Saturday, October 2, 2010

International Relations


Trauma and the Politics of Emotions: Constituting Identity, Security and Community after the Bali Bombing

4.The problem of representing trauma

Key to how individual trauma becomes a collective phenomenon is representation. Representational practices provide for the expression of trauma, and in so doing shift it from the realm of the individual to that of a collective or community. At fi rst glance, however, the centrality of representation sits uneasily with the communicative crisis that trauma scholars identify. Elaine Scarry’s pioneering research on pain helps to better appreciate this tension. For Scarry, pain is, in an important and seemingly contradictory sense, ‘inexpressible’.17 A certain speechlessness is said to accompany pain, signalling that perhaps both its somatic and emotional nature is not only incomprehensible but also unable to be truly shared through language. Scarry’s refl ections on pain mirror the thoughts of many scholars of trauma. They tend to agree that individuals fi nd it intensely diffi cult – if not impossible – to communicate the feeling and meaning of trauma.18 Shocked, pained, and in disbelief, words seem inadequate expressions for the strangeness of the world revealed by one’s suffering. Holocaust scholar Dori Laub contends that the telling of stories of survival or of witnessing is inevitably constrained by the impossibility of ever adequately representing trauma. Laub declares that:

No amount of telling seems ever to do justice to inner compulsion. There are never enough words or the right words, there is never enough time or the right time, and never enough listening or the right listening to articulate the story that cannot be fully captured in thought, memory, and speech.19 One may therefore speak and write of trauma yet words fail to convey the perceptual intensity of feelings, either physical or emotional ones. Sexual assault survivors Susan Brison and Roberta Culbertson share that the struggle for words is synonymous with the hope that speech can free the parts of them that remain trapped by pain.20 Yet, as words form, shaping their emotions from the outside in, giving social meaning to what is individual pain, survivors often tell that they then struggle to free what becomes trapped by language: ‘the emotional self’21 that has been shaped and constrained by the linguistic orthodoxies through which it has been expressed.

The problem of representation I present here is of central importance to how one thinks about the collective dynamics of trauma. If trauma is ultimately ineffable how is it that traumatic events can so powerfully construct and maintain forms of community – national, cultural or ethnic, familial or otherwise? How can trauma occupy a space beyond representation, while at the same time soliciting a range of social discourses that inspire individuals to evaluate themselves in relation to others? If trauma induces a crisis of representation how can and does one make sense of it? Is there something other than or beyond language, an ‘other of language’ as Julia Kristeva suggests, that words can only ever partially represent?22 Although trauma may be without a ‘voice’, it often eventually fi nds some form of expression, regardless of how inadequate. Various representational practices narrate trauma, somehow telling of its terror and its pain, and in doing so weave it into the fabric of both individual and collective conceptions of being and knowing. Speaking of trauma – either by victims or witnesses – is a search to fi nd the expressions considered to be the most appropriate measures of trauma and its pain. This is how trauma gathers meaning, socially, by being encoded within social symbols and linguistic patterns that are specifi c in time and place. Signifi cant here is that representational practices employed by individuals and the media alike can only make sense and fi nd meaning within the community through which they have been constructed. These practices of representation can take on many forms, including speech, text, photographs, fi lm and bodily gestures.

Two forms deemed particularly signifi cant are language and images. Words, for instance, are a tool that allows traumatic events to be understood within a wider community – a community, that is, that roughly shares language and the symbolic meanings that connect expressions with particular ideas and emotions.23 In today’s growing media culture visual representations are also particularly signifi cant. Consider a historic example: the iconic image of six American soldiers raising the US fl ag at the summit of Mount Suribachi in World War II.24 Against wartime devastation and loss of morale, this image became the lone representation for not only the remainder of the war but also the continuing commemoration of generations of servicemen and women who lost their lives in combat.

By symbolising victory, this image gave purpose and meaning to Americans, remobilising the war effort and allowing grieving mothers to make sense of the carnage of their sons. Images – and other representations – thus delineate boundaries of community, because they separate who can and who cannot understand. Representing trauma is therefore not solely a task of trying to fi nd expressions that adequately represent one’s feelings.

Representations translate trauma into something that can be meaningful to many. At issue here is that processes of representation can ultimately displace the reality of trauma’s suffering, replacing the shock and sublime horror of trauma with something socially and communally meaningful.

Tugasan ini sebenarnya kami pernah buat sebelum ini cuma mungkin soalannya diubah-ubah setiap semester. Namun kehendak soalan sebenarnya adalah hampir sama setiap semester.

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