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John Zaixin Zhang

 
 
 

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Caruth on Trauma and History  

2009-06-02 17:21:15|  分类: 创伤 |  标签: |举报 |字号 订阅

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 Caruth, Cathy. “Unclaimed Experience: Trauma and the Possibility of History.” Yale French Studies 79, “Literature and the Ethical Question” (1991): 181-92.

181

       “In its most general definition, trauma describes an overwhelming experience of sudden, or catastrophic events, in which the response to the event occurs in the often delayed, and uncontrolled repetitive occurrence of hallucinations and other intrusive phenomena. The experience of the soldier faced with sudden and massive death around him, for example, who suffers this sight in a numbed state, only to relive it later on in repeated nightmares, is a central and recurring image of trauma in our century.”

182

       “I would propose that it is here, in the equally widespread and bewildering encounter with trauma—both in its occurrence, and in the attempt to understand it—that we can begin to recognize the possibility of a history which is no longer straightforwardly referential (that is, no longer based on simple models of experience and reference). Through the notion of trauma, I will argue, we can understand that a rethinking of reference is not aimed at eliminating history, but at resituating it in our understanding, that is, of precisely permitting history to arise where immediate understanding may not.”

       “The question of history is raised most urgently in one of the first works of trauma in this century, Sigmund Freud’s history of the Jews entitled Moses and Monotheism…. I will suggest that it is in the notion of history which Freud offers in this work, as well as in the way his writing itself confronts historical events, that we may need to rethink the possibility of history, as well as our ethical and political relation to it.”

183-4

       “Freud’s surprising account of Jewish history can be understood, indeed, as a reinterpretation of the nature, as well as the significance, of the Hebrews’ return from captivity. In the biblical account, Moses was one of the captive Hebrews who eventually arose as their leader and led them out of Egypt back to Canaan. Freud, on the other hand, announces at the beginning of his account that Moses, though liberator of the Hebrew people, was not in fact himself a Hebrew, but an Egyptian, a fervent follower of an Egyptian [184] pharaoh and his sun-centered monotheism. After the pharaoh’s murder, according to Freud, Moses became a leader of the Hebrews and brought them out of Egypt in order to preserve the waning monotheistic religion. Freud thus begins his story by changing the very reason for the return: it is no longer primarily the preservation of Hebrew freedom, but of the monotheistic god; that is, it is not so much the return to a freedom of the past, as a departure into a newly established future—the future of monotheism. In this rethinking of Jewish beginnings, then, the future is no longer continuous with the past, but is united with it through a profound discontinuity. The exodus from Egypt, which shapes the meaning of the Jewish past, is a departure that is both a radical break and the establishment of a history.”

184

       “The second part of Freud’s account extends, and redoubles, this rethinking of the return. For after the Egyptian Moses led the Hebrews from Egypt, Freud claims, they murdered him in a rebellion; repressed the deed; and in the passing of two generations, assimilated his god to a volcano god named Yahweh, and assimilated the liberating acts of Moses to the acts of another man, the priest of Yahweh (also named Moses), who was separated from the first in time and place. The most significant moment in Jewish history is thus, according to Freud, not the literal return to freedom, but the repression of a murder and its effects.”

       [See Freud, Sigmund. Moses and Monotheism. Trans. and Ed. James Strachey. Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud. Vol. 23. London: The Hogarth Press, 1964. 50-1.]

185

       The captivity and return, while the beginning of the history of the Jews, is precisely available to them only through the experience of a trauma. It is the trauma, the forgetting (and return) of the deeds of Moses, that constitutes the link uniting the old with the new god, the people that leave Egypt, with the people that ultimately make up the nation of the Jews. Centering his story in the nature of the leaving, and returning, constituted by trauma, Freud resituates the very possibility of history in the nature of a traumatic departure. We might say, then, that the central question, by which Freud finally inquires into the relation between history and its political outcome, is: what does it mean, precisely, for history to be the history of a trauma?”

185-6

       “For many readers, the significance of Freud’s questioning of history—his displacement of the story of a liberating return, by the story of a trauma—has seemed to be a tacit denial of history. By replacing factual history with the curious dynamics of trauma, Freud would seem to have doubly denied the possibility of historical reference: first, by himself actually replacing historical fact with his own speculations; and secondly, by suggesting that historical memory, or Jewish historical memory at least, is always a matter of distortion, a filtering of the original event through the fictions of traumatic repression, which makes the event available at best indirectly. Indeed, when Freud goes on, later in his work, to compare the Hebrews’ traumatic experience to the traumas of the Oedipal boy, repressing his desire for the mother through the threat of castration, this leads many readers to assume that the only possible referential truth contained in Freud’s text can be its reference to his own unconscious life, a kind of self-referential history which many have read as the story of Freud’s ‘unresolved father complex.’ And this analysis has itself reinterpreted the figure of departure and return in a very straightforward fashion, as Freud’s departure from his father, or his departure from Judaism. For many critics the cost of Freud’s apparently [186] making history unconscious, or of depriving history of its referential literality, is finally the fact that the text remains at best a predictable drama of Freud’s unconscious, and moreover a drama which tells the story of political and cultural disengagement.”

186

       “We we attend closely however to Freud’s own attempt to explain the trauma, we find a somewhat different understanding of what it means to leave and to return. While the analogy with the Oedipal individual constitutes much of his explanation, Freud opens this discussion with another example that is strangely unlikely as a comparison for a human history and yet resonates curiously with the particular history he has told. It is the example of an accident:

It may happen that someone gets away, apparently unharmed, from the spot where he has suffered a shocking accident, for instance a train collision. In the course of the following weeks, however, he develops a series of grave psychical and motor symptoms, which can be ascribed only to his shock or whatever else happened at the time of the accident. He has developed a ‘traumatic neurosis.’ This appears quite incomprehensible and is therefore a novel fact. The time that elapsed between the accident and the first appearance of the symptoms is called the ‘incubation period,’ a transparent allusion to the pathology of infectious disease. As an afterthought, it must strike us that, in spite of the fundamental difference in the two cases, the problem of the traumatic neurosis and that of Jewish monotheism, there is a correspondence in one point. It is the feature which one might term latency. There are the best grounds for thinking that in the history of the Jewish religion there is a long period, after the breaking away from the Moses religion, during which no trace is to be found of the monotheistic idea… thus the solution of our problem is to be sought in a special psychological situation. (Freud 67-8)

186-7

In the term ‘latency,’ the period during which the effects of the experience are not apparent, Freud seems to compare the accident to the successive movement in Jewish history from the event to its repression to its return. Yet what is truly striking about the accident victim’s experience of the event, and what in fact constitutes the central enigma revealed by Freud’s example, [187] is not so much the period of forgetting that occurs after the accident, but rather the fact that the victim of the crash was never fully conscious during the accident itself…. The historical power of the trauma is not just that the experience is repeated after its forgetting, but that it is only in and through its inherent forgetting that it is first experienced at all…. For history to be a history of trauma means that it is referential precisely to the extent that it is not fully perceived as it occurs, or to put it somewhat differently, that a history can be grasped only in the very inaccessibility of its occurrence.”

187

       “The indirect referentiality of history is also, I would argue, at the core of Freud’s understanding of the political shape of Jewish culture, in its repeated confrontation with anti-Semitism. For the murder of Moses, as Freud argues, is in fact a repetition of an earlier murder in the history of mankind, the murder of the primal father by his rebellious sons, which occurred in primeval history; and it is the unconscious repetition and acknowledgment of this fact that explains both Judaism and its Christian antagonists. Indeed, Freud says, when Paul interprets the death of Christ as the atonement for an original sin, he is belatedly and unconsciously remembering the murder of Moses which still, in the history of the Jews, remains buried in unconsciousness. In belatedly atoning, as sons, for the father’s murder, Christians feel Oedipal rivalry with their Jewish older brothers, a lingering castration anxiety, brought out by Jewish circumcision, and finally a complaint that the Jews will not admit the guilt which the Christian, in their recognition of Christ’s death, have admitted. By appearing only belatedly, then, the historical effect of trauma, in Freud’s text, is ultimately its inscription of the Jews in a history always bound to the history of the Christians.”

188

       “…. To put it somewhat differently, we could say that the traumatic nature of history means that events are only historical to the extent that they implicate others. And it is thus that Jewish history has also been the suffering of others’ trauma.”

       [Note 12: Freud “does not suggest that the response to trauma must necessarily be the mistreatment of the other. In fact, he distinguishes Christian hatred of the Jews from Nazi persecution, describing the former as determined by an Oedipal structure, while of the latter he says: ‘We must not forget that all the peoples who now excel in the practice of anti-Semitism became Christians only in relatively recent times, sometimes forced to it by bloody compulsion. One might say that they all are “badly christened”; under the thin veneer of Christianity they have remained what their ancestors were, barbarically polytheistic. They have not yet overcome their grudge against the now religion which was forced on them, and they have projected it on to the source from which Christianity came to them…. The hatred for Judaism is at bottom hatred for Christianity, and it is not surprising that in the German National Socialist revolution this close connection of the two monotheistic religions finds such clear expression in the hostile treatment of both’ (91-2).”]

190

       “Indeed, in Freud’s own theoretical explanation of trauma, in the example of the accident, it is, finally, the act of leaving which constitutes its central and enigmatic core:

It may happen that someone gets away [literally, ‘leaves the site,’ ‘die St?dte verl?sst], apparently unharmed, from the spot where he has suffered a shocking accident, for instance a train collision.”

“The trauma of the accident, its very unconsciousness, is borne by an act of departure. It is a departure which, in the full force of its historicity, remains at the same time in some sense absolutely opaque, both to the one who leaves, and also to the theoretician, linked to the sufferer in his attempt to bring the experience to light.”

191-2

       “Leaving home, for Freud, is also a kind of freedom, the freedom to bring forth his book in England, the freedom, that is, to bring his voice to another place. The meaning of this act is suggested in a letter which resonates with these lines from the ‘Summary,’ a letter written by Freud to his son Ernst in May 1939, while Freud was waiting for final arrangements to leave Vienna:

Two prospects keep me going in these grim times: to rejoin you all and—to die in freedom.”

“Freud’s freedom to leave is paradoxically the freedom, not to live, but to die: to bring forth his voice to others in dying. Freud’s voice emerges, that is, as a departure. And it is this departure which, moreover, addresses us. In the [192] line he writes to his son, the last four words—‘to die in freedom’—are not, like the rest of the sentence, written in German, but rather in English. The announcement of his freedom, and of his dying, is given in a language that can be heard by those in the new place to which he brings his voice, to us, upon whom the legacy of psychoanalysis is bestowed. It is significant moreover that this message is conveyed not merely in the new language, English, but precisely in the movement between German and English, between the languages of the readers of his homeland and of his departure. I would like to suggest that it is here, in the movement from German to English, in the rewriting of the departure within the languages of Freud’s text, that we participate most fully in Freud’s central insight, in Moses and Monotheism, that history, like the trauma, is never simply one’s own, that history is precisely the way we are implicated in each other’s traumas. For we—whether as German- or as English-speaking readers—cannot read this sentence without, ourselves, departing. In this departure, in the leave-taking of our hearing, we are first fully addressed by Freud’s text, in ways we perhaps cannot yet fully understand. And, I would propose today, as we consider the possibilities of cultural and political analysis, that the impact of this, not fully conscious address, may be not only a valid, but indeed a necessary point of departure.”

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