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Trauma & Therapy

October 19, 2011

Please continue and/or initiate conversations pertaining to Trauma/Therapy here.

17 Comments leave one →
  1. Joe Manning permalink
    October 27, 2011 2:27 am

    I am not very sure if this comment is appropriate for this particular heading, but it seems most relevant considering the other available options.

    My question is drawing specifically from Paul Ricoeur’s response within the dialogue entitled, “Imagination, Testimony and Trust.” I suppose I am interested in Ricoeur’s particular response regarding the problem of “obsessive memorization, and of repetition and ritual in political terms” and the role of narrative as a means of liberation and future progress.

    The individual who poses this initial question rightly states that “if we could retell stories, if we could re-create a narrative and liberate ourselves from this, we would be looking to a better future. But the problem of retelling the narrative is that it is told and retold, so that you get not one agreed narrative but two narratives.”

    This question touches upon the notion of competing narratives and how they “simply duplicate” the conflicting ideologies from which they come.

    I guess my question is in regards to the ethics of discussion. Ricoeur addresses the discourse of ethics and how “we argue one against the other, but we understand the argument of the other without assuming it.” He then goes on to elaborate the challenge of addressing this problem, specifically how we must bring conflicts to the level of discourse and not let them “degenerate into violence.”

    I am wondering if this approach is framed within idealistic expectations that underestimate the power of conflict. I understand that one would rather propose a methodology that would allow and possibly facilitate a “fusion of horizons,” but I am wondering if this merely the work of the philosopher and those others who have the ability to converse under such ‘sterile’ and innocuous circumstances.

    If those in opposition are able to engage in discussion and are presented with the opportunity to tell their histories “in their own words” and hear the story of the ‘other’, as well as recognize that these histories “compete against each other in a competition of discourse,” how does this project disseminate to the people of each respective party? This is what I meant by my previous statement regarding this project as the “work of the philosopher” within a ‘sterile’ environment. I suppose my question boils down to the notion of pragmatism and dissemination.

    I guess this concern also bleeds into what Rawls calls ‘reasonable disagreements’. I am suppose I am stuck on the rather placid phrases that address such precarious situations.

  2. Anonymous permalink
    October 29, 2011 7:07 pm

    From an artist’s perspective, I would like to touch upon personal experience I have had with the conversation between trauma, therapy, and art. If you have ever been in therapy, I believe it is safe to say that speaking and conversing about issues such as experiences of trauma, sparks the mind to think about other facets of the issue or issues at hand, as well as of additional issues. This is similar in the making of art.

    There is a overlap between the process and the end result of something. This may seem obvious. But, what I am trying to get across is that although the process may be strategic (i.e. speak to a therapist about a traumatic experience, or paint a picture) but the end result (i.e. your emotional body, or the painting) is dependent on the unraveling of the process. Speaking about one issue may lead you to speak about another issue, and that may cause you to think about another part of your life, and that may help you to make the multi-faceted connections between the trauma experienced and the rest of your life that were unexpected. When you are doing a piece of art, you may make a “mistake” which turns into the most engaging aspect of your work. The act of putting the brush to the canvas may inspire you to experiment with different brush strokes or colors which you were not planning to use in the first place. In general, the result you were assuming at the beginning of therapy and at the beginning of making a piece of art is most likely very different than the outcome that is actualized on one way or another.

    (The rest of this post contains personal information, which is why I chose to remain Anonymous. Thank you for understanding.)

    When I began therapy, it was not because of a “traumatic” experience. It was due to college stresses, relationship failures, economic pressures, and social disconnections which all caused me to lose grip on my grades, emotional health, and psychological well-being. I assumed that in therapy I would resolve the current issues somehow by following explicit instructions by a therapist. Yet- this process was much different. I was challenged to formulate the causes and solutions to these current issues with guidance from the therapist, but not with regimented questions or rules or instructions. The process was much more organic. When a topic would come up, I would further explore why that issue was an issue, why I considered it important enough to bring up, why this issue occurred, and how to view this issue. I also never expected that my current emotional state could have been so impacted by issues of the past. I never expected to be challenged to think about occurrences in the past and their possible connection to the present and future. Yet- I ended up discovering the impact of a traumatic experience that I had as a child of being molested, and was able to push myself to think about how I can resolve an issue so far in the past and prevent it from impacting my current and future life.

    My artwork is virtually always similar to my experience with therapy. Beginning a piece of work, the idea of the end result is usually very clear to me. Yet- by the end of the project, I have often used media that I was not expecting to use, included images I did not expect to include, etc. Executing a piece of art is a very organic process for me. When I begin a piece, maybe my idea is focusing on content. But as I proceed with planning my piece, I have to think about balance, texture, color, quality of line, etc., and as I actually put material to canvas, my ideas evolve.


    I also believe that art and trauma are similar by means of defining these terms. It is often difficult to convince a “non-artsy” person that a piece of contemporary art is truly art. Some people probably view the work of Tim Noble and Sue Webster simply as piles of trash, or the work of Nikki Lee as just pictures. Some people only like art which is “pretty,” such as Monet or (tragically) Thomas Kinkade. Yet- to people who appreciate art and can view art objectively, the definition of art is much wider. Also, people with different interests may define certain things as art which are not traditionally seen as art.

    This is similar with the definition of trauma. An event which may be traumatic for one person may not be for another. To the person going through a trauma, the event has significant impact on them. Yet- third parties may not comprehend the trauma’s significance and underestimate the traumatic quality of the event or experience. Even people who experience traumas have difficulty naming the event or experience a “trauma,” sometimes because one does not want to admit the impact it has had, or in fear that others will not regard the event as traumatic enough for such a categorization. I definitely went through this with my experience of trauma- Growing up, being molested was something I kept to myself, not even telling anyone in my family or friends, because I thought that it was not as big of a deal as it was. When, in therapy, this event was referred to as a trauma, it was very difficult to process that I was a victim of trauma, and that I had to deal with the lasting impact this long-hidden, and not yet confronted “trauma.” I think defining events as “trauma” is all relative, as well- to someone who has been violently raped may view my “trauma” as petty or insignificant. Yet, to me this was a trauma. It is a very personal definition, such as is the definition of what is art and what is not.

  3. November 3, 2011 5:24 am


    I am an artist interested in the themes trauma and therapy – shedding light on hidden, rarely discussed traumatic situations. I am also interested in awareness and the art producing action. I am having a difficult time choosing a medium and how to discuss trauma in the piece(s) without them being overwhelming…have any tips…?


  4. Anonymous permalink
    November 3, 2011 7:54 pm

    I would encourage you to talk to some victims. I know it is difficult to find people. But that would help the most. Or read accounts of what people have gone through that were written by that person, not by someone else. I think it is very important to get that individuals point of view, not a third party’s, or society’s point of view. Or, talk to some therapists about what trends they see in their trauma patients.

    As far as media, I think I would suggest doing something similar to the project seen in “Between Poetics and Ethics” by Kearny (on the home page of this website). I have read a lot of the articles posted on this site and that is one of my favorites. It deals with the communal trauma of Ireland during a famine. The described project creates a sense of emptiness resulting in the trauma of the Irish people, rather than simply depicting starving people. Representing what is not there, or what has been taken from someone, is probably more difficult than representing what is there, or what the victim(s) have been left with. Does this make sense?

    I’d also encourage you to look at the work of patients of art therapy. Maybe their work would inspire you and let you get into their heads a little more. Here are a couple sites I googled for you:

    Some of the above also study how art therapy can help trauma victims. They may help you pick media to work with (one article interestingly notes how, for example, crayons are used when the artist wants more control, and paint is used by the artist when they want more freedom.)

    Let me know what you think!!!

  5. Alex Gilman permalink
    November 13, 2011 7:08 pm

    One aspect of narrative I’ve thinking about recently is the role of stories in children’s lives. My girlfriend teaches mythology to sixth graders and my mom teaches pre-school and is taking a class on child development. From both of their experiences I have seen so much of what we’ve talked about strongly confirmed and enriched. On the simplest level it is amazing to hear from them how much stories have the power to transfix children. Both my mom and my girlfriend tell me how telling a story can focus and calm a rowdy classroom almost instantly. They always want to hear stories.

    From the class my mom is taking, she has been reading psychologists affirming the therapeutic quality of stories. For instance, the story of Hansel and Gretel, a psychologist said, helps children process the mother ceasing to breastfeed. The parents in the fairy tale are too poor and beside they have to give away the children. This abandonment to the evil witch mirrors the betrayal the child feels toward the mother but is unable to consciously process. Even though the conflict between the loving mother and the neglectful mother is never brought to the conscious level, the story organically works our the conflict on the unconscious level. Just as a scary fairy tale before bed actually assuages a child’s fear of abandonment and allows them to sleep soundly.

    As the child grows up, new stories are need, those of the myths. The sixth graders my girlfriend teaches are so hungry for the myths because they help process the new complications of finding oneself in the world. These are stories of the hero, the spiritual quest for meaning and identity. The young child is not ready to embark on such journeys, but the adolescent needs these to make sense of the new challenges in their life. It is just amazing to see in action how vital stories are for us to be well-adjusted people.

    • Alex Gilman permalink
      November 26, 2011 6:15 pm

      Just to follow-up on this post, a few more ideas about fairy tales/myths came into my head. I noticed that one of the fundamental differences between fairy tales and myths is that the former always has a “happy ending” and clear resolution, whereas myths often have tragic endings. This certainly relates to the ages in which these types of narrative are appropriate. The young child needs to work out of the conflict, such as the Oedipal conflict, on the unconscious level and let it be resolved happily. That way, the child can return to the parents without anxiety, with a feeling of stability, and move onto the next stage of development relatively unscathed. For instance, the story of the damsel in distress, guarded by the evil dragon, represents this Oedipal conflict. The mother feels inaccessible to the young boy, blocked by the father. By playing out the fantasy of slaying the dragon (father) and possessing the maiden (mother) and ending up happily, the child find catharsis and and can return to the parents with the conflict put to rest. If the conflict came to the conscious level, the child could not deal the anger toward the father. Toward a dragon, the child’s anger is legitimate and satisfied. It is resolved well enough to still feel stable in the world.

      On the other hand, in the Oedipal myth proper there is a tragic ending par excellence, Oedipus gouges his eyes out over the unbearable conflict, over the consummation of the prophesy. In this case, the adolescent (or adult) lives through the same conflict as the fairy tale but is not afforded the happy resolution but instead is forced to contemplate the crisis at the conscious level. The tragic ending pushes the unconscious archetypal past (of the unavoidable Oedipal conflict in one’s childhood) into the conscious present. After the traumatic ending of the Oedipus we are forced to think about it afterward, to reflect on the seriousness of the circumstances, and resolve our own conflicts to avoid such tragedy. Even though the myths are more fantastical, they refer to our being-in-the-world in a more realistic sense, in that they keep the anxiety at the surface, they keep the aporias of time uncovered.

  6. richard kearney permalink
    November 14, 2011 10:43 pm

    I agree very much with Alex’s comments on role of stories for children and myths for adolescents. With this in mind I wanted to share this recent observation on child’s play from the psychoanalyst, Stan Shapiro. It relates to the ‘safe place’ of narrative mentioned by Frances and Marina in previous posts, and the blog exchanges above between our Fine Art students about a therapeutic space for trauma in art experiments.

    “Regarding the patient’s compulsion to repeat pathogenic behavior, Freud writes: “We admit it into the transference as a playground in which it is allowed to expand in almost complete freedom….The transference thus creates an intermediate region between illness and real life through which the transition from one to the other is made…..It is a piece of real experience, but one which has been made possible by especially favorable conditions, and it is of a provisional nature. (Remembering Repeating and Working Through, p154 Vol XII).

    Thus there is a strong similarity in the principles operating in childrens play, psychoanalysis and story-telling (drama, myth, fiction) In each, the emotional distance, as it were, is titrated so as to create a safe zone for experiencing troublesome ideas and memories. In analysis we liken empathy to a trial identification to signify its temporary nature that makes it safer to negotiate” (Stan Shapiro).

    Most immediately, this all relates to Freud’s famous analysis of his young grandchild’s ‘fort/da’ game as a way of using narrative plot (with two words) to cope with the comings and goings of his mother (Sophie Freud). We can come back to this example hopefully after our seminar discussion of this text (Nov 14).

  7. November 16, 2011 6:52 am

    Thank you all very much for your fantastic questions and suggestions!
    Professor Kearney’s comment on the significance of the symbolic substitution of the mother in the child’s game brought up the question of Lacan’s understanding of the Fort-Da. The symbolic substitution in Freud’s analysis is understood as the child’s need to choose an object that replaces the mother in order to build up the defense-mechanism of anxiety. On Lacan’s view, which implies that the symbolic object does not stand in for the missing mother in the child’s play, the child gives up a part of its own being.

    Also the question about the egoic development in the child’s play with the spool can be addressed through Lacan’s understanding of the process of subjectivization.

    Lacan in his lecture on “The See-Saw of Desire” states that the child’s “action destroys the object that it causes to appear and disappear . . . It thus renders negative the field of forces of desire, in order to become its own object for itself . . . the desire of the little man has become the desire of an other, of an alter ego, who dominates him and whose object of desire is henceforth his own affliction” (Papers on Technique, p. 173). Essentially, the object can only appear as an object when it is “destroyed.” In order to invoke the universe of symbols, the signification has to be given to something which has been wrested out of the fullness of being (from the child’s absolute sameness with the being of the world) through an introduction of a lack, of a fissure in this fullness by destruction of a little bit of something, that becomes objective and symbolic at the same time. The child becomes vested into the world by virtue of having an object of desire. However, this desire is developed further when it ceases being a longing after only one specific object, per se, and becomes a comportment toward the world of objects as such.
    The picture of the egoic mastery for Freud looks as if it is the preservation of the self (as the return/the drive to repeat/the recognition of the self as already known). The non-acceptance of the dissipation of one’s being in the actuality of the gratification is the pleasurable gathering of the recognition (of knowing of the self anew) accompanied by the ossification of the self.
    As to Freud’s recourse to the “demonic”: the issue bears on the Narcissistic projection in formation of one’s character. Similar understanding of the formation of one’s psyche with regard to projection is at play in the understanding of the objectifying mechanism (when not narratives, but objects are turned to and/or people who are being seen as objects are used up as such). Projection occurs when the unconscious excitation from within gets interpreted as the conscious stimuli coming in from the outside world. The self ejects onto the other an internal impulse, which is taken to be a stimulus coming from an externally located other. The impulse, which is not recognized, but is made into a stimulus is actualized at the time of confrontation. The moment at which the external stimulus (the projected internal impulse) is confronted appears to be the time of the original experience of the excitation. However, the now affected self has already been excited by an unacknowledged impulse, hence, the “now” is retrospective—it is the unremembered past, which is being appropriated by being actualized in and through the other. The stimulus and the excitation disperse in the conscious confrontation, but this dispersal is not thorough, not utter, because the origin of the stimulus is not the other; it is the impulse, which comes from the unconscious self. Repetition of the projective cycle.
    It doesn’t look like the actions (and not narratives) are the only or are always the sources of objectivization. True, narratives do not lend themselves to the objectifying motions of the ego just as easily as the acted out plots (aka events of everyday life) do—there is a distance (in time/from the self/ from the immediate immersion with the candidates for objectivization) made available by the narrative, but this distance, this space has to be taken up, one has to stay within it, to dwell in it for a while. In other words, it is feasible (as was suggested during the last presentation) that narratives cease to work for some readers/listeners; that stories do not make one better, but effect only a further mutation of the already pathologically perverse self.
    With regard to the “eternal recurrence” question, several interpretation of “repetition” fit the bill, but the understanding closest to Nietzsche’s view goes something like this:
    Because the horizon of death is ever-moving, the death drive servers as an impetus for the violence of the break through and toward the “repetition of the same”; but it is a repetition with a twist. The break-through is carried out on a wave of the over-saturation of the sexual charge and from within the unconscious. The bursting forth toward the appropriation of the initially traumatic—a blasting of the death/mirror horizon—is not the desire for death (although it can become that—“sadistic melancholy”, for example), but a turn to re-appropriation as a re-interpretation (often perfection) of being.
    As to the “eastern influences”, the two myths to which Freud refers are suggestively different. In the Upanishads, it is the self that is breaking itself into self and an other. In Plato’s rendition of Aristophanes’ tale, it is Apollo who is responsible for the suturing of the nature that has been punished by being cut. The difference is: self, from within the self longs to be split, so as not to be only one self, but to have an other as well. The lack is radical. Whereas, in the myth which describes the globular beings, the creatures are fully self-sufficient and, it seems, are punished for such hubristic illusion of self-sufficiency.
    The worry about the confluence of the pleasure and the death drive (as well as the question about the relational qualities of the two as they play out in the encounters with other people) can be resolved if the two are seen as working along one another, while as being distinct from each other nonetheless. Death drives (as the intended return to the pre-traumatic state of non-excitation) can generate pleasure via mastery of trauma. Sex-drives (not the same as pleasure principle), when over-saturated (when blasting through the repressive bindings of the egoic drives) can be intensely unpleasurable.
    Pleasure principle servers the purpose of the conservation of the ego. Ego’s gathering as ossifying is the work of the pleasure principle. The death-drive is less “conspicuous” (as Freud puts it), because having the postponement of gratification as its ultimate goal (the gratification as the non-excitation/the pre-traumatic state), it spirals backwardly projected—as if stemming from the now, but in fact, coming from the unexperienced, but posited, original state. Still, the purporting of the death drive is the movement forward or, at least, a stationary sustainment by way of the pleasure “curves.” So, both—the death drive and the pleasure principle—work to sustain the ego. But the two ought to be working in tandem to avoid slothful dissipation and endangering of the organism’s basic self-defense functions (pleasure principle reigning supreme) as well as the neuroses generated by the unchecked death drive. The life drives (not the same as the pleasure drive) subvert the preserving motion and bid the ego dissipate in the ego of the other, but this bidding cannot be resisted.
    The points on Christianity (Christian view of the perfect whither and the fallen whence of our lives in relation to Freud’s supposition of the inorganic—death-like state—to which we aspire by way of a perfecting death drive and from which we originate) and Plato as the writer of dialogues (speaking and/as/inseparable from acting) are superb. It would be good if we could address them here or sneak them into the next class discussion.
    Thank you very much, Hayimm, for your suggestion to attempt and think inorganic along the lines of the unconscious—aka dream states. I have written down “release from pains of being,” which I interpret right now as: release from pains of the waking life. Of course, for Freud, dreams can be just as darn painful, if we are talking traumatic and repressed “events.” To think experience of sleep as not properly an experience of “being” (as in: not conscious being) is very helpful because of the “wacky” temporality that pertains to the dreams. Maybe dreams are not as thoroughly a-temporal as the unconscious appears to be for Freud, but they surely do not abide by the same principles of temporal arrangements as does the conscious waking life.
    Speaking of dreams and sleep . . .
    Thank you all again for offering your thoughts.

  8. joshua permalink
    November 17, 2011 3:20 pm

    I found an interesting magazine article in Der Spiegel while researching for my presentation. I didn’t have time to make any use of it, but it does relate in many ways to Santner’s article, as well as Alex’s post above.
    Two Germans recently published a children’s book that uses only pictures to take the child through the German 20th century. The author and illustrator leave it to the child to ask and the parent to tell about what happened.,1518,788117,00.html
    The article is in English. If you click the picture from the book near the top of the article you can see three of the pages inside.

    I’d love to hear others’ thoughts on the book; I’ll post my own Santner-inspired thoughts in a bit.

  9. richard kearney permalink
    November 18, 2011 8:05 pm

    Isn’t it interesting how children’s stories and story books/comic books can be used to communicate trauma and other extreme cases of suffering or violence? I am thinking not only of Joshua’s example from Der Spiegel but also of Spiegelman’s ‘Mauss’ mentioned by Stephen and others. I was reminded of this curious phenomenon recently when listening to some episodes of NPR’s ‘Storycorp’ series where parents and children often share (in short public form) traumatic or unspoken moments in their lives. There seems to be something about children’s language and imagination which is most effective as a way of transmitting and transferring trans-generational memories ( forgotten, truncated, aborted, hidden, unspoken, unspeakable memories). WW2 is an obvious case in point. But also perhaps Vietnam and WWI. Is it an accident, after all, that Freud uses a child’s story of two words – fort/da – to communicate his first great insight into how we seek to transform the trauma of loss and pain into words and images? This is all the more curious, I think, when one remembers that Freud was dealing with the trauma of WWI victims when he takes this example in BPP.
    The question of easily accessible, visual public narratives of trauma is also relevant to Alex’s comment (Nov 16, ‘Narrative Forms and Media’) about the popular TV series ‘This is your Life’ (watched by one in four Americans). The example here too was of holocaust survivors who cold not otherwise tell their story. Note the key role of children in such popular films as ‘Life is Beautiful’, ‘Jeux Interdits’, ‘Au Revoir les Enfants’, ‘Sarah’s Keys’ and even ‘Schindlers List’. And in the examples of fair stories and myths mentioned by Alex in an earlier post. Something going on here, no?
    Maybe we will solve the riddle when we come to Dora’s story?

  10. Stephen J. Watson permalink
    November 22, 2011 4:24 pm

    Thank you all for your comments—especially those who came up to me after and said “thank you.” After another interview, I have a more fleshed-out answer to Matthew’s question regarding my father’s self-narratives. Surely, as many of his generation were, he was influenced by the greatest-generation myth, which is highlighted within Michael Adams’s book, The Best War Ever: America and World War II. Adams argues that post-WWII Americans deluded themselves of the horrors of the war. Instead, they focused on the supposed prosperity and morality—despite the fact that over 600 U.S. servicemen contracted a sexually-transmitted disease per day—that the wartime experience brought. Sustaining this cultural myth, many 1950s World-War II films focused on romantic relationships or the glorification of non-combative roles, rather than actual war trauma. Generally, these types of movies ended happily. Two such films stand out in my father’s memory, Battlecry (1955) and The Glenn Miller Story (1954), which he saw with my grandfather, a WWII veteran.

    A decade later, as the conflict in Vietnam ensued, my father was full of patriotic fervor and wanted to defend the United States against the oppressive onslaught of communism in Vietnam. As his father and uncles before him, he believed it was his duty to go to war to protect the rights and freedoms that he was entitled to as an American. And, while he did not encounter any war protesters before he left for Vietnam early in 1968, he believed that draft dodgers were cowards because they did not want to defend the rights and freedoms that they had. Most of the time that he served in the Navy, he clung to this narrative, although at times—such as boarding the plane for Vietnam and witnessing a child throw a grenade into an army compound—he questioned it. He would then ask himself, “Why did I sign up for this?” Although cigarettes and alcohol provided temporary relief, his biggest self-soothing tool was repeating the narrative of duty and patriotism to himself.

    In the decade after his return from Vietnam, my father’s old patriotic self-narrative dissipated. Just as he had no idea that he was arriving in the middle of the first wave of the Tet Offensive (1968), he was angry that military news sources hid war protests and animosity towards the war from the troops while he was abroad. Met with hostility for going to Vietnam by his peers, my father closed off his experiences in Vietnam from the world. He felt taken advantage of by the U.S. government for going to a war that he was beginning to believe was a lie and that troops were not cared for after they returned home—especially since the government and military denied PTSD and the effects of Agent Orange. He began to see the United States as an incredibly messed up place. Because he believes his life was put on the line for a lie—made especially poignant after the United States abandoned the South Vietnamese in 1975—this is why he considers that he has difficulty with authority and trusting others. It is important to mention that this is common experience of war veterans, as Janet S. K. Watson has demonstrated within Fighting Different Wars: Experience, Memory, and the First World War in Britain. As Watson has shown, most who served within World War I—including some of the greatest antiwar writers emerging from WWI, Vera Brittain, Robert Graves, and Siegfried Sassoon—were excited to go to war. Many soldiers and support staff, however, began to grow disenchanted during the war and even more so after they returned home.

    With the ascent of the Bush administrations, he was upset with both of the Iraq Wars. Although the U.S. government’s decision to go to war disturbed him, he was more distraught about Americans who were excited to “go and bomb them.” He believed that those individuals should join the military, as they had no understanding of the real war experience, and that their only experiences were images replayed by the media and “Hollywood’s version of war.” Saddened by the lack of diplomacy, and knowing that war always takes longer than projected outcomes and accomplishes nothing but violence, suffering, and the breaking up of families, he was pained that the America public did not hold their government accountable for their actions. Modern war, he believes, is the outcome of corporate self-interest, which is rhetorically repackaged for consumption by the American public. He was proud, however, that my partner Lauren and I protested the second Iraq War.

    While in Vietnam in the late 1960s, my father promised himself that he would return when the country was no longer at war. He needed closure, and had a strong drive to go back. He wanted to see Vietnam full of life. In his own mind, he wanted to apologize for being in their country and supporting a war machine that destroyed their homes. As an Irish Catholic, nothing was more fitting for him than attending mass at the Notre-Dame Cathedral in Ho Chi Minh City, which he relates was a beautiful and enlightening experience, and a point where he was able to apologize. And although he does take responsibility for volunteering for the Vietnam War, he does not know now why he was there in the 1960s, and believes the war was fought over false pretenses.

  11. Rory Cuddyer permalink
    November 22, 2011 6:29 pm

    This comment is from a couple of weeks ago from the discussion on LaCapra’s article “Representing the Holocaust.” I want to discuss two questions that I had that can be seen as relational. My first question concerns the relation between working through and Habermas’ theory of communicative action. LaCapra regards working through as a process in which a person seeks to gain critical distance on a problem. Working through is never complete, but it does enable the individual, whether victim or secondary observer, to distinguish between the experience that overwhelmed him/her and his/her present life. However, since the Historikerstreit concerns, in Nolte’s view, whether the German’s can gain an identity without shame about the Holocaust, then working through must be applied to the generations who did not witness the Holocaust. Working through, then, cannot be an individual issue, but instead a collective conversation, where an exchange between the German people must be held in the public sphere. Habermas’ communicative action then takes place, where arguments from all sides are presented, and according to the theory, the most rational side will prevail and be accepted. This Habermassian conclusion leads into my second question, which is whether it is possible for a positive identity to be established for the German people as a whole while individuals deny familial involvement. The sociologist Harald Welzer conducted a study where he found that only 1% of the Germans questioned do not rule out that someone from their family actively took part in the Nazi crimes. Although individuals have not seemed to work through the past, it seems possible that the German nation has. Their “self-critical politics of memory” allowed them to take the steps to establish a constitution that would never allow for the Holocaust to happen again. This constitution was established with the concrete memory of what did occur. In this sense, a national working through has intensely political consequences. The questions I hope we can discuss is how complete can one’s identity become when only half of the working through has been completed (the national)? Is it a failing of the individual to only work through half of the issue? Is it even possible to work through one’s own personal, familial connections to the Holocaust 70 years out?

  12. Alex Gilman permalink
    November 25, 2011 7:42 pm

    I want to make a few comments about Freud’s idea of transference that came to mind from reading “Dora.” Its hard to say whether these comments fall under this section or “Forms of Narrative” but its somewhere in between. Apologies if these ideas came up in class, as I was unable to make it because of holiday travel, but I think the idea of transference, and the limits or challenges it places on psychoanalysis, relates to the more general issue of narrativity. Freud was unable to reconstruct Dora’s case history based on his own transference on her. The intersubjective nature of therapy inherently prevents avoiding transference, but as Freud says, transference can be psychoanalysis’ “most powerful ally.” Without a degree of transference, Freud notes that the doctor appears “antipathetic” to the patient. Transference is the biproduct of empathy, and thus is unavoidable in any relationship, therapeutic or otherwise. What this implies about narrativity, then, is that all our stories, especially our personal narratives, are tied up not only in others’ narratives (in the sense that we lived in a shared world, have parents, communities, cultures etc) but are also influenced by people’s empathies and expectations. It is hard to know when I’m representing my own past, or playing into my confidant’s expectations. Narrative is always hermeneutic; it is not a neutral retelling of fact. The facts may remain the same in multiple retellings, but the interpretation and emphases changes based on the audience. I know this happens with me all the time, where my feelings and interpretation around particular issue change based on who I am talking to. It is an unconscious decision, not a conscious desire to impress or placate. When we come under the gaze of the other, we are inevitably influenced by their expectations, whether real or imagined. So the question becomes, how we do find the “real” story, or is there a “real” story? Dora was unable to solve her case herself, she needed an “audience.” But the audience was not passive, and cannot be. Can we have a story separate from our hearers? Can we avoid transference without eliminating empathy? Do our stories have any meaning before they are told? In a certain way, this adds a Levinasian infinity to narrative, in that our stories are tied up in the Other.

  13. November 26, 2011 4:14 pm

    It was a pleasure to present Freud’s Dora (Fragment of an Analysis of a Case of Hysteria). It is a wonderfully complex case and complex piece of literature. I suggest that its main point for our context (narrative) is to demonstrate how the body (the flesh) can tell a story through the formation of physical symptoms (conversion symptoms). This, I suggest, is the basic “hysteric” pattern.
    Although psycho-somatic symptoms are presented here as pathogenic, I suggest that most people can intuitively relate on some level without being necessarily “neurotic”. Headaches, stomach aches, and other illnesses manifest alongside stress in “normal” people often enough to make a connection between stress and introduction of a physical ailment.
    Of the many subtexts in the story the issues of transference and counter-transference came into question. I suggested that transference here be seen as Dora’s projection upon Freud and counter-transference as the projections which Freud makes upon Dora. As an unconscious process each are unaware that they are doing it to the other. For instance, Freud is not aware how he is likely identifying with Herr K. to the extent that he wishes to “penetrate” Dora, or how Freud’s incapacity to fully identify his own bi-sexual impulses prevent him from noticing Dora’s bi-sexual issues until the end of her treatment. So too, Dora remains oblivious to how she conflates Freud alongside the men in her life, or how she, in the end, treats Freud as just another servant whom she can dismiss with a “fortnights” warning.
    I would suggest that although the case ultimately fails there are important successes to note. Most importantly, Dora’s suicidal thoughts and wishes diminish and never return. It is also clear that some of her symptoms find relief through the treatment. These successes are grounded, I believe, in the fact that Freud listened to Dora. Moreover, he believed her story. This must have been validating for Dora who, prior to Freud, was believed by no one. Freud also never succumbed to “talking her out” of her perceptions as Dora’s father wished. Through the psychoanalytic process, Freud essentially offered Dora new ways to view (narrate) her story. Such offerings are an important means to breaking free of the repetitions which are inevitable where only one story exists/persists. Freud’s major flaw in this case was his hubris. He was far too aggressive with Dora and he did not exercise the patience highlighted by him in the opening section by quoting Goethe: “Not Art and Science serve, alone; Patience must in the work be shown.”
    Interestingly, Freud concludes the case by noting, “No one who, like me, conjures up the most evil of those half-tamed demons that inhabit the human breast, and seeks to wrestle with them, can expect to come through the struggle unscathed.” This is a subtle reference to the biblical story of Jacob and the Angel (Genesis 32: 24-32) which Freud was wont to cite in similar contexts where he felt challenged and scared. As Patrick Mahoney aptly notes, “Freud limped after his struggle with her, when he was figuratively wounded in the thigh—castrated. But here, contrary to his other uses of the Jacob legend, he changed his opponent from angel to demon. She dragged Freud down into the tangling shades of bisexuality and transference.”
    This mention of a demon, I believe, echoes in Freud’s later works where he weaves the image of the “daimon” into his concept of ‘repetition compulsion’. He does this throughout his work on The Uncanny and Beyond the Pleasure Principle. I believe these are literary allusions to Nietzsche who couples “daimon” alongside an “eternal recurrence” in an identical fashion. In fact, this is precisely how Nietzsche juxtaposes the two in his very first allusion to Eternal Recurrence in his book The Joyful Science.

  14. ashley donovan permalink
    December 1, 2011 3:09 pm

    I am still fascinated by Dora and I thought I could follow up on last week’s class by expanding on a few things. Basically, I am having a hard time with Dora’s “hysteria” because I’m not sure that I would have behaved differently if I were in her place. What woman would continue “normally” after such traumatic experiences? And is it healthy for her psychotherapist to be a male when the men in her life caused the trauma? I’m not saying she didn’t need therapy – I get that she does, but her reaction to the trauma doesn’t seem outlandish; she doesn’t seem hysterical, in fact her reaction seems reasonable. This situation reminds me of “The Yellow Wallpaper” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman – in the story, a wife is locked inside of a room with yellow wallpaper by her husband, and when he finally lets her out, she has visions of women in the wallpaper and is attempting to peel it off, and she is labeled as hysterical – but what person’s reality wouldn’t start changing after being traumatized in such a way? The connection between women coming undone and the reason for it seems to be a more valuable way of looking at the trauma victims rather than labeling them as hysterical which thereby brands them as unreasonable and insane.

  15. Kelly Ferroni permalink
    December 3, 2011 7:56 pm

    I’d like to pose some questions about Freud as an “omniscient” narrator and the possible connection to his countertransference, or projection onto Dora. Throughout the text, Freud assumes the role of narrator, and he adopts a seeming omniscience. It’s a “seemingly” omniscient perspective because Freud does delineate between Dora’s words (which he quotes through indirect discourse: “She told me that one day she had met Herr K. in the street”) and his own thoughts, inferences, and analysis. However, he also reconstructs the scenes between Dora and Herr K., in which he attributes to Dora certain feelings, thoughts and physiological reactions. Whether unconsciously or deliberately, this seeming omniscience reflects the trajectory of Freud’s process of investigating Dora’s thoughts and feelings: Freud’s omniscience increases in frequency and intensity throughout the work as Dora’s voice diminishes as the case history progresses. As Steven Marcus points out, this makes sense, as Freud’s thoughts and insights are the ones that matter most now. Freud’s conclusions are certainly insightful, but do they also provide insights into his own subconscious feelings? Essentially, could this “omniscience” be seen as a manifestation of his projection/countertransference onto Dora?

    Despite the fact that Freud never literally adopts her perspective, he does write Dora’s story. This is why she leaves: “she refused to be a character in the story that Freud was composing for her, and wanted to finish it herself” (Marcus 88). While Dora may have written her own ending, we as readers never get the chance to read it and therefore, we’re left with Freud in the role of the ultimate narrator, as an increasingly omniscient one. As Professor Kearney has suggested, had Dora come back to treatment, would she have been able to restore her own voice, her own narrative? In doing so, would Dora have undermined Freud’s written trajectory of increasingly omniscient observations and conclusions? Or, despite this hypothetical resolution, would Freud’s case history always have consumed Dora’s personal history?

  16. Andrea Kisiel permalink
    December 6, 2011 5:41 pm

    To those of you who attended Pfs. Gallagher’s talk on Exchanging Narratives on Monday night, I am the girl who brought up Marketing as Art. I just wanted to expand on this conviction of mine, as it is often highly contested. I understand why it is highly contested, too. I agree that a lot of marketing is schematic and manipulative. I want to focus on the positive aspects of marketing, though. I believe by commending good marketing, marketing as a whole will strive to be more “good,” aesthetically and ethically.

    Please watch this commercial:

    The above 90 second commercial is for the organization Stop the Traffikk, which fights human trafficking. The commercial uses visual and sound design to create a chilling yet inspirational effect. The commercial’s blend the recognizable and the unrecognizable tells a story through words but also through reactions of wonderment and mystery.

    This commercial won awards for the “Sound Design” and “Public Service Announcement” categories at the Association of Independent Commercial Producers 20th annual award show. The archive of all awarded commercials can be found on The AICP is also celebrating the 20th anniversary of its relationship with the Museum of Modern Art in New York. The awarded commercials from the AICP each year enter into MoMa’s permanent collections.

    What do you think about this commercial? If I were to have called it something other than an advertisement or commercial, and just said it was a short film clip, would you have reacted differently? How do we react to stories based on the media the stories are told through? Do you think this commercial can be viewed as art? Is it a form of narrative, giving voice to the silenced masses who are victims of Human Trafficking and calling others to action?

    I’d love to hear some of your responses!

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