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mistaken identity

May 17, 2010

This poem grew out of a frustration I’ve had a long time with how voice, silence, and trauma are theorized. I had been reading Dominick LaCapra’s Writing History, Writing Trauma and it all came back to the surface again. He and I have a similar opinion about a certain approach to trauma that almost valorizes it in its inability to be represented. It turns a traumatic event into something of awe, something akin to the way we think of the divine. This not only keeps victims mute (and their status gaining its value from the muteness), but can dangerously lead to the glorification of suffering.

La Capra: “I have also argued that one important tendency in modern thought and practice has been the attempt to link the traumatic to–or even convert it into–the sublime by transvaluing it and making it the basis for an elevating, supraethical, even elated or quasi-transcendental test of the self or the group…”

mistaken identity

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6 Comments leave one →
  1. Sean C. permalink
    May 17, 2010 1:21 pm

    To your discussin of La Capra’s writing: I’d posit that it may relate, in some way, to the prevelance of Judeo-Christian ethic in regional cultures. The story of the martyrdom of the Christ, taken as a matter of archetype, might seem like inspiration to make out own crises seem more dramatic, and more internalized than might be completely healthy in some other, pehaps more objective point of view.

    To your newest VisPo: Haunting, but I think it is uncannily astute as an expression of the feeling of endemic trauma.

    • June 1, 2010 8:51 am

      Thank you so much! I did want it to represent trauma in some way and didn’t know if it was successful. It is true that there is a silence to that type of suffering that is incredibly hard (and some of it impossible) to represent (fully). That being said, the comment about the Judeo-Christian heritage is astute. I wouldn’t say, though, that what I’m talking about here are cases where things are represented as worse than they really are (in whatever way). Rather, it’s the glorification of the suffering that bothers me, and this glorification is by people other than the one suffering. Those who’ve been through radical suffering rarely glorify it in this way from my experience. It’s too horrific (of course that may move *some* to try to identify with Christ and glorify suffering as a martyr, but I’ve rarely seen them take on the sublime and their inability to speak as glory). The reason I dislike the use of the sublime in relation to suffering is because it traps those who suffered in that suffering forever (in a way). They’re valued precisely for the trauma and its effects. Not recovery (there is no recovery in some versions of this view). And logically what is “said” by anyone who manages to speak cannot actually represent the trauma itself (and therefore is devalued in a way). As you say, though, this view does, I think, have its roots in the Judeo-Christian heritage of our culture. And in that way it makes the experience and aftereffects of trauma “dramatic” (although maybe not always more internalized since many of these theorists and philosophers deal with major historical events without as much concentration on individual psyches). Teasing out the connection to the Judeo-Christian heritage touches the work in my dissertation to a certain degree.

  2. May 28, 2010 1:39 pm

    So powerful, Melissa! This is hauntingly wonderful 🙂

    • June 1, 2010 8:52 am

      Thank you so much. I’m glad you said it’s “haunting” because that is a quality I think very appropriate to the subject matter.

  3. May 28, 2010 3:05 pm

    Those are pretty heady thoughts and readings. I have to think about it a bit. I do love your artwork.

    • June 1, 2010 8:56 am

      Thanks so much! I’m glad you made the comment about thinking about it because I think that is one of my goals. I would like the work to be deep and have layers of interpretation for the reader/viewer. (Of course I never want it to be completely obscure, which can be an issue at issue at times. Lol!)

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