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Shared Traumas, Silent Loss, Public and Private Mourning

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This book aims to question the junctions of the private and the public when it comes to trauma, loss, and the work of mourning - notions which, it is argued, challenge our very ideas of the individual and the shared. It asks, to paraphrase Adorno, 'What do we mean by "working through the past"?, 'How is a shared work of mourning to be understood?', and 'With what legitimacy do we consider a particular social or cultural practice to be "mourning"?' Rather than aiming to present a diagnosis of the political present, this volume instead takes one step back to pose the question of what mourning might mean and what its social dimension consists in. Contributors reflect on the trauma of the Holocaust, the after-effects of the Vietnam War in the US, the Lebanese war-torn experience, victims of the Pacific War in Taiwan, and the Chilean dictatorship.

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Chapter One: War Games—Mourning Loss through Play

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In Beyond the Pleasure Principle, Freud discusses a child observed at home who repeatedly throws a toy away from his crib then reels it back in. Each time, the child is distressed at the toy's departure and joyful at its return. Freud interprets this gesture as a mimicking of the comings and goings of the boy's mother (Freud, 1920g). Later in this work, Freud describes the boy smashing his toy into the ground in rejection. The boy states that the toy, “has been sent to the front”, much like his father had in going to fight in World War I (Freud, 1920g). In essence, the child acts out the situations that occur in his life through play. The child does to an object what objects, or events, have done to him—simultaneously mastering and repeating the events in question. This kind of play is not therapy. Instead, play-acting is a space in which a child recognises, manipulates, and comes to terms with his own life and its overwhelming moments.

Freud asks of himself and his reader, “How then, does his repetition of this distressing experience as a game fit in with the pleasure principle?” (Freud, 1920g). Freud understands the child's repetition of throwing and fetching his toy to be the child attempting to master and overcome the traumatic sensation evoked by his mother leaving and returning. The child, through rehearsing that loss with material objects, through play, comes to be able to protect himself from psychic harm. Freud continues:

 

Chapter Two: Public Memory and Figures of Fragmentation

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This chapter constitutes an attempt to think about public memorials in relation to trauma and to the possibility or impossibility of mourning. More specifically I would like to address some sculptures or installations as three-dimensional artworks to think about their communication to the spectator as an embodied, physical being.

Neither Klein's conception of art as “reparation” nor Winnicott's ideas on art as “play” seem to quite fit what I aim to describe. Although Winnicott emphasises that “play” may be a serious, explorational activity, there is a tension between his stress on the precondition of not having to ask what is inside and what is outside, subjective and objective, and creation as a response to trauma, where there would be a pressing need to get a firmer hold on a reality that is felt to be withering, too fragile. Furthermore, his mention of the “confidence related to the dependability of the […] environmental elements” (1971, p. 135) describes precisely what would be lacking in the case of trauma. “It is obvious that the desire to make reparation, to make good the injury psychologically done to her mother and also to restore herself,” writes Klein about the artist Ruth Kjär, “was at the bottom of the compelling urge to paint” (1929, p. 218). Where before there was an empty space on the wall, as well as inside Ruth herself, it is described how, with Ruth's restoration of her mother in the shape of a forceful portrait, the blank space had been filled (pp. 216–217). The description leaves open the question of how to think of cases where reparation is not possible—and where redemption is not a solution to aim for.

 

Chapter Three: To Mend the World—Trauma, Mourning, and Containment

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He wrote me that in the suburbs of Tokyo there is a temple consecrated to cats. I wish I could convey to you the simplicity—the lack of affectation—of this couple who had come to place an inscribed wooden slat in the cat cemetery so their cat Tora would be protected. No she wasn't dead, only ran away. But on the day of her death no one would know how to pray for her, how to intercede with death so that he would call her by her right name. So they had to come there, both of them, under the rain, to perform the rite that would repair the web of time where it had been broken.

Marker, 1983

The main objective of Emil Fackenheim's 1982 work To Mend the World is to lay the foundations of a post-Holocaust Jewish thought. This work's urgency is to confront the possibility of collapse of Jewish, Christian, and secular philosophies that results from the reality of Auschwitz and what was lost therein (Morgan et al; 2008). Fackenheim takes seriously Adorno's claim of the metaphysical capacity being arrested in Auschwitz and takes it to its last consequences.

 

Chapter Four: Holocaust Survivor Mothers and Their Daughters—The Intergenerational Mourning Process as a Journey in Search of the Mother

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“Trying to understand my mother is like picking up a book and starting in the middle,” writes Schumer in her book Motherland (2000). The author, a journalist by profession, describes a journey with her mother to the small town in Germany where she was born. Her mother's parents sent her to the United States at the age of twelve, thereby saving her life. She did not speak about her past for fifty-four years.

During this visit, her mother for the first time openly wept for her parents, for other relatives who perished, for her lost home and her childhood. This was the first time that she accepted the fact that the loss was real and irreversible. She said to her daughter: “Until now they were still alive for me, they lived in me…in my mind.” During this trip the daughter discovered more and more details about her mother's past. For the first time she heard about her grandparents and they became flesh and blood people to her. Throughout the years the daughter felt that she had absorbed her mother's suffering, but these feelings were never put into words. To the daughter her mother always seemed distant and reserved, “as if she has developed a kind of fail-safe for her emotions”. Relations between the mother and daughter became more emotional following this journey.

 

Chapter Five: Unable to Mourn Again? Media(Ted) Reactions to German Neo-Nazi Terrorism

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This chapter will appraise the 2011–2012 media debate on right-wing terrorism in Germany against the background of psychoanalytic, as well as media and communication, theory. Drawing on Alexander and Margarete Mitscherlich's classic The Inability to Mourn (1967), it will ask whether or not Germany's political media culture (cf., Pfetsch, 2007, who speaks of “political communication culture”) has gained the ability to mourn—to mourn the victims of the terror attacks, as well as itself, in order to integrate Germany's past as a continuous presence into its reasoning and actions. The results of this appraisal give a mixed impression. I argue that in the—absolutely credible—attempt to take on an apt posture, the political media culture in Germany risked losing sight of the actual victims of Nazi terror, as well as of its own role in the events.

Introduction

On Friday, 4 November 2011, two men in their mid-thirties were found dead in a burned-out camper van close to the East German town of Eisenach. The men had shot themselves, and either they themselves or an accomplice had set fire to the van. Banknotes connected with two robberies in the Eisenach area, as well as the pistols of two police officers who were shot in 2007, were found in the van (As of today fifteen bank robberies are found to have been committed by the two men). Two days later, on Sunday, 6 November, a house in a residential area in Zwickau exploded; the two men, Uwe Böhnhardt and Uwe Mundlos, had lived there together with Beate Zschäpe, their close friend and alleged accomplice. On Tuesday, 8 November, Zschäpe, who in the meantime had been the subject of a nationwide search, handed herself in to the police. By then, the case had received considerable media attention because of the unexpected light it shed on the attack on the two police officers in 2007. Yet its decisive turn came when, on 12 November, the news weekly Der Spiegel reported on a fifteen-minute film that was found in the apartment.

 

Chapter Six: Politicising Trauma—A Post-Colonial and Psychoanalytic Conceptual Intervention

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Introduction

Psychoanalytically informed research on political violence has shown time and again that political violence involves social and cultural processes of othering and libidinal dynamics of desire and enjoyment, usually associated with processes of “feminisation” of those excluded others. This complex nature of political violence begs rethinking of the conceptual and political challenges that post-conflict societies face in their transitions to democracy. For what have been mobilised in the violent events are not only “the strategic interests” of determinate social groups in their struggle for power, but also a whole array of symbolic displacements (that justify exclusion according to dynamics of desire and aggressive jealousy) and, more disturbingly, the “acting out” of those fantasy scenarios and the enjoyment of the suffering of the other. This complex situation disqualifies traditional player-centred approaches that delineate a clear-cut dichotomy between victims and perpetrators, leaving bystanders—or civil society in general—out of the picture and bearing no responsibility whatsoever.

 

Chapter Seven: Ongoing Mourning as a Way to Go Beyond Endless Grief—Considerations on the Lebanese Experience

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There is no doubt that contemporary narratives have been largely dominated by the discourse on trauma that has influenced various academic fields ranging from psychoanalysis and psychiatry to philosophy and aesthetics, and determined movements of thought that aimed to reconsider the principles of politics and ethics in the light of the catastrophes that took place during the twentieth century. These extreme situations challenged the ability of traditional discourses to give an account of what happened and opened the way to new frames of narration that sought to deal with past atrocities and reflect on ways supposed to prevent their recurrence. One of the main changes was the relinquishment of a sort of master-narration in favour of a fragmented history (Lyotard, 1979), without giving up the claim to truth that remained imperative mainly in situations where the material traces were subject to effacement. This particularly characterised the works produced in the wake of the Holocaust, an “event at the limit of” (Friedlander, 1992, p. 3), which resisted representation but at the same time necessitated historical rendition, resulting in a multi-layered construction that called upon a plurality of discourses to address the complexity of the genocide. But this cultural rendition was also facilitated by the judicial work that helped establish a rupture with past events and handle their consequences. By recognising mass crimes and prosecuting those responsible for them, post-war trials did indeed contribute to reinstating democratic principles and ideals of justice on the basis of which new social and national bonds could be forged.

 

Chapter Eight: When the “Comfort Women” Speak—Shareability and Recognition of Traumatic Memory

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Introduction

Survivors of collective violence often need to traverse a long journey before their voices can be heard. The former “comfort women”—as the sex slaves of the Japanese Imperial Army during the Second Sino-Japanese War and World War II were known—did not reveal their stories until half a century later. The latency between the event and its recognition reflects the extreme difficulties for survivors to narrate the horrible real, and for listeners to receive those narratives. In this chapter, I will discuss the psychosocial conditions in which the comfort women's narratives are formulated, as well as their interactions with other traumatic narratives also searching for justice.

For many Asian observers, the “comfort system” is an emblematic case of war crimes committed by the Japanese Imperial Army that have not been properly faced. The unsolved legacy of the war continues to afflict the victims and creates geopolitical tensions in East Asia. Although historians have been debating the total number of comfort women, most agree on the estimate of 200,000. The majority were young Korean and Chinese women and girls. But there were also Japanese, Indonesian, Filipino, Dutch, and Taiwanese women, either transported as “military supplies” to the war zones, or forcibly drafted on the spot (Yoshimi, 2000). The Taiwanese comfort women are commonly known as “Ah-ma”, or grandmas, a term of affection used by most of their Asian proponents based on the survivors’ advanced age. (Indeed, this quasi-kinship designation exists in every Asian country where feminist activists work for the recognition of comfort women.) In this chapter, I will focus on the traumatic narratives of the Ah-ma, the conditions for their emergence, and the social impact of their public sharing.

 

Chapter Nine: A Relational Approach to Trauma, Memory, Mourning, and Recognition through Death and the Maiden by Ariel Dorfman

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Introduction

I intend to discuss in this chapter shared trauma and loss in the context of the devastating effects of political violence and terror, more precisely in relation to the Chilean dictatorship that followed the overthrow of the Allende government in 1973 and came to an end in 1990. I will do this by reflecting from a play, Death and the Maiden, by the Argentinean-born playwright Ariel Dorfman. The play will offer an opportunity to explore key aspects of trauma resulting from exposure to political violence. In this instance, this will be done from the singular perspective of the fictional characters themselves. It is my intention to explore the play from within (as opposed to approaching it from the motivations of the author or the spectator/critic) and to extract from it themes that can deepen our understanding of processes contributing to a traumatic reaction and possible ways of coming to terms with it. This also encompasses questions about the relationship between the arts and the world and how one is constantly the mirror of the other, throwing light and revealing hidden or disavowed truth that could not be tolerated in any other way.

 

Chapter Ten: Victory and Defeat—From Beveridge to Thatcher without Tears

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The 1979 general election that brought Margaret Thatcher's government to power, with policies of individualisation and privatisation, came just thirty-four years after the 1945 landslide Labour victory that had ushered in the Welfare State and the National Health Service. How can a society change so much across just one generation?

Unlike the 1979 electorate, the 1945 electorate, who voted overwhelmingly Labour immediately after the 1939–1945 war, would have included many people born before the Great War of 1914–1918. This exploration focuses on the impact of these two world wars, and draws upon attachment research to argue that a terrible mismatch between private loss and public mourning shaped a generation, leading to reduced social concern.

Britain was hugely involved from beginning to end in both world wars. In each war, in spite of terrible losses, Great Britain was on the side that won, was never invaded, never occupied. In wartime Britain, British people did not become refugees. The 1914–1918 war was fought over there in mainland Europe, with uniformed combatants taking trains from Victoria Station to the coast and the boat to France, followed by a regular supply of letters and parcels delivered to the front by the Royal Mail (Fussell, 1975). During the 1939–1945 war, although invasion was felt to be imminent, it never happened. British cities were massively bombed, destroying hundreds of thousands of homes as well as factories and docks. Sometimes mortuaries overflowed but there were no mass graves. Municipal and voluntary organisations processed people's applications for practical help following the loss of everything through bombing. Individuals and families were re-housed and received clothing and other necessities, along with cash to tide them over. Food rationing was sometimes sparse but there was always just about enough. BBC radio never went off air, broadcasting regular programmes, concerts of music, and comedy shows, as well as news bulletins and occasional steadfast speeches by Mr. Churchill or King George VI. The maintenance of civilian morale on the “home front” was considered vital.

 

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