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Sunday, December 11, 2011

"Rupture & Continuity"


To give my friends and readers a sense of where my studies started, I will quote some entries from my research journal when I was taking the Harvard course in refugee trauma in 2008-2009. It was then that I formulated the first iteration of my research around the theme of  “rupture and continuity.”


Epigraph


How does one measure an earthquake which has destroyed all instruments of measurement?

—Jean‑François Lyotard on Auschwitz



Vida, interrupta


(Inspired by the memoir and the film of the same name, "Girl, Interrupted")


Freud referred to rupture as a “breach” (see historian Saul Friedlander’s citation from Freuds Beyond the Pleasure Principle)



Where is the continuity, despite the rupture?



“Only one thing remained reachable, close and secure amid all losses: language. Yes, language. In spite of everything, it remained secure against loss. But it had to go through its own lack of answers, through terrifying silence, through the thousand darknesses of murderous speech. It went through. It gave me no words for what was happening, but went through it. Went through and could resurface, ‘enriched’ by it all.”


(from “Speech on the Occasion of Receiving the Literature Prize of the Free Hanseatic City of Bremen,” p. 34, in Celan’s Collected Prose, translated by Rosmarie Waldrop, Riverdale-on-Hudson, New York, The Sheep Meadow Press, 1986)



“There is nothing on earth that can prevent a poet from writing, not even the fact that he’s Jewish and German is the language of his poems.”

(from John Felstiner, Paul Celan: Poet, Survivor, Jew, 1995, p. 56)



Following Primo Levi, the measured witness, Elsa Morante, the fictionalist, Paul Celan, the inevitable poet, Saul Friedlander, the archaeologist of history, Claude Lanzmann, the intrepid documentarian,

I locate it in language, in narrative, in story, in order (cf. seder in Hebrew)



(Cf. Mark Turner, The Literary Mind)



It is the “message in the bottle” (referencing both Walker Percy and Paul Celan) that locates our distress, finds an address for our plaints and a redress for our wounds. 

(Referencing Rilke in “The Notebooks of Laurens Maltids Brigge”)



Is it possible, George Steiner asked, that a culture of learning, of moral discernment, of justice could give way to barbarity?



Yes, it is possible. And we will explore what made it possible. 


Steiner’s arrogant claim to priority in posing this question is an empty gesture complicitly echoing exactly what subtends Nazi thought. It is a moral blindness. What he sees as an aporia, a lapse or an exception, is intricately dissected by Giorgio Agamben, as carefully as a pathologist who as medical black humour goes knows everything but, alas, too late. Agamben shows us, precisely so that it not be too late, how the state of exception that was Nazi-occupied Europe not become the norm of human life. 

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Must we reopen the wounds of past generations, pull off the scabs, examine the scars?



Must we have another investigation of the sins of our fathers?



For someone like me—an Italian and European by birth and a Jew by choice,  a psychologist and a psychiatrist by training, specializing in trauma—who privileges language and poetry as means of survival, could there be another choice?



My engagement with the European Jewish history, my work as a psychiatrist, and the nourishment of poetry have not exhausted what I want to understand about trauma, so now I turn to the consolation of philosophy as a probe to make sense of the experience of trauma. And, as I hope to demonstrate, it is an affirmation, not a negation. Trauma may open the path to tragedy and loss, it may confront us with absurdity and negation, it may create a rupture in our very sense of history, of life itself, but we who live in the shadow of “that which happened” as Celan refers to the Shoah, have other choices open to us. 



Must we, then, revisit this yet again? No, it is not a moral imperative. It is a choice.



It is a positive choice, an affirmation, even in the face of death and of suicide, to imbue life with meaning. Heidegger made his historical choice and Adorno made his pronouncement about poetry after Auschwitz. Celan gave his responses in his poetry and in taking his life. After years of phenomenological epoché, Primo Levi, the measured voice of the Holocaust world, too, came to an abrupt conclusion. This is mine.



(Reference:  “Poetry as nourishment” - Osip Mandelstam said that the people need poetry like they need bread.)


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3 comments:

  1. "And, as I hope to demonstrate, it is an affirmation, not a negation. Trauma may open the path to tragedy and loss, it may confront us with absurdity and negation, it may create a rupture in our very sense of history, of life itself, but we who live in the shadow of “that which happened” as Celan refers to the Shoah, have other choices open to us.

    Must we, then, revisit this yet again? No, it is not a moral imperative. It is a choice.

    It is a positive choice, an affirmation, even in the face of death and of suicide, to imbue life with meaning."

    I want to comment on this portion of your post. I believe you have hit an essential and critical nerve here and I believe it echoes a central criticism of Freudian psychoanalysis that Deleuze and Guattari launch in A Thousand Plateaus. This is just the quickest reference I could pull in semi-relation to this point: “Lines of flight or of deterritorialization, becoming-wolf, becoming-inhuman, deterritorialized intensities: that is what multiplicity is. To become wolf or to become hole is to deterritorialize oneself following distinct but entangled lines. To become a hole is no more negative than a wolf. Castration, lack, substitution: a tale told by an overconscious idiot who has no understanding of multiplicities as the formation of unconscious. A wolf is a hole, they are both particles of the unconscious, nothing but particles, productions of particles, particulate paths, as elements of molecular multiplicities. It is not even sufficient to say that intense and moving particles pass through holes; a hole is just as much a particle as what passes through it. Physicists say that holes are not the absence of particles but particles travelling faster than the speed of light” (Deleuze and Guattari 36).

    Deleuze and Guattari's point is precisely that a cut, hole, gap, lack (i.e. what might typically be thought of as the foundation and be all of trauma) is not something that should be imbued with the characteristic of negativity. Rather, a hole or gap or a black hole (the darkest, most despairing, entity in physics) has the potentia to be a positive force. The black hole is actually the entity that is full of a multiplicity of (desiring) forces that have a speed quicker than the speed of light (i.e. the typical limit of human perception). It is this milieu of desiring-forces that are present in the cut of trauma and we have the choice to confront these forces no matter how painful and run with them creating a line of flight. Possibly this is the place where we can create a revolutionary event in the face of trauma that escapes the traditional chains that are forced upon us by the majority. I don't know just a thought.

    Your comrade,
    Ryan

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  2. Ah, Ryan, so your post wasn't lost as you feared. I will sleep on it before responding. Which reminds me of a joke ... (Wittgenstein could be a very funny guy) ... "How does one philosopher greet another?" Wittgenstein asked. "Take your time!"
    --Warmly (slowly), Vincenzo

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  3. Hello again, Ryan,

    After more reflection, I think I understand your point and I believe I can articulate more simply and clearly the nuance I wish to add to the discourse on trauma. When I met Badiou, my thinking became much clearer and I sensed a deep compatibility between his notion of the event and what I have been practising as a therapist. Less obviously, I sensed more than understood the link between trauma and event. In my conversation with him when I took his seminar in Saas-Fee, he warmly encouraged me to pursue the pairing of these two ideas "trauma/event" and I got to work.

    All that you say is useful and true and I spent much time tracking through Freud's breach (trauma) in many domains of thought and practice ... the cut in mathematics, the cadenza in music, and after listening to Alenka Zupancic on Schiller's chorus in tragedy, this too became significant. I have collected many illuminating examples and you have added others.

    What all these ideas have in common is an interruption, caesura, or break in the continuity of everyday life or a given domain. Let's call that rupture, but not (yet) trauma. What Badiou offers us is the notion of event as something that opens possibilities. A disaster or tragedy is not an event. A break or rupture is part of an evental site from which an event may emerge/be recognized. It may also become traumatic, meaning it closes possibilities.

    Trauma is as trauma does. Contemporary thinkers, and everyone since Freud, really, want to call rupture trauma. If by trauma we mean something that closes possibilities, then not all rupture is traumatic. Sometimes it is evental, or eventive as you prefer to call it.

    So we can call the hole or gap or rupture something that is radically open, admitting the possibility, even being a necessary contingency for the radical change we call event. When that moves in the direction of closing possibilities, then and only then should we call it trauma. There are no near-misses in trauma. It happens or it doesn't.

    Celan called the Holocaust "that which occurred." Events have names, which we imbue with meaning; traumas just occur.

    Warmly,

    Vincenzo

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