Saturday, October 2, 2010

International Relations

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

6. Collectivising trauma through negotiating emotion: on the representation of the Bali bombing

To render my refl ections on trauma and political community more concrete I now turn to a specifi c example: the Sari bar bombing in Bali. I am not trying to provide a comprehensive account of the event and its political implications. Neither am I making absolutist claims about the kinds of emotions the bombing solicited. Doing so would be impossible in the context of a brief essay. My aim, rather, is to illustrate how representational practices can help to forge emotional, and thus social, linkages between trauma and a wider community that bears witness. I focus in particular on the effect of media representations, paying attention to how editorials and images published in Australia’s sole national newspaper, The Australian, draw a very particular and concrete link between individual suffering and the nature and fate of the Australian national community. Media representations of the bombing were explicitly emotional. Both images and stories brought forth the injury and terror of victims. They also sought to communicate the brutality of the perpetrators. Headlines and the language of stories discussed individual damage as deeply wounding Australia as a nation. Visual aids were no less candid. Purgatory-like realities presented themselves through front-page images, and as the suffering of so many Australians was made visual, captions gave testimony of compatriots wanting to fl ee for ‘home’. As such, representations of the bombing may be linked with concomitant notions of pity, compassion and solidarity.

They negotiated emotions, explicitly representing the event in ways that called upon a sense of collective fear, anger, grief and solace. In so doing, individual emotions of witnesses were linked, implicitly, with those of both survivors and the political fi gures that were said to be working desperately towards an offi cial response. The solidarity of an Australian national community was swiftly summoned. Indeed, using the media as a gauge it certainly seemed that the processes of grief and the emotions of outrage were collective ones. A sense of shared meaning, purpose and identity was articulated in what became an ‘us’/‘them’ type of rhetoric. Outwardly refl ective of this were both the publicly respected calls for collective remembrance and commemoration, and the discourses of retributive justice that subsequently emerged.

Underpinning the various representations and subsequent discourses that surrounded the tragedy was, I argue, the interweaving of individual and collective emotion. How the media and other representational outlets captured the crisis not only told a story about what happened, but also made one feel. This was accomplished in a way that sought to align individual emotions with the wider emotionally charged social discourses that ultimately narrated and gave meaning to the catastrophe. Notions of national loss, public commemoration and political security helped to guide apparently individualised emotional responses. They sought, either purposefully or naively, to smooth over feelings of discontinuity – the shock and terror – and unite individuals in a spirit of shared experience and bereavement. This was achieved as much through the journalistic and testimonial accounts of the trauma as it was through the images that appeared adjacent to them.

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