If one practical way to define trauma is to consider it as a chronic inability to access and process catastrophic events, that is, as a systematic and haunting blockage of memory formation and reclamation of past experiences, then historians have an inherent stake in the concept. This basic observation is not new, of course, but until now only historians of the Holocaust have evinced serious and consistent interest in the vast literature on Trauma Studies. Most historians—for example those who work with the distant past, with non-Western societies, or with less extreme historical events—have not had to engage with the historical implications of trauma. In as much as historians use the term, they do so from the lay standpoint that considers trauma as a horrible and tragic man-made event or a natural disaster. In its popular and very elastic usage the event (trauma) and its consequences (always “traumatic”) run the risk of remaining unexplored and largely unexplained, and thus, paradoxically, actually traumatic in the sense of not allowing access to the past. While remaining cognizant of the bland usage of the concept of trauma, the goal of this special issue is to offer a modest commentary on what Trauma Studies can offer to “Other Historians” and, perhaps, on what they can offer in return. The work presented here is of a provisional nature and is the product of a year-long seminar by a diverse group of historians at the Institute of Historical Studies at the University of Texas at Austin and the international conference, “Trauma and History,” that they organized.
Dutch Political Culture and the Indonesian Question in 1945
Jennifer L. Foray
Of the mid-twentieth-century European imperial powers, only the Netherlands experienced foreign occupation during World War II, followed soon after by the declaration of independence of the East Indies, its prized possession. I argue that the first series of events constituted a “cultural trauma,” and that, after May 1945, Dutch politicians and pundits viewed developments in Indonesia through this lens of wartime trauma. By the year's end, political actors had begun to interpret the recent metropolitan past and the developing Indonesian conflict according to the same rhetorical framework, emphasizing binaries such as “resistance versus collaboration.” While those on the political Left analogized the two conflicts in order to promote a negotiated settlement, their opponents hoped that, by refusing to recognize Sukarno's Republic of Indonesia, the Netherlands could avoid a second and perhaps even more damaging cultural trauma.
Tourism and Neoliberal Peace-Building in Divided Societies
Deeply divided societies that have undergone extreme civil violence are often framed as "collectively traumatized" or in a state of "melancholia." Such aetiologies support peace-building initiatives, which seek either to normalize society by forgetting the legacy of violence and starting anew or by engendering societal remembering to work through trauma and bring about societal healing and eventual "closure." Examining the case of Northern Ireland, this article considers how these discrepant processes regarding collective trauma have become bound with fierce ethnopolitical debates and counter-insurgency methods regarding how to promote the region to tourists. I argue that both approaches represent nostrums, which do little to support peace-building and are ultimately complementary with neoliberal designs concerning the relationship among tourism, economic prosperity and conflict-regulation. Discourses concerning "collective trauma" must therefore be viewed as political strategies to shape the nation, which are finally embodied in the tourist journey to "traumatized sites."
Robert Gellately and Ben Kiernan, eds., The Specter of Genocide: Mass Murder in Historical Perspective (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2003)
Jan-Werner Müller, ed., Memory and Power in Post-War Europe: Studies in the Presence of the Past (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2002)
Violence defines the global experience of fascism as an ideology, movement, and regime, as well as its subsequent reception after 1945. This article is part of this a transnational trend in the study of fascism examining such violence, but it also proposes to expand it by way of studying its transatlantic repercussions in the postwar period, especially in terms of what I call a “transcontextual history” of trauma and especially for the case of the so-called Argentine Dirty War. I argue there is a need for understanding these transnational dimensions of fascist violence for victims and perpetrators in light of an equally significant transcontextual emphasis on the traumatic fascist genealogies of the Cold War.
The Heroic Tale of “Taiyuan's Five Hundred Martyrs” in the Chinese Civil War
Dominic Meng-Hsuan Yang
On 19 February 1951, a state-sponsored funeral took place in north Taipei in which a splendid cenotaph to commemorate the “five hundred martyrs of Taiyuan”— heroic individuals who died defending a distant city in northern China against the Chinese Communist encirclement—was revealed. In the four decades that followed, the Nationalist government on Taiwan built a commemorative cult and a pedagogic enterprise centering on these figures. Yet, the martyrs' epic was a complete fiction, one used by Chiang Kai-shek's regime to erase the history of atrocities and mass displacement in the Chinese civil war. Following Taiwan's democratization in the 1990s, the repressed traumas returned in popular narratives; this recovery tore the hidden wounds wide open. By examining the tale of the five hundred martyrs as both history and metaphor, this article illustrates the importance of political forces in both suppressing and shaping traumatic memories in Taiwan.
The Israeli Television Series Fauda
Nurith Gertz and Raz Yosef
The Israeli television series Fauda tells the story of an undercover unit pursuing a notorious terrorist to avenge terror attacks that he masterminded and to prevent his future attacks. The series bolsters Israeli collectivity by re-enacting past traumas and capitalizing on the fear of traumas yet to come, but it also dismantles national unity by portraying other ways for individuals to develop relationships with the collectives to which they belong and by attempting to find alternative temporalities to ‘traumatic time’ that returns to haunt the present from the future. While the plot aims to reinforce national identity by overcoming situations of imminent disaster, the televisual language creates another time based on overlaps between the various narrative threads of both Israeli and Palestinian identities, thus opening up new opportunities for co-existence and another relationship between the singular and the plural.
This essay will examine the concept of third-generation trauma after the Holocaust and the ways in which Jewish American novelists seek to access, recreate and artistically represent (or 're-present') such a traumatic past that is by definition inaccessible. A striking feature in the novels by the latest generation of Jewish American writers - notably the work of Jonathan Safran Foer and Judy Budnitz - is the almost obsessive return to mythology and fairy tales in the literary recreation of their grandparents' era. My essay will argue that this is due to a commonality of purpose that characterizes and drives both mythology and fairy tales on the one hand, and the third generation's imaginative, postmemorial approach to the past on the other hand.
Constance L. Mui
To many Sartreans, these accounts of the common physical and psychological responses to trauma reflect a familiar view of the self. For Sartre, the self is not an unchanging, underlying essence that guarantees personal identity over time; rather, it is an ongoing project that is founded on our being-in-the-world as embodied freedom, on our concrete relations with others, and, I would add, on our emotions. It thus appears that feminist writings on the effects of sexual trauma could benefit greatly from a careful reading or rereading of Sartrean ontology, even though Sartre himself has not, to my knowledge, related any aspect of his philosophy specifically to the problem of trauma. With this in mind, this essay attempts to work out, within the broader Sartrean ontological framework, a preliminary outline of a phenomenology of rape trauma, one that is based on a feminist consideration of Sartre's distinct but intertwined theories of freedom, embodiment, and the emotions. In this endeavor, an important point I hope to bring out is that even though Sartre has at best provided a rough sketch for his theory of the emotions, we can nevertheless glean from that sketch valuable insights that can both inform and illuminate our understanding of the effects of trauma.
Michael Cunningham’s most recent novel, Specimen Days, was bound to be compared to his previous work, The Hours. Reviewers and readers alike could easily identify the numerous similarities between the two texts: both novels were made up of three narratives set at different historical periods but with very similar if not related characters and themes, and a major literary figure haunting their background – Virginia Woolf in The Hours and Walt Whitman in Specimen Days. Lucas, Catherine, and Simon are the three main characters of Cunningham’s latest novel, caught up in similar relationships across three different stories of death and rebirth, trauma and recovery, sacrifice and transcendence.Ahistorical fiction, a police crime thriller, and a science fiction text, the three stories are all set in New York, tied together with recurring symbols and motifs: a white porcelain bowl, a music box, a white horse, the date 21 June, the angel statue at Central Park’s Bethesda Fountain. For a novel that took its creator eight years to complete, Specimen Days seemed to some critics to be short of inspiration. Not only was the novel repeating themes, images, and characters within its own three novellas, but it was also repeating patterns from Cunningham’s previous book.