Two Trauma Communities: A Philosophical Reconciliation - Harvard Program for Refugee Trauma - 15.10.2012


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Presentation to the Harvard Program for Refugee Trauma based on my doctoral dissertation, Trauma and Event (EGS, 2012)

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Two Trauma Communities: A Philosophical Reconciliation - Harvard Program for Refugee Trauma - 15.10.2012

  1. 1. Harvard Program for Refugee Trauma Cambridge, MA Two Trauma Communities: A Philosophical Reconciliation ofCultural and Psychiatric Trauma Theories Vincenzo Di Nicola, MPhil, MD, PhD, FAPA Professor of Psychiatry, University of Montreal Monday, October 15, 2012
  2. 2. Vincenzo Di Nicola Trauma and Event: A PhilosophicalArchaeology Supervisors: Giorgio Agamben, Alain Badiou, Martin Hielscher, Richard Mollica, Thomas Zummer Defensecommittee: Alain Badiou, Slavoj Zizek, Wolfgang Schirmacher – DoctorateawardedSumma cum laude August 12, 2012, Saas-Fee, Wallis, Switzerland
  3. 3. Trauma and Event: A PhilosophicalArchaeology Michel Foucault, Giorgio Agamben, Alain Badiou The work of this triumviri of philosophers is knit together to forge new answers to the aporias of trauma and event: the philosophical archaeology of the disruption of the discourse of being and the traumatic closing or evental opening of possibilities in the coming community.
  4. 4. Trauma and Event: A PhilosophicalArchaeology Trauma is defined as the destruction of experience which is investigated through a series of annotations and excursuses on its cultural origins, from the pharmakon, the skandalon and the scapegoat, to a rhetorical reformulation of trauma as catachresis/apostrophe. A new model employing the truth tables of scientific research offers a new vocabulary for trauma and event and their simulacra.
  5. 5. Richard F. Mollica The dictum my Italian immigrant father voiced, also a victim of violence, remains loud and clear, ―Son, take on a problem you cannot solve.‖ - Healing a Violent World: A Manifesto
  6. 6. Alain Badiou Philosophy … is either reckless or it is nothing. - Second Manifesto for Philosophy trans. by Louise Burchill (2011, p. 71)
  7. 7. Richard F. Mollica Empathic failure is the bedrock of human aggression and violence.- Healing a Violent World: A Manifesto
  8. 8. Alain Badiou What wound was I seeking to heal, what thorn was I seeking to draw from the flesh of existence when I became what is called ‗a philosopher‘? -―Preface,‖ Quentin Meillassoux‘sAfter Finitude, trans. by Ray Brassier (2008, p. vi)
  9. 9. Trauma It is an error to divide people into the living and the dead: there are people who are dead-alive, and people who are alive-alive. The dead-alive also write, walk, speak, act. But they make no mistakes, and they produce only dead things. The alive-alive are constantly in error, in search, in torment. —YevgenyZamyatinRef: YevgenyZamyatin, ―On Literature, Revolution, Entropy, and Other Matters‖ (1923), trans. by Mirra Ginsburg in, A Soviet Heretic: Essays by YevgenyZamyatin (1970), p. 110.
  10. 10.  The discourse of psychic trauma is marked by a confusion of signifiers. There is a confusion among what we may separate conceptually into predisposing, precipitating and prolonging factors of trauma, to which we may add protective factors. Furthermore, we need to separate direct, immediate traumatic impacts from delayed, latent or long-term consequences called sequelae in medical terms. Finally, we may call this whole schema a trauma process.
  11. 11.  Thus, we may usefully separate the traumatic process into these factors:  predisposing traumatic contexts or situations that place individuals at risk—we may call these distal determinants, such as causes and influences;  precipitating traumatic triggers are proximal determinants;  prolonging factors amplify, augment or extend the traumatic process synchronically or diachronically;  protective factors dampen, diminish or mitigate the traumatic process.
  12. 12.  The key question then becomes: What makes trauma traumatic? Is it the threat that something hurtful may happen, the experience of the injury itself, or living with the consequences of the threat or of injury? Which aspect is the trauma and which traumatic? Is this conflation of predisposing, precipitating and perpetuating factors normal? Is this typical in medicine or psychiatry? Infections work like this; ―flu,‖ the common term for influenza means the virus, getting infected and suffering with the symptoms. Nonetheless, the very notion of medical progress means the clear identification of different phases of a disease process and its determinants. These are the
  13. 13.  In philosophical terms, we need a vocabulary for what Agamben calls ―desubjectivation‖—the ―dead-alive‖ (Zamyatin), ―bare life‖ (Agamben) and ―states of dissociation,‖ but we need to open space for what Foucault called ―subjectivation‖— for the Event and for the faithful subject, as Badiou has described them.
  14. 14.  This distinction opens only the first of many dichotomies that emerge in every trauma discourse. In the onomasiology (from Greek, ὀνομάζω onomāzο, ―toname‖) of trauma—how we name trauma—we encounter dichotomies and bivalent notions throughout. In this investigation, annotations and excursuses document the philosophical archaeology of these bivalent notions such as the Akedah, the pharmakon, the skandalon and the katechon, while the dichotomies of trauma theories are dissected below.
  15. 15. A Philosophical Archaeology of The Concept of “Trauma” I think that many philosophers secretly harbor the view that there is something deeply (i.e., conceptually) wrong with psychology, but a philosopher with a little training in the techniques of linguistic analysis and a free afternoon could straighten it out. —Jerry FodorRef: Jerry A. Fodor, Psychological Explanation: An Introduction to the Philosophy of Psychology (1968), p. vii.
  16. 16. A Philosophical Archaeology of The Concept of “Trauma” At first sight, Caruth … appears to define trauma in ways that are quite compatible with psychological research on trauma and post- traumatic stress. However, unlike most of her contemporaries who study the vicissitudes of mental suffering in a clinical context,Caruth goes on to celebrate the experience and the concept of trauma as providing unprecedented insight into the human condition. —WulfKansteiner and HaraldWeilnböckRef: WulfKansteiner and HaraldWeilnböck, ―Against the Concept of Cultural Trauma or How I Learned to Love the Suffering of Others without the Help of Psychotherapy,‖ in Astrid Erll and AnsgarNünning, eds., Cultural Memory Studies. An Internationaland Interdisciplinary Handbook (2008), pp. 229-240, p. 230.
  17. 17. A Dichotomy in Trauma Theories We cannot characterize trauma as a unified discourse or as a spectrum even with one discipline. What seems to bring conceptual order to the concept of trauma and to trauma studies is to discern a dichotomy as a separator or marker that divides the discourses along different axes and conceptualizations.
  18. 18. A Dichotomy in Trauma Theories This is a meta-concept that creates two groups or two poles around which certain notions or studies or emerging traditions congeal. Yet, any given separator that creates a dichotomy is shifting, porous and unstable.
  19. 19. Mimetic/Antimimetic Dichotomy In describing two theories of trauma she names mimetic and antimimetic theories, Ruth Leys lucidly demonstrates that, ―from the turn of the century to the present there has been a continual oscillation between them, indeed that the interpenetration of one by the other or alternatively the collapse of one into the other has been recurrent and unstoppable.‖ Furthermore, she notes that historically, the mimetic/antimimetic dichotomy constantly invites and defeats all attempts to resolve it. Leys is consistent on this to the point that she predicts that our current debates are ―fated to end in an impasse.‖
  20. 20.  Leys‘ own analysis becomes part of the meta- concept of trauma, such that her mimetic/antimimetic dichotomy confirms the notion of a dichotomy but does not exhaust it. Other dichotomies come into play and while we can separate their poles, they do not match evenly with each other and are sometimes even incongruent and incompatible. What I appreciate most about Leys‘ analysis is her conclusion that trauma has a historical structure, an idea that is congruent with Foucault‘s notion of a discursive formation or
  21. 21.  Trauma, as a concept or theory with its associated practices, has become an apparatus. Not only has ―trauma‖ been constructed and put in play as an apparatus describing something we want to name and explain, but as both Kansteiner and Leys emphasize, it has hard not to reach for this apparatus as an explanatory model, with all its conflations and confusions.
  22. 22.  Leys convincingly demonstrates that the two theories are intertwined not only across theories but even within each individual theory or group of researchers. In concluding, Leys acknowledges the intractability of the dichotomy and eschews a meta-position from which one can assess the aporias that she sees as intrinsic to this field.
  23. 23.  My meta-concept places Leys‘ approach within a larger one: hers is one dichotomy among others. This is not to say that we can take a stand above the dichotomy but that if we see it as an apparatus, which is a discourse with a strategic function, we can discern that it functions not as one dichotomy, one particular difference, but an epistemological cut in any possible discourse about trauma.
  24. 24.  We see this in the bivalence of crucial terms in this archaeology, from the word trauma itself, to the metaphors used to describe it, to the ways in which wound is deployed in Western culture. From Achilles‘ spear that both cuts and heals, to Plato‘s pharmakon which is both a poison and a remedy, this bivalence reaches its apogee in the current cultural theory of trauma which I call trauma as event.
  25. 25.  I do not share Leys‘ pessimistic conclusion that it is intractable. The dichotomy in trauma theories will be intractable as long as we unwittingly repeat it, a point Leys makes lucidly by observing that each generation has had to rediscover the notion of traumatic stress. Once we are aware of trauma as an apparatus, we may more consciously entertain other theories, as Kansteiner has suggested, by finding a new lexicon for trauma, a project I warmly endorse.
  26. 26.  Kansteiner calls for ―low-density‖ psychological concepts that ―avoid the moral and existential excess of the trauma claim,‖ hoping that greater conceptual precision will allow us to differentiate between trauma and the culture of trauma. In Ian Hacking‘s terms, Kansteiner wants to interrupt the ―looping effects‖ between professional and public or cultural discourses. Elaine Showalter has also suggested something similar.Refs: WulfKanstainer, ―Genealogy of a category mistake: a critical intellectual history of the cultural trauma metaphor,‖ Rethinking History: The Journal of Theory and Practice, 2004, 8:2:193-221, p. 195.
  27. 27.  My own proposal is more modest. First, I believe that trauma has accrued a supplementarity or excess (echoing both Derrida and Kansteiner here). This supplementarity is ―overdetermined,‖ as Freud would say, or more simply, multiply-determined. I suspect that a great proportion of the variation may be attributed precisely to the ―looping effects‖ between the clinical use of trauma and its cultural avatar. Second, I believe that we must separate the various ways in which the word trauma is deployed and differentiate our vocabulary for these different aspects of the trauma process. Third, and most salient, I believe that trauma must be separated radically from event, which is the
  28. 28. Dichotomising Trauma Let us now examine some of the characteristics of the trauma trope according to two columns or groupings of dichotomies: aleph and beth. The reason that I do not simply offer a definition at the outset is to reveal the armature of the construction of the concept and how it is deployed as an apparatus.
  29. 29.  What this representative but not exhaustive survey demonstrates is that the word trauma has become too broad and inclusive, too vague and unfixed, too (am)bivalent and polysemous, too deterministic and fatalistic an idea. My greatest concern, however, is that trauma is too pre-conceived and, ultimately, too emblematic a condition. All the other descriptors set the stage for an emblem to emerge which then binds them into an explanatory notion; once an emblem appears, it in turn retrospectively creates its own precursors, in the well-known process Freud called Nachträglichkeit, belatedness or deferred meaning, which Lacan crafted into après-coup. And while it is true that trauma also invokes the opposite of these terms, its deployment as a trope
  30. 30. – Aleph Beth–Oligosemia, asemia Polysemia(concreteness, loss of (sensory and expressive meaning and expression) overload)MimeticObject-relations model AntimimeticLiterary-metaphoric Psycho-economic pole modelMoral Scientific-metonymic pole Scientific
  31. 31. – Aleph Beth–Dominick LacapraEveryday psychological Extraordinary psychological challenges ordeals of extreme violenceLloyd deMause Philippe ArièsChildhood is a nightmare Childhood is a cultural inventionAlice MillerUbiquitous childhood Sigmund Freud violence Childhood sexual seduction is a fantasyRichard MollicaWitnessing the trauma storyResilience, self-healing of Traumaticexperiences of victims everyday life
  32. 32. – Aleph –Trauma as a Trope One way to make sense of this, a hypothesis of the order of Leys‘ mimetic/antimimetic dichotomy, is to see the aleph list as the Freudian legacy.
  33. 33. Beth – PTSD is a Psychiatric Disorder - The beth list is the Kraepelinian legacy. Narrower, more pathological in its discernments, neo-Kraepelinian psychiatry draws a sharp line between health and disease (if the investigator is biologically- oriented or given to evolutionary psychology, both of which favour categorical thinking) or health and illness (if the investigator is more given to the social sciences and a hermeneutic, socio-cultural or narrative approach).
  34. 34. References Alain Badiou, ―Preface,‖ Quentin Meillassoux‘sAfter Finitude, trans. by Ray Brassier (2008) Alain Badiou, Second Manifesto for Philosophy, trans. by Louise Burchill (2011) Richard Mollica, Healing Invisible Wounds (2006) Richard Mollica, ―Manifesto: Healing a
  35. 35. References Vincenzo Di Nicola, Trauma and Event: A Philosophical Archaeology, Doctoral dissertation, European Graduate School, Saas-Fee, Switzerland (2012)