper?” l. 3), are the including recurrent echoes from Paradise Lost
reiteration of the words of Jeremiah (12:1), and (Sobolev, 2011). His representation of human
the epigraph brings this appropriation of the existence almost merges with eternal suffering.
prophet’s words to the fore. This, in turn, implies And indeed Hopkins continues: “The lost are like
that even the most risky, seemingly heterodox, this, and their scourge to be/As I am mine, their
moments of questioning of the ways of God do sweating selves; but worse” (“I wake and feel,” ll.
not detach Hopkins from God; on the contrary, 13–14). As a result, the sonnet lays bare the expe-
due to the condensed typological substructure of rience of suffering, its pure irrationality and
his questioning, it paradoxically shortens the dis- injustice, while refraining from any indication of
tance between him and his creator. The word a possibility of its explanation, understanding, or
“contend” which Hopkins chooses for rendering reversal. The only hermeneutic direction it indi-
Jeremiah’s monologue adds an element of physi- cates through the connotative and intertextual
cal presence, however metaphorized, to this gen- fields is even more disquieting in its linking of
eral description of Hopkins’s dialogue with God. earthly to eternal suffering, and correspondingly,
in a possibility it brings to the fore, without how-
ever voicing it, that the irrationality of earthly
5.6 Hopkins’s Existential suffering may have no compensation in the world
Hermeneutics: of eternity.
Between Despair This theme, as well as the diction and tragic
and Allegoresis rhetoric of “I wake and feel,” are further devel-
oped in another “dark sonnet”: “No worst.”
A similar dialectics of suffering and divine pres- Hopkins writes: “No worst, there is none. Pitched
ence, verging on almost physical contact, as well past pitch of grief,/More pangs will, schooled at
as a concordant typological structure, is present forepangs, wilder wring” (ll. 1–2). Once again,
in the dark sonnets, and it becomes especially the sonnet opens with the lines that articulate the
conspicuous in one of the darkest, “Carrion experience of pain, both mental and physical,
Comfort.” Hopkins wrote that two of these son- lasting and almost unbearable, irreversible, irre-
nets were “written in blood” (1955b, p. 219), and cuperable, while refusing to suggest any explana-
it is usually assumed that one of them is “Carrion tion for it, which can be comprehensible to the
Comfort,” whereas the other is either “I wake and human mind. Instead, the text abounds with
feel” or “No worst, there is none” (Gardner, various expressions of anguish and grief: “grief,”
1948, 2: p. 333; Mariani, 1970, pp. 197–248; “pang,” “cries,” “chief-woe,” “sorrow,” “fright-
MacKenzie, 1981, pp. 169–184). It is in these ful,” “wretch,” among many others, all of them
sonnets that the latent hermeneutic possibilities within the fourteen lines of the space of the son-
of Hopkins’s hermeneutics of human experience net. In the second part of the first octave, this
are carried to extremes; these poems, as Rose description of pain is briefly interrupted by a
puts it, seem “to teeter on the edge of blasphemy” question that invokes Christ and Mary. They are
82 D. Sobolev

supposed to give relief, but apparently do not; prises a few explicit and implicit comparisons
“Comforter, where, where is your comforting?/ with hell; and the meditations of the speaker are
Mary, mother of us/where is your relief?” (ll. characterized by dogmatic indeterminacy and
3–4). Significantly, no such comfort is indicated metaphysical vertigo (Sobolev, 2011, pp. 246–252).
in the poem; and after this question—which may Furthermore, like in “No worst,” death seems to
be interpreted as either Jeremiah’s requirement of be the only hope and consolation such a world
justice or conversely as a rhetorical question can give. However, to accept this consolation
voicing bitter resignation—Hopkins immediately means to embrace the way of despair: to succumb
returns to the description of suffering, both phys- to the temptation in the wilderness. And Hopkins
ical and mental: “O the mind, mind has moun- begins his “Carrion Comfort,” which was pre-
tains; cliffs of fall/Frightful, sheer, no man sumably written shortly after “No worst”
fathomed. Hold them cheap/May who ne’er hung (MacKenzie, 1990, pp. 449–450, 455), with the
here” (ll. 9–11). assertion that he can resist this temptation.
Significantly, this depiction of the mind as a Not, I’ll not carrion comfort, Despair, not feast on
frightful and mortally dangerous landscape thee;
echoes those of Hopkins’s letters that voice his Not untwist—slack they may be—these last
fear of madness. In addition, as has been noted by strands of man
In me or, most weary, cry I can no more. I can;
several scholars, the sonnet’s allusions to King Can something, hope, wish day come, not choose
Lear, culminating in “Here! creep,/Wretch, under not to be. (ll. 1–4)
a comfort serves in a whirlwind” (see, for exam-
ple, White, 1986), add an intertextual dimension Apostrophizing and capitalizing on despair,
to this general expression of pain, loss, helpless- Hopkins transforms his resistance to its power
ness, and hopelessness, the feeling of mental col- into the medieval psychomachia: he dramatizes
lapse and inevitable death. Paradoxically, in the the psychological condition as a battle for the
sonnet the only hope and consolation come from salvation of his soul, as a fight predetermined by
the very intensity of pain that may turn out to be God. As a result, his fight with despair, his resis-
overwhelming for the human mind and the body: tance to the temptation of its “feast,” becomes
“Nor does our small/Durance deal with that steep similar to the temptation of the spies, or even to
or deep,” writes Hopkins (ll. 11–12). It is because that of Christ in the wilderness of the Judean des-
of this human fragility that his “Fury had shrieked ert. In September 1883, 2 years before the “dark
‘No ling-/Ering! Let me be fell: force I must be sonnets,” Hopkins wrote in his retreat notes: “In
brief’” (No worst,” ll. 7–8). Correspondingly, this evening’s meditation on the Temptation I
death as the final destruction of the human capac- was with our Lord in the wilderness in spirit”
ity for suffering, as well as sleep as its proleptic (1959b, p. 253).
image, are the only explicit images of consola- In the last line of the sonnet, Hopkins adds
tion, and their appearance concludes the sonnet: that this is not only a battle predetermined by
“Creep,/Wretch, under a comfort serves in a God, but also a fight with God; he writes: “I
whirlwind: all/Life death does end and each day wretch lay wrestling with (my God!) my God”
dies with sleep” (ll. 12–14). In a concordant frag- (“Carrion Comfort,” l. 14). This line is of para-
ment “The times are nightfall,” composed around mount significance. It has often been argued by
the same time, Hopkins writes that his life “makes Hopkins scholars that in the dark sonnets God’s
welcome death, does dear forgetfulness.” immanence is replaced by his complete transcen-
At first sight, the world disclosed in “Carrion dence, that these sonnets, in James Olney’s
Comfort” is similar to its representation in “I words, are the “tropes of absence” (Olney, 1993,
wake and feel” and “No worst”; this is the world p. 82). Yet, in “Carrion Comfort” Hopkins’s
of darkness, violence, and overwhelming pain: explicit description of suffering as the “wres-
both mental and physical. Once again Hopkins’s tling” with God makes this suggestion hardly ten-
representation of this world of darkness com- able. On the contrary, this description of pain in
5 The Trauma of Modernism: Between Existential Indeterminacy and Allegoresis 83

itself becomes only a part of the battle which the God. When Hopkins was able to perceive divine
sonnet dramatizes. Once again, typologically, it presence in nature, he wrote poems about nature;
evokes Jacob’s fight with God in Genesis 32. now, that this feeling has disappeared, he is forced
This is not the disappearance of God, but rather to speak, to cry, directly to his only listener and
his most intense presence and such a proximity to his “first, fast, last friend” (“The Lantern out of
him that one may easily interpret it as hetero- Doors,” l. 14) Moreover, whereas in the “nature
doxy. Most significantly, however, the seeming sonnets” of 1877–1878 Hopkins was able to per-
repetition concluding the sonnet echoes the last ceive divine presence only through detached,
words of Christ: “Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?” however attentive, vision, in the dark sonnets this
(Matthew 27:46). Thus, although Hopkins pres- presence is given to him in the immediate and
ents his suffering as a purely irrational and irre- unmediated experience, and it isexpressed in the
coverable experience, simultaneously, through metaphors of physical contact and aggression: in
the condensed reference to a number of Biblical the bodily, almost erotic, proximity of “laying”
paradigms, he re-presents it not only as deeply and “wrestling.” The invocation of God as a cos-
meaningful, but as a sign of the highest hope. A mic power, which in “Pied Beauty” “fathers
typological substructure transfigures personal forth” the world, in “Carrion Comfort” makes
anguish; and, conversely, it is the intensity of this way for almost heretical intimacy. Here suffering
anguish that makes possible participation in the and pain turn into the intimations—and I con-
Biblical history. sciously pun upon this word here—of divine
As in most typological representations in presence. This understanding, in turn, may shed
post-Reformation Christianity, a complex and bi- light on the double meaning of diction in other
partite rhetorical figure is involved here. A spe- dark sonnets. Thus, in “I wake and feel” Hopkins
cific personal and existential experience is related writes: “What hours, O what black hours we have
to a Biblical episode, which it exemplifies and spent/This night” (ll. 2–3). In the context of the
enacts, whereas episodes from the Hebrew Bible poem, this “we” may mean “I, Hopkins, and my
tend to be simultaneously interpreted as prefigur- heart,” even though this interpretation would
ing even more basic “types” from the New make it a relatively awkward line, which is rarely
Testament. All these types are perceived as being found in Hopkins. Or, and this is much more
both literary (“historically”) true, and simultane- plausible, this can be another echo of the same
ously as embodying the most fundamental belief in presence and intimacy that was expressed
abstract theological and ethical meanings. In in the line quoted above: “I was with our Lord in
turn, these abstract meanings are projected upon the wilderness in spirit” (Hopkins, 1959b, 253).
the initial personal actions or experiences. In
more technical terms, because of the double
semantic detachment involved in this rhetorical 5.7 A Look Backwards: Poetics
operation, in such a representation the existential of Trauma
and the universal are related to each other not Between the Collective
through the continuity of symbolic signification, and the Singular
but rather through the disruption of allegory. It is
not by chance therefore that this typologically- It is high time now to return to a broader literary
oriented representation of painful and traumatic and cultural picture, at least for a short while. The
personal experiences concludes with the reitera- two polar and radical literary strategies of con-
tions of the words of Christ, as both a central fronting and understanding the traumatic experi-
typological paradigm and the very basis for a ences, with which Modernism was constantly
possibility of any typological interpretation. engaged, were as follows. One could acknowledge
Thus, paradoxically enough, incessant suffer- existential pain, the loss of meaning, ontological
ing and the feeling of his life’s collapse have only disillusionment and the semantic indeterminacy
shortened the distance between Hopkins and his of existence as the ultimate truth of being, the
84 D. Sobolev

very truth of being human, and might even As has also been shown above, the relation
embrace them as the philosophical ground of a between these basic hermeneutic strategies is
more authentic type of existence and behavior. no less important than the ways of their poetic
Alternatively, one could aim to rewrite them in realization and specification. The above analysis
search of their figurative transfiguration within of the dark sonnets has not only illustrated these
the relatively stable systems of religious or philo- hermeneutic strategies, but has also demon-
sophical meaning. Correspondingly, if the latter strated how their literary realization can call into
strategy is frequently related to the articulation of question the very possibility of a compromise
philosophical nostalgia, the former is associated between them. Hopkins’s major poetic and phil-
with its renouncement. However, most signifi- osophical innovation, even in comparison to the
cant Modernist texts—including The Castle, The much later writings of “High Modernism,” is
Magic Mountain, Ulysses and To the Lighthouse— based on preventing these hermeneutic extremes
are usually engaged in negotiating the gap from collapsing one into another, and moreover
between these two literary and philosophical in refusing to negotiate the gap between them.
strategies. In this sense, Hopkins is not only the On the one hand, finitude and pain, despair and
first “Modernist” in English-language literature, madness, the loss of meaning are left in their
his work is also a synecdoche for the major philo- complete barrenness, unredeemed by any senti-
sophical and hermeneutic concerns of literary mentality or self-irony. On the other, the possi-
Modernism. bility of meaning, the human need for meaning,
At the same time, the case study carried out in and the hermeneutics of typological allegoresis
this essay has demonstrated how the two major are also left to stand in their totality and clarity,
modernist approaches to the traumatic can be uncompromised by any incongruence with the
realized as more specific poetic perspectives and existential or the historical. No compromise
hermeneutic strategies. Moreover, this analysis between them is either achieved or attempted;
has shown that this relatively common repertoire the tension between the bareness of the existen-
of the major strategies of the hermeneutics of the tial and the search for the meaning of suffering
traumatic not only forms the basis of their indi- emerges in Hopkins’s writings as central to
vidual specification, but also that of their reinter- human existence.
pretation in relation to one another. This is not In order to foreground the figurative and phil-
only a hermeneutic space where the singularity osophical specificity of this relation one may
of a poetic work can be realized, but also the compare it to Joyce or Kafka, who have been
space where the singularity of the human voice in mentioned above as concordant to Hopkins in
its relation to the traumatic—and the existential many important senses. Nevertheless, the differ-
in general—can become meaningful even against ences are no less significant. In Ulysses, the
the background of the semantic bareness of world of shops and cemeteries, pubs and broth-
human existence. Indeed, as has been shown els, and most importantly of existential emptiness,
above, on the one hand, Hopkins lays bare pain is not only permeated with symbols, but is also
and suffering, loss and despair, death and the enveloped in a totalizing symbolic structure of
semantic indeterminacy of human existence. On the Odyssean myth, which it contradicts at every
the other hand, in direct opposition to the first significant point. Yet this contradiction is not one
strategy, his poetic representations of the trau- of contrast, but rather that of discordance, ironic
matic draw upon the major typological paradigms gap, and misplacement. In The Castle, the repre-
of the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament. As sentation of the existential with its alienation and
a result, suffering reveals itself as essentially and violence underscores its intrinsic requirement for
initially allegorical, as the re-acting of the very figuration, its allegorical character; moreover,
paradigm of the meaningful—not a denial or a these representations both suggest a broad vari-
partial collapse of existential meaning, but its ety of allegorical meanings and deny a possibility
very revelation. of embracing these meanings (Sobolev, 2013).
5 The Trauma of Modernism: Between Existential Indeterminacy and Allegoresis 85

There are two essentially different ways of Hopkins, G. M. (1930). In R. Bridges & C. Williams
(Eds.), Poems of Gerard Manley Hopkins (2nd ed.).
looking at these three examples of Modernist
London: Oxford University Press.
writing: as it seems, paradoxically, both are accu- Hopkins, G. M. (1955a). In C. C. Abbott (Ed.), The cor-
rate. One may underscore a concordant separation respondence of Gerard Manley Hopkins and Richard
between the pain, the trauma, and the loneliness Watson Dixon. London: Oxford University Press,
Geoffrey Cumberlenge.
of the existential, on the one hand, and its tran-
Hopkins, G. M. (1955b). In C. C. Abbott (Ed.), The letters
scendent figurative meanings, as they are both of Gerard Manley Hopkins to Robert Bridges. London:
suggested and problematized by these texts, on Oxford University Press, Geoffrey Cumberlege.
the other. Conversely, in each of these cases one Hopkins, G. M. (1956). In C. C. Abbott (Ed.), Further
letters of Gerard Manley Hopkins, including his cor-
may underscore the meaningful singularity of the
respondence with Coventry Patmore. London: Oxford
literary and philosophical stance that is taken by University Press.
Hopkins, Joyce, or Kafka. To return to Hopkins, Hopkins, G. M. (1959a). In H. House & G. Storey (Eds.),
one should conclude that although his poetry The journals and papers of Gerard Manley Hopkins.
Oxford: Oxford University Press.
can serve to better understand the major herme-
Hopkins, G. M. (1959b). In C. Devlin (Ed.), The sermons
neutic and literary strategies of confronting the and devotional writings of Gerard Manley Hopkins.
traumatic in Modernist literature, it also provides London: Oxford University Press.
a rare example of a philosophical stance that Krutch, J. W. (1931). The modern temper: A study and
confession. New York: Harcourt, Brace.
refuses any rhetorical, sentimental, or psycho-
Lewis, P. (2007). The Cambridge introduction to modern-
logical solution to the problem of suffering, ism. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
which it both articulates and confronts. MacKenzie, N. H. (1981). A reader’s guide to Gerard
Manley Hopkins. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.
MacKenzie, N. H. (1990). Commentary. In G. M. Hopkins
(Ed.), The poetical works of Gerard Manley Hopkins
References (pp. 213–513). Oxford: Clarendon Press.
Mariani, P. (1970). A commentary on the complete poems
Adorno, T. W. (1973). Negative dialectics. New York: of Gerard Manley Hopkins. Ithaca and London:
Seabury Press. Cornell University Press.
Althusser, L. (1971). Lenin and philosophy and other Mariani, P. (2008). Gerard Manley Hopkins: A life.
essays. London: New Left Books. New York: Viking.
Armstrong, T. (2005). Modernism: A cultural history. Martin, R. B. (1991). Gerard Manley Hopkins: A very pri-
Cambridge: Polity. vate life. London: Harper Collins: Flamingo.
Badiou, A. (2001). Ethics: An essay on the understanding O’Flynn, G. (1987–1988). Hopkins’s teaching. The
of evil. London, New York: Verso. Hopkins Quarterly, 14.1–4:163–178.
Benjamin, W. (1977). The origin of German tragic drama. Olney, J. (1993). The language(s) of poetry: Walt
London: NLB. Whitman, Emily Dickinson, Gerard Manley Hopkins.
Bradshaw, D., & Dettmar, K. J. H. (Eds.). (2005). A com- Athens: University of Georgia Press.
panion to modernist literature and culture. Oxford: Peirce, C. S. (1932). Collected papers of Charles Sanders
Blackwell. Peirce (Vol. 2). Cambridge, MA: Harvard University
Brodskii, I. A. (2014). Maloye sobranie sochinenii. St. Press and the Belknap Press.
Petersburg: Azbuka. Rose, A. M. (1977). Hopkins “Carrion Comfort”: The art-
De Man, P. (1983). The Rhetoric of Temporality. In P. de ful disorder of prayer. Victorian Poetry, 15, 207–217.
Man (Ed.), Blindness and insignt: Essays in the rheto- Sobolev, D. (2011). The split world of Gerard Manley
ric of contemporary criticism (2nd ed., pp. 187–228). Hopkins: An essay in semiotic phenomenology.
Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. Washington, DC, Baltimore: The Catholic University
Faulkner, P. (1977). Modernism. London: Methuen. of America Press.
Foucault, M. (1970). The order of things: An archaeology Sobolev, D. (2013). Allegoria uMashmaut beYetsirat
of the human sciences. London: Tavistock Publications. Kafka. In Z. Shamir, Y. Ataria, & H. Nagid (Eds.),
Foucault, M. (1972). The archaeology of knowledge. Kafka: Perspektivot hadashot (pp. 24–67). Tel-Aviv:
London: Tavistock Publications. Safra (in Hebrew).
Gardner, W. H. (1948). Gerard Manley Hopkins: A study White, N. (1986). Hopkins’ Sonnet “No worst, there is
of poetic idiosyncrasy in relation to poetic tradition. none” and the storm scenes in King Lear. Victorian
London: Martin Secker & Warburg. Poetry, 24(1), 83–87.
Hartman, G. (1966). Introduction: Poetry and justifica- White, N. (1992). Hopkins: A literary biography. Oxford:
tion. In G. Hartman (Ed.), Hopkins: A collection of Clarendon.
critical essays (pp. 1–15). Englewood Cliffs, NJ: White, N. (2002). Hopkins in Ireland. Dublin: University
Prentice-Hall. College Dublin Press.
Before Recognition:
On the Aesthetics of Aftermath 6
Lisa Saltzman

defining characteristics of that catastrophic

6.1 Introduction event, both in its occurrence and its transmis-
sion? Even before the relentless repetitions of
In strictly psychoanalytic terms, trauma describes televised instant replay began on September 11,
a wound to the mind, an event so overwhelming 2001, repetition structured the event’s very
that its understanding is necessarily deferred and unfolding. It was only with the second plane’s
perhaps only belatedly apprehended through its collision with the South Tower that the meaning
inadvertent repetition. Radically inassimilable, of the first plane’s collision with the North Tower
trauma tests the limits of representation. For became intelligible. With the second strike came
much as the temporal economy of trauma is the knowledge that what had happened to the first
understood to be one of deferral, so too is the tower was not a freak accident but a deliberate act
temporality of its representation. In other words, of terrorism. In repetition, meaning emerged.
if there are certain events that we may only begin And a television audience participated in that
to assimilate long after their occurrence, then it is movement from incomprehension to understand-
only in that process of belated encounter and ing and then witnessed it over and over again, a
understanding that we might begin to represent catastrophic event as visual spectacle, the visual
them, to shape them into aesthetic form (Caruth, field as a site of mediated yet immediate
1996). encounter.
What do we do then, with a catastrophic In light of these events, a number of ques-
event in which structures of deferral have been tions emerge: If the events of September 11th
foreclosed, in which the divide between occur- were indeed a traumatic event, how do we con-
rence and representation collapses into the imme- template the question of their representation? Is
diacy of live television coverage and urgent calls their representation to be found in the media
for commemoration? Furthermore, what do we images, moving and still, through which the vast
do when repetition and representation are the majority of spectators, even in New York, “wit-
nessed” the events? Or is it to be found else-
where, later, when artists and writers begin to
L. Saltzman, Ph.D. (*) reimagine and reconfigure those events into
Professor and Chair of History of Art and the Andrew something that we might call art, or aesthetic
W. Mellon Foundation Chair in the Humanities, Bryn
Mawr College, Bryn Mawr, PA 19010, USA representation? What constitutes that arena of
e-mail: representation? How and where do we begin to

© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2016 87

Y. Ataria et al. (eds.), Interdisciplinary Handbook of Trauma and Culture,
DOI 10.1007/978-3-319-29404-9_6
88 L. Saltzman

think about aesthetics in the aftermath of 6.2 Art, Architecture

September 11th? How do we understand the and Aftermath
relation between trauma and representation?
Did the unrelenting stream of media images What did we see in terms of visual representa-
overwhelm the psychic structures of deferral, tion? In addition to the stream of media images,
forging and forcing a set of encounters in the iconic and particular, that captured the event or
time and place which might otherwise be held as sequence of events of September 11th, and
the psychic space of refusal and refuge, but which taken together, form the visual archive of
which here was already the site of representa- the event, work soon emerged that sought not to
tion? Or, might we instead conclude that for all re-present that archive of images, but to engage
the media images, video footage, memorial the event from a position of aftermath and retro-
activity, and architectural planning, September spection. Hans-Peter Feldman’s 9/12 Front
11th has yet to be encountered in any strict psy- Page, 2001, for example, undertook the funda-
chological sense, and in turn, has yet to be fig- mentally archival project of collecting the front
ured? In other words, did the visual economy of pages of newspapers from cities around the
the events of September 11th trump the psychic world on the day after and arranging them for
economy of trauma, offering immediacy in installation in a grid.1
place of belatedness, images in place of their Introducing a measure of belatedness to the
impotence and impossibility? Or, might we con- insistent temporality of immediacy that charac-
clude that for all its re-presentation, the events terized the representational economy of the event
of September 11th have yet to be represented? and its witnessing, much ensuing work typically
As a means of engaging these and other ques- took the form of the memorial. For example, if
tions, the essay that follows will assemble and photographs of the missing posted around
address a body of visual work that emerged in the New York first served as signs of hope that the
aftermath of the events of September 11th. depicted might well be found, they all too quickly
Turning first to Michael Arad’s memorial pro- gave way to their funerary and memorial func-
posal, Reflecting Absence, a piece that is at once tion, de facto shrines to those victims whose bod-
a work of art and architecture, the essay will then ies were lost amidst the rubble. And such
survey and analyze a series of works that may be photographs, whether posted along the wall of St.
generally understood to have confronted these Vincent’s Hospital in Greenwich Village or,
events in cultural form: Jonathan Borofksy’s sometime later, printed, along with short biogra-
sculptural installation Walking to the Sky, Paul phies, as “Portraits of Grief” in the New York
Chan’s video installation 1st Light, Pia Lindman’s Times, came to function as a means of commem-
“portraits of grief,” as well as her video projects orating the victims of September 11th.
Viewing Platform and Waterline, Art Spiegelman’s But if the assertion of human presence,
graphic novel, In the Shadow of No Towers and through that memento that is the photograph, was
Jonathan Safran Foer’s photographically- an initial means of encountering, and countering,
illustrated work of literary fiction, Extremely the individual losses of September 11th, it was
Loud and Incredibly Close. Through a close read- not the only visual strategy in evidence. The suc-
ing of each project, indebted at once to the art cessful proposals for the World Trade Center
historical project of exegesis and interpretation memorial competition, a competition announced
and the literature on trauma, the essay pursues as rubble and remains were still being cleared
the possibility that each work is not so much a
post-traumatic representation of September 11th, 1
The piece was exhibited for the first time in Okwui
but rather a cultural site in which the very impos- Enwenzor’s exhibition Archive Fever: Uses of the
Document in Contemporary Art at the International
sibility of such representation is both theorized
Center for Photography in New York in the spring of
and figured. 2008.
6 Before Recognition: On the Aesthetics of Aftermath 89

from the site, largely avoided such claims to Towers, while also echoing and emblematizing
presence, forgoing the power and poignancy of all that is signified by the torch held aloft by the
figurative images for visual instantiations of their Statue of Liberty. Its appeal lay as well in its
impossibility and inadequacy, putting forth in its insistence on maintaining and foregrounding the
place absence as aesthetic form. In the winning exposed subterranean structure of the World
proposal, for example, Michael Arad demarcated Trade Center, the retaining wall that had held
the bases of Yamasaki’s Twin Towers with two back the waters of the Hudson. Its surface marked
massive reflecting pools. Their walled edges etch and scarred by the traces of the site and its
onto the landscape the reconstituted architectural destruction, an architectural remainder and
footprints of each lost object, the twin towers, reminder, at once survivor and witness,
already uncanny doubles even at the moment of Libeskind’s exposed slurry wall managed also to
their creation and construction. Negative space repeat, or at least recall in its minimalist form and
concretized as memorial form, Arad’s proposal recessional relation to its site, something of the
attempts to address loss, to express loss, through visual language and symbolism of Maya Lin’s
its monumentalizing of and insistence upon Vietnam Veterans memorial, that monumental
absence. form whose departure from traditional figurative
Arad’s memorial proposal countered and practices has come to define a mode of memorial
inverted the almost redemptive forms of Tribute architecture in the present (Abramson, 1996).
of Light, which on March 11, 2002, repeating the Unlike Libeskind’s proposed inclusion of a lit-
form of Yamasaki’s Twin Towers in two intense, eral survivor, the slurry wall, Arad’s design pro-
ascending beams, temporarily restored the sky- vides not so much a trace of the lost object, or in
line of Lower Manhattan by making visible this case, objects, namely the Twin Towers and
again, even if only as spectral trace, the irredeem- all they represented, but rather, the illusion of
ably absent architecture. In contradistinction, their tracing. Unlike Libeskind’s slurry wall, in
Arad’s memorial is recessed in the earth, two Arad’s design there is no relation, beyond the
depressed voids that continue the vector of down- symbolic, to the lost towers. Even as Arad’s walls
ward motion that was the collapse of the Twin of water take and map as their site the former
Towers, the desperate plunge that was the descent footprints of the Twin Towers, demarcating as
of the “falling man.” A gravitational movement massive voids the areas from which the towers
whose trajectory and force is echoed in the water- rose, the walls are not, of course, actual architec-
falls that cascade down the surfaces of the tural footprints. They are, instead, something like
recessed bounding walls, the perpetual cycle of an architectural site plan grafted belatedly onto
water also repeats something of the logic of the the landscape of death and destruction. Collapsed
video loop that first imaged, but in its repetition and cleared away, the towers left no footprints, no
then supplanted or simply became our memory markers, and no imprint. In the memorial land-
of the event, representation replacing anything scape that is now the new World Trade Center,
like an experience of the real. save the slurry wall, there is little trace of what
In formal terms, it may be said that Arad’s once was. Unlike an actual footprint, an imprint
memorial proposal reprised or echoed certain or outline that bears the trace of what stood above
crucial aspects of Daniel Libeskind’s initial it, of the massive buildings that once pressed
architectural plan for the World Trade Center. their weight upon the surface of the earth, of the
Though now much modified, Libeskind’s plan looming towers that once rose above the streets
captured the imaginations of its judges and a of Lower Manhattan, Arad’s memorial footprints,
broader public in part for the symbolism of its his walls of water, his monumental silhouettes,
soaring architectural form, the 1776 foot Freedom are not an actual trace of what once rose above
Tower, a building conceived to condense and that now hallowed ground. Their imprint is only
restore to the skyline of Lower Manhattan some- imagined, a means of belatedly marking, memo-
thing of the monumental presence of the Twin rializing that which remains irredeemably lost.
90 L. Saltzman

Individual and collective, private and public, in Strasbourg, France in 1994, so it is not as if the
such explicitly memorial work established some- kernel of the work was explicitly conceived for,
thing of the aesthetic terms for visual representa- or even necessarily alludes to the events of
tion in the aftermath of September 11th. Whether September 11th. Nevertheless, in its monumental
offering up a photograph of a missing victim or re-conception and aggregation of the ascending
demarcating the architectural footprint of an figures for its installation at Rockefeller Center,
absent skyscraper, such work insisted on assert- the image of ascension was mobilized as if to
ing the material trace of that which once was, counter and reverse, if not also redeem, both the
staking a claim to presence even as it acknowl- loss of the towers and all those who plunged to
edged an irredeemable absence. This work did their deaths. And it is precisely the embodiment
not repeat the images of destruction. This work of aspiration in the individual figures—the eager
did not show death or suffering. Instead, this step of a girl setting off for school, the purposeful
work marked out spaces, photographic and topo- strides of a businessman and woman heading to
graphic, that might hold the place of what was another day of work—that gives the piece its
lost, that might open onto a time for memory. Of poignancy. With each iteration of that vigorous
course, the temporary shrines have long-since step, these gravity-defying figures reach forward
disappeared and Arad’s project, as well as the with a confidence that can only be seen as naïve,
vestige of Libeskind’s, has now been realized. and in turn, tragic in the aftermath of the events
But perhaps it is in that interval between those the sculpture does not and yet, by virtue of its
two moments, past and present, then and now, an location, temporally and spatially, unavoidably
interval that we might understand to be that psy- commemorates.
chic space of deferral, the very province of If Borofsky’s sculptural figures seem to strive
trauma, that we might glimpse something of what for an unattainable place beyond their present,
aesthetics look like in the aftermath of September that no-place that we call utopia, they also reach,
11th. And it is thus that I turn more fully to the as sculptural figures, for a kind of universalism,
arena of contemporary art. each an assiduously generic version of a set of
types. Emptied of the specificity of actual por-
traits, Borofsky’s sculptural figures come to func-
6.3 Art and Aftermath tion as something closer to abstractions, each
offering up the idea of individuals in place of
One such glimpse of aesthetic possibility could actual individuals. As such, even if the seeds of
be found in Jonathan Borofsky’s sculptural instal- the piece long predate the events of September
lation Walking to the Sky. Organized by the Public 11th, Borofsky’s return to the generic climbers
Art Fund and temporarily installed at Rockefeller provides him, and us, with a sculptural language
Center in September and October of 2004, the with which to gesture toward, even if not directly
sculpture was certainly among the most monu- represent the victims. Perhaps, in offering us an
mental of artistic projects to emerge in the after- aesthetic environment, an aesthetic experience,
math of September 11th, comprised as it was of a that so plainly reverses the logic and images of
100-foot-tall stainless steel pole, rising from the the events of September 11th, we are made to
earth at a precipitous angle. Despite its daunting produce for ourselves, to recall, the images that
slope, the pole serves as a pathway for a group of issued forth from the event. Against Borofsky’s
figures, ranging from young children to briefcase- utopian vision of brightly-clad professionals
toting professionals, seven of whom stride up the ascending toward their promising futures, against
steep incline while three more watch from its Borofsky’s mythic vision of eager children
base. Of course, Borofsky had already exhibited climbing a sculptural beanstalk, we may think of
two precursors to this piece in the 1990s—Man an all-too-real vision, the monochromatic palette
Walking to the Sky at Documenta IX in Kassel, of survivors covered head-to-toe in ash, the hor-
Germany in 1992 and Woman Walking to the Sky rifying spectacle of bodies falling from such an
6 Before Recognition: On the Aesthetics of Aftermath 91

unfathomable height, the idea, if not the image, itable associations with the visual experience, the
of those victims incinerated or asphyxiated in the visual archive, of September 11th. Suffused at the
World Trade Center. This is to say, standing outset with warm reds and yellows, the colors of
before Borofsky’s piece, we may call to mind, dawn, the piece gradually gives way to daylight
remember, something of that day, those events, and the emergence of silhouettes, the visual illu-
indeed, those victims. But we just as well may sion, through visual occlusion, of form. If at first
not. We may see the piece differently for its we see, as if through a window, the establishing
installation in New York after September 11th. shot of a wire, a telephone pole, and then a flock
But for all the ways in which Borofsky’s concep- of birds, a number of objects soon emerge, among
tion comes to mean in the aftermath of September them eyeglasses, a cell phone, folding chairs.
11th, nothing of its aesthetic project can be Following the birds in flight, these objects rise
understood as an explicit response to that day or slowly from the base of the projected light-field
those events. to the top; often breaking apart as they do so.
Something quite different is at work in a piece They are then joined by larger objects, though not
conceived fully in the aftermath of September to scale, among them, bicycles and police cars.
11th, Paul Chan’s cycle The 7 Lights. Deriving its The ascent of these objects is then interrupted by
structure from the biblical story of creation and a rapidly falling body, only to be followed by
taking its aesthetic cues and philosophical inspi- more bodies, falling singly or in pairs or groups,
ration from, among other sources, Pliny and a meteor shower of human forms. Finally, color
Plato, Chan’s cycle is comprised of six silent seeps back into the scene, washes of dark blue
digital video projections and a set of drawings on and violet. Night falls. The apocalyptic vision
blank musical scores. In its orchestration of light gives way to darkness. And then we begin again.
and shadow, stillness and movement, the cycle is Projected onto the floor, the piece does not
by no means simply a response to the events of insist upon a grounding edge. Even as we come
September 11th. Indeed, Chan’s piece shares to understand its orientation, given the structur-
much with the work of a number of contempo- ing illusion of the silhouetted telephone pole, we
rary artists—Kara Walker and William Kentridge can just as easily walk to the top of the visual
foremost among them—who, since the early field and watch the scene in reverse, objects fall-
1990s, have mobilized the structure and idea of a ing gracefully to the ground, bodies ascending.
shadow as a means of figuring obliquely moments The same counter-factual logic that propels
of historical trauma that test the limits of repre- Borofsky’s figures skyward operates here as
sentation. Yet, at the same time, Chan’s piece is a well. But here the evocation is less of an alter-
response to September 11th, as its iconographic nate reality, even if it does allow us the possibil-
elements and narrative programs, for all their ity of reorienting the world and rewriting its
obscurity, make insistently clear. script, than a prior reality, the fugitive images
1st Light, a piece that since 2005, has been conjuring up in their visual effects something of
exhibited more widely on its own than it has an earlier moment of image-making and view-
within the context of the entire cycle—in addi- ing. Chan’s video projections, for all their digital
tion to its inclusion in the complete cycle at the production, invoke not only that philosophical
New Museum’s exhibition of Chan’s work in the space of Plato’s cave, but also that visual space
spring of 2008, 1st Light has been installed, that was the theater of the magic lantern. His
among other locations, at the Whitney Biennial choreography of light and shadow, his orchestra-
in the spring of 2006, at the Fabric Workshop in tion of silhouetted objects in motion, returns us
Philadelphia in the fall of 2006, and at the to these earlier moments of visual spectacle, of
Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in phenakisticscopes and stroboscopes, of zoe-
Washington, DC in the summer of 2008, as part tropes and praxinoscopes, when to see the image
of the exhibition The Cinema Effect: Illusion, of the world was to witness something fleeting
Reality, and the Moving Image—and elicits inev- and wondrous. These pre-cinematic technologies
92 L. Saltzman

gave their viewers images as if they had been 11th, neither should they be called upon to bear
magically reconstituted by light and shadow the burden of that psychological challenge or that
alone. And Chan’s cycle restores something of aesthetic and ethical responsibility. For even as
that visual magic to the contemporary arena of the each may be seen to allude to the events of
gallery. September 11th, neither makes explicit claims to
To see Chan’s work, then, is to experience treating those events or that subject. As installed
something of an art historical anachronism (Didi- in the sculpture garden of the Nasher Sculpture
Huberman, 2000). It is to be both in and out of Center in Dallas, Texas, where it was subse-
time, at once illuminated by the glow of the digi- quently acquired, Borofsky’s Walking to the Sky
tal present, yet somehow also bathed in the dark- has far less specificity in its allusive possibilities
ness of the pre-cinematic theater of illusion, than it did when installed in New York. If any-
whose origins may be found in the chamber that thing, we see it in relation to his other work, his
was the camera obscura. In witnessing Chan’s sculptures of figures walking to the sky as another
work, we are situated in a temporal arena of dis- means of figuring the impossibility of counting to
location, of return and repetition, the logic of the infinity. And Chan’s 1st Light, for all the potency
video loop by which the work is structured of its iconography of falling bodies and of objects
instantiating the temporal economy of historical and detritus blown toward the sky, is but one ele-
return staged within. In other words, in experi- ment in a cycle of works that engage questions of
encing Chan’s work, we are situated in the tem- creation and destruction in the context of epic,
poral dimension of repetition and return, seeing rather than historical time, and do so in a shifting
images that repeat something of the visual archive set of institutional contexts. If there is a historical
of a recent past, September 11th, through a visual specificity in Chan’s work, it is more often
technology that digitally simulates the visual expressed quite directly, as it has been in his ani-
spectacles of an earlier epoch. In this doubled mated Iraq pieces or in his site-specific staging of
position of repetition and return, we experience Beckett’s Waiting for Godot in the Ninth Ward, in
something of the temporal economy of belated- New Orleans, a city that is still waiting for all the
ness. Moreover, if Chan’s work produces a kind help that it deserves in the aftermath of the
of temporal suspension, in and out of time, it also destruction wrought by Hurricane Katrina.
induces a further dislocation, this time a spatial Certainly, there are works of contemporary art
one. For to see Chan’s work, is also to stand that more explicitly take on the events and impact
before a visual schema that embraces the notion of September 11th as their point of departure.
of inversion. As in the camera obscura, in the The work of Pia Lindman, for example, engaged
darkened gallery, Chan’s image is always, in the responses that emerged in the aftermath of
some sense, upside down. And we cannot right it. September 11th, making gestures of grief or the
Just as we know, with even the most rudimentary very act of witness its subject. Her ongoing New
or intuitive grasp of the laws of physics, that York Times Project, begun in 2002, collected
these sorts of objects should not rise from the images of mourners from the New York Times for
ground, we also know, with a certainty that is one year. From these media images of mourners,
borne of ethics, that bodies should not fall from were they New Yorkers in the aftermath of the
the sky. attack on the World Trade Center or those griev-
ing in the aftermath of terrorist attacks elsewhere
around the world, Lindman made drawings, what
6.4 Grief and Witness could be called her own “portraits of grief.”
Re-enacting these poses in a set of performances
If, in their different ways, Borofsky’s Walking to from 2003 to 2005, Lindman also re-enacted
the Sky and Chan’s The 7 Lights stand as exam- them in front of a video camera, for the piece
ples, even if by no means exemplars, of artistic Lakonikon, also printing the poses as stills and
responses to the traumatic events of September tracing them in charcoal on vellum. The vellum
6 Before Recognition: On the Aesthetics of Aftermath 93

drawings, now at multiple removes from the pho- belated act of witnessing, only to erase that very
tographs of mourners they took as their subject, act from the record, transforming spectator into
were collected in the book Black Square. These apparitional blur, the other renders vision itself
pieces, which move in and between the media of unstable, dislocated from the structuring arma-
performance, video, and drawing continue some- ture of a tripod or a body and given over to tides
thing of Lindman’s abiding interest in the body as and currents.
a kind of affective archive, a repository of ges- Perhaps what is most crucial about Lindman’s
tures that contain within them the registers of World Trade Center pieces in relation to the ques-
emotion, even as her work seems to dislocate tions posed here is that at the same time that they
emotion from embodiment. In such contempora- approach their subject, they move away from it.
neous work as Fascia, which employed a They do so not only in structural terms, building
mechanical device to shape and stretch her face in to their realization a degree of temporal and
into expressions, or Domo and its Double, a piece topographic remove. They do so in historical
in which she filmed herself mimicking the ges- terms, shifting their gaze from the landscape and
tures of a robot and in a process similar to geography of Lower Manhattan toward a topog-
Lakonikon, traced the stills as drawings, Lindman raphy of destruction that predates the events of
emerges as a kind of anti-Greuze, physiognomy September 11th. For after making these pieces,
giving way to technology, the face no longer a Lindman traveled east, first to Berlin and then to
semiotic template of feeling, but instead a manip- Warsaw, where she reprised some of the visual
ulable and programmable machine. But it is her strategies of these site-specific pieces as she took
video projects, Viewing Platform, and Waterline, on the legacy of fascism and the Second World
both from 2002, that inaugurate a specific con- War. And it is that extension, that historical open-
cern with sites of historical trauma and its chal- ing onto earlier moments of catastrophe that
lenge to representational dynamics. makes her work so significant, not only in the
Both pieces take the World Trade Center as site-specific contexts of its creation, but in the
their subject, but fully from a position of after- context of aesthetics in the aftermath of atrocity.
math and belated witness. Viewing Platform To represent the events and aftermath of
depicts the viewing stand erected before the cav- September 11th is less to enter into a new aes-
ernous pit of ruins at the site of the World Trade thetic era than to return to an aesthetic arena that
Center. Created from sixty minutes of footage precedes that moment in 2001, whether we
shot from a fixed perspective, cut into one-minute understand art after Auschwitz to follow from a
transparent segments and layered into a video moment of aesthetic rupture or not. It is to under-
loop, the resulting piece is an evanescent palimp- stand that aesthetics have already been shaped by
sest of spectral figures, ghostly witnesses looking catastrophes that may be said to both demand and
onto a scene of aftermath. Its companion piece, defy representation. Artists work as much in the
Waterline, puts that camera in motion, suspended aftermath of that aesthetic legacy, as they do in
on a fishing pole and bobbing through the waters the aftermath of the particular events they may
of the Hudson. Against the fixed stare of the choose to engage (Saltzman, 1999).
mounted camera, which records the actions of the
belated witnesses, here the camera is the witness,
its literally fluid movements capturing everything 6.5 Images in Spite of All:
from the waves in the Hudson and the traffic on The Graphic Novel
the West Side Highway to the skyline of Lower
Manhattan, now missing its most defining archi- All that said, rather than continue to discuss
tecture. Fixed or felicitous, the camera in works of contemporary art, I want to turn in con-
Lindman’s work depicts the site of the World clusion to two books, Art Spiegelman’s, 2004
Trade Center, but already at a remove, both spa- In the Shadow of No Towers and Jonathan Safran
tial and temporal. If one piece captures the Foer’s, 2006 Extremely Loud and Incredibly
94 L. Saltzman

Close, both of which help to further a discussion historic events. The book is introduced by a pref-
of questions of aesthetics, and aesthetic represen- ace by Spiegelman that explains the book’s con-
tation, in the aftermath of the traumatic events of ception and realization.
September 11th. What distinguishes these two As the title, and title image, of Spiegelman’s
literary works from all those that emerged in the book make clear, the shadow, that quintessential
aftermath of September 11, as, for example, Don index of bodily presence and proximity, of physi-
DeLillo’s 2007 Falling Man and Joseph O’Neill’s cal continuity and contiguity, is here a means of
2008 Netherland, is that while each takes the expressing an irredeemable absence and irrevo-
form of the book, and involves textual narratives, cable break. Already an utterly immaterial form,
each is also, to varying degrees, composed of and the semblance of a sign that is nothing more than
concerned with images. Perhaps most significant a disturbance in the visual field, an occlusion of
about these works, at least in terms of the discus- light, the shadow, for Spiegelman, is a shadow in
sion underway here, is that even as each strives to the absence of a body, which is to say, a shadow
represent something of the events and legacy of that is only ideational, that is, in other words,
September 11th, whether in word or image, each fully spectral. For, of course, there is no shadow
also engages the aesthetic challenge, if not without the towers. And there are, of course, after
impossibility, of taking on such a subject. In the the events of the morning of September 11, 2001,
end, each work is as much the offering up of a set no towers. That said, even as Spiegelman’s
of ethical questions in textual form as it is the shadow fully gives way to its essential non-
putting forth of a set of aesthetic responses, be essence, even as it is de-materialized into the
they visual or literary. void that it always already was, it also emerges a
Art Spiegelman’s In the Shadow of No Towers, symbolic form, a metaphoric means of conjuring
which narrates, among other things, the experi- the experience of living and working in Lower
ence of eyewitness to the events of September Manhattan in the aftermath of witnessing the col-
11th in Lower Manhattan, may be said to have lapse of the Twin Towers, of seeing that spectacle
taken shape in their immediate aftermath, even if both as an eyewitness and as a viewer of media
the book did not appear until 2004. Its cover, an images. For even if there is no longer an actual
Ad Reinhardt-inspired black-on-black image of shadow, even if the towers leave no material, vis-
the towers, repeats, as its ground, the image ible trace, for Spiegelman, the events of
Spiegelman created for the cover of the post- September 11th cast an enormous shadow. His
September 11th issue of The New Yorker, pub- book is a means of addressing, if not re-dressing,
lished just 6 days after the attack. The book’s that shadow, that is at once a void and an ide-
contents emerged in the weeks and months that ational presence, that shadow that is the space of
followed. With an open invitation from Michael aftermath.
Naumann, the editor and publisher of Die Zeit, Thus, even as he structures his project around
Spiegelman was given the opportunity to create a that void and asserts it as an irredeemable
set of ten large-scale broadsheet pages, a tem- absence, he also fills that space left by the event
plate for his signature “comix,” a form and a and its aftermath with a story, a story that is at
forum in which to work through his experience of once memoir, meditation, and political critique.
the events and their aftermath. The book gathers He fills that space with images, among them the
and reproduces as sequential narrative the color repeated evocation of an image that was neither
broadsheets. It also reproduces a set of historic photographed nor filmed on that morning but
cartoons, selected by Spiegelman and reflecting that, as Spiegelman writes in the preface to his
his own research into his medium during the days work, “remains burned onto the inside of my
and months that followed September 11th, that eyelids several years later… the image of the
present something of a history of newspaper looming north tower’s glowing bones just before
comics and illustrate the degree to which news- it vaporized” (Spiegelman, 2004, n.p). Against
paper comics could to be seen to have engaged the archive of images that we have all seen,
6 Before Recognition: On the Aesthetics of Aftermath 95

Spiegelman introduces, as an image that he that remains “indescribable.” And what does it
cannot quite capture but that he comes to depict, mean to compare the indescribable?
grainy and pixilated, over and over again, an Kaleidoscopic in its fracturing of both stylistic
image that conveys, in its very etiolation and eva- and narrative content—Spiegelman mobilizes a
nescence, the asymptotic task of representing the history of cartoon styles and characters that are
traumatic. It is and is not what Spiegelman saw, both his own and those of his predecessors in the
what Spiegelman remembers. And even if he genre, the broadsheets move in and out of histori-
were able to reproduce the image that is seared cal time, into what, as I have already suggested in
into his visual memory, it would never fully rep- the case of Paul Chan’s work, may well be the
resent his experience of witness, let alone the space of traumatic time. In Spiegelman’s In the
experience of witness of those who did not sur- Shadow of No Towers, we have stepped into the
vive (Agamben, 1999). chasm that is the fault-line that cleaves traumatic
What emerges in the broadsheets is a depic- experience from that of the everyday. In the jux-
tion of Spiegelman’s growing awareness that, tapositions that define the visual structure of In
with the events of September 11th, he had the Shadow of No Towers, it would seem that
entered into the historical time of trauma. As he traumatic time defies historical time. Even as
remarks in the preface, In the Shadow of No Spiegelman narrates and depicts something of
Towers was written from “that fault-line where the situation in the present, it is interrupted and
World History and Personal History collide” inflected by the past. Quotations of visual styles
(Spiegelman, 2004, n.p.). If, with the events of and characters, both his own and those of other
September 11, Spiegelman steps into that grey cartoonists, animate the broadsheets. If
zone of witnessing in which we both see and fail September 11th names the event that structures
to see the catastrophe unfolding before us, stand- and motivates the story that is told, in word and
ing on a fault-line that opens onto an abyss, image, it also names the event, the traumatic
Spiegelman also straddles that generational experience, that undoes the telling of the story,
fault-line that both connects him to and divides that unmoors the characters from their historical
him from his parents’ generation, victims and location, that opens the fault-line into and out of
survivors of the Holocaust whose story forms the which a set of representations both emerge and
kernel of his earlier project, the graphic novel return.
Maus. It would seem, one fault-line opens into or
onto another. As Spiegelman writes in the third
installment of broadsheets, the author appearing 6.6 Images in Spite of All II:
in an inset of small black-and-white frames that The (Illustrated) Novel
reprise his visual style and his persona as mouse,
in Maus: “I remember my father trying to Such unmooring is central to Jonathan Safran
describe what the smoke in Auschwitz smelled Foer’s Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, a
like…. The closest he got was telling me it was novel, conceived in word and image, that is per-
“indescribable”… That’s exactly what the air in haps the fullest aesthetic response to the trau-
Lower Manhattan smelled like after Sept. 11” matic events of September 11th yet to emerge,
(Spiegelman, 2004, p. 3). Here, his experience of partly for its attention to the very problems
trying to describe something about New York in trauma poses to memory, and, in turn, to works of
the aftermath of September 11 brings Artie memorial and acts of representation. Punctuated,
closer to his father trying to describe the smoke if not in any strict sense illustrated, by images
in Auschwitz. And yet, it by no means equips throughout, Safran Foer’s novel closes with 29
him with the representational tools to describe pages of images, grainy black-and-white photo-
that which cannot be put into language, even as graphs, a sequence of images that reverse the
it sets the two in relation. The equivalency he very real trajectory of the falling man, even if this
establishes turns on a description of an experience counter-factual reversal is also a means of
96 L. Saltzman

acknowledging, once and for all, the horrible thus linked, and ultimately separated, by their
truth of that day; namely, destruction, death, and shared, yet utterly individual losses. That Oskar
national vulnerability. Narrated by the preco- loses his father in the collapse of the World Trade
cious, imaginative, grief-stricken 9-year-old Tower, is, then, already something of a repetition,
New Yorker, Oskar Schell, whose father was yet another chapter in a familial history struc-
killed in the World Trade Center, and inter- tured by devastating losses, losses that began in
spersed, at regular intervals, by the voices of two the fire-bombings of Dresden but that were com-
others—Oskar’s absent grandfather, writing let- pounded by the emotional consequences of liv-
ters to Oskar’s father that he never receives, and ing, or, in some sense, not living, in the aftermath
Oskar’s doting grandmother, writing words to of trauma.
Oskar that he never sees, the novel is also inter- The novel is particularly attentive to the spaces
spersed with images, images that form the of memory that trauma both demands and defies.
entirety of another book, whose existence and At the very outset of the novel, a novel that moves
relevance will only belatedly be revealed, namely, back and forth in time, both within the present
Oskar’s own creation, a scrapbook of images and the past, just as we are getting to know some-
entitled Stuff That Happened to Me. thing of Oskar’s emotional and imaginative life,
If the novel’s central protagonist, Oskar he proposes the following:
Schell, is something of a repetition and reimagin- So what about skyscrapers for dead people that
ing of another literary Oskar, namely, Oscar were built down? They could be underneath the
Matzerath, the traumatized child at the center of skyscrapers for living people that are built up. You
Günther Grass’s post-Holocaust novel, The Tin could bury people 100 floors down, and a whole
dead world could be underneath the living one.
Drum (1959), with the distinction that the tam- Sometimes I think it would be weird if there were
bourine, not the tin drum, is the instrument of a skyscraper that moved up and down while its
Safran Foer’s self-proclaimed “percussionist,” elevator stayed in place. So if you wanted to go to
the novel’s form bears more relation to Grass’s the 95th floor, you’d just press the 95 button and
the 95th floor would come to you. Also, that could
émigré compatriot, W.G. Sebald, whose hybrid be extremely useful, because if you’re on the 95th
use of fact and fiction, word and image in such floor, and a plane hits below you, the building
works as The Emigrants, 1992, and Austerlitz, could take you to the ground, and everyone could
2001, allowed him to engage with particular acu- be safe, even if you left your birdseed shirt at home
that day. (Foer, 2006, p. 3)
ity the historical legacy of the Holocaust. Oskar’s
story is propelled by his efforts to come to terms As Oskar, who has only just witnessed the
with the traumatic event of his father’s death on burial of his father’s empty coffin, imagines both
September 11th, a project largely displaced into a proper place of burial and a proper, if preposter-
his quest to solve what he understands to be a ous, plan for urban security: he moves back and
mystery, the ownership and function of a key, forth between the unreal fact of his father’s death
stashed in a vase in Oskar’s father’s closet. But and the bizarre logic of his symbolic burial, all
that paternal death, and the larger context of its the while imagining a world, a set of architectural
occurrence, is not the only trauma structuring the spaces, and safety garments, in which such deaths
novel. It is a novel limned by trauma. Two gen- would be impossible. An attempt less to assimi-
erations ago, the man and woman who would late than to counter the utterly inassimilable fact
become Oskar’s paternal grandparents survived of his father’s death and absent body, Oskar
the bombings of Dresden. Their postwar reunion echoes the fiction of closure in which he is forced
in New York both creates and in some ways to participate at his father’s funeral by proposing
destroys the family into which Oskar is born, a a set of fictions of his own, retractable towers and
family that was already destroyed, even before it birdseed shirts, imaginative inventions to fore-
had begun. For the man once loved the woman’s close the loss he cannot yet bear to make his own.
beloved only sister, killed in the war while carry- The struggle to live in the aftermath of loss
ing their unborn child. Oskar’s grandparents are permeates the novel, even when we encounter its
6 Before Recognition: On the Aesthetics of Aftermath 97

secondary characters. One is Mr. Black, who will transform her life into narrative form, offering
serve as a surrogate grandfather for Oskar, until only blankness. As she writes, to Oskar, in a let-
he unwittingly encounters his own, the mysteri- ter that he never sees, but that expresses both her
ous “renter,” who, in the aftermath of September knowledge of the fiction and futility of her auto-
11th, takes up residence in his grandmother’s biographical project and the ways in which
guestroom, and transforms his bed into a sculp- irredeemable losses have ruptured her biography
tural monument to his deceased wife. As he with the fissures that describe a psychic topogra-
explains to Oskar, he has hammered a nail into phy of trauma, “My life story was spaces” (Foer,
the bed frame every morning since she died. 2006, p. 176).
There are now 8629 nails; Mr. Black has been a In a novel of “nothing places” and empty
widower for nearly 25 years. The bed is a mag- spaces, there is also, given the grandfather’s post-
netic force-field of grief, a monument to a mar- war muteness, a conversational arena structured
riage that ended all too soon. as much by silence as by speech. The grandfa-
With an eye to the kinds of material traces that ther’s muteness compromises the ability of the
would seem to bear witness to a life, but, in the couple to communicate from the very moment
end, do not—the repeated signature of Oskar’s they meet. Gestures, signs, and the written word
father, testing pens, in an art supply store on 93rd replace the reciprocity of speech. That the grand-
Street, is revealed, 225 pages later, to be the sig- mother’s sight is failing certainly complicates the
nature of his supposedly absent grandfather— visual dimension of their communication. When
Safran Foer produces a novel that is filled with communication depends on the visual, sight is
images and evocations of the impossible spaces, required. And when, years after their separation,
the absent places, where memory of loss can and Oskar’s grandfather returns to New York to grieve
cannot take place, where lives can and cannot be with his wife for their lost son and telephones
lived, where traumatic events can and cannot be from the airport, a futile conversation ensues, the
represented. That Oskar’s grandparents, whose grandfather treating the keypad of the payphone
lives in exile are structured by the silences and as if it were a mechanism for text messages and
absences of presumed muteness and blindness, the grandmother hearing only electronic beeps.
construct a mode of living in which their apart- Standing in the airport, despite his wife’s obvious
ment is increasingly filled with “nothing places,” inability to understand his call, Oskar’s grandfa-
spaces in which they can cease to exist for each ther persists in typing his words, for hours, pro-
other, even before one will literally leave the ducing a cryptic two and a half page text of all that
other while she is pregnant with the son he will has happened since he last saw his wife, from the
then never see, is but one narrative space of motivation for his departure to the reason for his
impossibility. There is also the achingly sad fact return, a string of numbers, a stream of noise.
of the empty novel of the grandmother’s life, A phone call that is received but fails to com-
written with a typewriter with no ribbon, 2000 municate, that cannot be heard because it has
blank pages testifying not to the historical narra- never been spoken, the grandfather’s call repeats
tive of the life lived, but to the emotional econ- something of the set of phone calls that structure
omy of the present, in which blindness is put the novel, the calls that Oskar’s father places to
forth as one more “nothing place” of safety, even the apartment in the minutes before his death that
if it is a self-destructive fiction. While Oskar’s are never answered. The first five attempts at
mute grandfather is consumed with guilt that he communication, at contact, are recorded on their
has given his blind wife a typewriter with no rib- answering machine, at 8:52, 9:12, 9:31, 9:46, and
bon, and in turn pretends to read words that do 10:04 am. Oskar plays back these calls upon
not exist, his wife, by no means as blind as she entering his apartment, sent home from school
pretends to be, goes into the guest room in which once the city begins to understand what has hap-
she types and pretends to write, hitting the pened. The final call comes in once Oskar has
space bar again and again and again, refusing to listened to the others, at 10:22 am. Oskar sees
98 L. Saltzman

that it is his father’s caller ID. But he does not mysterious key, is an attempt to create a space
pick up. He only listens. And then, in an act that in which to contain, if not contend with, the
he imagines will protect his mother, who, unbe- traumatic event of his father’s death, perhaps
knownst to Oskar, has spoken to her husband on even in a desperate jump from the towers. Much
her cell phone, Oskar runs out to Radio Shack to like the spaces and non-spaces, the unconven-
buy an identical phone, onto which he copies tional memorial gestures that structure the novel,
their recorded greeting and then stashes the old Oskar’s book, Oskar’s imagistic story, is a place
phone, with the record of his father’s final calls, in which the work of memory might take place,
in his closet. It is at Radio Shack that Oskar sees, even if it is held at bay. Taken together, the mul-
on a television, that one of the towers had fallen. tiple narratives, epistolary, autobiographical, and
Over the course of the novel, Oskar will listen to more conventionally novelistic, produce some-
these recordings, save the final call. But it is only thing of a memorial landscape, a narrative envi-
in the presence of his grandfather, that sympa- ronment that offers up an aesthetic topography
thetic stranger, that he will play all of the mes- of remembrance, but also, importantly, of
sages, even the last one, a broken set of words forgetting.
attempting to make contact with his son as his Were a novel to stand as a work of memorial,
fate becomes clear. or, more to the point, as set of propositions, or a
Oskar’s unwitting encounter with his grandfa- proposal, for what representation might look like
ther, and all that ensues, is recounted in a final in the aftermath of the traumatic events of
letter the grandfather writes to his deceased son September 11th, indeed, simply in the aftermath
that completes the collection of letters, from of trauma, Safran Foer’s Extremely Loud and
grandfather to father, that have been stored, Incredibly Close is certainly a good candidate.
unsent, in a suitcase that the grandfather brings All too aware, as its title suggests, of its proxim-
back from Dresden, his second emigration from ity to the event whose consequences it takes as its
that city, and that will be buried, by Oskar and the subject, Safran Foer nevertheless pursues the lim-
grandfather, in a final escapade, in the empty its and limitations of aesthetic forms. And in so
paternal/filial coffin. Printed in an increasingly doing, Safran Foer’s hybrid novel emerges as a
dense type, line atop line, word atop word, the site of aesthetic possibility. Set against the archi-
grandfather’s final unread letter is literally tectural and memorial plans for the World Trade
unreadable. Unlike the cryptogram of telephone Center, juxtaposed with the visual work that took
keypad numbers that we might well attempt to September 11th as their subject, if only at times
decode, the grandfather’s final epistle concludes obliquely, Safran Foer’s novel is a work not just
in three pages of such dense typography that it is of literary and historical imagination, but of
indecipherable. Like a painting by Glenn Ligon, visual imagination. Catalyzed by events that, in
the words devolve from clarity to obscurity, the simultaneity of their media capture and trans-
words interred upon the very surface of their mission, collapsed the very distinction between
inscription, instantiating and anticipating their trauma and its representation, Safran Foer’s novel
final burial, their literal encryption. provides a narrative context, an emotional frame-
That the novel ends, to return to the set of work, a space, indeed, of deferral, in which to
images with which I began my discussion of begin to make sense of those events in narrative
Safran Foer, with an illusion of ascension, is by and visual form, even as they continue to defy
no means the utopian gesture it could well be in and test the limits of our understanding. As such,
other hands. It was the work of Oskar, whose Safran Foer’s work stands as emblematic of the
collection of images punctuates the novel, an relation between trauma and representation, his
attempt to tell (himself) a different story, to hold richly imagined and vividly illustrated novel,
at bay the grim reality of his father’s death. functioning as a vexed but vital site of encounter.
Oskar’s picture book, much like Oskar’s journey Indeed, his work, like each of the work’s discussed
through the city, in search of the owner of the here, is ultimately yet one more asymptotic
6 Before Recognition: On the Aesthetics of Aftermath 99

approach to a set of traumatic experiences that Agamben, G. (1999). Remnants of Auschwitz: The witness
and the archive. Trans. Daniel Heller-Roazen
remain stubbornly, necessarily, just beyond the
(pp. 15–39). New York: Zone Books.
reach of representation, even as they continue to Caruth, C. (1996). Unclaimed experience: Trauma, narra-
demand voice and form. So it is that we tarry tive and history. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University
with trauma in cultural terms. Press.
Didi-Huberman, G. (2000). Devant le temps: Histoire de
l’art et anachronisme des images. Paris: Minuit.
Safran Foer, J. (2006). Extremely loud and incredibly
References close. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.
Saltzman, L. (1999). Anselm Kiefer and art after
Abramson, D. (1996). Maya Lin and the 1960s: Auschwitz. New York: Cambridge University Press.
Monuments, time-lines and minimalism. Critical Spiegelman, A. (2004). In the shadow of no towers.
Inquiry, 22(4), 679–709. New York: Pantheon.
From Hiroshima to Fukushima:
Comics and Animation 7
as Subversive Agents of Memory
in Japan

Ory Bartal

postmodern thought, which broke down tradi-

7.1 Introduction tional and dichotomous modernist divisions
between margins and center and between high
In the Second World War, the atrocities of human- and low culture. One of the signs of the postmod-
ity reached new heights with the Jewish Holocaust ern era is the rise in prominence of the products of
in Europe and the nuclear holocaust in Japan. popular culture and mass media, including comic
These traumas, which took place under the aus- books and animation films, that took the post-
pices of the nations that were considered the most modern blurring of borders to the extreme by
civilized in human history (Germany and depicting traumatic historical events from the
America), and that were led by a totalitarian modern era, namely the Jewish Holocaust and the
regime and a liberal democratic regime, respec- nuclear holocaust, in a format perceived as popu-
tively, have driven mankind to grow weary of lar, low, and mainly comical. Despite the rise in
grand ideologies, whichever they may be. The eminence of popular culture and the cancellation
modernist faith in progress and evolution, rooted of the high-low dichotomy, this crossing of lines
in notions of enlightenment and optimism that created a stir and public debate surrounding the
view the world as progressing toward a better legitimacy of a format of this kind to portray these
future and man as a rational creature that strives fraught events (Weinbaum, 1991).
for freedom and enlightened form of government, While European and American comic books
suffered a harsh blow in light of these devastating depicting the Jewish Holocaust, like Art
events. This process, which would later be given Spiegelman’s Maus, for example, caused a pub-
the moniker “the end of ideology,” spawned a lic uproar (Blich, 2013), publications of this kind
new perception which no longer put much stock are still marginal compared to the official publi-
in the state and the establishment, and instead cations of the education system, books, muse-
centered on the individual’s internal struggle. ums, documentary movies, and documentation of
This new reality, which allows for pluralism, was private memories of survivors. In contrast with
one of the constitutive psychological motives of this type of memory, Japan offers an interesting
case study for the way graphic novels and anima-
tion serve as a key agent that shapes the collec-
O. Bartal, Ph.D. (*) tive memory of the nuclear holocaust. The
Department of History and Theory, Bezalel Academy
Japanese case evokes several questions, namely:
of Arts and Design, Jerusalem Mount Scopus,
P.O. Box 24046, Jerusalem 91240, Israel why did the Japanese choose to present the atroc-
e-mail: ities of war in this medium? How did it allow the

© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2016 101

Y. Ataria et al. (eds.), Interdisciplinary Handbook of Trauma and Culture,
DOI 10.1007/978-3-319-29404-9_7
102 O. Bartal

presentation of a new historiography and the pro- memory were considered contradictory terms,
cessing and construction of new memory? What since memory is personal and has no place in the
is the subversive role graphic novels and anima- research of traditional history, which presents
tion play in Japan in relation to the official chan- historical facts as self-evident (Lipsitz, 1990).
nels that deal with the representation of the In her book Hiroshima Traces Lisa Yoneyama
nuclear holocaust? discusses the scholarly attitude toward the ques-
In the attempt to answer these questions, this tion of “memory,” perceived as incongruent with
article will argue that the products of popular cul- “history,” claiming that “memory is often associ-
ture, such as comic books and animation, serve as ated with myth or fiction and is opposed to his-
a powerful tool for processing a traumatic his- tory as it is written by historians” (Napier, 2005).
torical event. The article will open with a theo- The subject of myth versus history is particularly
retical discussion of the difference between poignant in the discussion of the Jewish Holocaust
methodological historical research and personal and the nuclear holocaust in Japan, which are sin-
memories portrayed in popular culture, and the gular historical events that represent nothing
way that in the postmodern era, personal memories other than themselves. Auschwitz and Hiroshima
complement, and at times replace, the state-official have become metametaphors and prototypes of
historical narrative. The discussion will then human suffering of a surreal and mythical nature,
move to the way that the comic book format, which sometimes cover over private memories
which is essentially different from a history book, and stories, as they were experienced by the peo-
facilitates a different type of processing of trau- ple who lived through them.
matic memories. As a case study of these ideas, In the past, historians who dealt with
this article will present the treatment of Japanese subjective-collective interpretation were inclined
manga and anime of the memory of the nuclear to be skeptical toward personal memories as
holocaust, the way that they allowed the survi- research materials, due to their subjective, retro-
vors of the atomic bomb to be heard, and how the spective, changing, and consequently unreliable
Japanese reader/viewer processed a national nature (Watchel, 1990). However, in the wake of
memory underplayed in the history books. This the poststructuralist and deconstructivist move-
process was made possible due to the general ments that perceived collective consciousness as
traits of this medium, the place it holds in oppressive, there has been a shift in the attitude
Japanese culture, and the historical context of the toward history and memory. Some philosophers
conflictual memory. rejected the conservative perception of history
and offered a new paradigm of history devoid of a
chronological sequence of events. Derrida, for
7.2 History and Memory instance, offers a perception of temporality as
“repetition with a change” (Lipsitz, 1990). Events,
History and memory are the bricks that bind according to him, do not simply take place, but
together a group of people and build their culture. rather reoccur as they attach and reattach in ways
Every culture has institutions entrusted with the that illuminate, and do not repress, the many dif-
role of recounting its history—the education sys- ferences encompassed in the event (Lipsitz,
tem, pedagogic programs, national museums, 1990). Foucault, on the other hand, sees historical
television programs, and documentary films. narrative as tainted by the discourse of power. In
These official agents construct the collective sub- his view, the traditional historical story does not
conscious and formulate a common experience wish to present meaning but rather bolster the
the nucleus of which is events that took place establishment that writes it, through the notion
within the history of that group. However, these that there is a common human history, an idea that
official narratives do not always coincide with expands the establishment’s hold over its people to
private memories of individuals who experienced the level of human existence (Lipsitz, 1990). While
the events first-hand. Traditionally, history and these perspectives tend to reject linear history,
7 From Hiroshima to Fukushima: Comics and Animation as Subversive Agents of Memory in Japan 103

George Lipsitz (1990) maintains that there is jus- experiences of traumatic narratives that preceded
tification for history, since it unfolds many possi- the birth of those who remember and shaped their
bilities for understanding the present. In his book life story. Postmemory is not a black hole or a
Time Passages: Collective Memory and American lacuna in memory. On the contrary, it is an obses-
Popular Culture, Lipsitz introduces the revolu- sive memory, relentless and structured like mem-
tionary idea that “history became one of the disci- ory itself and therefore it also constructs a historical
plines of memory” (1990, p. 6). And indeed, in the memory (Hirsch, 1997). And so, memory and his-
postmodern age when central narratives have lost tory have turned into concepts that act together in
their validity and traditional dichotomies are the construction of the historical story while main-
blurred, personal memories began to permeate the taining equilibrium.
historical narrative. Kerwin Klein explains that
the new approach allowed historians to process
personal recollections, perceived as individual 7.3 Memory and Popular Culture
mental events, into collective memories that form
the collective consciousness. Thus, personal and This article addresses popular culture and its
collective memories have turned into a reservoir products as a new agent of memory. Popular cul-
of research subjects, and memory was given the ture products, which gained prominence in the
status of a historical agent (Kerwin, 2000). The postmodern era, are agents founded on materials
discourse of memory was a “natural fit” with that are not dictated by the official institutions,
postmodernism, and its allusive, fragmentary, and but are built from the ground up without a guid-
changing nature no longer poses a threat to the ing hand and recount the stories and memories of
credibility of the research, but rather adds more private individuals. The new technology that has
depth and substance to it and to a large degree engendered a plethora of media channels—the
makes it more accessible (Selzer, 2009). Internet that provides access to infinite knowl-
How are these theories being adapted in the edge and social media platforms like Facebook—
research of the holocaust? In her discussion of the is a powerful agent in the processes of dissolution
nuclear holocaust, Yoneyama maintains that the and formation of a new collective memory and
dichotomy of myth/history is problematic since the often prescribes a new construction of memory
production of knowledge about the past always (Stiegler, 2010).
entails the assertion of power and is accompanied In the age of new media channels such as
by elements of oppression and repression. She sug- these, a new semiotic order has been created,
gests that her readers will do well to keep in mind canceling the difference between presented and
that they are embarking on research into the past representing, while between reality and its repre-
with the knowledge that “historical truth” is only sentation emerged the simulacrum in which the
available through the mediation of a given category image, according to Baudrillard, is found in the
and of representation and a process of labeling realm that lies beyond the difference between
(Napier, 2005). For instance, the term “received real and the imaginary; this is not always a reflec-
history,” coined by James Young (2000), refers to tion of reality/history, but rather becomes the
the historical story constructed by the second gen- only reality that exists in the mind of the viewer
eration of the Holocaust as a memory mediated (Baudrillard, 1995). This new reality also gener-
through family memories, photographs, movies, ates new “memories” that over time produce a
books, and historical testaments 50 years after the new outlook on history.
events. Marian Hirsch (1997) ventures further on At the same time, the popular culture indus-
the subject of mediated memory, with the expres- tries manufacture different products—such as
sion “postmemory,” which describes memory dif- memorabilia or meaningful objects—that hold
ferentiated from regular memory, since it is formed memories that compensate for the absence of a
not by remembering a historical event, but by for- “real” memory. The dialogue between object and
mulating a new memory from the imagination and memory formulates a living connection with the
104 O. Bartal

past as it gives presence to the memory, which is significant that there is a difference in the mem-
vital to the foundation and shaping of a sense of ory of what had been transmitted by pictures and
identity of individuals and groups. Memory what had been transmitted verbally. Friedlander
objects such as these often construct—for an maintains that recounting the history of the
individual, a group, or a nation—“memories” Holocaust creates a distance from historical facts
that are not always associated with reality (Weitz due to the use of a rational language, which pro-
& Strauss, 2009). In Japan, we may think of the tects us from the inconceivable past (Lentin,
graphic novel and animation as the products of 2002). Just as rationality distances us from the
popular culture that in the 1980s became a sub- memory of the past, documentary photographs
versive agent of memory facilitating the process- can create a similar distance. Hirsch claims (after
ing of traumatic events such as the nuclear Kristeva) that photographs of the Holocaust are
holocaust. However, before I approach the sub- shorthand for the representation of the terrible
ject of why such cultural products became the atrocity: when we see an emaciated figure behind
carriers of the memory of Japan’s nuclear holo- a barbwire fence we “see” the Holocaust.
caust and the type of memory they present, I will However, she also claims that the multiplication
turn to the unique traits of the medium of anima- of such pictures and photographs, while power-
tion and comics. ful, is also paralyzing, debilitating, and dimin-
ishes our capacity to process the apocalyptic
events of the twentieth century (Hirsch, 1997).
7.4 Comics as a Memory Agent She explains (after Barthes) that the photographs
of the Holocaust are like “relics,” or “fragmen-
The first comic books appeared in Japan in the tary sources” that do not recall the past and do not
nineteenth century, when Katsushika Hokusai allow a processing of grief, but rather block the
coined the name Manga, literally “whimsical past and become counter-memory. The photographs
drawings,” and produced notebooks packed with are often an affirmation of death and facilitate
such paintings.1 The enthusiastic reception they repression and oblivion as a result of the viewer’s
received is reminiscent of the reception of the preexisting knowledge that the people in the pho-
illustrated scrolls of the Heian period in Japan tograph died a horrible death.
(AD 794–1185) or the woodprints in medieval In contrast with the photographs or historical
Europe; they provided a world of gestures and story, the medium of animation offers an integra-
dramatic displays that are inevitably absent from tion of image and text that facilitates the process-
the written word or painting.2 Like prints, mod- ing of memory. The continuity of comics, as
ern comics provide very little information, forc- opposed to photographs, creates a sequence of
ing the viewer to complete the scarce hints images that portray not just death or agony, but
provided by the few lines of text with his own life as a whole. In addition, comics have the struc-
interpretation. For our discussion here, it is also ture of a collage, they are fast-paced, contain
some specific information, many “comic reliefs,”
Katsushika Hokusai painted 15 comic books entitled and are accompanied by gibberish such as “Byou”
Hokusai Manga, which featured ironic paintings of peo- (to signify wind) and onomatopoeia such as
ple, landscape, and supernatural elements. They were “woof-woof.” Even if the comics address every
published in 1814. On the reception of woodprints in
possible subject matter, these are imbued with the
medieval Europe, see: McLuhan (2003).
2 naiveté of initial formulation, which has not yet
In this context it is worth mentioning early works exe-
cuted in this form like the Scrolls of Frolicking Animals learned of complexity (Reinhart, 2000, p. 123).
(Chōjū-jinbutsu-giga) in twelfth century Japan, or the McLuhan referred to comics as cold low-
Bayeux Tapestry of the eleventh century, commemorating resolution media means that forces the reader to
the triumph of William the Conqueror in the Battle of
be highly involved as a creator of meaning and as
Hastings. It is interesting to note that the tapestry portrays
not just the triumph but also the terrors of war and a participant who imagines what has not been
suffering. said. He calls this form of creation of meaning
7 From Hiroshima to Fukushima: Comics and Animation as Subversive Agents of Memory in Japan 105

“Do It Yourself” and that it allows the viewer to given an opportunity to visit a repressed place,
be an active participant in the construction of the which is difficult to access via other media, in a
historical story (McLuhan, 1964, p. 190). safe mode (McLuhan, 1964). Consequently, the
Therefore, McLuhan claimed that the “medium is use of popular culture materials, including the
the message,” which is to say, the comics medium comic format, which developed as a subversive
presents the historical story in a very different genre, has become a new agent of memory that
way to other media. Due to the association of constructs a “low memory,” which undermines
image and text, the nature of the image, and affili- the official high memory and assists in shattering
ation with the world of games and entertainment, myths and metanarratives constructed in the insti-
one could see comics, the graphic novel, manga, tutional culture.3 The remainder of the article will
and animation as media that invite the viewer/ focus on the Japanese as a case study.
reader to a new form of observation and a differ-
ent viewing category compared with watching a
documentary, a film, or indeed, observing reality. 7.5 The Memory of the Nuclear
The comics, graphic novel, manga, and animation Holocaust
are iconic signs, meaning (after Baudrillard) signs
that hold a relation of similarity with reality, but An exhibition featuring contemporary Japanese
are not reality itself and therefore supposedly culture was held in New York in 2005. The exhibi-
present fiction. In contrast, documentary photog- tion’s title, “Little Boy,” was on the one hand a
raphy is an indexical sign—a sign that stems from play on the Western image of the Japanese as com-
a causal relation with the object in reality and ics-reading little children, and on the other hand
therefore supposedly presents the “photographic also referred to the nickname of the atomic bomb
truth.” The viewers of a documentary films and that was dropped on Hiroshima.4 The exhibition,
photography have a sensory filter that allows which was given the subtitle, “The Arts of Japan’s
them to look at things from a distance and without Exploding Sub-Culture,” displayed popular cul-
experiencing pain—like the employment of a par- tural products, from toys to computer games, that
ticular cognitive dissonance that allows them to in some related way to the atomic bomb. The exhi-
continue functioning despite the sights. The iconic bition linked together popular culture with the
nature of the media of comics and animation atomic bomb and presented, among other things,
allows the presentation of traumatic past events the processing of the memory of the nuclear holo-
that are difficult to watch in the medium of docu- caust as it is expressed in popular culture, manga,
mentary photography. Comics and animation, and anime. The exhibition’s curator, the artist
which traditionally portrayed fairytales, fictional
narratives, and superheroes, are perceived by the 3
Comics, which developed as a subversive genre, have
reader/viewer as fiction, and therefore allow for been often perceived as a threat to the institutional con-
the depiction of an event that resembles the cata- tents. In the 1950s, the American “comics code” was
formed, determining the sanctioned contents in comics,
strophic event, but is not the actual event. Thus,
since it was perceived as a format containing violent con-
the medium creates a distance that does not tents endangering youth’s morals. In Japan, in the 1990s,
engender resistance and renders the traumatic after the murder of young girls by a comic’s reader, the
memory accessible (Raz, 2008). Even when the police raided comics shops, outlawed hundreds of titles,
summoned makers for questioning, and started monitor-
medium presents realistic images, the eye and
ing the contents of comics.
consciousness can deal with them without trigger- 4
The two atomic bombs (one using uranium and the other
ing the cognitive dissonance mechanism, thanks plutonium) that were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki
to the iconic nature of comics. This medium, were nicknamed after their shape. The plutonium bomb
which according to Marshall McLuhan offers a had a stubby rounded shape and was thus named Fat Man.
The uranium bomb was long and slim in comparison and
cool and ridiculous repeat of the different forms
gained the moniker Little Boy. Giving nicknames to
of warm media means, provides an opportunity atomic bombs was probably a way to cope with the
for cultural therapy in which the reader/viewer is aggressive bombardment on the side of the aggressors.
106 O. Bartal

Takashi Murakami, wanted to showcase the fact nuclear experiment. He returns to Tokyo and
that the memory of the war, the defeat, and the presents his findings before the Japanese parlia-
nuclear holocaust are nowadays commemorated in ment. One of the parliament members declares
Japan through popular culture: more so in com- that it would be imprudent to publicize that
puter games, toys, or apocalyptic animation films Godzilla is the outcome of the atomic bomb, see-
than through the official channels of history books, ing as information of this kind might carry
memorial services, or museums.5 adverse repercussions in the international arena,
Indeed, it would seem that the processing of due to the delicate relationship with the US—a
the memory of the bombing of Hiroshima and statement that generates protest and heated dis-
Nagasaki has been conducted in Japan via popu- cussion in the assembly. However, the truth is
lar media, namely comics or science fiction (sci- made public when Godzilla attacks Tokyo and
fi) movies. Most of these do not address the with bursts of atomic fire it issues from its mouth
historical story but rather divert the issue and causing numerous casualties, injuries, and wide-
tackle the horrors of a nuclear holocaust through spread devastation. The government wishes to
science fiction. Specifically, from the 1950s have Godzilla killed, but Yamane claims that it
onward, the commemoration of the nuclear holo- would be unwise since it survived the atomic
caust in Japan has been redirected to fiction bomb and should be studied in order to learn how
through King Kong-type horror movies. In 1954, to survive the next bomb. In the meantime, it
9 years after the atomic bomb was dropped on turns out that a Japanese scientist by the name of
Hiroshima, the Americans conducted a hydro- Dr. Daisuke Serizawa has a new weapon (Oxygen
gen bomb experiment in the Bikini Islands in Destroyer), which is even more powerful than the
the Pacific Ocean. The experiment impacted the atomic bomb. However, he refuses to use it, say-
Japanese fishing boat “Lucky Dragon #5” ing that if it would be used even once, politicians
(Daigo Fukuryū Maru), which had some survi- all over the world would try to use it as a new
vors of the Hiroshima nuclear holocaust on weapon. Finally, he uses the weapon to kill
board. This event enflamed the raw nerves of Godzilla, but then destroys all his research, as he
Japanese sensitivity to the use of nuclear weap- realizes that the weapon is as deadly as the mon-
ons. That same year, in the wake of that incident, ster and that demolishing the weapon is for the
the first film in what would be the most success- good of mankind.
ful series in Japanese cinematic history was The movie portrays a prehistoric creature awak-
released—Godzilla (gojira). The movie opens ened from its slumber and mutated due to a hydro-
with the disappearance of the boat eiko-maru gen bomb experiment in the Pacific Ocean. The
near Odo Island. A specialist by the name of prehistoric monster arrives in Japan, where it
Yamane arrives at the island to investigate the demolishes entire cities. The American nuclear
event and finds giant footsteps contaminated by experiment, which took place in the Pacific Ocean,
radioactivity (Strontium-90). Yamane discovers a similarly brought about mass devastation in
giant dinosaur in the sea that has been awakened Japan—this time in the indirect way of a monster
from its slumber and mutated as a result of a and cinematic fiction. The film, in the guise of pop-
ular culture, implicitly speaks of the terrors of the
Murakami Takashi, the most influential contemporary bomb—an issue which was still under-processed in
pop-artist, sees himself as an artist, entrepreneur, curator, 1954. The movie indirectly addresses the enemy
and art theoretician. He views art as something that
and the American conqueror through the genre of a
encompasses creativity, production, theory, distribution,
and marketing. Murakami studied the visual languages of monster movie (kaiju eiga), since the government
popular culture and consumer culture and used it to create did not wish to trigger anti-American sentiments
works of art that present consumer culture and its prod- while the Americans were helping restore Japan
ucts as a reflection of thought patterns and cultural struc-
from its wreckage. The movie raises issues that
tures. His works present kawaii culture, the processing of
nuclear holocaust memories, and subconscious fantasies were legitimate in terms of public agenda, yet were
that often appear in popular Japanese culture. supposed to be left unspoken—could the Americans
7 From Hiroshima to Fukushima: Comics and Animation as Subversive Agents of Memory in Japan 107

be blamed for the nuclear holocaust? Is it right to new perspective—the atomic warheads are what
create a weapon more powerful than the atomic saves Japan. The film gives an expression to the
bomb? The popularity of the film stems from the thoughts that lurk beneath the surface in Japan
fact that the Japanese saw it as a mirror and a reflec- and remain unspoken: the atomic bomb and the
tion of the trauma of a society that collapsed in the ensuing holocaust have stopped the war and thus
past and can collapse again in the present, as well saved what was left of Japan after the war and
as of their anti-American sentiments which at the prevented its total collapse. The bomb also
time remained unspoken (Sawaragi, 2005). allowed the Americans to conquer and build
In 1973, the movie Japan Sinks (nihon chin- Japan after the war. In 2007, the Japanese Minster
botsu) directed by Shiro Moritani was released. of Defense Kyūma Fumio was forced to resign
Based on a bestselling novel of that year by the after he said that the American use of atomic
author Sankyo Komatsu, the movie dealt with the bomb against the terrors performed by his coun-
subject of total destruction. Both the book and try at the time was necessary. His words, per-
the movie recount the Japanese archipelagoes’ ceived outside Japan as extreme rightwing
sink into the abyss in the aftermath of an earth- sentiments, constitute an acceptable, albeit unex-
quake, volcanic eruptions, and giant tsunamis, as pressed, way of thinking in Japan. The Minster of
the surviving Japanese refugees are forced to flee Defense, who is supposed to adhere to the official
to all corners of the earth (Sawaragi, 2005). The line, had to pay the cost of tarnishing the national
successful book was adapted into a 15 volume conviction. But the movie, as a subversive agent
manga series, and a 2006 film by Shinki Higuchi of popular culture, facilitated the processing of
in which the ending was changed. This film opens the bomb in a new way—as a weapon that
with an earthquake and the volcanic eruption of stopped the collapse of Japan into total oblivion.
Mount Fuji, after which the geologist Tadokoro 1974 Saw the release of one of the first and most
discovers that the Japanese archipelago is about significant animation series: Space Battleship
to sink due to a geological fracture that destroys Yamato (uchū senkan yamato) by the creator Leiji
the bottommost stratum of the land. In the film, Matsumoto and director Yoshinobu Nishizaki.6 The
natural catastrophes demolish extensive areas of story begins in the year 2199, when the Earth is dev-
Japan, and some 80 million people perish. A state astated by nuclear bombs and most of the popula-
of emergency is declared and Tokodoro has a tion move underground. It is estimated that within a
plan to rescue Japan: nuclear warheads are to be year radioactive contamination will reach the survi-
positioned around Japan, in order to detach it vors’ subterranean dwelling. Just when it looks like
from the geological stratum that pulls it down. mankind is on the brink of extinction, two Earth
Tokodoro accomplishes his plan and a major space pilots, Susumo Kodai and Daisuke Shima, dis-
explosion that looks like a succession of atomic cover a message from the planet Iscandar, which has
mushrooms saves Japan. The 1970s book and possession of the technology that can rehabilitate
movie shocked Japanese readers and viewers and
while it was published during the Japanese eco- 6
The series was a cult phenomenon in Japan, comparable
nomic boom which promised a bright future, the
to “Star Trek” and “Star Wars” in the West, and its success
book became the most popular bestseller in led to the production of a film entitled Arrivederci Yamato,
Japanese history up to that point (4 million copies in which the Yamato crew is facing a new enemy called
sold), and was adapted into a film and a television “Comet Empire.” The film was a hit and led to a second
series of the television show. Later two other movies were
series (1975). The book’s popularity probably
made: Yamato: The New Voyage and Be Forever Yamato.
stemmed from the fact that the Japanese saw it as Following the success of these movies, a third season of
a reflection of the big bang that took place in the the series was produced, in which the Earth is at the center
past and could take place in the present, with the of a battle between Deslar (leader of the Gamilon aliens)
and the Bolar Federation. The events of the series were
shift from a nuclear holocaust to a natural disas-
concluded in the film End of Yamato. The original series
ter, which Japan had known on a smaller scale aired on Israeli Television in the early 1980s with the title
(Sawaragi, 2005). However, the film introduces a Space Pioneers.
108 O. Bartal

planet Earth. A special team led by captain Okita which offer a soothing and comforting end.7
goes out to space on the state-of-the-art spaceship However, this series—unlike Godzilla or Japan
Yamato, an illustrated upgrade of the real Japanese Sinks—touches on historical materials that are
battleship that was sunk in World War II. The team directly linked with the war, and are therefore
has a very limited time frame in which to find presented in the medium of animation in order to
Iscandar and return to Earth, yet during their jour- sidestep the direct gaze of the viewer (Napier,
ney, time after time they are forced to fight the 2005). The fantasy animation that portray his-
aliens of Gamilon, who are trying to prevent them torical events transform real events to symbols
from reaching their destination. that are easier to deal with. In this case, the ship
Animation artist Leiji Matsumoto, the son of becomes a symbol, not only of the final battle of
a fighter pilot in the Japanese Royal Air Force the Second World War, but also of Japan. More
during World War II, imbued the series with a than the atom bombs, which Marilyn Ivy sees as
strong militant nationalistic tone. The opening emblematic to the loss of Japan (Ivy, 1995)—the
scene takes place during World War II, when ship Yamato (the original as well as the animated
American fighter jets sink the Yamato. This ship) is metaphorical for Japanese identity, both
scene is accompanied by a soundtrack identified because Yamato is Japan’s original ancient
with the Gamilon aliens, thus the American name, and because the ship Yamato that was
enemy becomes an alien of no cultural affilia- sunk in 1945 was the flagship of the Japanese
tion, so that they can be portrayed without Navy and became a symbol of destruction and
directly generating anti-American sentiments loss. This symbol gains new meaning when it
and the series was even distributed in the becomes a metaphor for resurrection and hope
US. The fact that the Earth is obliterated by through the medium of animation. The ship is
nuclear bombings is of course an analogy to the transformed from an emblem of prewar Japanese
atomic bombs dropped on Japan during the militarism to a global spaceship of peace and
Second World War; however, it is displaced from love. In the film, the Japanese people and war-
the US–Japan war to the war between the aliens ship Yamato gain a new signifier and new mean-
and Earth. Susan Napier explains how the series ing—they are the saviors of the world.
Space Battleship Yamato goes beyond memory This series and its sequels were the beginning
and oblivion and helps process history anew. of an entire genre of apocalyptic manga series
Through the medium of animation and the genre and animation films that indirectly reference the
(futuristic sci-fi), the series revisits the experi- memory of defeat and the war and nuclear holo-
ence of war and allows the viewer a new pro- caust through the portrayal of life on planet Earth
cessing of the trauma of defeat by presenting after a third world war. The movie Akira (1988),
countless repetitions of attack and devastation for instance, opens with a scene of an atom bomb
from World War II. The processing of the trauma which is dropped on Tokyo in 1988 and starts a
culminates in the eventual success of Yamato’s third world war. Neo-Tokyo, which is built on
mission to save human civilization. The anima- the ruins of Tokyo, is ruled by violent gangs and
tion offers the viewers the opportunity to indi- antigovernment terrorism. The movie begins
rectly access the moment the battleship Yamato with an accident that awakens super powers in
was destroyed and then successfully escape what the movie’s hero Tetsuo, who decides to free
seemed like total devastation. The ship that Akira—a boy with strong telekinetic powers
plummets to peril and is immediately rescued whose abilities and the explosion he caused led to
can also be understood as a plunge into the col-
lective subconscious of postwar Japanese civil-
ians. Thus, in the vein of the films discussed For more on the term “Cultural Therapy” in the context
of Japanese animation film see: Napier, Susan, “World
above, this anime series constitute a form of cul-
War II Trauma, Memory and Fantasy in Japanese
tural therapy in which the viewers are confronted Animation,” in The Asia-Pacific Journal: Japan focus
over and over again with loss and defeat, but (online article).
7 From Hiroshima to Fukushima: Comics and Animation as Subversive Agents of Memory in Japan 109

the eruption of the third world war. Akira is a Second World War, the film creates a “model
small, plump boy (a visual paraphrase on the reader,” to use Eco’s term, who is capable of
nickname of the atomic bomb) whose powers actualizing the meaning and decoding the narra-
took over his personality, leaving a character that tive (Bondanella, 1997). In this case, of a narra-
is unable to speak or express emotions. After the tive of civilians who experienced total destruction
war, he is kept in cryonic storage under the and radioactive contamination.
Olympic stadium site, but Tetsuo awakens him This popular genre of movies based in a third
and his powers bring about the devastation of world war, apocalypse, and total devastation
Neo-Tokyo once again. The film presents the enjoyed immense popularity. The question is:
human destructive impulse and portrays an unfa- why did the fantasy of an apocalyptic world and
miliar destructive force, stronger than any known stories of total destruction emerge in Japan at the
to date. This is a reference to the atomic bomb height of its economic prosperity? And why were
whose full force and the devastation it harbored these movies so successful and why did they
were still unknown, until it was dropped on strike such a chord with the Japanese audience?
Japan. The movie goes on to raise questions con- The success of the sci-fi genre in cinema and
cerning the future and development of weapons animation in Japan revealed that below the sur-
of mass destruction by the scientific community. face of its economic success, the collective
Other films offer a subtler message, like Japanese consciousness is teeming with monsters
Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind (kaze no tani (Godzillas), created by the atomic bomb and
no naushika) (1984) that portrayed the legend of defeat in WWII. They inhabit the subconscious
a princess who lives in a postapocalyptic king- as a deep-rooted fear of total devastation. Since
dom that has its own bioengineered ecological these existential anxieties did not have a proper
system. The story takes place in the aftermath of place in official social consciousness, they found
a global war, in which industrialized civilization their way into popular culture. As I have already
has self-destructed. Although mankind survives, mentioned, the memory of the Jewish Holocaust
the surface of the earth and the seas are still has also been processed in comic books; how-
extremely polluted, reminiscent of the devasta- ever, in Israel the memory and trauma were man-
tion and radioactive contamination in the wake aged primarily through the education system,
of the atomic bomb. In the movie, most of the museums, documentary films, and television pro-
earth is covered by the Sea of Corruption, a bio- grams on memorial days that recount and present
engineered toxic forest of fungal life and plants testaments of survivors. Comics that discuss the
that is gradually expanding, taking over what Holocaust mainly address the second generation
little open land is left. Mankind is trying to sur- and its attempt to fathom the horrors of the
vive in the polluted lands beyond the forest, a Holocaust in a personal context (Blich, 2013). In
survival that entails fierce battles over the scant Japan, on the other hand, the memory of the
resources that remain. On the backdrop of the actual nuclear holocaust has been processed
wars for survival raging between people and through the genre of animation, purportedly a
between humanity and nature, the princess fights medium devoid of depth, that engages in fantasy
to bring about a peaceful coexistence among the and belongs to the popular entertainment indus-
people of her world, as well as between human- try that is usually divorced from historical per-
ity and nature. Set in a postapocalyptic future, spective and expression, which begs the
the movie addresses some big questions con- question—why? The answer to this question lies
cerning the nature of civilization, violence, and in what the flatness of the medium allows, as I
the destructiveness of mankind, as well as des- explained at the beginning of this article.
peration in the face of cycles of violence that However, in order to understand the success of
have plagued the world again and again through- this genre in Japan we should examine the his-
out history. Yet at the same time it offers hope for torical context of Japan alongside the place of
a peaceful coexistence. Without mentioning the manga and anime in Japanese culture.
110 O. Bartal

7.6 Japan and the Memory The younger generation in Japan, which was
of the Atomic Bomb raised after the war under the umbrella of the
American military protection, detached itself
Japan was the victim of a nuclear holocaust, but from the wars in which America was involved
that memory could not have been presented out- (Korea, Vietnam, and the Cold War), focusing on
side the context of Japan’s war crimes against the peace and the developing economy in Japan. At
people of Asia as a tyrannical oppressor and an the same time, they watched as the world armed
ally of the Nazi and Fascist regimes (memory that itself with nuclear weapons as part of the Cold
the Japanese strive to repress). In its relationship War, pursued nuclear experiments that exceeded
with the US, which helped rebuild Japan after the the bomb dropped on Hiroshima, and the unfold-
war and still holds close financial ties with it, the ing of nuclear disasters like Chernobyl—all these
government refrained from bringing up the touched the raw nerves of the Japanese people,
American responsibility for the nuclear holocaust, particularly sensitive to nuclear power, since they
so as to not trigger anti-American sentiments in are the only ones who understood what it really
Japan. The processing of the memory that includes meant. Furthermore, since the Japanese constitu-
both shame and guilt is therefore conflictual, since tion does not allow the maintenance of armed
the Japanese were both the aggressor and the vic- forces, there was nothing they could do to prevent
tim, a fact that diminishes the psychological space it. They started to feel powerless, even worse—
for processing the memory. Consequently, until that their protection depended on the Americans,
the 1990s, the memory of the war and the nuclear former enemies who continued conducting
holocaust had undergone only partial and frag- nuclear experiments (Sawaragi, 2005). All these
mentary processing. History teachers in Japan complex fears and memories never made their
could choose from a variety of history books sanc- way from the subconscious to the consciousness
tioned by the Ministry of Education, including in a legitimate way and remained an unvoiced
books that whitewash the war crimes and rear- anxiety. Yet, the desire to revisit the traumatic
range Japanese history, or justify Japan’s aggres- experience of the war and understand it did not
sion by presenting Japan’s declaration of war as an disappear. Yoshikuni Igarashi believes that since
act of liberating Asia from Western powers.8 In the the economic success and cultural prosperity of
1990s, in the wake of Japan’s return to the interna- today’s Japan is entirely based on the infrastruc-
tional Asian arena, South Korea and China raised ture built in Japan during the 1950s and 1960s,
subjects such as Japan’s accountability for the war after the defeat, the return to the defeat is a natural
and the inadequate apology to its victims. This process of a society that feels a need to examine
accusation was not conducive to an international its origins in order to comprehend its present.
discussion of Japan’s casualties in the war, and is Nevertheless, according to Igarashi, due to the
one of the reasons that the memory of the bomb is conflictual memory, the desire to express the
not mentioned in Japan, even in the national experience of war can only take place in the form
memorial services, apart from the modest cere- of repeating the experience of defeat, caught up in
mony in the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park, on the contradictory need to remember and at the
the anniversary of the atomic bombing. same time forget (Napier, 2005).
Since Japan has been denied the use of weapons
by its constitution, war was relocated to computer
The processing of the memory of war in Japan, which
games based on animation and manga, and the
was very limited, focused on Japan’s victimhood, while
its war crimes in Asia were covered up or described as management of the anxiety or the desire to experi-
attempts to free Asia from colonialism, see: Orr (2001). ence the war have found their way to watching ani-
However, we should also mention that there were literary mated war movies. Manga and anime, which
artworks, films, documentaries, and activists (like the
blossomed in Japan in the 1970s and 1980s,
China-Japan Friendship Association) that addressed the
uneasy subject of Japan’s blame and war crimes during exceeding the popularity of cinema, allowed a
the war. space in which the fear could be channeled in an
7 From Hiroshima to Fukushima: Comics and Animation as Subversive Agents of Memory in Japan 111

indirect way. In these media, it is possible to bombardments before Hiroshima and Nagasaki,
approach the subject in a playful manner that oscil- which were among the most devastating known
lates between fiction and reality without an explicit prior to Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The story is
connection to political and historical reality. told from the perspective of a brother and sister
Computer games and films that present a narrative who are trying to survive after their parents are
of a third world war, nuclear holocaust, and apoca- killed by the American bombings. Through the
lypse, were in fact a displacement of the repressed personal story, the viewer manages to connect to
fears to a fictional world—which for the Japanese the difficult memories of civilians who lived
is not fictional at all. They encrypted the fear in a through the war and do not speak about it, since
medium that belongs to the world of fantasy and Japan does not dare talk about the suffering of its
thus permitted the discourse about this anxiety. civilians in light of the war crimes and suffering
These media engage with total devastation and it inflicted on the people of Asia; and of course,
apocalypse and present the ruin alongside the when the victims are mentioned, they are natu-
recovery of postwar Japanese society; allowing the rally identified as the victims of the atomic bomb
younger audience born after the war to compre- and the suffering of other civilians is forgotten.
hend the backstory of the rise of modern Japan as Another docu-animation film is the autobio-
well as disconnect it from traditional Japan. graphical story of Keiji Nakazawa who experi-
In the 1980s, these fictional movies were enced in person the bomb dropped on Hiroshima.
joined by another genre of animation films por- Barefoot Gen (hadashi no gen) was first pub-
traying war and nuclear holocaust: docu- lished in 1973 as a series in the comic book
animation films of Second World War survivors “Weekly Shonen Jump” (Shukan Shonen Jampu).
who felt a need to tell their stories and the horrors The series was later (1975) bound into a book
they experienced.9 Animation films of this kind with a preface written by Art Spigelman, which
portray the transformation in the attitude toward was translated to many languages and adapted as
the atomic bomb and the shift in its symbolic an animation film (1983). The film portrays
meaning after the end of the Second World War. Gen’s family and life in Hiroshima during the
In the late 1960s, even during student riots, the war, prior to the bombing. The day of the
radical left movements that protested the ail- Hiroshima bombing is depicted in great detail,
ments of Japanese society stayed away from vol- including the horrors that ensued in its wake.
atile issues such as the emperor’s culpability for Gen runs home to discover that he had lost his
the war. Although the emperor was a symbol of entire family except for his mother who gave
the devastating war, there was never a wide pub- birth that day to a baby sister. He then describes
lic debate surrounding his responsibility during the days following the bombing: the hospitals
his lifetime. However, in the late 1980s, with the crowded with casualties, the search for food, and
end of Emperor Hirohito’s reign, there was a the troops who come to help and contract differ-
change in the attitude toward the war and the ent diseases caused by radiation. In contrast with
bomb in Japanese society. These docu-animation the shift of war films to sci-fi films depicting a
films serve as the trailblazers for this discourse. third world war, Barefoot Gen deals explicitly
One such docu-animation is the 1988 film Grave with the bomb and presents the atrocities of the
of the Fireflies (hotaru no haka), based on the nuclear holocaust to the general public for the
autobiography by Nosaka Akiyuki that relates the first time. To quote Nakawaza himself: “They
hardships of Japanese civilians during the Second wanted to know what the war and the atomic
World War in the city of Kobe. The autobiogra- bombing was really like. It was the first time
phy relates an untold story related to the American people had heard the truth. That’s what they told
me everywhere I went…. The government prob-
9 ably doesn’t want to risk encouraging anti-
Although these films are in animation format, they con-
stitute living testimonies of survivors, much like testimo- American sentiment. But the facts are the facts”
nies of Holocaust survivors in documentary films. (The Comics Journal 2003).
112 O. Bartal

In this sentence, Nakawaza highlights the pos- “Is it real?” “Tell us more,” “We never thought
sibility for trauma survivors to testify and thereby that the war and the atomic bombing were so ter-
undermine the oppressive official memory. He rible.” Today Barefoot Gen is a mandatory book
presents the power of a personal memory as a part in elementary and middle school libraries, despite
of the historical story. In an interview with Asai its antiwar and anti-imperial nature. It replaces the
Motofumi, head of the Hiroshima Peace Institute, missing information in the elementary and middle
Nakawaza condemns the inhumanity of the school history books and gives the pupils an
American enemy that used unconventional weap- opportunity to engage with history via familiar
ons on civilians, and particularly the use of war as media. Nakazawa was a pioneer in speaking
an excuse for experimenting with different atomic openly about the atomic bomb and from his
bombs (uranium and plutonium) (Asai, 2007). He manga the young generation in Japanese learned
also does not spare the imperial system that about what took place in the war. And thus, the
allowed such a crime to take place in its country cloak of popular culture—manga and anima-
and did not prevent while it could have acceded to tion—permitted the subversive criticism to
the Potsdam Declaration and the demand for the bypasses the unofficial censorship of a govern-
Japanese to surrender. He goes on to criticize the ment that did not make public the photographs
conduct of the Japanese government during the and history of the nuclear holocaust. As block-
war and its combativeness that brought the bomb busters, these movies became a part of the collec-
on Japan, as well as its responsibility for the tive memory of the younger generation in Japan.11
repression of the trauma after the war when it did
not agree to publicize photographs from
Hiroshima in order to avoid generating anti- 7.7 The Nuclear Holocaust
American sentiments in Japan. Nakazawa raises and the Jewish Holocaust
the question: why did the government not demand
of the US to assume responsibility for the crime I will illustrate my contentions about the impor-
and apologize to the victims? Why was it so tance of the medium, its subversive nature, and
scared of generating anti-American sentiments its role in processing the memory, through the
and telling the story? He claims that the Atomic graphic novel Message to Adolf (adolf ni tsugu)
Bomb Casualty Commission nominated by the by Osamu Tezuka. This graphic novel (published
government has done nothing for the survivors” as a serial in 1983–1985) has a unique way of
(The Comics Journal 2003).10 He also criticizes processing the memory and is perhaps the most
Japanese society that discriminated against the significant in this genre. Message to Adolf is a
survivors and did not help them rehabilitate or novel that interweaves fiction and reality through
find employment, pushing survivors to lose hope the story of three Adolfs: Adolf Kaufman (a
and even commit suicide despite having survived German-Japanese boy), Adolf Kamil (a Jewish
the bombing. These severe allegations and the boy) and Adolf Hitler. The plot follows the three
anger over the fact that the atomic bomb survivors Adolfs on the background of the Second World
were not given the chance to be heard and the War in the Far East and in Europe, when Adolf
Japanese people the chance to process the mem- Kaufman is sent to Germany and joins the Nazi
ory, are presented in a manga format. Nakazawa army, and Adolf Kamil becomes a Zionist who
recalls that when the manga was published he arrives in Israel after the war. The graphic novel,
received many letters from Japanese who asked which presents an antinationalistic and pacifist
position, is unique in Japan, as it portrays histori-
cal materials (including a timeline of the war)
Keiji Nakazawa claims that the commission has done
nothing for the survivors except conduct research on
behalf of the government, like comparing children who In the 2000s more films dealing with the subject were
were not impacted by the bomb with children who were released, like Town of Evening Calm and Country of
impacted by it. Cherry Blossoms by Konyo Fumiyo.
7 From Hiroshima to Fukushima: Comics and Animation as Subversive Agents of Memory in Japan 113

that are not featured in Japanese textbooks, like nuclear holocaust. The reader identifies with
the war crimes the Japanese army committed both sides through the coming of age experi-
against the people of Asia. In the manga format, ences of the two Adolfs—on the one hand the
Osamu not only presents historical materials but process of brainwashing that can turn a rela-
also targets the conduct of the Japanese govern- tively normal person to absolute evil, and on
ment during the war and reveals the materials the other hand the experience of victimhood.
repressed in the memory of the Japanese people. The reader can empathize with the incredibly
The historical materials can be read easier due to complex memory of Japan as it was both an
the medium and due to the blurring between the aggressor and a victim.
fictional narrative and historical facts. This Today too, in an age of information freedom
graphic novel provides Japanese readers, who are where there is no need to circumvent censorship,
the second generation after the Second World comics are still used as a channel for processing
War, with the opportunity to look at the terrible trauma in Japan. After the tsunami and nuclear
acts committed by the Japanese army through the reactor disaster in the Tokohu area in March
story of an individual’s memory. This complex 2011, several manga depicting the catastrophe
issue of processing the historical memory of the were published. The reportage comic The Day
aggressor also came up in the German education Japan and I Shook written by Suzuki Miso, cov-
system in 2007, when history teachers presented ers the aftermath of the earthquake and tsunami.
to children aged 9–13 (third generation) the Suzuki describes his decision to write the manga
events of Nazi Germany and the Holocaust in the first chapter, explaining that: “Scenes of
through two graphic novels. These novels, pub- the tsunami swallowing up cars and houses
lished in Amsterdam by the illustrators Eric crisscross my mind. With so many people having
Heuvel and Ruud van der Rol, were entitled The lost their homes, their families, their land, living
Search (Die Suche) and the sequel The Revelation in refugee camps and in fear of radiation, what
(Die Entdeckung). These comics became an kind of manga should one draw? Is it the time to
important part of a case study in Germany, after even be drawing manga?” (Holmberg, 2011). He
one of the most extensive studies conducted by thus decided to write about his personal experi-
the University of Oldenburg revealed that almost ences through the story of his daughter who
20 % of school pupils in Germany know very lit- was stuck in Disneyland after the earthquake
tle or nothing at all about the Holocaust until the following morning, when the trains
(Lautenschläger, 2008). and buses resumed operation. Another manga
However, the graphic novel Message to that was published in a personal blog and became
Adolf helped the processing of this complex very popular was Field of Cole by Mihoko
memory in a surprising and indirect way Ishizawa, which described personal stories of
through a literary device that allows the reader the victims of the tsunami. It was read online by
to process the memory in an unconscious man- many people who contacted Ishizawa to convey
ner. Osamu creates two leading protagonists how helpful and comforting they found the
named Adolf: the first is the German-Japanese manga (Ishizawa, 2012). Neither manga
boy (who represents the Japan–Germany axis addresses issues of repressed memory process-
during the war), and the second is the Jewish ing or reveal information that was suppressed
boy (who represents the victim and then the by the government, but were a channel that
fighter). Both are represented as the two sides helped the public deal with the traumas.
of Adolf Hitler, since Hitler is described in the Unsurprisingly, a manga called Phaethon by
story as an Aryan-Jew (in the story his mother Yamagishi Ryōko that gained a great deal of
conceived after she was raped by a Jewish popularity was again an indirect story about the
employer). In the story, the divided Adolf nuclear disaster that took place in Chernobyl
becomes a symbol of Japan during the war—an from 1988, republished online after the Fukushima
extremely cruel country but also the victim of a event (Thornber, 2013).
114 O. Bartal

7.8 Conclusion generates a change in the traumatic memory and

allows it to be transformed from a common mem-
The graphic novels and animation films pre- ory to a deep personal memory, uniting the two
sented in this article manifest the Japanese need narratives on the individual level and reminding
to return to a trauma that merges guilt and shame, young people in Japan that the Hiroshima experi-
acknowledge it, and give it a place in contempo- ence (this time not as a metaphor) is not a story of
rary life. The portrayal of events through comics the past but a central part in the story of their con-
performs a twofold action. First, in the guise of temporary lives (Friedländer, 1992; Langer,
popular culture as action and sci-fi films, the 1991). After the private memory found its con-
memories and stories are transformed into myth text in the narrative of collective memory, the
and fantasy, creating a new experience that sheds reader can revisit the deciphered past and formu-
light on obscured memory layers considered ille- late a coherent historical story through feedback,
gitimate in the official culture, and allow the pro- based on historical facts alongside private memo-
cessing of repressed and unbearable memories. ries. Thus, the media of manga and animation
For instance, Japanese animation films address that expand the historical story, by blurring the
questions that were viewed as subversive and lines between history and memory and between
were silenced by the government, such as: Why objectivity and subjectivity, help the second gen-
did the nuclear holocaust take place? Who is eration to construct a complete and coherent
responsible for it? And why was there discrimi- identity that allows them to live at peace with
nation against survivors? Secondly, the paradoxi- themselves in the present. As such, in Japan,
cal union of the format of comics and horror comics, the graphic novel, and animation have
story allows the reader to associate the historical become agents of memory that undermine the
story (which the first generation had experienced) institutional culture, the informal censorship of
with the story of the second generation’s contem- the government, and the censorship of the indi-
porary life and create a new memory, this time vidual’s consciousness through repression.
not a historical memory, but rather private his-
tory and memory that merge the two narratives
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Performative Recollection:
Koizumi Meiro Representations 8
of Kamikaze Pilots and the Trauma
of the Asia-Pacific War in Japan

Ayelet Zohar

appropriated the image of the kamikaze pilot as a

8.1 Preamble metonymy of war, specifically, the memory of the
Asia-Pacific War, uses this icon to express his
A young man dressed in a kamikaze pilot outfit, criticism toward the controversial acts, and to
bandages covering his wounds, his face whitened bring forward some aspects of the trauma.
as a ghost, crawls and limps though the streets and This chapter explores the links between
shopping districts of Tokyo. The passers-by stare trauma and image within the framework of
at him with awe, stopping momentarily or com- Koizumi’s work, the concept of performativity
pletely ignore the youngster as they turn around and the practice of performance, the notion of the
and rush away. The aviator calls out “Chieko!” trauma of the Third Generation in Japan after the
before he falls again to the ground… . Asia-Pacific War, and the ways in which the
Koizumi Meiro’s (b. 1976, Gunma, Japan) younger generation of artists makes use of docu-
video project, Voice of a Dead Hero (Koizumi, mentary, as well as staged and performed pho-
2009) (Fig. 8.1),1 is a documentation of the per- tography strategies, to form their critique. My
formance described above as it takes place argument is that despite the intensive attempts of
throughout the streets of Tokyo and ends with the Japanese authorities and governmental agencies
passage into Yasukuni Shrine at the center of the (such as the Ministry of Education, and the activ-
city.2 Koizumi, a young Japanese artist who has ities of Historical Revisionism that flourish
within Japan’s academic system) to delete the
To view Koizumi’s video, go to: http://www.meirokoi- discussion of the war and its traumas, the mem- ory of the Asia-Pacific War is not pushed into
Yasukuni Jinja (Shrine) is a controversial shrine at central oblivion, but rather is being presented and per-
Tokyo. It is notorious for storing the ashes of Asia-Pacific War
criminals, and thus draws much public criticism whenever a
petuated, especially by film makers, as well as
Japanese politician chooses to visit the place. For extensive contemporary artists, in their attempt to under-
discussion of the site and its significance, see Jiji News stand the ailments of the past, the problems of the
Agency (2015). “It’s ‘natural’ for leaders to visit Yasukuni, present, and possible solutions for the future.
Abe says,” Japan Times, Feb 18th 2015, http://www.japan-
Photography and video-art, in this context,
natural-for-leaders-to-visit-yasukuni-abe-says/#. become tools for self-expression, methods for
VbyGrvmqqko [Accessed Aug. 1st, 2015]. reshaping and questioning the harsh realities of
A. Zohar, Ph.D. (*) the past through the possibility to perform and
Art History Department, Tel Aviv University, reenact the events that were denied and con-
Tel Aviv, Israel cealed by their parents and grandparents
e-mail: generation.
© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2016 117
Y. Ataria et al. (eds.), Interdisciplinary Handbook of Trauma and Culture,
DOI 10.1007/978-3-319-29404-9_8
118 A. Zohar

Fig. 8.1 Koizumi Meiro, Voice of a Dead Hero, 2009 four-channel video installation at the The Genia Schreiber Tel Aviv
University Art Gallery, 2015

The use of photography to reconstruct and In the context of the Jewish Holocaust of
show the images of the past is a central concept in World War II, Third Generation members were
this chapter. Moreover, this practice is deeply born into an atmosphere of “Remember, Don’t
linked to the experience of the Third Generation Forget.” The idea of remembrance seems like a
(to the war trauma, and the distance of time expe- common command, but Third Generation mem-
rienced from the actual events that created the bers sometimes find it difficult to follow this
trauma). Borrowing from the expression of the order. In her text on testimonial videos and the
field of Trauma Studies (LaCapra, 1999, p. 43–85), encounter of Third Generation members with
the idea of a Third Generation is often used in the these documentary materials, Amelia Klein notes
context of Holocaust Studies and other contexts of the desire to formulate their own perspective on
psychological and sociological trauma (Caruth, war-remembrance, which involves individual
1996). Researchers in the field have coined it to memory-work, or “working through” the mate-
suggest that traumas can be inherited or culturally rial in a personal manner (Klein, 2007, pp. 137–
transmitted. Third Generation members have a 138). Agata Kula sees Third Generation
very remote experience of the trauma itself, yet in interviewers “reveal common tension between
contrast to First Generation members who experi- perpetuating memory […] and their desire to
enced the events, and the Second Generation who move forward and celebrate more positive
lived with collective memories of the trauma, the aspects” (Klein, 2007 p. 137). Klein adds that
Third Generation is in a position where the past Third Generation members working out their
does not dominate the present, and the future holds attitudes toward (Holocaust) remembrance is a
much more promise. Hence, their attitude toward complex issue, one that may take a lifetime to
past memory is complex and interesting, and does resolve. On the other hand, according to
not necessarily follow common expectations of Dominique LaCapra, people may resist this pro-
remembrance (Klein, 2007). cess of “fidelity to trauma, a feeling that one must
8 Performative Recollection: Koizumi Meiro Representations of Kamikaze Pilots… 119

somehow keep faith with it,” as shaping one’s as “speech acts,” emphasizing the inter-subjective
own memory may feel like betrayal of the dead. relations that initiate the photograph’s performa-
Therefore, some would prefer to remain within tive force and meaning (Kaye, 2006). Ariela
the trauma (LaCapra, 1999, pp. 22, 70). Michael Azoulay, on the other hand, insists that the per-
Roth, on the other hand, considers issues of formative reconstruction of the photograph as
memory and trauma, and the challenges these “performative force” is created by its spectator,
pose to historiography, through his work on the who contextualizes the image and gives it mean-
value of the archive for the visual arts. He also ing (Azoulay, 2008, p. 14).
states the importance of representation as part of In light of the previous ideas that situate the
the processing of traumatic events, and the frag- photographic image under the performative lens,
menting capacity of photography as a means to my discussion of Koizumi’s work suggests that the
deconstruct time and trauma (Roth, 2012, pp. 77, format of performance (in front of the camera) is a
178). David Stahl, on the other hand, refers to the powerful tool of remembrance and memory, that
possibilities of literature and art to serve as modes helps to bring back the controversial memories of
for assimilating and coping with the traumatic the war in a tangible/visual manner, that enables a
events of wartime Japan, their extreme violence, fruitful discussion of trauma in general, and in the
and their ideological reconstruction of the indi- current example is situated specifically within
vidual. In his view, in order to be able to assimi- Japanese society. Koizumi’s different video proj-
late traumatic experience, it is a necessity to ects are at the core of this discourse and practice,
constitute the (visual) presence of that trauma, his work permits a direct encounter with images
without which, it will never be resolved or assim- pushed into oblivion, and allows viewers to take a
ilated (Stahl, 2010, pp. 1–4). first step on the long journey of Japan’s reengage-
In this chapter, through the analysis of ment with war memory and its responsibility for
Koizumi’s video-art, I arrive at an understanding war and postwar issues. In Koizumi’s videos, per-
of situations that reflect on memories and trau- formance is a means of cultural visualization of
mas associated with the Asia-Pacific War, giving the forgotten and repressed, and the return of the
special attention to issues concerning perfor- trauma in a mode that enables remembrance and
mance and performativity in relation to war the working through of issues of memory and
memory, expanding on the discussion of past postmemory (Hirsch, 2012), as means of working
trauma and its embodiment and reenactment in through the traumatic experience.
the present. In The Performative Force of
Photography, Laura Levine suggests a bridge
over the gap between the concept of “perfor- 8.2 War Trauma in Japan
mance” and that of “photography”: performance
is a concept (and an art form) that relates to the In his quintessential text Imagined Communities
ephemeral and to a living form of change and (Anderson, 1983), Benedict Anderson identifies
movement, while photography is conceived as a that the core of Nationalism lies at the need to
medium of visual immobility, which makes it a create a collective, Master Narrative that most
perfect medium for archiving and stabilizing cat- members of the community can identify with.
egories and meaning—especially those related to Anderson’s argument proceeds to identify these
trauma (Levine, 2009, pp. 328–329). This idea is Master Narratives at moments the community
built on Roland Barthes’ suggestion that photo- commemorates and lionizes, such as the establish-
graphic stability is designed by posing, which has ment of the nation, or moments of glory and suc-
a theatrical quality to it and is designed for the cess, that most members of the community (nation)
camera’s gaze (Barthes, 1980, p. 78). Levine can strongly identify with. For most countries
continues by offering a reconsideration of Barthes building such Master Narrative is part of a domi-
concept in relation to J. L. Austin’s concept of nant discourse that explains the nation’s history
“speech acts”: suggesting that photographs serve and becomes a central element in its collective
120 A. Zohar

memory. This Master Narrative contains collective than the common division between perpetrator
memories of glorious accomplishments, usually and victim, and concerns issues related to Third
linked to the foundation of the nation, victory in Generation of both sides (Giesen, 2004b). Giesen
wars, and successful achievements that became a traces the trajectory of this pattern in Germany,
keystone of national solidarity (Gellner, 2006). and lists phases of: denial, silence, demonization,
However, in recent decades, there is tendency to criminalization, withdrawal, collective guilt,
incorporate guilt-inducing historical events— objectification, and metaphysical guilt (Jaspers,
exposing narratives of horror and misery as part of 1961). Since Japan has suffered from the trauma
a nation’s unifying Master Narratives—that chal- of the atomic bombs at the end of the war, the
lenge the Master Narratives of heroism. Good main strategy has been to focus on the victims of
examples are the collective experience of the trauma and ignore the trauma perpetrated by
Jewish Holocaust, or the memory of slavery and Japan’s aggressiveness during the war (Tsutsui,
extreme forms of racism in the collective memory p. 1393). In post-1945 Japan, main critics of per-
of American citizens of African heritage (Barkan, petrations have been linked to opposition parties,
2000). As these historical events tend to breed generally of progressive or leftist political orien-
more guilt and shame rather than honor and pride, tation, while defenders of perpetrations generally
the dark memories are no longer safely hidden tend to be conservative or right leaning (Gluck,
away from foreign eyes. In the current reality, after 1993, pp. 64–95).
long years of silence and shame, those who were The past two decades mark a dramatic
victimized during the war became empowered and change in the cultural atmosphere of Japan.
demanded justice from perpetrators. In many During this period, following the collapse of
cases, perpetration of horrific acts is committed by Japanese financial markets in 1989 and the con-
a small minority but they still tint the nation sense tinuing recession, deep social change, and con-
of the majority, because the atrocities were com- tinuing public discussion of the past were
mitted in the name of the nation. Hence, trauma brought to the forefront. After long decades of
becomes more complex, and is not only associated denial and ignoring the Japanese responsibility
with the victims, but indeed, is becoming increas- for military aggression in Asia, the last two
ingly associated with the perpetrators as well. decades, since 1995, mark a time of significant
Perpetrators face the judgment of history as change in public attitude in Japan—one that has
empowered victims mobilize to bring them to jus- been more open discourse and reflected an abil-
tice (Tsutsui, 2009, p. 1391). ity to consider issues of guilt and responsibility
Literature on collective trauma has noted sev- (Tsutsui, 2009, pp. 1413–1414). Nonetheless,
eral aspects that reoccur in societies marked by conservative discourses that have presented the
perpetrators of the trauma: first there is forget- war using nostalgic imagery have also been
ting/repression, followed by phases of distortion, present and to a certain degree, dominate areas
displacement, and justification (Giesen, 2004a). of film, visual, and popular culture (Sakamoto,
Other responses after the perpetuation of a trauma 2015, pp. 158–184).
may include denial (common in Japan and in After decades when public discourses in Japan
Germany), reversal, projection, and depersonali- concentrated on the trauma of Hiroshima and
zation as the modes of coping with perpetuation Nagasaki, and the victimization of Japan, the pro-
of trauma. Although not quite common in social cess of rethinking wartime trauma has seen the
terminology, where we identify the trauma with return and expansion of public discussions of
the victim, Giesen has brought forward the Japan’s aggression during the war, and its contin-
problem regarding the trauma of the perpetrators, ued approach to refrain from public engagement
especially in the years following the crime, and with discourses of war responsibility, affect, and
the generations born after the aggressive events memory (Tsurumi, 2015). Yet, specters of the
become part of their collective history. Hence, wartime era continue to haunt the present through
the trauma as discussed in this context is broader tensions in Japan’s relations with its neighbors in
8 Performative Recollection: Koizumi Meiro Representations of Kamikaze Pilots… 121

East Asia.3 Attitudes toward war memory in dence and testimonies of the lost past, in an
Japan range from the silence of the First archeological manner.6 Hence, strategies of rep-
Generation, to the practical rehabilitation of the resentation in the field of contemporary Japanese
Second Generation, to the youth of the Third photography and video-art are diverse. Some
Generation (born after the1970s), who argue for consist of performance and its documentation,
facing the dilemmas, pain, and suffering of the while others concentrate on evidence and testi-
past by accepting the idea of Japan’s responsibil- mony, or collecting documentation in a manner
ity in a more direct and honest manner. This that allows for the reconstruction of the past
chapter concentrates on the work of a young art- through its fragmentation, including snap-shots,
ist who belongs to the Third Generation group in photojournalism, documentation, performance,
Japan, aspiring to represent the contemporary projection, and multiplication (of channels) in
spectrum of visual interpretation that reconsiders video art (Cotton, 2004).
and re-represents these dilemmas; that refuse to One image that carries controversial aspects of
let the subject sink into oblivion.4 war memory is that of the kamikaze pilot. For
Western audiences, the image of the kamikaze is
often associated with pictures of airplanes crash-
8.3 The Kamikaze: Guilt ing into US vessels in the Pacific Ocean, evoking
and Nostalgia images of suicide-bombers fanatically flying to
their cruel death in the name of the Emperor, with
Since the events of the war and their particular brutality and inhumane feeling (Ohnuki-Tierney,
images are generally being eradicated from the 2002, pp. 157–163). Contrary to these images that
Japanese landscape and cultural memory, backed flourish in Western culture, Japanese views of the
by government policies that have made a huge practice are quite different: first, the word kami-
effort to avoid having the subject brought up in kaze is associated with wartime propaganda lan-
the public sphere (Nishio & Fujioka, 1996; guage, and thus is not in use today. Instead, the
Nozaki & Inokuchi, 2002), many artists have honorific term tokkōtai—special attack unit—is
chosen modes of reconstruction and repetition of used in Japanese.7 Secondly, in Japan, the memory
images and memories associated with the of the young men flying to their death is a personal
Asia-Pacific War and times gone by,5 while oth- matter—these are the sons, the relatives, friends,
ers have searched the historical arena for evi- classmates, neighbors of people still living today,
and so their image is very human, connected to
stories and events, and they are often portrayed as
Professor Carol Gluck, George Sansom Professor of
History and Professor of East Asian Language and the victims of the unfortunate circumstances of the
Cultures, Department of History and Department of East end of the Asia-Pacific War in the Pacific Theatre.
Asian Languages and Cultures, in a presentation entitled, Their images often evoke a romantic memory of
“Past Obsessions: World War II in History and Memory” exceptional young men, university students, and
considered this issue extensively (Boston College, March
20, Gluck 2013). A similar discussion was also presented
in Jerusalem under the title, “Modern Japan and the Work 6
Among artists using documentary strategies are: Ishiuchi
of History” (The Historical Society of Israel, Jerusalem, Miyako, Shitamichi Motoyuki, Suzuki Norio, as well as
May, Gluck 2014). certain aspects in Yamashiro Chikako’s work. See Zohar
The 2014 Yokohama Triennale, curated by the photogra- (2015).
pher Morimura Yasuama, one of the participants in the 7
References to the image of the kamikaze as fanatical,
current show, was titled “ART Fahrenheit 451: Sailing cruel, and inhumane can be found in many American his-
into the Sea of Oblivion.” Although not a direct reference torical and fiction films describing the war in the Pacific.
to the war and its remembrance, the title indicates the See, for example, The World at War: episode 22: “Japan:
problem of oblivion and forgetting the past. 1941–1945” (Browne, Raggett, & Isaacs, 1974); episode
Some of the artists using performance strategies to 23: “Pacific: February 1942–July 1945,” (Pett, Wheeler &
reconstruct war memory include Morimura Yasumasa, Isaacs, 1974), ITV Channel, UK, 1973-4. Kevin Watson
Shimada Yoshiko, Tsukada Mamoru, and Yamashiro and Ed Topor, dirs. Kamikaze: Death From the Sky MPI
Chikako. See Zohar (2015). Home Video, 1989.
122 A. Zohar

well-trained officers who served as pilots in the Therefore, I would like to discuss an alterna-
Imperial Navy and were sent off to their cruel tive model of considering the trauma of kamikaze
death with no choice in the matter. within Japanese society, and show how performa-
Since the end of the Asia-Pacific War, kamikaze tive methods may be a fruitful approach to bring-
pilots have been the subjects of numerous cultural ing the image back and re-evaluating the trauma
products, including the publication of their per- of the perpetrator in a more direct manner.
sonal diaries (Ohnuki-Tierney, 2006; Yamanouchi
& Joseph, 2000), and the creation of films and nov-
els, where the portrayal of the young men is nostal- 8.4 Photography, Video-Art,
gic and romantic (Sakamoto, 2008). Notable in this and Third Generation
context are several recent films, such as Ā kessen Trauma
kōkūtai Ah (Battle Air Unit, 2005), featuring right-
wing activist Toshio Kodama; the film Ore wa kimi The use of photographic work as an approach to
no tameni koso shini ni iku (For Those We Love, war memory appeared in Japan as early as 1948.
2007), by the ex-governor of Tokyo, Ishihara The first series of photographs by Kimura Ihei
Shintaro (2007), which tells the story of Torihama (Kajiya, 2014; Kimura et al., 1949), Domon Ken,
Tome, Mother of the Tokkotai, and her personal and Tōmatsu Shōmei (Feltens, 2011, 2012) were
view of the young men on the eve of their depar- followed by multiple projects that looked into the
tures; or Eien no zero (Eternal Zero), Hyakuta remains of the atomic bombs and their killing
Naoki’s 2009 best seller, made into a movie in power. In his chapter on “The Intolerable Image,”
2013 (Yamazaki, 2013).8 The gap between the gov- Jacque Rancière discusses the options suggested
ernment’s denial of war responsibility in discourse, by photographs with unbearable visual content, so
forgetfulness on war-related matters, and the that they cause restraint—a restraint that funda-
romantic images of the tokkōtai pilots that flourish mentally represents the spectator’s anxiety, rising
in popular Japanese culture, represent the open through the intensity and magnitude of the trauma,
ground into which Koizumi’s work intervenes in that their intolerability touches upon the specta-
an attempt to generate a performance related to tor’s (human) condition beyond comprehension,
memory and remembrance, rather than oblivion or as they cannot bare the truth relayed through the
over-romanticized nostalgia of the past. photograph (Rancière, 2009, p. 88).
Most of the novels and films about tokkōtai Yet, the value of “truth” and “testimony”
pilots present a fundamental dilemma: were the attached to photographic practice resulted in
young men volunteering to go on their last mis- many images produced during the war and post-
sion, readily dedicated to sacrifice their lives for war era being put in locked military or national
the emperor? Or were they pushed into their mis- archives, where they were categorized as “docu-
sion by the authorities that left no other recourse ments” and “evidence.” Recent trends in contem-
for the men, and forced them to proceed on their porary art opened the visual experience embraced
one-way mission? (Ohnuki-Tierney 2002, in these images under the broadening span of the
pp. 169–176). The dilemma is presented in vari- art world. Many genres of photography, previ-
ous ways—some showing pilots expressing ously considered “nonartistic,” have been ana-
discomfort and mild objections about performing lyzed and discussed under new methodologies
their last mission, contemplating their families and theoretical tools, while artists began using
(The Eternal Zero), while others express their documentary practices to create their work.
hesitation (Boku wa kimi no tame shini ni iku), or After the financial collapse of 1989, followed
even show them shot dead in their cockpit, before by the two lost decades of economic recession,
sinking onto the US vessels in an unwilling act the overassured Japan of the 1980s went through
(August Moon Sonata). a watershed crisis to be reflected in social and
cultural experience. Young men and women,
See bibliography for further details. especially artists, film makers, and novelists
8 Performative Recollection: Koizumi Meiro Representations of Kamikaze Pilots… 123

started to raise questions concerning the sup- memory can be transferred to those who were not
pressed memories of the Asia-Pacific War actually there to live an event” (Hirsch, 2012,
responsibility in Japan, Japan’s current position p. 3). Hence, one of the powerful and effective
in and toward Asia,9 with Koizumi Meiro being methods for facing a trauma by those who have
one of the most important players in this field. not experienced it directly, is through the practice
My suggestion to consider his projects within of performance. The performative recollection,
this framework, and under the notion of Third as I have coined this practice, is based on the pos-
Generation is grounded in the idea that the silence sibility of construing an event, and repeating it in
around war memory in Japan was replaced with a a dislocated manner, enabling an experience
new approach of rethinking the disputed past and beyond the immediate and the daily.
Koizumi was able to create several projects that
expanded recognition of this perpetration of
trauma, as well as the trauma of the perpetator. 8.5.1 Performative Presence
With the above ideas in mind, Koizumi Meiro’s in Photography
kamikaze pilots’ play a central role in the recon-
struction of the images of war trauma. The image First, Performative Recollection employs theories
of the kamikaze as a quintessential icon of the per- of the performative in photography, for which
petrator resurfaces in Koizumi’s video-art, ques- David Green and Joanna Lowry’s writings are
tioning the history of the parents and grandparents helpful in understanding the performance that lies
generations, daring to delve into the memory of at the core of the works discussed (Green & Lowry,
events of the war years. This inquiry is in opposi- 2003). Green and Lowry suggest that the perfor-
tion to contemporary nostalgia of wartime brav- mative act of picture-taking overcomes the trans-
ery and ability (Seaton, 2010), or the collective parency of the image as a “window” to reality
perplexity after the long recession in Japan. (Walton, 1984, p. 246–247). While the rupture
Although there are many valuable documentary- between “image” and “representation of reality”
based projects in the contemporary Japanese pho- was identified early on by several art historians as
tography and video-art scene, I chose to discuss the core of conceptual photography and its proces-
Koizumi’s projects that follow the performative sual consciousness, Green and Lowry open a pos-
act and its value in the reactivation of trauma and sibility for photography to become a platform onto
memory (Zohar, 2015). which memory, emotions, and desires can perform.
Rather than expecting photography to become a
documentary mechanism of “real” things it
8.5 Performative Recollection: becomes a performance of presence, or a manifes-
Four Aspects tation of the absent, and, in this sense, it can be a
crucial tool in the performance of memory and rec-
To be able to discuss the relationship of Trauma ollection. This concept underlines the photographic
and the Performative, I present some aspects con- language of the projects presented in this text.
cerning the relations of Third Generation artists
to the First Generation who “witnessed massive
traumatic events connected so deeply to the pre- 8.5.2 The Performative Body
vious generation’s remembrances of the past that
they identify that connection as a form of mem- The second idea of the performative comes from
ory, and that, in certain extreme circumstances, Judith Butler’s employment of this rupture as it
occurs in relation to the performance of the body
in terms of gender, sexuality, melancholy, and
See, for example, Murakami Haruki, The Wind-Up Bird
trauma (Butler, 1990, pp. 31–32). In the context
Chronicle (1994), Aida Makoto’s The War Picture
Returns series (1996), and Murakami Takashi’s Little Boy of Butler’s discourse, the performance is per-
project (2004). ceived as a reactivation of the imagined trauma
124 A. Zohar

and as a mode of materialization and embodiment and reflective manner that allows future experi-
of the traumatic image that occupies cultural and ences to reshape, restage, and reform the experi-
social memory. In the Japanese experience, the ence of the past.
specific connection between war, trauma, and per-
formance is presented in unpredictable ways as
reenactment of moments of extreme violence and 8.5.4 Performative Engagement:
sexuality and their way of repeating the trauma Political and Aesthetic
retained in the body—as presented in the many
bodily actions Koizumi brings forward—from The fourth source of the theoretical analysis of
limping to masturbation, from becoming a ghost performative recollection relates to Jacques
to playing dead on the ground. Rancière’s association of the political with the
aesthetic, reflecting on the nature of artists’
engagement with social and communal circum-
8.5.3 The Parafictional stances, and how these are an activated opportu-
nity of performative recollections in the plural
The third concept employed is a reading of how form (Rancière, 2004, pp. 42–45, 2010,
Koizumi’s project relates to Carrie Lambert- pp. 105–111). Rancière’s concept is augmented
Beatty’s idea of the parafictional (Lambert- through projects that employ a relationship, a
Beatty, 2009). Parafictional is a term referring to dialog, or some sort of plural interaction
an occurrence that inhabits the space between the between an individual (artist) and a chorus (col-
fictional and the real. Lambert-Beatty’s notion is lective/society).
helpful in understanding the underlying format of The following sections consider different per-
the performances presented in this text (Currie & formances and their respective characteristics in
Ichino, 2013), and “the way performance plays relation to the various iterations of performative
with viewers’ belief in representations of the real recollection described above.
in art and art’s separateness from life” (Lambert-
Beatty, 2009, pp. 54–56). Lambert-Beattie has
taken her term from the idea of “Speech Acts” 8.6 Koizumi Meiro:
discussed by J. L. Austin—the idea that the The kamikaze Projects
speech itself is a performance of the act in itself,
not a replacement or a representation, but a per- Koizumi Meiro created a series of seven projects
formance of meaning and affect (Austin, 1962). that challenge the concept of the kamikaze pilot,
Differing from the performative, which I relate to conflating the images of the tokkōtai pilot and the
the repetition of specific images well preserved in myths around these men with the environment of
cultural memory (like the image of the Emperor everyday life in contemporary Japan. While
or General MacArthur), the parafictional refers keeping in mind the ideas developed above, I
to repetition of generic images, as common cate- analyze Koizumi’s project in relation to the dif-
gories—such as “comfort woman” or “imperial ferent aspects of the perpetrator’s trauma, and
soldier” or “kamikaze pilot.” By restaging a dedicate special attention to Koizumi’s embodi-
generic image of “soldier” or “kamikaze” within ment of power and subjective obedience, as his
the contemporary settings of postwar Japan, the mode of representing aspects of responsibility,
tensions between past and present, empire and obedience, will, and conformity. I indicate how
democracy, war and peace, all become highly each and every scene staged or documented by
charged and quite effective in terms of their Koizumi holds a potential critique toward conser-
impact on the viewer. By staging a scene and vative attitudes of nationalism, patriotism, and
reviving a moment of the past inserted into the self-sacrifice.
present, Koizumi is able to perform the memory Below I closely analyze two of Koizumi’s
and reconstruct a historical instance in a critical projects, one of a fictional nature, the other (made
8 Performative Recollection: Koizumi Meiro Representations of Kamikaze Pilots… 125

Fig. 8.2 Koizumi Meiro, Double Projection #1: Where Silence Fails, 2012 two channels video projection, 14 min

of two parallel installations) based on documen- this day (Double Projection #2: When Her Prayer
tary footage, showing how Koizumi utilizes the is Heard (2013)) (Fig. 8.4). The two projects pres-
medium of video-art as a mechanism of remem- ent a mode of intervention interfering with the
brance, and confrontation with the trauma of the documentary process as a comment on reality in a
perpetrator, as well as the social and cultural way that raises two central questions: is there such
critique of contemporary conservative trends. big difference between fictional and documentary
Notable among his videos are the theatrical proj- practices, given that both are based on reenact-
ects, including a kamikaze pilot who gives his ments of memories, and the ways reality is being
departure speech, confronted with the voice of presented? The second question asks, what is the
the director and his crying mother’s voice who role of the director as the person in charge of con-
calls for his refusal to depart, begging him to stay structing and retelling the stories told in the
behind; a performance of the infamous Ōnishi images, and how much influence does he have on
Takijiro, the man who conceived the idea and the actors? In other words, how do we obey or
commanded the kamikaze pilot units at the end of accept orders without questioning their logic or
the Asia-Pacific War plans his harakiri, while aim?
playing with a chunk of clay between his legs, a
scene turned into a farce by mixing images of
suicide and masturbation together in Melodrama 8.7 The Fictional Projects
for Men no. 1 (2008); a couple, a blind man and
a blind woman are having their last supper 8.7.1 Voice of a Dead Hero (2009)
together before the departure of the man in Defect
in Vision (2013); in this group of fictional narra- In the first part of Koizumi’s video Voice of a
tives, I analyze what seems to me as the most Dead Hero (Fig. 8.3), he quotes parts of Anazawa
important parafictional piece—Voice of a Dead Toshio’s letter to his girlfriend Sonoda Chieko, a
hero. romantic text of an immature and unattainable
There are two documented interviews with an love between two young people (Ohnuki-
ex-tokkōtai pilot, Itazu Tadasu, who survived due Tierney, 2006; Sasaki, 1996). The text contains
to coincidence (Double Projection #1: Where numerous references to his love and his hope to
Silence Fails (2013)) (Fig. 8.2), and a second inter- come back, as well as his understanding of him-
view with a kamikaze pilot’s girlfriend, Nagura self as a victim, “fallen cherry blossom,” but
Kazuko, and the vivid memories she still holds to does not contain any references to the Emperor.
126 A. Zohar

Fig. 8.3 Koizumi Meiro, Voice of a Dead Hero, 2009 14:14 min. Still from video

The text is a famous piece in Japan’s collective Torii11 just before the entrance, while Koizumi/
memory, and Anazawa’s romantic letter to Anazawa gradually disappears from the viewer’s
Chieko is known to many, therefore, Koizumi’s eyes. In this scene, he completes what for many
choice of the image of a particular pilot, gives had been a wartime promise: all souls gather at
this piece the personal touch of a historical Yasukuni after the battle, thus Yasukuni as a final
drama. The original text of the letter, incorpo- destination became a metonymy for wartime Japan.
rated in a fictional scene, is a play between mem- Koizumi’s choice to bring the image of the
ory and presence, past and present, and makes kamikaze back into the central arena reflects a
the long forgotten text a tool to make the past point of view that criticizes the romantic, tear-
present. jerking narratives described above. His video
In the second part, the wounded Anazawa projections challenge the double meaning
(Koizumi himself, his face whitened like a ghost) attached to the term kamikaze/tokkōtai, confront-
limps, stumbles, falls, and crawls his way through ing and tackling the painful memory not by glori-
different parts of Tokyo—including elegant Ginza, fying and retelling sad stories of death and agony,
some subway stations, open streets, and neighbor- but instead by taking an active step to insert the
hoods—while crowds turn around, ignore him, and images of the pilots into the texture of contempo-
rush away. Some curious young men take a closer rary Japanese society. The piece questions the
look, and someone even asks if he is okay. But the norms and attitudes in mainstream Japanese soci-
general atmosphere reflects the loneliness and soli- ety by using the parafictional method of inter-
tude of the wounded aviator who calls out Chieko’s vention—a fictional image implanted into daily
name. In the third part, the limping pilot arrives at reality, taking a critical point of view to oppose
the long path leading into Yasukuni Shrine.10 The the nationalistic, romantic, and emotional images
camera is stable at this point; from afar we see the suggested in Japanese cinema. In this piece,
Koizumi’s strategy is parafictional because it

10 11
For extensive discussion of the site and its significance, Torii is square-shape gate, made of two beams and two
see Akiko Takenaka (2015). columns in front of a Shinto shrine.
8 Performative Recollection: Koizumi Meiro Representations of Kamikaze Pilots… 127

brings the past into the present and reexamines its leaders, and the recent changes to Article 9 of the
effect here and now, not just as a distant memory Japanese Constitution (The Peace Article), to
of the romanticized times-gone-by, located allow the reestablishment of a Japanese military.
within a highly space of the film studio. By The presence of the dislocated kamikaze pilot on
inserting the pilot into the present, Koizumi the contemporary scene serves as a reminder, a
examines the actual effect of such an act, posing metonymy of times of war, and a big question
an inquiry, making the passers-by face the ques- mark concerning the desire to see these scenes
tion: what would you do, if you had to confront a return. The young, courageous artist brings back
kamikaze pilot today, on the street, or if this were an image in order to show that implemented
your brother, lover or friend, or even if you had to changes to Article 9 of the Japanese constitution12
become one? In this sense, the presence of are not just mere talk or a textual deed, but indeed,
Koizumi, disguised as Anazawa, acting like a have a profound effect on the lives of young men
kamikaze pilot in the midst of modern Tokyo and women, civilians and paramilitary, urban
recalls the events that transpired upon Onoda dwellers and rural farmers. In a nomadic act, the
Hiroo’s return, and the negative reaction of the artist embodies memories and long-forgotten
general public in modern, democratized Japan to images in order to remind ministers and governors
the presence of a fossilized imperial, military that the horrors of war, and the trauma of loss and
past reemerging in its midst (Zohar, 2017). By injury, are only a few steps away, and that one
drawing a route that winds between prominent should tread with great care so as not to fall back
points in Tokyo—symbolically ending at the con- into nconflict and hostilities.
troversial Yasukuni Shrine—Koizumi embodies
the traumas of the past as a trajectory that leads
into the present. 8.8 The Documentary Projects
On one hand, the kamikaze pilot is an embodi-
ment of obedience, although several researchers 8.8.1 Double Projection #1: Where
have taken on the task of exposing traces of dis- Silence Fails (2013); Double
obedience and disagreement. When Koizumi him- Projection #2: When Her Prayer
self, dressed as a kamikaze pilot, crawls like a Is Heard (2014)
wounded soldier through train stations, shopping
districts, and elegant parts of Tokyo, he conflates While a documented interview is an event quite
past and present, wartime discourses and contem- different from the staged act of professional
porary views. In Voice of a Dead Hero we learn actor, the manipulations entailed in editing and
from the quoted text and the wounded kamikaze screening can be quite similar, making the end
pilot that he is not just a generic image of a kami- product not as different as would be expected.
kaze, but actually a specific person and a particular
memory. Koizumi’s kamikaze act is fundamentally
different from the kamikaze’s flight: his is a docu- Article 9 of the Japanese Constitution refers to the paci-
fist aspect of postwar Japan, and reads: “Aspiring sin-
mented performance, the action of an artist experi-
cerely to an international peace based on justice and order,
enced in the neutral space of the art gallery or the the Japanese people forever renounce war as a sovereign
museum, aimed to arouse the attention of the audi- right of the nation and the threat or use of force as means
ence, to evoke their response to questions long of settling international disputes. To accomplish the aim
of the preceding paragraph, land, sea, and air forces, as
ignored and deliberately forced into oblivion—
well as other war potential, will never be maintained. The
because they point to some very painful, and pos- right of belligerency of the state will not be recognized.”
sibly unanswerable, issues. Koizumi’s kamikaze’s In Aug. 2014, Japanese government suggested to reinter-
wounded walk marks a trajectory that crosses the pret Article 9 so that it will allow Japan to exercise the
right of “collective self defense” and perform military
areas of contemporary Tokyo, but it ends in
action if one of its allies were to be attacked. The reinter-
Kudanshita, in the shrine that lies at the heart of pretation is considered a breach of Japan’s post-1945
the city and at the heart of some its politicians and pacifistic policies.
128 A. Zohar

Fig. 8.4 Koizumi Meiro, Double Projection #2: When Her Prayer is Heard, 2014 Two-channel video projection, 20 min

The two pieces included under the title Double rather, it becomes a manifestation of power rela-
Projection were produced as a process relating to tions, of dominance and obedience, as it becomes
the genre of documentary film making: the start- clearer that Koizumi performs the role of an order-
ing point of these works is the footage taken dur- giving director and the person in front of the cam-
ing interview with the persona presented, and only era is complying with his ideas and his orders.
on the latter part of the project is a fictional ele- Nagura is better in adapting into the situations sug-
ment brought in, making the central figure con- gested by Koizumi, while Itazu finds it hard to
front its own memory and fantasy. The tradition of obey and collaborate, and sticks to his singular
testimony, a personal account of the events at the lines.13
core of the memory video, is a familiar practice While Koizumi does not attempt to present
since the interviews conducted by Claude historical authenticity or display a factual past, he
Lanzmann with Holocaust survivors in his 1985 is successful in embodying past trauma within the
Shoah mega-project (Felman & Laub, 1991). present tense, while flirting with history. This is
Koizumi brings the interviews of the surviving brought about through the (distorting) use of
kamikaze pilot, and the girlfriend of a pilot who memory and personal conviction, where the remi-
lost his life in a manner that at first seems to echo niscences of the past in the ex-kamikaze pilot and
a testimonial video, yet it gradually develops into the kamikaze’s girlfriend story, their recollections
something quite different—at certain intervals, we
identify Koizumi’s interference in the scene in a 13
I have interviewed Koizumi on the event of the “Third
manner quite similar to the way he interrupts and Generation: Wartime Memory in Photography and Video
Art” conference at Tel Aviv University, 9 June 2015; I was
enforces his idea on the actor in Portrait of a Young
also present in Koizumi’s vivid discussion with Tokyo
Samurai (2009). Due to this presence and the University Students concerning their reactions to his
sound of instructions given to the main characters, video-works at the Graduate School of Education,
the video somehow moves from the territory of University of Tokyo, Hongo Campus, class of Professor
Yūki Megumi, 3 July 2015. See also: Sumitomo Fumihiko
pure testimony, in a singular voice, into the arena
(2015), “How Do We Find Ourselves in Koizumi Meiro’s
of a dialog. Nonetheless, it is not a dialog of equal Work,” Koizumi Meirō: Trapped Voice Would Dream of
voices negotiating questions and answers, but Silence (exh. cat. Arts Maebashi, Mar–June 2015) 54–61.
8 Performative Recollection: Koizumi Meiro Representations of Kamikaze Pilots… 129

of the trauma of departure, separation and loss the kamikaze videos of Koizumi as an example
lived through the past seven decades, dictates the that facilitates a discussion on how performative
rhythm, and contents of the piece. Historical fact strategies serve the process of embodiments and
is played down in favor of a more emotional manifestation of trauma—a process which I have
memory; images presented in memory (the last coined performative recollection—aiming to show
day’s stroll together in the park, the last flight and that the performance practiced, through theatri-
the broken engine, etc.) evoke remembrance are at cally staged acts and documented testimonials,
the center of the performance. Rather than histori- plays a crucial role in the ability to face the dilem-
cal accuracy, Koizumi’s appearance and revealing mas of that trauma. I suggested four separate inter-
of the directing orders and presence of guiding pretations that relate to the performative act and to
instructions draws the trajectory that runs between its meaning in the process of remembrance and
the past and present. At a certain point Koizumi handling of trauma: the performative presence in
leads his presenters to perform the images of their photography, the performative body, the parafic-
lost beloved partners—Nagura enters the persona tional, and the performative engagement with the
of her lost Ken-chan, while Itazu is leading a con- political and aesthetic. With these concepts in
versation with his lost partner Ashida-kun. A mind, I have shown how Koizumi’s video works
strong sense of intimacy and closeness is pro- engages with the problematic image of the kami-
jected from these fictional conversations, and the kaze pilot and its multilayered meaning in Japanese
audience reacts with emotional identification with society, as a platform through which to reinvoke
the person in front and the suffering they went the traumatic issues related to war responsibility
through, despite the fact that the film is looking within Japanese culture and society. While many
into a memory reconstruction of kamikaze pilots, in Japan are engaged in long and multiple discus-
war perpetuators, people whose images of fanatic sions on the identity and characteristics of their
aggression dominate Western media. In these vid- society, its relations with Asia and its place in the
eos Koizumi successfully works against two dom- West, its past, and its future—it seems that the true
inant trends—that of Western interpretation of the and responsible discussion of the war and its atroc-
inhuman, fanatical kamikaze pilot, while simulta- ities, especially from the point of view of Japan’s
neously he is also able to deconstruct the nostalgic, responsibility for its aggressions during the war
over-romanticized image of the kamikaze pilot in are still lacking in many ways. The specific discus-
recent conservative Japanese circles. The social, sion brought about in this chapter was concerned
political, and even psychological discourses with these debates, how their attention needs a
prompted by these “testimonial” videos repre- shift toward remembrance of the past. And more
sents an opportunity for the Japanese and interna- than anything else, Koizumi works perform how
tional audience to face their worst fears and the the trauma of the war remains affective at the pres-
images of wartime perpetrators, and see that the ent, and therefore, in order to reexamine, reevalu-
story contains multiple angles of personal ate, and understand the present there is a need to
experience. engage with the past.

8.9 Conclusion References

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Architecture and Trauma
Teresa Stoppani

and physical damages: That is, can architecture

9.1 Introduction be traumatized as a discipline? How is the
architectural discipline wounded and shocked,
“Trauma” and “architecture” are terms character- and how does it react to the shock? And how
ized by an intrinsic ambiguity in relation to their does architecture respond to trauma, using its
historical and cultural contexts. Both, in different own languages, histories, and forms of repre-
ways, indicate cultural constructs that change sentation, in an attempt to incorporate it? This
through time (the definition of “trauma,” indeed, text discusses the different modes of these
has a recent history), and continue to adjust to the responses within the discipline of architecture.
needs, events, body of knowledge, and disciplin- In the background of these considerations lies
ary positions of their times. the historically established foundational relation
Spanning and embracing the ambiguities of between architecture and the human organism: a
“trauma” and “architecture,” this chapter defines relation that, beyond anthropomorphism, has
and explores the “trauma of architecture,” that is, always been grounded on ideas of proportion and
the effects of traumatic events on architecture. connectivity, function and growth, evolution and
What trauma do we need to consider here, though? change in time, linking the workings of architec-
Physical or psychological? And is it always pos- ture to the physiology of the body. According to
sible to trace a clear distinction between the two? these definitions architecture lives, and in living
Psychological trauma is fundamentally a disorder it can be traumatized. This genealogy of architec-
of memory, and what crucially defines it is its ture also allows for a transposition of the idea of
relation to time and to “normal” consciousness. trauma from the body of architecture as an object
Frozen in time, the traumatic experience is relived to the complex system of social, functional, and
in a traumatic present and escapes efforts to repre- temporal relations that are embedded in the pro-
sent it as past. cess of architectural making.
Is it then legitimate to suggest that architec- What this text explores is not the relation
ture can be “psychologically” traumatized, between the traumatic event and the physical
beyond the evident effects of violent destructions body of architecture (its buildings), but the more
complex and temporally dilated workings of the
T. Stoppani, M.Arch., Ph.D. (*) effects of the traumatic event through architec-
School of Art Architecture and Design,
ture as a practice and a discipline. Trauma is
Leeds Beckett University, Broadcasting Place,
Leeds, LS2 9EN, UK therefore considered as a temporal becoming,
e-mail: much as is the process of architecture, and their

© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2016 133

Y. Ataria et al. (eds.), Interdisciplinary Handbook of Trauma and Culture,
DOI 10.1007/978-3-319-29404-9_9
134 T. Stoppani

relationship is examined as a complex process of Michael Sorkin’s socially and politically

interactions which affect the body of architecture engaged architectural criticism and design pro-
as well as its pasts, its memories, its narratives, posals offer a different strategy of appropriation
and its languages. of the trauma, through a diffusion and redistribu-
Sigmund Freud’s fundamental idea of tion in the social.
Nachträglichkeit or “deferred action” of the In the case of the Urbicide Sarajevo project,
trauma is important in an architectural discourse the architectural response to prolonged urban
on trauma, as it distinguishes between the trau- warfare comes in the form of a reinvented cartog-
matic event or experience and its delayed revival raphy of the city that visually documents, catego-
as a memory. Transposed onto architecture, the rizes, and systematically maps the instances of
idea of “deferred action” can be applied to the physical damage and destruction of buildings.
time of the project, to study how a traumatized War introduces an alternative logic that induces a
discipline responds in time: the different ways in re-categorization of architecture, foreign to the
which architecture elaborates the trauma to pro- criteria of its aesthetics and production; and the
duce not only spatially and temporally situated Urbicide project, while painstakingly detailed,
physical responses, but also transformations of remains unable to find a synthesis and declares
the discipline at large, with a further deferred the impossibility of articulating a linear narrative
effect in both time and space. of the traumatic event and its consequences.
Through a series of examples, this chapter Produced as an architectural response to the
explores those practices which, operating in effects of the war in Sarajevo, Lebbeus Woods’s
architecture and around it, process the issues Wararchitecture projects offer a very prolific cat-
that traumatic events raise for the discipline of alogue of design solutions resolved and expressed
architecture. Different responses emerge that in a highly personal architectural style. Yet, they
attempt to appropriate the work of trauma too remain incapable of constructing a response
within architecture: from the (re)design of the other than by embracing, as the title of the series
traumatic event within the conventions of suggests, the language and the aesthetic of the
architectural representation, to political strate- trauma, ultimately showing the failure of a
gies for its urban diffusion and social redistri- mimetic approach.
bution; from the reinvention of a cartography The theoretical background of these questions
of urban memory, to design strategies that imi- and approaches is the critical position developed
tate the forms of destruction, to an understand- by Bernard Tschumi in the 1970s with his work
ing of the violence of architecture that reveals on architecture and violence, which questions the
the intrinsic and originary traumatized nature nature of architecture through writings, draw-
of architecture. ings, and theoretical design projects. On the
In the aftermath of the events of 9/11 in grounds of Tschumi’s work it is possible to
New York, theoretical architectural projects pro- develop the relationship between architecture
posed different ways to process the trauma that and trauma even further. Architecture can be
the terrorist attack had inflicted not only upon traumatized, and the traumatic effects are
buildings, but also on the role and the status of recorded and expressed on its body, while they
architecture in society. Lieven De Boeck’s ex- are also reflected in its project; traumas affect
post drawings of the event in Fireworks II. Le changes in the discipline and its forms of repre-
Blue du Ciel remain specifically architectural, sentation both visual and social. What are the
offering a visual graphic representation of the changes that trauma produces on architecture as a
traumatic event that appropriates it to architec- discipline then, and how does trauma affect
ture, in a meticulous attempt to understand and architectural discourse and forms of expression?
process facts and data through the conventions of In his early writings and projects Tschumi
architectural representation (plan, section, and explored the violence exerted on architecture and
elevation drawings). exposed the nature of the violence of architecture
9 Architecture and Trauma 135

(that violence on space and bodies can be per- normal consciousness; instead, she is haunted or
possessed by intrusive traumatic memories. The
formed by architecture). Here the idea of
experience of the trauma, fixed or frozen in time,
architecture’s intrinsic violence is developed fur- refuses to be represented as past, but is perpetually
ther, to suggest that architecture is always already re-experienced in a painful, dissociated, traumatic
traumatized as it defines itself through a subject– present. (Leys, 2000, p. 2)
object relation. The possibility is thus opened up
to use architecture’s intrinsic trauma (trauma- This preamble can offer some clues to the notes
tized nature) as a critical tool for architecture’s on architecture and trauma that follow here, as
auto-analysis and self-development. some of the terms it introduces can be applied
significantly to architecture.
What does one speak of when one speaks of
9.2 Analogies to Transitions: trauma and architecture? Can architecture be trau-
Architecture as a Body matized, and what is the trauma of architecture? If
trauma occurs when terror and surprise or, in
In her book Trauma: A Genealogy (2000), Ruth transposing trauma to architecture, violence and
Leys points out that post-traumatic stress disor- suddenness destroy “ordinary mechanisms of
der (PTSD) was first officially recognized and awareness and cognition,” what is it that is
defined by the American Psychiatric Association destroyed of architecture when architecture is
only in 1980. But the history of trauma and its traumatized? I suggest here that it is not only the
consequences on the psyche are much older, and body of architecture, its physical edifice, that is
Leys sets out to document the different and often traumatized. The whole discipline of architecture,
contradictory positions and theories that, in time, its history, assumptions, knowledge, and practices
have contributed to the development of the defi- are affected, as architecture is always already
nition of trauma.1 Ley’s genealogy of trauma invested by social, political, economic, ideologi-
shows that the definition of the term oscillates cal, and symbolic values. The dual nature of
even within the work of the same psychiatrist, trauma, physical and psychological, also lies at
and that the ambiguity of the term, and of the the origin and definition of the medical term, sus-
approaches to it, persists today.2 pended between the body and the mind, the med-
Post-traumatic stress disorder is fundamentally a ico-surgical and the psychological-psychiatric.
disorder of memory. The idea is that, owing to the Leys invokes “Morton Prince, Josef Breuer,
emotions of terror and surprise caused by certain Sigmund Freud, and other turn of the century fig-
events, the mind is split or dissociated: it is unable ures to describe the wounding of the mind brought
to register the wound to the psyche because the
ordinary mechanisms of awareness and cognition about by sudden, unexpected, emotional shock”
are destroyed. As a result, the victim is unable to (Leys, 2000, p. 4). If we accept these early defini-
recollect and integrate the hurtful experience in tions, how is the “mind” of architecture shocked
and wounded, and how does architecture react to
the shock? What allows this transfer of feelings,
“[F]ar from being a timeless entity with an intrinsic unity
[…] PTSD is a historical construct that has been ‘glued altered perceptions, and memories from an indi-
together by the practices, technologies, and narratives vidual and a society to their built environment, and
with which it is diagnosed, studied, treated, and repre- to architecture as the key discipline that defines it?
sented and by the various interests, institutions, and moral
If architecture can be traumatized it is because
arguments that mobilized these efforts and resources.’”
(Leys, 2000, p. 6). Leys quotes Young, Allan (1995). The of its ongoing relation with human beings, not
Harmony of Illusions: Inventing Post-Traumatic Stress only in its definition, but also in its making and
Disorder. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 5. changing. We can argue that architecture lives
“[…] the oscillation between mimesis and antimimesis because it lives with man, rather than saying that
that has structured the history of trauma all along (Leys,
human beings simply inhabit architecture. This
2000, p. 14). ‘The history of trauma itself is marked by an
alternation between episodes of forgetting and remember- relationship is in fact much more complex: archi-
ing’” (Leys, 2000, p. 15). tecture is not only the habitat of human life, but
136 T. Stoppani

also the product of such inhabitation, as well as may seem naïve but are self-explanatory, and well
the result of the application of a knowledge that express the widely shared assumption that the
developed in time. But there is more at stake. human body, the body of architecture, and the
Architecture is not only a container, a supporter, body of the city are connected by correspon-
but a product of life; architecture is also a cultural dences that go beyond formal similitude and also
and symbolic production, always invested with structure their function (di Giorgio Martini, 1967).
political and ideological meanings that reflect Less well-known passages of Antonio Averlino
those of the society it hosts and represents. il Filarete’s (c.1400–1469) treatise on architec-
Architecture changes with life and culture; in this ture3 further focus on the physiology of the body
sense, it lives. (human and architectural), concentrating on the
The association of architecture with the human issue of the production of architecture and its
body and human life is not relevant only when analogy to human reproduction (Filarete, 1972).
discussing trauma, traumatic effects on architec- Here, in an apparently bemusing narrative, the
ture, and architecture’s response to these effects. architect, as author of the project of architecture,
Both the form and the function of architecture, as is presented not as the father but as the mother of
a dynamic relational system, have always been architecture, the father being instead the client,
associated with those of an organism, particularly who both initiates the project and makes its real-
the human organism. Western architecture was ization possible. As mother of architecture, the
defined, from its very origins, in relation to the architect makes, revises, and develops his (her?)
forms and the proportions of the human body. project, in a design process that is explicitly
While the relation to nature at large was always referred to as “gestation.” The architect then
mediated by a material and structural interven- delivers the architectural “baby” in the form of an
tion, both culturally and technologically influ- architectural model and with the support of the
enced (think for instance of the myth of the client then nurses it to completion with the con-
primitive hut as the origin of architecture, which struction of the building. While obsolete in its
does not imitate the tree structure but uses and representation of authorship and the relationship
combines trees to produce its own structure), the between architectural design and construction,
relation to the human body has always been direct, Filarete’s text remains crucial today—beyond the
and a certain anthropomorphism has always transgender twist of his narrative—as it performs
informed architecture. The forms and proportions a double shift in the definition of architecture
of the Greek orders imitated those of masculine or (Agrest, 1988). The making of architecture is
feminine human bodies, and Renaissance archi- defined here as a dynamic, negotiated, and col-
tecture organized its spaces according to har- laborative process: before, around, and beyond
monic proportions that were intended to elevate the production of the object-building acts a com-
them to the divine by imitating the terrestrial plex network of voices, forces, desires, special-
“perfection” of the human body. We are all famil- isms, intentions, and possibilities. More
iar with the figure of Leonardo’s (1452–1519) importantly, architecture is defined as a temporal
Vitruvian Man, inscribed in a circle and taken as entity that evolves in time, in the process of its
rule and measure for an umbilically centered uni- making, as well as in the alterations of its inhabi-
verse, and with Leon Battista Alberti’s (1404– tation. According to this narrative, as early as its
1472) suggestive image of the city as a embryonic state, architecture possesses a story of
well-functioning body, whose head, heart, intes- change, of variation, of adjustments in time.
tines, and other parts are ideally informed in their Even in the Renaissance, dominated by images
distribution, relation, and function by the different of harmonic proportion, the analogy of architec-
components of a human body (Alberti, 1755, ture with the body pushed beyond the figure of
1988). Passages of Francesco di Giorgio Martini’s
(1439–1501/2) treatise on architecture further 3
Filarete (1972). For the English translation, see: Filarete
develop this relation, also adding illustrations that (1965).
9 Architecture and Trauma 137

an idealized, well-proportioned body, and took on poral becoming. The transition from the body to
the body’s time, physiology, and occasional the psyche, then, is not marked by a discontinuity.
messy malfunctionings. This is not an analogy but a continuum of becom-
Can architecture be traumatized then? Can ing of the organism, be it a body or the body of
architecture, as psychology did, perform a trans- architecture. Architecture too, then, can be seen,
position of the idea of trauma from the body of not as a wounded body, but as an organism that
architecture to the complex system of social, progressively reacts to a triggering rupture. The
functional, temporal relations that are embedded relationship between trauma and architecture is
in the making of architecture and embodied in its thus a complex process of interactions, and, as in
object? And if so, what is a traumatized architec- psychology, the body of architecture—its pasts,
ture? In other words, how does trauma work on memories, and languages—is affected.
architecture as a body and on architecture as a The very ambiguity of the notion of trauma,
practice and a discipline? once it is applied to architecture, exposes the
Trauma, Ruth Leys explains, “was originally equally complex and ambiguous nature of archi-
the term for a surgical wound, conceived on the tecture. That architecture is not only an affected
model of a rupture of the skin or protective enve- and then reacting body, but an active and chang-
lope of the body resulting in a catastrophic global ing repository of memories, as well as a form of
reaction in the entire organism” (Leys, 2000, expression and communication, can be further
p. 19). The idea of trauma as the rupture of a pro- clarified if another aspect of psychological trauma
tective envelope easily suggests the possibility is considered as well. Leys observes that the tem-
that the idea of “from the body to the mind” can porality of the continuity between physical and
indeed be extended to architecture, thus returning psychological trauma suggested by Laplanche
trauma, in a sense, to the body—the body of needs to be further complicated and that “an
architecture and inhabitant of architecture. It is entirely different direction was taken by Freud
important to understand that these transpositions […] [as he] stressed the role of a post-traumatic
are not merely formal analogies, but need to be ‘incubation’ or latency period of psychic elabora-
considered as processes in time when they refer to tion, in ways that made the traumatic experience
architecture. The “transposition” of the medico- irreducible to the idea of a purely physiological
surgical notion of trauma into psychology and causal sequence” (Leys, 2000, p. 19). Sigmund
psychiatry is well described by Jean Laplanche Freud’s (1856–1939) fundamental contribution to
(1924–2012). Laplanche explains that in physical the debate is important for an architectural dis-
trauma there are “a series of gradations linking course on trauma, as it distinguishes between the
major impairments of tissue to decreasingly per- traumatic event or experience and its delayed
ceptible degrees of damage, but that would never- revival as a memory. Freud’s Nachträglichkeit, or
theless be of the same nature” and produce “deferred action,” suggests a “temporal delay or
“histological damage and, ultimately, intracellular latency through which the past was available only
damage. The trauma would proceed, as it were, to by a deferred act of understanding and interpreta-
a kind of self-extenuation, but without losing its tion” (Leys, 2000, p. 20; Freud, 2001).4 This
nature, until it reached a certain limit, that limit becomes crucial when we consider architecture as
being precisely what we call ‘psychical trauma’” a project, whether in response to a traumatic event
(Laplanche, 1976, pp. 129–130). or not, as it brings into the discourse the temporal-
There are here a few points that offer a key to ity that characterizes its process. Beyond and
better understanding the relation of trauma to before the more evident time of the building and
architecture. Trauma is not a sudden event, vio- its inhabitation, there exists in architecture, essen-
lently triggered and enacted (the rupture of the tial to it, the time of the project, what Filarete in
protective envelope), but rather the series of reac-
tions that the event triggers and that spread out, in 4
Leys, 2000, p. 20. Leys refers here to Freud’s The
time-space, in the body. Trauma is therefore a tem- Psychopathology of Everyday Life (1901) (Freud, 2001).
138 T. Stoppani

the 1400s had referred to as the gestation of the 9.3 Under Attack: Violence
architectural idea (“Before the architect gives on Architecture
birth, he should dream about his conception, think
about it, and turn it over in his mind in many ways On the 11th of September 2001, violence hit
for 7–9 months, just as a woman carries her child architecture in a sudden and unexpected way,
in her body for 7–9 months” (Filarete, 1965, with a speed that is unconceivable in architec-
pp. 15–16). But how is this project altered when it ture, and in a carefully choreographed manner.
is assaulted from the outside, and how does it per- The terrorist attack on the towers of the World
form these alterations? Trade Center in New York City was not only
The following notes do not aim to offer a sur- swift and swiftly doubled, but also magnified in
vey of cases where trauma and architecture inter- its scale, dimension, conflict, political signifi-
sected in the history of humanity. The task would cance, and human tragedy. The Boeing Airliners
be both endless and always insufficient, not only that were flown into the symbols of American
in its dimensions, but also for its intrinsic global economical power destroyed buildings
Borgesian impossibility.5 Architecture that is, is and lives while also attacking values, meanings,
always traumatized—by life, by history, by ideas, political and economic systems, and beliefs.
and by events that are outside architecture but Architecture was muted as a discipline, physi-
affect it. On the other hand, architecture always cally pulverized, and stunned as a discourse.
traumatizes its immediate context, its inhabitants, Beyond the human tragedy that resulted from the
its environment, and ultimately the planet. The attacks, architecture too had to cope. Beyond the
study of this aspect of the relationship between immediate impact and destruction of the build-
architecture and trauma is therefore an issue of ings, the trauma of the attack slowly worked its
gradation, scale, velocity, and pace. What is effects through architecture, triggering a ques-
important instead is to understand the possible tioning of the roles, the meanings, the weak-
articulations that the relation of trauma and archi- nesses, and the responsibilities of the discipline,
tecture can take. These notes offer a very small from its vertical ambitions to the moral issues of
selection of cases that are paradigmatic in defin- representation that are imbedded within it.
ing the possible articulation of such relations.6 While the general architectural debate follow-
ing 9/11 concerned itself with the meaning and
the legitimacy of wanting to build higher and
higher, the problem of the aestheticization of the
ruin, the issues of memory and monumentaliza-
tion, and the effect of land value and speculation,7
In two short fictions Jorge Luis Borges tells stories of
excess of information and of identity with the represented Belgian architect Lieven De Boeck (1971–) pro-
or narrated object. In “On Exactitude in Science,” Borges duced a critical architectural response to the
(1975) tells of a map that becomes gradually so accurate events. His project Fireworks II, Le Bleu du
that it coincides with the territory which it represents, and
Ciel—the title an obvious homage to Tschumi’s
is therefore useless. Similarly, in “Funes the Memorious”
of Borges (2000) the protagonist Ireneo Funes remembers homonymous project and to his references to the
everything, and therefore cannot live.
A series of recent publications have specifically
addressed the effects of war, violence, and trauma on the
urban environment. This is not the purpose of this chapter, I have discussed these, as well as the other New York
which focuses instead on the relationship between archi- cases examined here, in relation to the idea of “disaster”
tecture and traumatic events by looking at how the latter in Stoppani (2012). The essay considers the irruption of
produce critical responses and transformations of archi- the artificial disaster, as “designed destructive event,” in
tecture as a discipline. On war, violence, and trauma and the order of the project of architecture. It explores a series
the city see, for instance, and to cite just a few recent pub- of architectural modes of practice which work on and with
lications: Graham (2004), Koolhaas, Bouman, and Wigley the energy released by the disastrous event, suggesting
(2007), Lahoud, Rice, and Burke (2010), Forensic that silence, or the project of the silence of architecture, is
Architecture (2014). an act of design too.
9 Architecture and Trauma 139

writings of Georges Bataille8 (both discussed outside humanitarian concerns, political and ideo-
below)—focused on the planning and the unfold- logical connotations, and corporate real estate
ing of the traumatic event, redefining it and reliv- values, and in doing so, paradoxically, it exposes
ing it as a choreographed architectural act. In the trauma suffered by architecture and its inter-
Fireworks II, the planning and the execution of nal linguistic response. De Boeck analyzes the
the attack are turned into architectural drawings, event “as an architectural enterprise, as an act that
diagrams, legends, and data sheets. Architecture gains significance from an architectural point of
reappropriates, incorporates, and graphically view” (Davidts, 2005, p. 242).
reenacts the violent attack as a strategy to cope The site plan, flight positioning and data, coor-
with it, in an attempt to reorder, categorize, and dinates and times, together with conventional
normalize what is not normal within architectural architectural drawings—plans, sections, and ele-
knowledge and the media. vations—are used here to represent the traumatic
After the traumatic events, De Boeck’s project event and the architectural understanding of it.
condensed the planning, the unfolding, and the Immediately after 9/11, various sponsored
consequences of the attack in a series of architec- exhibitions, publications, and design competi-
tural documents, reconstructing and reinterpreting tions called for architectural proposals for the
the facts in architecture. The figurative (the draw- reconstruction of the World Trade Center site and
ings of the explosions), the descriptive (architec- for monumental commemorations of the event.
tural drawings of the buildings and the airplanes), The installment at Ground Zero would not only
the diagrammatic (the reconstruction of flight indicate the tabula rasa caused by the terrorist
paths and timelines), and the quantitative (the cal- attack, but also suggest the possibility of an opti-
culations and display of times, distances, geo- mistic and amnesiac new beginning, for both the
graphical coordinates, speeds, weights) are site and its architecture. Prompted by urgency, by
combined in a synthesis that employs varied archi- the vitalistic reaction of the city, and by the enor-
tectural media. The project focuses on the details mous political and financial interests invested in
and the measurements of the event itself rather the site, the reconstruction proposals, and in par-
than its aftermath, and the explosions become part ticular Daniel Libeskind’s winning project, all
of the architectural project that is represented. De displayed a will to forget and carry on, building
Boeck reads the repeated attack on the Twin higher and higher in optimistic commemoration
Towers as an architectural performance. He even of the event. What was lacking in these mostly
reminds us that the pilot who flew the first plane conventional and then successfully realized pro-
into the North Tower was an architect who had posals was the critical distance that was demanded
graduated in Cairo and specialized in urban plan- of architecture after 9/11. De Boeck’s theoretical
ning and preservation at Hamburg TU. exercise with the Fireworks II project proposed
Here, as if in a process of healing that does not instead an analytical understanding and critical
propose a reconstruction but instead offers a denunciation of the events, and as such remains
reframing and a reinterpretation, the architectural controversially and uncomfortably active within
project mimics the project of the attack. Thus the discipline. It shows why and how architecture
appropriated into architecture, the attack will con- should have engaged with the events of 9/11,
tinue to affect (disturb?) the discipline, ultimately responding not with an amnesiac (re)construc-
forcing it to elaborate a response, at least in the tion, but with a critical reconsideration of the role
form of an exorcizing representation performed of architecture in society.
through its habitual conventional media. This What does this mean in terms of the specifics
project strips architecture to its bare essentials, of architecture? The extreme event exposes the
complexities, limitations, and conflicts that
8 inhabit architecture, invested as it is by “other”
Georges Bataille’s novella Le Bleu du Ciel, set in the
civil war of Franco’s Spain, was written in 1935, but pub- systems of signification. Beyond the symbolism
lished only in 1957. See Bataille (2001). of a late modern international building complex
140 T. Stoppani

that had come to represent a center of global eco- the end, his Back to Zero project (April 2003)
nomic influence, the Twin Towers were also the returns the site to the city as an open public park
icon of a myth of renewed birth and indomitable that maintains the gigantic footprints of the
progress that is exquisitely “New York.” World Trade Center towers but covers every-
Superimposed on these ideas, De Boeck’s attempt thing in grass, because “Nothing need be built
is specifically architectural; it reappropriates the there” (Sorkin, 2003, p. 137).
event to architecture, incorporating it in the proj- Responding to an architecture that rushed a
ect: he creates trauma as architecture. reaction of reconstruction and verticalism and
De Boeck’s work concentrates on 9/11 as a left many questions unanswered, Sorkin proposes
traumatic event, proposing an architectural after- an architecture that can be formally silent but
math of formal and linguistic re-elaboration. The socially relevant. “Build nothing” is not “do
writings and theoretical projects proposed by nothing,” and it addresses the political agency of
Michael Sorkin (1948–) in the period that imme- an architecture that aims to be globally and inter-
diately followed 9/11 develop, instead, a slow nationally effective beyond its formal resolution.
reaction in time that moves away from the idea of “Perhaps this is a scar that should simply be left.
the traumatic moment, and evolve a strategy of Perhaps the billions should be spent improving
change and reconstruction (therapy?) that gradu- transportation and building in neglected parts of
ally spreads in time and space (Sorkin, 2003). the city [and] of the world” (Sorkin, 2003, p. 23).
Sorkin suggests that “the process of recovery Sorkin’s Back to Zero project called for an archi-
would involve repeated mapping of the meanings tectural silence capable of reappropriating the
not just of the site but of the very idea of site” terrorists’ symbolic appropriation of architec-
(Sorkin, 2003, pp. 8–9),9 and his proposal sug- tural space. Proposing architecture as a practice
gests a series of social and political interventions of social collective engagement, and speaking up
that would not concentrate exclusively on the against the US imperialism that had indirectly
physical site of the 9/11 attack, but would com- enabled that symbolic appropriation, Sorkin’s
bine the redevelopment of the Lower Manhattan “silent” project for Ground Zero proposed a con-
site with a comprehensive redistribution plan stant reminder of the ghost presence of the trau-
throughout the city (November 2001). Mirroring matic event—not as a celebration of the ruin, but
this strategy, Sorkin’s projects for the World as a form of reactivation for collective public
Trade Center site, initially similar to other con- reuse.
ventional architectural responses (a reconstruc- Beyond the devastating dimension of the
tion of twinned towers), gradually dissolved the human tragedy, the attacks of 9/11 also raised
architectural form, moving from the idea of the questions about architecture. In different ways,
tower to the proposal of a protective berm around Lieven De Boeck’s and Michael Sorkin’s projects
the explosion craters, to a huge geodesic dome, to attempted to “speak of the unspeakable” (Lewis
its opening up into a group of smaller torqued Herman, 1992; Leys, 2000, p. 109) in architec-
towers, and to their eventual disappearance, as in ture, in response to the trauma that had hit archi-
the blossoming, opening up, and ultimate undo- tecture too. From the personal and yet universal
ing of a flower. Sorkin’s critical responses to the socially engaged and yet dislocated, they
remained firmly based on design, but they aimed to find the architectural truth of 9/11,
became increasingly focused on devising strate- “because telling that truth has not merely a per-
gies for the wider city rather than on the defini- sonal therapeutic but a public or collective value
tion of closed forms for the Ground Zero site. In as well” (Leys, 2000, p. 109). “Remembering and
telling the truth about terrible events are prereq-
uisites both for the restoration of the social order
More morbidly, for Daniel Libeskind, the architect of the
and for the healing of individual victims” (Lewis
reconstruction, these measurements could include the
mapping of all the bodies and body parts found on the site. Herman, 1992, p. 1).
See Libeskind (2004), p. 50.
9 Architecture and Trauma 141

9.4 Traces and Scars: Urbicide Painfully and painstakingly precise, photos,
and Wararchitecture mappings, and words documented a siege perpe-
trated in time. War, here, becomes as slow as
On the 16th of March 1994, during the war in architecture and its making. The destruction pro-
former Yugoslavia, while Sarajevo was still ceeds systematically but slowly, piecemeal, in a
under siege, five members of the Architects time so extended that, as in the long exposure of
Association Das-Sabih escaped from Sarajevo early photographs, human presence is erased and
with documentary materials that were recordings its traces only remain in the objects that are left
of the systematic destruction of the city with pho- behind. Documenting buildings according to the
tographs, maps, video footage, audio, and written chronological order of their making rather than
accounts. The materials would become by the time of their destruction, this systematic
Wararchitecture-Sarajevo: a Wounded City, a account of damages does not count deaths. There
travelling multimedia exhibition that showed the are no people in this documentation, no informa-
world the destruction of the architecture of tion on human lives lost, and no blood. The pho-
Sarajevo. (The exhibition was first presented at tos are published in black and white, and their
the Arc en Rêve Centre d’Architecture in emphasis thus falls onto the incompleteness and
Bordeaux in 1994, then at the Centre Georges the unraveling of the built forms. Mute, scarred,
Pompidou in Paris, and subsequently travelled to and burnt, the buildings, or what remains of
numerous museum and galleries around the them, carry the loss and bear witness to the trau-
world as an itinerant architectural witness of the matic event. Weak and vulnerable, structurally
destruction.) Urbicide Sarajevo, A damaged, and collapsed, they become both pre-
Wararchitecture Dossier (1994), which accom- carious records and symbols. But both the pre-
panied the exhibition and circulated even more carious and the symbolic are so diffuse in this
widely, documents the systematic destruction of Sarajevo that they become part of the urban tis-
the city’s monuments and buildings. The dossier sue, beyond a single architectural object, in a new
offers a systematic survey of the damages to disquieting continuity. The photographic docu-
buildings and structures, organized in a chrono- mentation then becomes insufficient and unstruc-
logical/stylistic order according to four architec- tured, and the visual record of the damaged
tural periods.10 The scale of the disaster is fragment, or the lost detail, works only when it is
measured in details of destruction such as hit by considered in the plural, as a series. The photo-
hit, fire by fire, and grenade by grenade. Each graphic reportage is complemented by the map-
piece of damage is photographically documented, ping of the damages. Detailed and annotated with
described in lists that read like inverted architec- accuracy, the maps are even more powerful than
tural specification documents, and recorded on the photographs, as they enter both public build-
cadastral maps and city maps. Yet, as both the ings and private lives with the precision of a sur-
war and the documents were still being made at gical knife. Like the archive that they accompany,
the time the city was being destroyed, the docu- these maps are unfinished, only provisionally
ments were presented in an unordered open wrought; and while most of the wounds of the
archive of loose sheets that could be rearranged, physical city will heal, bear scars but grow new
reworked, and complemented with new ones, in tissue in them, these maps (and photographs)
an ongoing survey that was offered without com- remain charged with the role of defining (and
mentary, as a silent witness. remembering) the moment of the traumatic event.
And yet even the event here is multiple, frac-
tured, and repeated again and again and again,
“Oriental period, Oriental influences until 1878,” and yet never identical to itself.
“Austro-Hungarian period, European influences until
The Urbicide Sarajevo dossier, characterized
1918,” “Period between the two wars, Modern period
until 1941,” “Post war period, contemporary architecture, by the precision of its data and the systematic
until 1992.” organization of its details against the historical
142 T. Stoppani

and architectural background of the city, becomes whose entries and definitions are determined by
a critical project. The survey of the damages absence and defined by what is materially
could have been structured in a moment-by- missing.
moment chronological account of the instances The Urbicide Sarajevo dossier is a precise
of destruction, or in a neighborhood-by- survey, an archive, a tour guide, a plan for recon-
neighborhood spatial description. Instead, the struction; but, as an unstructured catalogue, it is
dossier is placed within the discipline of architec- also a monument, a witness, a mute book, a non-
ture, providing a historical background to what linear account, openly structured to be as hetero-
has been erased from the body of the city. It also geneous and as pluralistic as the culture of
chooses to operate in space-time, using the con- Sarajevo itself. A memory that can be selectively
ventional tools of architectural and urban repre- and differently reactivated, Urbicide Sarajevo is
sentation (the photo, the plan, the text) to produce also a project that chooses not to design. It does
an archive in progress that remains open to not offer sets of building instructions and it does
future strategies of intervention. The materials not devise spatial arrangements. On the one
are thus presented in a loose-leaf folio that hand, the project declares the impossibility of
avoids any linear narrative, and their sequence articulating a linear narrative of the traumatic
remains re-combinable. event, and of producing an exhaustive account of
The maps represent the synthetic moment of it. Not only will this document (the map or the
this process, but they too are renegotiable. While archive) be always in the making (incomplete);
photos can be added to photos, and words to the but it will also be always insufficient to the
list of damages, the map remains subject to con- object of its representation. On the other hand,
stant reworking. Encoded, synoptic, and dynamic, the recording of the urban trauma takes place in
the map represents at once the pre-existing con- and on the city i