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Social Sensations of Symptoms

Embodied Socialities of HIV and Trauma in Uganda

Lotte Meinert and Susan Reynolds Whyte

The interpretation of sensations and the recognition of symptoms of a sickness, as well as the movement to seek treatment, have long been recognised in medical anthropology as inherently social processes. Based on cases of HIV and trauma (PTSD) in Uganda, we show that even the first signs and sensations of sickness can be radically social. The sensing body can be a ‘social body’ – a family, a couple, a network – a unit that transcends the individual body. In this article, we focus on four aspects of the sociality of sensations and symptoms: mode of transmission, the shared experience of sensations/symptoms, differential recognition of symptoms, and the embodied sociality of treatment.

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The Trauma of Liberation

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.

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Trauma, Time, and the ‘Singular Plural’

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.

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Embodying Exile

Trauma and Collective Identities among East Timorese Refugees in Australia

Amanda Wise

Some of the more interesting and useful work on diasporic and transnational identities has emanated from scholars working in cultural studies and contemporary anthropology. However, with a few notable exceptions, little attention has been paid to the specific experiences of refugee diasporas, and in particular, to the role of trauma and embodiment in the creation of these ‘moral communities.’ Based on research with the East Timorese diaspora in Australia, this article looks at the performative dimensions (protests, church rituals, singing, and dancing) of the diaspora’s political campaign for East Timor’s independence. I consider how the bodily dimensions of this protest movement contributed to certain formations of identity, belonging, and exile, within the Timorese community. In particular, I explore how these performative strategies have created a context for ‘retraumatizing’ bodies and memories, channeling them into a political ‘community of suffering,’ in turn contributing to a heightened sense of the morality of an exilic identity among many Timorese.

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Enrique Ajuria Ibarra

To admit the presence of a ghost is to establish a relationship between fantasy and national trauma. Guillermo del Toro's The Devil's Backbone (2001) symbolically locates in an orphanage the struggling sides of the Spanish Civil War and tries to come to terms with the ghosts of the historical past by means of the repetition of a traumatic event triggered by the presence of the revenant, or ghost. The ghost as haunting makes the subject relive what has been silenced, allowing this to be intrinsically related with trauma, a psychical action that compulsively repeats events that have marked the subject's unconscious.

By taking fantasy as a scenario of desire, the ghost becomes the pivotal element in the film to establish a narrative form where the subject is able to define itself in a community with a shared traumatic past. The film screens this ghostly fantasy as a permanent structure that mediates the necessity for war trauma in Spain's contemporary national identity. The ghosts in del Toro's film do not tell how to live with them once they are found; on the contrary, they admit the fact that they have always already been there and that they need to stay to ideologically support the notion of a Spanish nation.

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Gill Rye

This article engages with two themes which are key to this special issue: (i) the relations between the individual and history, between the private and the public in relation to traumatic events; and (ii) the ethics and aesthetics of testimony and bearing witness, and the role of fiction in this respect. These themes are addressed through analysis of Louise L. Lambrichs's Journal d'Hannah, a fascinating novel, in diary format, about the psychological effects of an abortion, set against the backdrop of the Holocaust. The Jewish woman who reluctantly aborts her second child is in her own mind at once victim, perpetrator and survivor, and consumed by guilt. First, the article considers the mirroring structure of the novel, which arguably invites a comparison between the trauma of the abortion and the trauma of the Holocaust. It then examines the historical context of the setting and the writing of the novel. Finally, it identifies the ethical impetus of the text in its treatment of guilt and responsibility, with particular regard to contemporary France's troubled relationship with its wartime past.

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Noble Ghosts, Empty Graves, and Suppressed Traumas

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.

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Yoav Di-Capua

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.

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Richard Crownshaw

This article discusses trends in literary theories of trauma and how their influence can be felt in criticism of the work of W. G. Sebald. Such criticism tends to find in the disruptive interplay of verbal and pictorial discourses, typical of Sebald's work, textual aporias that reflect traumatic interruptions of the cultural remembrance of the extremes of modernity in general and the Holocaust in particular. Tracing literary criticism that focuses on Sebald's use of photographic images in Austerlitz, this article argues that such criticism veers towards treating the text as the unmediated inscription of a traumatic interruption, and suggests that, rather than finding trauma in the text, Sebald's work provokes such critical responses in order to revoke them, revealing not trauma but theoretical formulae for trauma. Sebald's work thereby frustrates attempts to experience vicariously the trauma of Holocaust victims that his novel represents.

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The Complete Story of the Galveston Horror

Trauma, History, and the Great Storm of 1900

Andy Horowitz

This article considers the lurid accounts of looting and lynching that circulated after the 1900 Galveston, Texas, hurricane, the deadliest storm in United States history. Previous accounts of the flood have tended to ignore or subsume these stories in narratives of heroic recovery and progress. But Galvestonians' fantasies of racial violence suggest that the specific catastrophe of the flood was part of the ongoing disaster of racial terror in Texas at the turn of the twentieth century. Understanding disaster as a chronic human process rather than an acute wound from nature reveals that, instead of allowing white Galvestonians to transcend their history of violence against African Americans, the storm seemed to authorize them to further enact and reenact the imposition of suffering.