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The Language of Recovery

Toward a Philosophy of Traumatic Reconstruction

Jordan S. Yentzer
A Thesis
submitted in partial fulfillment
of the requirements for the degree of
University ID: N13717991
New York City
May, 2014
Table of Contents
Trauma and Reconstruction
Chapter 1:
Grammars of the Unsayable
On Secrecy and History
Chapter 2:
Retrospective Futures
On Nietzsche and Trauma
Chapter 3:
The Responsibility of the Parrot
On Response and Failure
Conclusion 51
References 55
In clinical theory, the recovery from traumatic events is for many psychologists (namely Judith
Herman, Bessel van der Kolk) dependent upon the victims capability to reconstruct the narrative of the
traumatic experience. A traumatic experience is defined as that which breaks from a linear historical
understanding. As such, the reconstruction of such an experience allows the victim to reconcile with a lost or
dissociated part of their history. This thesis will examine the concept of narrative reconstruction through a
consideration of historiographythe writing of history that seeks to reconstruct a narrative of what has
passed. Trauma, lost history, or what Cathy Caruth calls unclaimed experience, lies in our past as a silent,
unspeakable secret. In considering the secrecy of traumatic experiences, this work will argue that a
reconstructed narrative will not suffice entirely in uncovering and recapitulating a history obscured by
Bringing together the work of Jacques Derrida, Emmanuel Lvinas, Walter Benjamin, and Vilm
Flusser, the work begins by approaching the notion of secrets, and examining how they are rendered by way
of historical losses. Secrets give rise to an understanding that our writing of history is only successful insofar
as it is able to reconstruct that which is not kept secret, and as such is only ever an incomplete attempt.
Comparing the works of Judith Herman and Friedrich Nietzsche, it will then develop an understanding of
how we historically reconcile two fundamentally different secretsdissociated or repressed memory as
caused by a traumatic event in Herman, and the concept of the prehistoric in Nietzsche. Next, this thesis
considers the problematics at hand when we respond to traumatic ruptures of others, arguing that the
reconstruction of a traumatic narrative only ever approaches recovery when performed by the victim proper,
and that a reconstruction attempted by a third-party solely parrots the traumatic eventfailing to develop any
understanding of what transpired, and leaving the victim in silent obscurity. Any attempt to (re)construct a
narrative, it will be argued, demonstrates a drive to recover from a traumatic economy of loss that constitutes
our historical cognition, and furthermore that such an interminable attempt at recovery is precisely the
condition underlying the continuation of our experience.
I would like to give thanks
to the love and support of my parents,
who drove me to read and think critically;
to Dr. Christopher Wise, who challenged
me to think the unthinkable;
to Steven Novotny Jr.,
who laughs in face of philosophy
(I assume out of a great appreciation);
to my friends and colleagues at NYU
for inspiring me to keep thinking;
and to Gordon Taylor.
This thesis is dedicated to the victims and witnesses
of violence worldwide; to each and every voice
silent or uproarioushoping to end such violence;
and to the families, communities, and loved ones
who aim to help and support these victims.
Trauma and Reconstruction
History is a story that never ends. As a recapitulation of the key developments of our world, of
humanity and politics, of biological and social evolution, of science and art, of life and death, the story of
history stands strong. This story is always growing. It cannot end so long as linear time marches onward
toward a theoretically interminable future that will present only further developments to be written into our
concept of history. History is, in this futural sense, unbounded. In our attempts to write and document
history, we have produced and continue to construct vast libraries and databases comprised of texts that work
to narrativize, contextualize, hypothesize and criticize the unfathomably great number of events in our
worlds past. As events continue to transpire, the documentation of history historiographycontinues to no
end, and without any teleological impetus. Historiography is not a project, as it holds no projected goal. On
the contrary, it functions more so as a conservational constructivist behaviora compulsion to give a narrative
structure to all that comes to pass such that we can revisit at any time without the threat of forgetting.
Constructing past history in this way, however, is flawed insofar as is only representative of the true past:
historiography is merely a reconstruction.
The narrative reconstruction of the past does not finish, as the past never ceases to expand. It follows
that in historiography, there will always remain something unaccounted for, something yet to be written,
which in turn allows historiography to develop interminably. This development, however, falters when faced
with the possibility of a past that is irrecoverable, secret, or forgotten. Such a difficulty arose in the aftermath
of the Vietnam War, when psychiatrists were introduced to an influx of veterans suffering from cognitive and
emotional disorders seeming to stem from indiscernible events witnessed or experienced while serving. For
some psychiatrists, the horrific experiences of war were not at first seen as reasonable cause for the vastly
varying symptoms exhibited by the returning soldiers: it was assumed that the reason for demonstrating such
symptoms was merely a ploy enacted by many soldiers in order to evade further military service. Others
retained theories left over from the Great War: these veterans had succumbed to shell-shock, as a result of
lacking resilience.
Without a discernable etiology for the symptoms exhibited by these traumatized veterans,
a debate stirred within the psychiatric community, giving rise to what Ruth Leys deemed, an essentially
political struggle by psychiatrists, social workers, activists and others to acknowledge the post-war sufferings
of the Vietnam War veteran.
This struggle in turn led to the first acknowledgment of the traumatic syndrome
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSDin the third edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of
Mental Disorders in 1980 (TG 5).
The implications of traumatic experiences and disorders in the contexts of history and our
relationship to the past have been examined in great depth throughout the past several decades in the works
of physicians, historians, and theorists alike. In recent years, physicians Bessel van der Kolk, Onno van der
Hart, and Judith Herman have conducted extensive research on traumatic stress, and the possibility of
recovery, all citing French psychologist Pierre Janet as having been the seminal theorist of traumatic memory
for having [developed] a fully formulated mnemotechnology for the treatment of the trauma victim,
including the victim of combat or PTSD (TG 105). Janets work remains pertinent in the field of trauma
studies to this day, as his work was the first to distinguish between two types of memory, normal and
traumatic, both of which must be considered when dealing with narrative reconstructions of the past. Normal
memory, as cited by Herman, Van der Kolk, and Leys, is the action of telling a story (661).
distinguishes this form of memory in Janets work from that of the traumatic:
Traumatic memory, by contrast, is wordless and static. The survivors initial account of the event may
be repetitious, stereotyped, and emotionless. One observer describes the trauma story in its
untransformed state as a prenarrative. It does not develop or progress in time, and it does not
A., Van Der Kolk Bessel, Lars Weisaeth, and Onno Van Der Hart. "History of Trauma in Psychiatry." Traumatic Stress: The Effects of
Overwhelming Experience on Mind, Body, and Society. New York: Guilford, 1996. 47-9. Hereafter abbreviated TS.
Leys, Ruth. Trauma: A Genealogy. Chicago: U of Chicago, 2000. Hereafter abbreviated TG.
Janet, Pierre. Psychological Healing; a Historical and Clinical Study. London: G. Allen & Unwin; New York, The Macmillan, 1925.
Hereafter abbreviated PH.
reveal the storytellers feelings or interpretation of events. Another therapist describes traumatic
memory as a series of still snapshots or a silent movie; the role of therapy is to provide the music and
words. (TR 175)
Traumatic memory is, for Janet, not necessarily repressed
but rather most often dissociated from a subjects
sense of self. Janet asserts that an overwhelming, traumatic experience cannot be assimilated into normal
memory, or into a narrative that the subject understands as his or her own historyit is removed.
Herman and Janet will both assert that the verbal reconstruction of a trauma is a fundamental step
toward recovery. Janets work, however, fails to explicate precisely how this is to be accomplished on the
patients behalf. Regarding his work with Irne, a young woman who had dissociated the death of her mother
to the extent that she became amnesic, believing that her mother was still alive, Janet writes:
Irnes case is of special interest because her absurd behavior was so out of place in the
circumstances, and because of the lacunae in her interior assimilation which found expression in her
amnesia. After much labour i was able to make her reconstruct the verbal memory of her mothers
death. From the moment I succeeded in doing this, she could talk about the mothers death without
succumbing to crises or being afflicted with hallucinations; the assimilated happening had ceased to
be traumatic (PH 681, my emphases)
In their work examining Janets methodology, Leys points out, van der Hart and van der Kolk cite this same
passage, excluding the following:
Irne, under the influence of the work which I made her do, threw off her depression, stimulated
herself, and became capable of bringing about the necessary liquidation Irne was cured because
she succeeded in performing a number of actions of acceptation, of resignation, of rememorisation,
of setting her memories in order, and so on; in a word, she was able to complete the assimilation of
the event. (PH 681, my emphases)
Leys criticism of Janet hangs on the suddenly apparent supplementation of liquidation for assimilation.
Assimilation, according to Leys, appears analogous to the recovery movements notion of integration based
on the recovery and narration of memory, whereas liquidation sound[s] suspiciously like...forgetting (TG
116). On the one hand, Janets work suggests that a patient is cured by way of a narrative reconstruction of
No doubt the accesses of terror, and the lapses of memory, may make us think of repression. But such an explanation is purely
theoretical, and I cannot accept it. I could never discover, not even after Irne had been cured and after her memory had been fully
restored, andy evidence that there had been an effort at repression. Had I wished to believe it existed, I should have had to create it
fictitiously. (PH 660-1)
the traumatic event experienced by the self, but on the other hand it appears that such remembrance may be
simply the construction of a fictional narrative to replace that which was forgotten through either traumatic
dissociation or therapeutic liquidation. Rather than discounting Janet entirely, however, Leys posits that the
latter reading may suggest that the construction of a coherent narrative of [ones life], is important, not so
much in its adequation to personal experience as in its bearing on present and future actions If narration
cures, it does so not because it infallibly gives the patient access to a primordially personal truth but because
it makes possible a form of self-understanding even in the absence of empirical verification (TG 117-9).
Leys interpretation of Janet is paramount in thinking toward an understanding of our relation to the
past and to history. In the psychiatric works of Herman, van der Kolk, and van der Hart, a heavy reliance is
placed upon the subjects reconstruction of the traumatic event, which creates for them an understanding of
the past, and thereafter allows for (re)integration into society. However, as we see in Janet and Leys, it is
impossible to discern with any certainty whether or not such a reconstruction is representative of any
historical truth because traumatic memory and any reconstruction thereof does not situate itself within an
empirical setting: that memory may be dissociated, or forgotten, precludes its empiricism. Memorys lack of
certainty thus presents a problematic concerning the means by which we record the past, as such records are
in the first place contingent upon memory, recollection, and remembrance, as quite obviously no history can
be recorded without first having occurred.
If there is a reason to distinguish the difference between history and its documentation
historiographyit is precisely in order to pinpoint the moment at which our capacity to commune with the
past, or with any historical truth, fails. Our understanding of the past depends upon a narrativized
historiography, which provides a sequential structure from which we can establish dichotomous relationships
of cause and effect. These relationships provide us with informational knowledge upon which an integrated
human society relies. This knowledge, however, mistakenly attempts to replace or represent an unknowable
secret. What arises from trauma studies is a question of a constructed narratives loyalty to truth; to a truth
which is both primordial and prenarrative. As trauma theorist Cathy Caruth argues:
The historical power of the trauma is 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.
True history, which is a history of trauma for Caruth, is always past and thus always inaccessible. Therefore,
any historiographical narrative is only ever an attempt to represent through language a wholly other history: a
secret prenarrative history that resides entirely outside of language.
Historiography and trauma recovery are identical behaviors: both work to construct the narrative of
an inaccessible, lost history so as to provide a cohesive, integrated sense of how events came to pass. This
very integration is necessary for productive and progressive societal interaction and progress, but
simultaneously shrouds us in an illusory comprehension of the past that is only ever representational of
truth. Before the entrance of this representation, before language, before narrative, lies a secret prehistory
that is forgotten. The work that follows in this thesis will demonstrate that language, and all that we consider
knowledge upheld by language
(therein all historiography), came into being as a means to reconcile and
account for an originary traumaa primal loss without which reconstruction or representation would hold no
In order to support this claim, the following work is separated into three chapters. In the first
chapter, we will approach and unpack the notion of secrets, and how they are rendered by way of historical
losses. Secrets, we will see, give rise to an understanding that our writing of history is only successful insofar
as it is able to reconstruct that which is not kept secret, and as such is only ever an incomplete attempt. In the
second chapter, we will examine two texts, one of Judith Herman and of Friedrich Nietzsche, in order to
Caruth, Cathy. Unclaimed Experience: Trauma, Narrative, and History. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP, 1996.
We might here consider !"#$%, as truth, logic, and word.
develop an understanding of how we historically reconcile with two fundamentally different secretsone
being dissociated or repressed memory as caused by a traumatic event (Herman), and the other being the
concept of the prehistoric (Nietzsche), which always already lies in secret before and outside any historical
understanding or historiographical writing. In the third chapter, we will consider the problematics at hand
when we are compelled to respond to the traumatic ruptures of others. In this chapter, it will be argued that
the reconstruction of a traumatic narrative only ever approaches recovery when performed by the victim
proper, and that a reconstruction attempted by a third-party solely parrots the traumatic event, thus failing to
develop any understanding of what transpired, while simultaneously leaving the victim in silent obscurity.
With the support of these chapters, we will determine that any attempt to (re)construct a narrative
demonstrates a drive to recover from a traumatic economy of loss that constitutes our historical cognition,
and furthermore that such an interminable attempt at recovery is precisely the condition underlying the
continuation of our experience.
Chapter 1
Grammars of the Unsayable:
On Secrecy and History
1. Regarding the Secret
Consider a secret that is no longer secure. A secretas that which is unobserved, unspoken, unheard-ofby
nature of these definitions must also possess the properties of unobservability, unspeakability, and
inaudibility. By this logic, it follows that any mention of a secret, even if we do not know what the secret is,
is stripped of a certain sense of secrecy, which is the very security of the secret. In other words, to write or
state that there is a secret would be thusly to denote, or at least affirm a the very being of an unknown.
Submitted as such to a structure of being, the secret at hand cannot be entirely a secret at all. Rather, the
secret that is is an entity that maintains a structure something like an unknown that we know something
about (that it is), which presents a paradox necessary to our understanding of how a secret does or does not
function: a secret cannot be, as the affirmation of a secrets being negates its every property.
An insecure secret is without presence, without the capability of affirmation, but nevertheless remains
here, and in concept, as a written word signifying something that it is not. However, if we are to believe that
secret, as a word, is a signifier of anything at allof an unspeakable, inaudible, unknowable, etc.then we
have entered already into a belief system that allows for something inaccessible and unaffirmable. It is
imperative, however, that we do not mix up unaffirmable with incorrect, but rather re-consider its opposite:
deniable. Jacques Derrida explores the dangers of these sorts of apophases, anti-beliefs, or [preferences] to
negate, through an examination of an analogy that he calls, simply, X.
X, Derrida explains,
Derrida, Jacques. "How to Avoid Speaking: Denials." Languages of the Unsayable: The Play of Negativity in Literature and
Literary Theory. By Sanford Budick and Wolfgang Iser. New York: Columbia UP, 1989. Abbreviated here as HAS
is neither this nor that, neither sensible nor intelligible, neither positive nor negative, neither inside
nor outside, neither superior nor inferior, neither active nor passive, neither present nor absent, not
even neutral, not even subject to a dialectic with a third moment, without any possible sublation.
Despite appearances, then, this X is neither a concept nor even a name; it does not lend itself to a
series of names, but calls for another syntax, and exceeds even the order and the structure of
predicative discourse. It is not and does not say what is. It is written completely otherwise. (HAS 4,
original emphasis)
X, according to Derrida, does not function as a simulation, parody, or mechanical repetition of another text or
X is, to paraphrase, already an unrepresentable or unsignifiable trace, which simultaneously does not
yet present or signify any other. For this reason, it becomes very difficult to think X without errantly
subscribing to automatic, ritualistic, [or] doxic considerations that X may, eventually, begin to signify, come
to light, or show itselfa thinking or speaking that X is neither this nor that, neither the contrary of this nor
of that, neither the simple neutralization of this nor of that with which it has nothing in common, being
absolutely heterogeneous to or incommensurable with them...

The Secret must not and cannot be, nor can it signify, point us elsewhere, represent.
Like X, the
Secret exceeds...predicative discourse. The Secret holds and is held by no relation to the grammatical
structures that have me permitted me to construct these sentences, and is as such beyond language:
unsayable. So how to approach the Secret? Citing Wittgensteins statement in the Tractatus, 7.Concerning
that about which one cannot speak, one must remain silent, Derrida opens up on necessity:
The nature of this one must (il faut) is significant here: it inscribes the injunction to silence into
the order or the promise of a one must speak, one mustnot avoid speaking; or rather, it is
necessary (il faut) that there be a trace. No, it is necessary that there have been a trace, a sentence
that one must simultaneously turn toward a part and toward a future that are as yet unpresentable. It
is (now) necessary that there have been a trace (in an unremembered past; because of this amnesia,
the necessity of the trace is necessary). But also, it is necessary (from now on, it will be necessary;
ibid. 4-5. Further difficulties concerning mechanical repetition and parody will be examined later on in this work.
ibid. 5-6 Derridas emphasis
The Secret presents itself, to quote Levinas, as otherwise than being. Later we will see how Levinas work on exteriority and
interiority pertain to secrecy, namely how the Secret is wholly exterior such that it transcends any notion of being. Hereafter the
Secret will denote (if possible) this non-representative concept, and must stand apart from what I will call a secret, which we will
see ex-ists as apart from, and as property of a subject.
the it is necessary always also points toward the future) that in the future there will have been a
trace. (HAS 12)
Has such an inscription not already occurred here? Has the Secret not already been brought into the order or
the promise, that it necessitates its own trace? And how does this promissive trace function?
This language of necessity requires, as Derrida has argued here and elsewhere
, an a priori
affirmation of any part or party involved. This is to say, in accordance with the unsayable (keeping quiet), if
any promise has been made to keep something secret, if something must not be divulged, if any such sort of a
contractual structure has been erected in order to maintain the silence of a secret, the secret must be and
must have been always already divulged, exposed, or spoken (at least between two vowing parties, the
second of which may be the secret itself ) so as to perform as the object of the promise in an S-V-O grammar
structure that I must now propose:
Subject Vow of silence Object
(eg. I promise to withhold [secret])
For any such vow to take place, the Object/secret must be affirmed already by the Subject, as the Subject acts
always in response to the Object/secret.
In other words, the s/Secret must arrive before (in every sense) the
Subject: the s/Secret predates and stands before the Subject.
See Ulysses Gramophone: Hear Say Yes in Joyce. Derrida, Jacques, and Derek Attridge. Acts of Literature. New York: Routledge,
1992. Abbreviated here as UG
Yes indicates that there is address to the other. This address is not necessarily a dialogue or an interlocution, since it assumes
neither voice nor symmetry, but the haste, in advance, of a response that is already asking. For if there is some other, if there is
some yes, then the other no longer lets itself be produced by the same or by the ego. Yes, the condition of any signature and of any
performative, addresses itself to some other which it does not constitute, and it can only begin by asking the other, in response to a
request that has always already been made, to ask it to say yes. (UG, 299)
The Secret maintains a resistance to predicative grammar here, if we are to consider proper grammar stricto sensu. This is to say,
in this structure that already demands being taken apart, the grammar cannot function as a simple subject-predicate. The predicate
does not come after the subject here, but retains a certain property that, philologically speaking, is inherent within the pre-dicate: it
must be stated before the subject. With respect to this philology, and to the Secret, a more proper grammar might construct a
sentence impassively as predicate-subject. Further, perhaps this S-V-O structure should be read from right to left.
2. The secret of the other
There may be a secret kept only by myself. Contrarily, a secret may be withheld by any Subject other

than myself. We must understand other than myself as specifically other than the Subject I call my-self, a
Subject that is mine. The self-Subject kept by me, which Heidegger deemed Dasein, is present to me and
thrown beneath (sub-jected) to my own-ness. A subject other than myself is other such that it is or has been
known to me by way of its phenomenological presence, if even presence by hearsay or trace. This other
Subject cannot divulge said secret without threatening the integral security of the Secret. As such, the secret of
the other, a secret that would perhaps otherwise rend the Other from its absolute alterity, can only be
mentioned (if not revealed) at the cost of either:
1. The loss of the other Subject as wholly Other: such that a vow is made, or a contract is
drafted between myself and the other that allows for the sharing (as opposed to divulgence) and
maintenance, economy, keeping of a secret, which in turn would render the other Subject partner or
2. The betrayal of a secret: such that the other Subject divulges the secret in any manner that
performatively renders him/her a traitor of a secret with which he had there previously maintained a
covenant of silence.

The costs of the other Subjects divulgence are, with respect to the grammatical structure suggested above, in
the first case an emendation of the Subject-Verb clause by way of an amendment to the sentences
(eg. I vow becomes We vow), and in the second case a sort of breach of contract, each of which
I must differentiate, for the purposes of this work, what I here call the other Subject from the Other in Levinas. The other Subject
is not necessarily wholly Other, or transcendent of being, as the Other is maintained in Totality and Infinity or Otherwise Than
Being. The other Subject serves here as the vessel of the unknowable Secret, which opposes the secret of the Self, or a secret kept
by the self. The other Subject can come into play, can converse face-to-face with the self, and may hold or withhold the potential to
form with the self a covenant of secret-keeping, establishing a certain relationship that only works to familiarize the other Subject.
Flusser, Vilm, and Andreas Strhl. "Betrayal." Writings. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota, 2002. 58.
It should be noted that any amendment to con-jugation will function as a sort of renewal or alteration/correction of vows, as
conjugation stems from the Latin conjugare which can be defined as to join together, or to marry.
may yield any number of consequences. Through either of these legal maneuvers, I affirm that the other
Subject was keeping a secret; if these procedures do not occur it would be impossible (if not at first unethical
due to its unfounded prescriptivity) to justly assume that the other Subject keeps a secret. It may be the case
in certain settings that such an assumption need be madewe will return to this.
3. The secret of the self
I may keep a secret. I may keep something from the Other, keep something withheld so as to refrain
from the others recognition of it. I, like the other Subject, may choose to divulge a secret in order to bring an
other in as co-keeper, or to enter it into a public discourse. In the work of Emmanuel Levinas, however, the I
is separated from the self in a way not...reciprocal of the transcendence [or Secrecy, beyond-being] of the
other, and thusly maintains a different relationship with a secret kept by the self.
Levinas continues:
[The separation of the I] imposes itself upon meditation in the name of a concrete moral experience:
what I permit myself to demand of myself is not comparable with what I have the right to demand of
the Other. This moral experience, so commonplace, indicates a metaphysical asymmetry: the radical
impossibility of seeing oneself from the outside and of speaking in the same sense of oneself and of
the others, and consequently the impossibility of totalizationand, on the plane of social experience,
the impossibility of forgetting the intersubjective experience that leads to that social experience and
endows it with meaning (as, to believe the phenomenologists, perception, impossible to conjure
away, endows scientific experience with meaning). (TIEE, 53)
The Other in Levinas is always transcendent and infinite, meaning that in a metaphysical system, which
presupposes a Heideggerean ontology wherein the relationship of being and non-being designate a totality of
sameness, the Other always remains an alterity, always beyond, exterior, and thus inaccessible to metaphysics
(36-42). The limits of a phenomeno-ontological totality are portrayed as an egoism: that which is and is not
subject and party to myself, to the I that belongs to myself, to my perception. Within this egoism the world in
which I inhabit is mine, granting me spontaneity and freedom. However the absolute Other, Levinas
proposes, remains strange and [irreducible] to the I, to my thoughts and my possessions, and thus calls into
Lvinas, Emmanuel. Totality and Infinity: An Essay on Exteriority. Pittsburgh: Duquesne UP, 1994. 53 Abbreviated here as TIEE
question the same, or more specifically, the freedom and potential spontaneity of the same. For Levinas, this
calling into question is deemed ethics: Metaphysics, transcendence, the welcoming of the other by the same,
of the Other by me, is concretely produced as the calling into question of the same by the other, that is, as the
ethics that accomplishes the critical essence of knowledge. (43)
The separation of the I is a separation within my possession. This separation is, for Levinas, one
pertaining to what he calls interiority. The interior functions as a relationship with the self, the I to the self,
and as such is a relationship of belonging, or more specifically, belonging to the self. Interiority is my own
subjectivity, within which my own secrets are kept. My secret, my belonging, my interiority is made possible
by a psychism; a psychic life of which memory is a constituent. Memory provides methat is, the interior, or
the Iwith the capacity to retain a secret, and thus to keep the promise required already for such retaining (as
we will see in Nietzsche). Simultaneously, it is memory that functions as a perceptive technology that pieces
past events together in a fashion entirely unlike the sequential cause-and-effect totality of historical time, (in
which every entity possesses an origin and ending point, always in the past) insofar as memory brings back,
or more specifically, brings the past to the present for me: Memory as an inversion of historical time is the
essence of interiority (56).
My secret, constituent of the psychic interiority which is its receptacle, resides in a realm removed
from history, which is itself already shrouded in a secrecy that interrupts the continuity of historical time.
(58) My secret remains secret by way of its location, as the interior self that possesses my secret is always
unwitnessed by the other, not accounted for by history or historiography, and in fact it breaks with the
linearity of history as it cannot situate itself between an originary and a terminal point. It is, in this way, kept
within an already secretive space. The secret kept by myself is one that is approached and re-membered by
memory. The secrecy of the self serves as a shroud in that it protects my secret by obscuring it from an other.
The divulgence of my secret would require the narrativization of a memory: the movement of my secret to an
exterior reconstructs the memorythe relation of the vow to the Objectin a linear fashion, a dictation that
places the origin of the secret at the vow
, and the end of the secret at the moment of its divulgence or
A knowledge of the Secret is impossible, as it is heterogeneous to and incommensurable with
knowledge in all ways. However, by unpacking the economics and behaviors of commodified secretshow
they work and play, how we keep them or betray them, and how they can be accessedwe are able to work
toward that which these commodities strive (and ultimately fail) to represent, that is, the Secret; toward that
which is and is not (ex-ists) always already behind us, in a manner that sheds light on our relationship to loss
or passing, as any notion or idea of futurity must be constituted already by recognized historical patterns of
past experience. We have seen already how a secret can reside in the interior self through memory, terminate
within the exterior public as a historical event, or obscure itself within an other in such a way that its very
being becomes a subject for indefinite speculation. What must follow is a deeper analysis of how s/Secrets are
related to or removed from concepts affiliated with temporality, namely how they break from memory or fail
to be recognized by historiography, in order to demonstrate that a secrecy established by loss is, in the first
place, that which gives way to the possibility of sequential, narrativized history. In his essay, On the Concept of
History, Walter Benjamin famously paints a picture of the Angel of History:
There is a painting by Klee called Angelus Novus. An angel is depicted there who looks as though he
were about to distance himself from something which he is staring at. His eyes are opened wide, his
mouth stands open and his wings are outstretched. The Angel of History must look just so. His face is
turned towards the past. Where we see the appearance of a chain of events, he sees one single
catastrophe, which unceasingly piles rubble on top of rubble and hurls it before his feet. He would
like to pause for a moment so fair...to awaken the dead and to piece together what has been
The origin of the secret is at the vow, if the history of a secret is to be narrativized. It could be argued that this action (the vow to
keep a secret) is precisely that which familiarizes the self with the information that is to be kept secret. In this logic, it could thusly
be stated that this familiarization, or coming into a relationship, with the secret destroys its secrecy, and as such serves more so as a
narrative end. This argument can however only pertain to an interior relationship to a secret. I will uphold that in a movement from
the interior to the exterior, or divulgence, the origin or beginning of the secret must be at the vow, as divulgence rids a secret of its
secrecy (an end), and the vow establishes or re-establishes secrecy.
smashed. But a storm is blowing from Paradise, it has caught itself up in his wings and is so strong
that the Angel can no longer close them. The storm drives him irresistibly into the future, to which
his back is turned, while the rubble-heap before him grows sky-high. That which we call progress, is
this storm.
Benjamin presents a dichotomy that divides the we and the Angel of History, which works to outline two ways
in which history can be understood.
The first version of history is the informational chain of events, akin to the cause-and-effect totality of
historical time. This first form takes shape in and is presented by logic and language, technologies of
understanding which themselves are reliant upon the structure of the chain, linking elements together to
form a relational progression that expresses something.
History in this logical formation is documented by
language, written down, and we experience it in the form of historiography. Historiography is thusly a tool
which allows for a recapitulation of past events as historical information. In the work of Vilm Flusser,
information is regarded as that which is produced when something (an object) is informed, or [torn] from
the natural world in order to bring [it] to the place...where the human being is.
Information is produced
when an apparatus or tool is utilized to imprint a new, intentional form onto [an object. Tools] inform
them: The object acquires an unnatural, improbable form; it becomes cultural. (23) Though Flusser is here
focusing upon the function of cameras in producing information, we can reapply this definition of
information in order to consider the way in which histriography (as a tool) informs, or produces an
informational understanding of a history that aims toward an eternal remembrance and reconciliation with all
that has happened before us in timea time that lies on a sequential line, progresses, becomes. Elsewhere in
Flusser, this sequential sense of history is divided once more:
Benjamin, Walter. On the Concept of History. Translation by Dennis Redmond. http://www.marxists.org/reference/archive/
benjamin/1940/history.htm accessed on March 31, 2014. Also referred to as Theses on the Philosophy of History. Originally titled
ber den Begriff der Geschichte.
We may be reminded of Lacans depiction of language as a signifying chain.
Flusser, Vilm. Towards the Philosophy of Photography. London: Reaktion, 1983.
It is unfair to expect a clear definition of the concept of history from historians and posthistorians.
The explanation for this is the double meaning of the concept and the difficulty involved in
disentangling these two meanings. In the first sense, the word means a process, a course of events. In
the second sense, it means a narrative[f ]or a process to be recognized, it must be narrated. And,
for a narrative to be a narrative, something must happen. Every attempt to separate history in the first
sense definitively from history in the second sense, which is to say, history from historiography,
history from story, necessarily creates more confusion instead of eliminating confusion altogether.
The dichotomy presented by Flusser, between process and narrative, works to further break down what we
have established here as our first version of history. The process here occurs throughout and across all
sequential history, whereas the narrative clips and recapitulates sections of this great, transhistorical process.
Flussers argument thusly dictates that history is at first an unrecognized process that makes its way into
human recognition by way of narration, and said narration is made recognizable by way of its information in
the action of historiography.
The second version of history presented by Benjamin is entirely incompatible with that presented by
Flusser. Whereas both are addressing history as a concept to which we retain a strong relationship, Benjamins
depiction of history, that of the Angel, makes no allowance for an information of history. As a single,
distastrous catastrophe, history for Benjamin is in no way a chain of events, but rather purports itself as an
incessantly expanding mysticism. Driving blindly (back turned) toward the future, the Angel witnesses an
ever-growing pile of detritusthe growth of the past as an interminable accumulation of losses rendered out
of grasp by an ineluctable storm. However accumulation, as well as pile, is already too hasty as the word
suggests a gathering or grouping into a mass and thusly would establish relations between these losses, which
cannot occur in this version of history. The key detail of Benjamins thesis here hangs on the Angels inability
to awaken the dead and to piece together what has been smashed. There is no piecing together, as the storm
drives him into the future: there is no re-membering. In this version of history, all is eternally lost upon the
very event of its being-witnessed. Such losses cannot be brought back or recapitulated, and time in this sense
Flusser, Vilm, and Andreas Strhl. "On the End of History." Writings. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota, 2002. N. pag.
acts not as a line, but rather simply as the growth of that which is unattainable.
The cognitive relation to time is always a relation to and an economy of loss, which plays out in the
two-fold manner examined here. To any Subject, be it myself or an other, any entity may become lost as the
result of some rupture; some violation in the process of an entitys being such that its relation to the Subject
is ended by way of its sudden absence. Loss, as a historical event, therefore functions in accordance to the two
forms of history.
Loss in the first sense denotes a recognizable loss, such that the Subject is aware of the absence and is
able to remember it in place of its lack through either an interiorized memory, or by way of replacing it with a
narrativeor a historiography. Flussers distinctions that we have applied to our first sense of history help to
elucidate this process: In the transhistorical, or the process, an entity becomes lost and thereafter becomes
recognized in the remembering process of narrativization. Flussers distinction of history and story
(histriography) demonstrates how the story, or the narrative, serves as an informational reconstruction of a
grander process or chain of events. In this sense, a historical loss is sustained as only a partial loss, as the
Subject witness or victim to such loss retains the memory of the loss by way of his or her ability to narrativize
the loss through historiographical means. In this sense, the relation between a Subject and a loss is
recognized in a linguistic turn: language as a tool is utilized in order to make information, or reconstruct the
narrative of a loss.
Contrarily, a second sense of loss, pertaining to Benjamins mystical concept of history, denotes
something entirely differenta phenomenon that can hardly be discussed, as that which is lost in this sense is
stricken entirely from the record. Loss in this second sense, as pure loss
, demands that the entity lost leaves
no trace and cannot be in any way rememberedwe cannot even say an entity subjected to pure loss is lost,
for what entity are we talking about? It is an absolute loss, a death of every aspect of the lost, in a fashion akin
I have designated this sort of loss as pure due to the adjectives suggestion that there is no mixture at hand; that the loss is not
adulterated by remembrance or representation such that the lost Object remains wholly lost to to space, time, and memory.
to what is to come in the work of Blanchot.
This is to say, it is required of a pure loss that not only the entity
but also any trace or memory of the entity is lost along with it. Benjamins depiction demonstrates history
itself as this pure loss, occuring to no end: as we progress, or move into the future, a dissociated pile of
historical rubble grows higher and higher, but neither we, nor the Angel of History are capable of
reconstructing or piecing together this historical debris. Loss, as pertains to Benjamins history, is wholly
obscured and can never by any means be integrated into a structure of memory, much less language.
Here in the first sense of history we have opened up an understanding of how remembrance
functions in play with all of history, and in terms of a certain form of loss that allows us to reconstruct the
narrative of what has been lost, or what has been stricken from us through historiographical means. In the
second sense, we have opened and left open a question of pure historical loss, as an anti-phenomenon that
occurs across all history but can never be pinpointed. Whereas the first sense of loss allows for a publishable,
transferrable, or memorable remainder of the lost, the second sense is always already fleeting; the purely lost
is always unattainable and as such unspeakable in a way that, as we have already seen with the Secret, it may
only present itself as ex-isting outside of being, in an infinite transcendence upon which only Benjamins
Angel of History may bear witness.
There is another secret. Above, we have already established a sense of secret that is kept by way of a
vow between a Subject and an Object. This Object, building from Flussers work, is precisely whatever
information is to be kept secret, kept silent, kept unsayable. However, to arrest our efforts to unpack the
secret there would be to ignore another silencing mechanism that is and has been in play since the dawn of
Readers are directed to Harumi Osakis reading of Deleuze and Blanchot, in his essay Killing Oneself, Killing the Father:
Colombat interprets Deleuzes death in connection with Blanchots notion of the second death, which Deleuze himself had
previously appropriated. Blanchot distinguishes two kinds of death. While the rst death is the death which actually happens, dated
and situated within history, the second death is the pure formnot only of the rst death but also of the event in general, as the
sense of what happens. In its pure form, this second death never arrives. Yet, remaining unrealized, it expresses the power of life to
create something continuously new. (89)
historical timea mechanism which itself serves as a requisite of historical time in the first place: the
mechanism of loss. Loss silences in a way the vow does not. The vow to keep a secret hangs heavily upon the
importance of keeping, which is not at all the case in events of loss. Loss, on the contrary, silences by way of
removal. The Subject who encounters a loss does not vow to keep quiet about a loss (though s/he may) in
order to establish the secret that loss manifests, but rather falls victim to a rupture that causes a dissociation
between her/himself and that which is lost. This dissociation functions as a lack of recognizable relation
between the Subject and the lost Object. The relation that disappears, becomes unvoiced, however is not
necessarily lost; it simply becomes forgotten.
The dissociation of the Subject and Object by way of loss, or what one might hasten to call the
repression of this relation, is a traumatic response. The secret that arises from traumatic loss is namely that
which shrouds the Subjects relation to that loss, to that which is lost, and to the means (the how/why) by
which such a rupture came to pass. By forgetfulness (or even repression) thusly we intend to designate an
inability to rememberthat is, the secretization of the memory, the history, or the narrative of the lost Object,
but not one that allows the traumatized Subject to carry on as a player in the economy of the secret. The
victim of loss is not rewarded with the choice or opportunity to keep his/her secret. Rather, the secret
becomes something immemorable to the victim: it is not kept, possessed, controlled, maintained, or
integrated by the victim.
The traumatic secret does not pertain to the lost Object but to the Subject-Object relation itself,
which is to say the the absence of this relation. As we have already seen, loss may function in a whole or
partial manner. In order to work toward an understanding of these traumatic secrets, we must first determine
how these secrets are established in each sense.
In a pure or whole loss, the Object and any exterior or interior memory of it, any trace, is obliterated.
The Subject will by no means be able to recognize that this loss has occurred. The traumatic secret rendered
by a pure loss must thus lie beyond cognition, beyond all potentiality for signification. Pure loss, if it ever has
occurred, renders an Object entirely otherwise than being in the first place, and in all places. Furthermore, as
we have seen above with Derrida and X, an agreement or affirmation of such a pure loss as having occurred
would be thus to assign or write the loss, thus negating its purity. Only through denial of pure loss can its
secrecy even begin to present itself. As such, pure loss retains the same illogical properties as the Secretbut
this cannot be said outright, as both pure loss and the Secret resist any representation, be it by language or
otherwise. It follows, thusly, that for any Subject who has fallen victim to pure loss, the traumatic secret is
entirely forgotten. This does not, however, suggest in any way that such a traumatic secret does not ex-ist.
In a partial loss, the Subject loses the Object, and the potentiality for remembrance through a
narrative reconstruction is possible. In this rupture, the Subject-Object relationship is broken, dis-membered,
and becomes a Subject-Absence relationship. Re-membrance, which is a reconstruction of the broken Subject-
Object relationship through narrativization (and thusly through language), builds a bridge between the
Subject and the absented Object such that a new relationship takes the place of the broken. This new
relationship, however, represents in such a way that the primary Subject-Object relationship is cast into
secrecy. The victim of partial-loss remembers that which was lost in a manner that suffices to his/her own
memorialization, but this remembrance remains only ever as a signifier of a certain event of loss which
becomes further and further dissociated as time passes. Languages capacity to reconstruct a loss, in this way,
is limited only to the reconstruction of the event, and not to the lost entity.
These relations that become s/Secret by way of loss are forgotten in a specific manner. They are not
destroyed, eradicated, or rendered ineffectual. On the contrary, they are at work in their being-forgotten.
They retain their security as they remain unspoken. By this it should be understood that they maintain their
relative structures even beyond (re)cognitionthat the forgetting of a relation between a Subject and Object
does not yet determine whether such a relation will continue to have an effect on the traumatized victim of
loss, be it an individual or a greater body. What must still be examined are the ways in which these traumatic
losses come into play with historical consciousness, whether their secretive effects are discernible whatsoever,
and to what degree?
Chapter 2
Retrospective Futures:
On Nietzsche and Trauma
Our knowledge of the development and evolution of humanity remains still linked to and dependent
upon our understanding of history, which illuminates an epistemic bind to both the capabilities and
deficiencies inherent in any historical practice. In clearer terms, history points us to that which we have
recorded and that which we have not. The taking of records, the documentation that has taken place since
history began is simultaneously part of history and the limits of history. Surely we should not be so hasty as to
house our philosophical pursuits beneath the umbrella of conjecture, an umbrella that holds the very
structure of history. Conjecture is the very problem. Any declaration of knowledge founded upon historical
proof or evidence is already formed out of incomplete information. Not all knowledge is held within history,
and not all is remembered by history. On the contrary, there are many secrets in our historiographies that
may hold a great sway upon the writings that follow or spawn from them. These secrets will work to haunt
any and all of our pursuits for understanding or knowledge, manifesting certain psychological symptoms in
our social and individual psyches.
This chapter will aim to delve into a certain understanding of the development of man and his
relation to history and knowledge by composing a dialogue between two thinkers of our memory faculties, in
order to unpack how these faculties come to affect our consciousness. Historical knowledge and the linguistic
narration of our past (historiography) Bringing together self-professed psychologist Friedrich Nietzsches
second essay in The Genealogy of Morals, and clinical psychologist Judith Hermans theories in her work
Trauma and Recovery, we will approach a diagnosis of the effects of mans employment of history as the
means by which we attempt to understand our existence. To do this, we must first elaborate upon certain
terms, in order to clarify the definitional foundations from which we will work. We will then open up a
comparison between Nietzsches story of mans development out of prehistory and Hermans explanation of
the traumatic event. This will move the work to an analysis of the symptoms made manifest by each of these
concepts. Finally, we will focus upon the implications of these symptoms, their benefits and negative effects,
and how we are supposed to manage them, according to Nietzsche and Herman. This approach will finally
argue that in both theorists work, no cure for the effects of trauma is finally ascertained. Rather, both works
will demonstrate that the effects of trauma are everlasting, and that man must consistently reconcile with
history in order to ensure his survival and future in the wake of such experiences.
2. Terminolog y
There is a secret that predates history. It is the secret of our human origin or, more specifically, that
which catalyzed our historical cognition. To think before history demands a consideration of temporality
outside or at least before historical time. Pre-history is the first secret, which serves as the origin of
epistemology, as it is precisely that which we cannot and do not know. A presumption is made far too often
that because prehistory has already occurred (already a dangerous presumption), it is capable of examination.
Various schools of anthropology, for instance, have since their institution done great work to trace and unveil
sites and structures of human society that point us to a developing understanding of notions that had
theretofore belonged to the prehistorical realm. However, the research of lost time only pushes prehistory
further from us, as the discovery of anything that predates our current historical understanding only signifies
an even earlier prehistory
, thus obfuscating this secret further as we attempt to close in upon and define
what we do not know.
The production of new knowledge will happen, but as we have seen, there remains a push to
encounter and interact with the past that precedes and catalyzes this production. The very impossibility of
doing so, however, reveals what I will here call trauma. Trauma, from the Greek !"#$#, meaning wound,
A rather easy explication of this logic is expressed in a question like, What was there before the big bang? In simple terms, no
matter where we locate any origin temporally, there will always be a question of what preceded it.
does not function as simply as physical damage to the body or mind, but rather as an unhealed psychic injury
that lies repressed or dissociatednot within memory, out of any historiographical meanswhich holds the
potential to manifest certain psychological disorders or neuroses. For instance, in Freud, we have already seen
elaborated the notion of repetition compulsion in dreams, wherein a victim of trauma subconsciously drives
himself back to the event, despite having no memory of it in his waking life.
This drive back, Freud will
suggest, can take the form of many ailmentsfear, and anxiety among them. The structure of the traumatic
reaction, as such, is as follows: trauma occurs through violence and is simultaneously lost to memory by
means of repression and dissociation, leaving the victim unknowingly driven to fill the secretive gaps in his/
her memory by manifesting certain psychological disorders.
In the second essay of The Genealogy of Morals, Nietzsche locates Schuld, or debt/guilt, and Bad
Conscience as having been spawned by an enactment of certain psychological violence by the state (creditor)
upon the individual (debtor), as well as by several other violent ruptures that have fallen upon the individual
all the way back to what Nietzsche will call, to paraphrase, a potentially always reoccurring prehistory. The
manner in which Nietzsche explicates the onset of this Bad Conscience, mirrors the way in which Herman,
borrowing much from Freud, outlines the traumatic effects of violence upon the psyche (we will discuss these
effects thoroughly in part 4). Nietzsches work, I will argue, is a story of trauma, and and attempt to write a
historiography of the violent development of man, since prehistoric times, as necessarily a victim of
transferred and incessantly renewed trauma.
The study of dreams may be considered the most trustworthy method of investigating deep mental processes. Now dreams
occurring in traumatic neuroses have the characteristic of repeatedly bringing the patient back into the situation of his accident, a
situation from which he wakes up in another fright. This astonishes people far too little. They think the fact that the traumatic
experience is constantly forcing itself upon the patient even in his sleep is prof of the strength of that experience: the patient is, as
one might say, fixated to his trauma. Fixations to the experience which started the illness have long been familiar to us in hysteria.
Breuer and Freud declared in 1893 that hysterics suffered mainly from reminiscences. In the war neuroses, to, observers like
Ferentzi and Simmel have been able to explain certain motor symptoms by fixation to the moment at which the trauma occurred.
I am not aware, however, that patients suffering from traumatic neurosis are much occupied in their waking lives with
memories of their accident. Perhaps they are more concerned with not thinking of it. Anyone who accepts it as something self-
evident that their dreams should put them back at night into the situation that caused them to fall ill has misunderstood the nature
of dreams. (Beyond the Pleasure Principle, 13)
3. Unknown Origins
In the beginning of the second essay, Nietzsche enters into a discussion of how man became, in the
first place, calculable. We can understand this calculability as that which allows man a capability to make a
promise, or a vow:
Man himself must first of all have become calculable, regular, necessary, even in his own image of
himself, if he is to be able to stand security for his own future, which is what one who promises does!
The ability to stand security for [the] future, is itself the problematic that Nietzsche is facing in his essay. The
future is itself unknowable, as it lies always beyond our capacity to witness itit simply has not occurred. For
the promise to secure the future of man, thusly, is not to secure a knowledge of the future but rather to
secure a continuation of experience, or what we have seen with Benjamin in the previous chapter as an
interminable expansion of the past. Furthermore, Nietzsche declares the capacity to make a promise already
contingent upon another detail:
Now this animal which needs to be forgetful, in which forgetting represents a force, a form of robust
health, has bred in itself an opposing faculty, a memory, with the aid of which forgetfulness is
abrogated in certain casesnamely in those cases where promises are made. (58)
In this way, to make promises (and thus to secure future experience) one must possess a memory faculty in
order to oppose an already-existent forceforgetfulnessas no vow or promise can be upheld without a
memory that it was made. Nietzsche concerns himself here with an uncertain origin as his genealogy, one that
begins with forgetfulness, and as such, a little tabula rasa of the consciousness. (57-8) What this means is
that memory arrives at the scene of man in order to allow for calculation and promise, but the securitization
of the yet-unknown that is therein established is precisely that which allows our research of the lost and
forgotten pasta retrospection that is itself constitutive of the future.
This retrospective work that drives us forward by illuminating the forgotten, however, does not
appear in Nietzsches thought to be brought to the attentions and evolutions of man by means of benevolence
or benefit. Whatever the cause for memory was, it is for Nietzsche one that is oppressive, restrictive, and
The tremendous labor of that which I have called morality of moresthe labor performed by man
upon himself during the greater part of the existence of the human race, his entire prehistoric labor,
finds in this its meaning, its great justification, not-withstanding the severity, tyranny, stupidity, and
idiocy involved in it: with the aid of the morality of mores and the social straitjacket, man was actually
made calculable. (59)
This prehistoric work calls for close examination, as Nietzsche will suggest that it is the escape from this
straitjacket, as a proud awareness of the extraordinary privilege of responsibility (60), that has become for
the sovereign manthe man who is both freed from moral code, and possesses the capability to promise and
rememberhis very conscience: his consciousness of self as a dominant instinct. This is how he will come to
understand himself.
If we suspend our unpacking of Nietzsche here, and summarize (in far too few words) his work thus
far as having located the origin of the human conscience at the point of breaking from his unknown pre-
history, we can turn to Hermans text so as to notice certain psychological parallels pertaining to the subjects
dealings with secrets in his/her past. It is trauma, specifically, that Herman works to understand in a modern
clinical context. For Herman, the traumatic event differs from Nietzsches prehistorical past insofar as the
prehistoric defines for us an ultimate limit to mans retrospective capacity (we will return to this), whereas
the traumatic event does not restrict our capacity to look upon historical events that preceded it. Hermans
work, which opens with a chapter entitled A Forgotten History, delves into the notion of trauma as something
that is rather already resistant to history, something that happens in an unwritten and unspeakable zone. Her
work begins, akin to that of Nietzsche, critiquing the secrecy and forgetfulness that lies at the traumatic origin:
In order to escape accountability for his crimes, the perpetrator does everything in his power to
promote forgetting. Secrecy and silence are the perpetrators first line of defense. If secrecy fails, the
perpetrator attacks the credibility of his victim. If he cannot silence her absolutely he tries to make
sure that no one listens...After every atrocity one can expect to hear the same predictable apologies: it
never happened; the victim lies; the victim exaggerates; the victim brought it upon herself; and in any
case it is time to forget the past and move on. (8)
We must read this liberally. While Hermans invocation of an agentic perpetrator suggests an intentionality
behind traumatic violence, the aim of her text is rather to focus on the effects placed upon the victim, and his/
her recovery from these effects. As such, we can read perpetrator as not necessarily an agentic character, but
rather that which does violence to a victim
, thus placing him/her in a state of silence as the trauma is
dissociated or repressedwe will examine this more in depth in the next section. The difficulty for the victim
lies, as Herman explains, in his/her capability to adequately remember or reconstruct, as the psychic response
to trauma (dissociation or repression) causes his/her silence and denies the traumatic events entrance into
the vocalized public sphere. The victim is forced to keep the event a secret by way of forgetting. As such, the
traumatic event becomes unspeakable, an unwritten part of history, not unlike prehistory in Nietzsche. Both
notions remain secret, begin with and perpetuate forgetting, and require the faculty of memory in order to
move on, or break from. As in prehistory, where lies the morality of the mores, conscience or consciousness
of self is eradicated:
Traumatic events violate the autonomy of the person at the level of basic bodily integrity. The body is
invaded, injured, defiled. Control over bodily functions is often lost; in the folklore of combat and
rape, this loss of control is often recounted as the most humiliating aspect of the trauma.
Furthermore, at the moment of the trauma, almost by definition, the individuals point of view counts
for nothing. The traumatic event...destroys the belief that one can be oneself in relation to others.
The traumatic holding restricts belief of oneself, just as restriction of memory prevents the affirmation of the
self in Nietzsches work. Nietzsche will claim, however, that it is violence that allows for memorya claim that
Herman does not necessarily uphold:
If something is to stay in the memory it must be burned in: only that which never ceases to hurt stays
in the memorythis is a main clauses of the oldest (unhappily also the most enduring) psychology
on earth...Man could never do without blood, torture, and sacrifices when he felt the need to create a
Not all traumatic events, after all, are intentional. This is perhaps demonstrative of a certain short-sightedness in Hermans
memory for himself; the most dreadful sacrifices and pledges (sacrifices of the first-born among
them), the most repulsive mutilations (castration, for example), the cruelest rites of all the religious
cults (and all religions are at the deepest level systems of cruelties)all this has its origin in the
instinct that realized that pain is the most powerful aid to mnemonics. (61)
In fact, Hermans work avoids, with or without intention, any mention of where memory is originally
catalyzed, dealing strictly with the violence that obscures and obstructs memory of itself. As such, there is a
fundamental opposition at play between the two theorists work: for Nietzsche, the repressive function of
violence, forgetting as such, creates our memory; for Herman, our memory is already given, and violence
hinders its program by causing a victim to forget.
It should be noted, however, that Herman points to a
public consciousness of trauma, which seems to withhold a structure of memory or recollection, as politically
Three times over the past century, a particular form of psychological trauma has surfaced into public
consciousness. Each time, the investigation of that trauma has flourished in affiliation with a political
movement. The first to emerge was hysteria, the archetypal psychological disorder of women. Its
study grew out of the republican, anticlerical political movement of the late nineteenth century in
France. The second was shell shock or combat neurosis. Its study began in England and the United
States after the First World War and reached a peak after the Vietnam War. Its political context was the
collapse of a cult of war and the growth of an antiwar movement. The last and most recent trauma to
come into public awareness is sexual and domestic violence. Its political context is the feminist
movement in Western Europe and North America. Our contemporary understanding of psychological
trauma is built upon a synthesis of these three separate lines of investigation. (9)
In this sense, it appears that the examination of the previously unspoken, of trauma, and what we may call the
I am reminded of the story of forgetting in Jean Baudrillards Impossible Exchange, which, similar to Nietzsches theory, creates
our notion of life itselfthe struggle of death against life, of forgetting death, begets what we know as life: Something in us is
hidden: death. But something else lurks in each of our cells: the act of forgetting to die. Immortality hovers ominously over us. We
speak always of the struggle of life against death, not of the opposite danger. But we have to fight against the impossibility of dying.
At the least let-up on the part of living beings in their struggle for deaththeir struggle for division, sex, and othernessthey
become indivisible again, self-identical, and hence immortal.
Contrary to everything we ordinarily believe, nature first created immortal beings, and it was only by winning the battle
for death that we became the living beings that we are. Blindly, we dream of defeating death and achieving immortality, whereas
that is our most tragic destiny, a destiny inscribed in the previous life of our cells. It is this we are coming back to today in cloning
(Freuds version of the death drive is simply this nostalgia for the unsexed, non-individuated states we knew before becoming
mortal and discontinuoustrue death being not so much the physical disappearance of the individual being as a regression towards
a minimal state of undifferentiated living matter). (36-7) It would appear in Hermans logic that this would not the casedeath and
forgetting are located within life, rather than set as the fundamental beginning and end limits. I hesitate in my reading of Herman to
agree with this sort of logic, for it may attribute too much of a narrative structure to life and memory, as it may be the case that, as
Baudrillard is positing, the failure of our faculties (as I read death in this story) is in reality what allows us to recognize differences,
and as such approach methods of communing with other life through means such as Nietzsches promise.
remembrance of past violence is brought forth through social unrest. The question arises as whether this
unrest, as catalyst for trauma-memory, effectively and appropriately conjures the memory of trauma, or if this
memory is constructed solely as a symptom of trauma that has been repressed or dissociated from
consciousness. In other words, it is unclear whether Herman wants to suggest that political unrest that is
created as a reactionary movement against violence that has been displayed in a public sphere (we might call
this unrepressed violence or witnessed violence) aids in our pursuit of effectively examining trauma and
repressed memory, or if it actually only unveils the presence of greater holes in our understanding. As
Nietzsche seems to suggest that our confrontation with forgetfulness starts up the technology of memory,
Herman seems to invoke a theory that suggests memory (in the example above, memory takes the form of
consciousness) allows us to recognize what is forgotten and repressed.
4. Symptomatolog y
In both Nietzsche and Hermans work, prehistory and the traumatic event are established,
respectively, as something a priori to which we are helpless. For this very reason, the question of reaction,
response, and what comes after these unwritten and unknown origins remains at hand. There is no evidence
for the origin, and as such we are left with only a certain psychological symptomatology that is at work in both
works at play here. Herman will call this response traumatic reaction, in order to differentiate from the
traumatic event. The relation between the two remains difficult, even in Hermans explanation:
Traumatic reactions occur when action is of no avail. When neither resistance nor escape is possible,
the human system of self-defense becomes overwhelmed and disorganized. Each component of the
ordinary response to danger, having lost its utility, tends to persist in an altered and exaggerated state
long after the actual danger is over. Traumatic events produce profound and lasting changes in
physiological arousal, emotion, cognition, and memory. Moreover, traumatic events may sever these
normally integrated functions from one another. The traumatized person may experience intense
emotion but without clear memory of the event, or may remember everything in detail but without
emotion. She may find herself in a constant state of vigilance and irritability without knowing why.
Traumatic symptoms have a tendency to become disconnected from their source and to take on a life
of their own. (34)
The symptoms life of its own is broken from the traumatic event, though certainly born of it. In Nietzsches
argument, memory as spawned from violence and a prehistory of punishment establishes a similar life of its
own within the consciencewithin the man who has survived the forgotten.
Nietzsche titles this memory-
relation to violence Schuld, the German word for both guilt and debt. Establishing a sort of mutual economy
between violence and conscience, or between what he will redeem as both the injury and pain, and the
creditor and debtor:
Throughout the greater part of human history punishment was not imposed because one held the
wrong-doer responsible for his deed, thus not on the presupposition that only the guilty one should
be punished: rather, as parents still punish their children, from anger at some harm or injury, vented
on the one who caused itbut this anger is held in check and modified by the idea that every injury
has its equivalent and can actually be paid back, even if only through the pain of the culprit. And
whence did this primeval, deeply rooted, perhaps by now ineradicable idea draw its powerthis idea
of an equivalence between injury and pain? I have already divulged it: in the contractual relationship
between creditor and debtor, which is as old as the idea of legal subjects and in turn points back to
the fundamental forms of buying, selling, barter, trade, and traffic. (63)
It is this debt, or the consciousness of guilt, (62) Nietzsche will argue, that lingers upon the conscience,
rendering it the bad conscience. The contractual agreement between the creditor and debtor, for Nietzsche, is
not one that is chosen but rather already constructed by men of the past:
When we contemplate these contractual relationships, to be sure, we feel considerable suspicion...
Toward those men of the past who created or permitted them...It was here that promises were made;
it was here that a memory had to be made for those who promised; it is here, one suspects, that we
shall find a great deal of severity, cruelty, and pain. (64)
Nietzsche will go on to relabel the creditor as society, or community, which is established for a debtor upon
his entrance into historythe promises made establish certain networks between men, hence the
construction of community. This contractual agreement (now considered to exist between the individual and
Later, Nietzsche will assert that this survival is of a specifically violent event as well: Among the presuppositions of this hypothesis
concerning the origin of the bad conscience is, first, that the change referred to was not a gradual or voluntary one and did not
represent an organic adaptation to new conditions but a break, a leap, a compulsion, an ineluctable disaster, which precluded all
struggle and even all ressentiment. Secondly, however, that the welding of a hitherto unchecked and shapeless populace into a firm
form was not only instituted by an act of violence but also carried to its conclusion by nothing but acts of violencethat the oldest
state thus appeared as a fearful tyranny, as an oppressive and remorseless machine, and went on working until this raw material of
people and semi-animals was at last not only thoroughly kneaded and pliant but also formed. (86)
his community), which lingers and causes bad conscience in man today, is one of violence. The debtor fears
and desires this settlement simultaneously:
What will happen if this pledge is broken? The community, the disappointed creditor, will get what
repayment it can, one may depend on that...the lawbreaker is above all a breaker, a breaker of his
contract and his word with the whole in respect to all the benefits and comforts of communal life of
which he has hitherto had a share. The lawbreaker is a debtor who has not merely failed to make
good the advantages and advance payments bestowed upon him but has actually attacked his
creditor: therefore he is not only deprived henceforth of all these advantages and benefits, as is fair
he is also reminded what these benefits are really worth. (71)
Herein lies a strange relationship between the debtor and creditor that is at once codependent: the benefits of
community are bestowed upon the individual so long as the individual keeps his promises and affirms himself
as a part of the communitys structurehe is integrated within the community as part of history. Now the
debtor is to the creditor as was before the promising, calculable man to his prehistory.

To recapitulate, in Nietzsches genealogy, we can recognize mans entrance into society as one that
establishes guilt and debt through a contractual agreement he holds with the community, the breakage and
upholding of which he must thereafter fear and desire, respectively. Entrance into a community is likewise a
subject of consideration in Hermans work, but again pertains specifically to a victim of trauma. Re-entering a
community after a traumatic event, she writes, can be very difficult for a victim. As has been hinted above,
states of emotional hyperarousal can manifest severe symptoms of fear and anxiety within a victim. For
instance, victims of captivity or kidnapping are stripped from their communal rights entirely, making reentry
into society thereafter quite difficult. This sort of trauma often leads to a mistrust of others, a strong sense of
guilt, depression, or hostile aggression within the victim:
The result [of captivity], for most victims, is a contaminated identity. Victims may be preoccupied
with shame, self-loathing, and a sense of failure...Protracted depression is the most common finding
in virtually all clinical studies of chronically traumatized people. Every aspect of the experience of
prolonged trauma works to aggravate depressive symptoms... The dissociative symptoms of the
disorder merge with the concentration difficulties of depression. The paralysis of initiative of chronic
Nietzsche makes this clear: Still retaining the criteria of prehistory (this prehistory is in any case present in all ages or may always
reappear): the community, too, stands to its members in that same vital basic relation, that of the creditor to his debtors. (71)
trauma combines with the apathy and helplessness of depression. The disruption in attachment of
chronic trauma reinforces the isolation of depression. The debased self-image of chronic trauma fuels
the guilty ruminations of depression. And the loss of faith suffered in chronic trauma merges with the
hopelessness of depression...Occasional outbursts of rage may further alienate the survivor from
others and prevent the restoration of relationships. In an effort to control her rage, the survivor may
withdraw even further from other people, thus perpetuating her isolation. (94-5)
This difficulty is extremely pertinent in the recovery of a victim, and for our purposes of linking this
symptomatic pattern to Nietzsches work. For Nietzsche, the debtor begins to see himself as guilty and with
bad conscience at his entry into communitybut this is not necessarily. As such, the debtor is fundamentally a
separate entity from the community, despite his belonging to it, so long as there is a contract between the
two. The symptoms exhibited in Nietzsches work, however, differ vastly from those of the trauma victim in
Hermans analysis. The Nietzschean symptomatology, certainly a product of violence, is one of legal
It was in this sphere, the sphere of legal obligations, that the moral conceptual world of guilt,
conscience, duty, sacredness of duty had its origin: its beginnings were, like the beginnings of
everything great on earth, soaked in blood thoroughly and for a long time. And might one not add
that, fundamentally, this world has never since lost a certain odor of blood and torture?...It was here,
too, that the uncanny intertwining of the ideas guilt and suffering was first effectedand by now
they may well be inseparable. To ask it again: to what extent can suffering balance debts or guilt? To
the extent that to make suffer was in the highest degree pleasurable, to the extent that the injured
party exchanged for the loss he had sustained, including the displeasure caused by the loss, an
extraordinary counterbalancing pleasure: that of making suffera genuine festival, something which,
as aforesaid, was prized the more highly the more violently it contrasted with the rank and social
standing of the creditor. (65)
For Nietzsche, it would appear that the very suffering of the victima man who achieves belonging within a
community through his victimizationserves as the means by which Schulden is paid off, or balanced.
In Herman, however, the traumatic victim, as we have seen above, withholds a similar sense of guilt,
but is alienated from the community around him/her. In order for him/her to retain his/her selfhood and
autonomyin order to recovers/he must depend heavily upon the surrounding community. Therein lies a
certain difficulty, because like with Nietzsche, the community is owed to an extent by the individual
Hermans community resists acknowledgment of violence within it for fear of tarnishing its image and
Hermans community demands a silence of its violence. We have seen this above twice over: firstly in
the notion that a perpetrator of violence defends himself by swaying society towards agreeing that a victim is
exaggerating or lying about the violence to which they have been victim; secondly by the fact that, historically,
trauma has only come to the forefront of our attention and analysis when the community is already in a state
of political unrest. Hermans work suggests that the victim becomes recognized by the community without
scrutiny or disbelief when violence is demonstrated at such a scale that the community begins to see its legal
proceedings as problematic. Nietzsches genealogy, however, argues that the alleviation of debts and guilt, or
the discharge of justice (what he will call mercy) belongs only to a specific type of person:
The justice which began with, everything is dischargeable, everything must be discharged, ends by
winking and letting those incapable of discharging their debt go free: it ends, as does every good
thing on earth, by overcoming itself. This self-overcoming of justice: one knows the beautiful name it
has given itselfmercy; it goes without saying that mercy remains the privilege of the most powerful
man, or better, hisbeyond the law. (73)

Nietzsche does not permit the community to recognize the victim or the debtor as anything but, save for in
the case of the powerful, sovereign man. This man, however, is not invoked within Hermans work. The
fundamental difference between the two theorists work lies somewhere aligned with Hermans hesitancy to
suggest a victim might overcome their trauma, and Nietzsches suggestion that a sovereign individual who has
overcome the trauma of his prehistory can be made manifest by means of a certain power. It is important to
remember, however, that Nietzsches work never ascertains whether such a sovereign man has ever come into
5. Diagnosis & Treatment
In order to cope with trauma, Herman will outline a very specific, three-step clinical methodology for
approaching recovery:
1. Safety
Wherein the victim must be brought to a place at which the violence she endures is ceased. Herman will make
clear, however, that this is more difficult for the victim than simply picking-up-and-leaving. The victim must
first be diagnosed with a specific disorder by his/her therapist, in order to pinpoint exactly what steps towards
safety should be taken. S/he makes several distinctions between potential victims:
With patients who have suffered a recent acute trauma, the diagnosis is usually fairly straightforward.
In these situations clear, detailed information regarding post-traumatic reactions is often invaluable
to the patient and her family or friends. If the patient is prepared for the symptoms of hyperarousal,
intrusion, and numbing, she will be far less frightened when they occur...With patients who have
suffered prolonged, repeated trauma, the matter of diagnosis is not nearly so straightforward.
Disguised presentations are common in complex post-traumatic stress disorder. Initially the patient
may complain only of physical symptoms, or of chronic insomnia or anxiety, or of intractable
depression, or of problematic relationships. Explicit questioning is often required to determine
whether the patient is presently living in fear of someones violence or has lived in fear at some time
in the past. (157)
This process may take a long or short duration, but once the diagnosis has been made, Herman will state, the
next step is to return a sense of power to the victim by extracting him/her carefully from whatever situation
that has traumatized him/her, and ceasing therapy until a reasonable degree of safety has been achieved.
(160) This means specifically ensuring that the victim restores control of their body and environment, and
subsequently aiding in the reestablishment of a safe environment. At this point the victim may move to the
second stage of recovery.
2. Remembrance and Mourning
Wherein the victim tells their story. The therapist aids this process by walking the victim through a review of
the patients life before the trauma and the circumstances that led up to the event. (176) This process may
take weeks or years, depending on the victim, before she is able to completely reconstruct a narrative of his/
her repressed memory. Once this is accomplished, in the eyes of the therapist, a period of mourning begins,
wherein the victim must strive to accept that which she has lost, be it bodily integrity, a loved one, etc.
Herman writes, [u]nfortunately, therapists sometimes collude with their patients unrealistic fantasies of
restitution. It is flattering to be invested with grandiose healing powers and only too tempting to seek a
magical cure in the laying on of hands. Once this boundary is crossed, however, the therapist cannot maintain
a disinterested therapeutic stance, and it is foolhardy to imagine that she can. (192) The therapist takes a
back-seat during the mourning process, and attempts to solely bear witness as the victim mourns alone. Once
acceptance is made, the third phase begins.
3. Reconnection
Wherein the patient lives on. Having come to terms with the traumatic past, the survivor faces the task of
creating a future. She has mourned the old self that the trauma destroyed; now she must develop a new self.
(196) The victim becomes no-longer the victim, but someone entirely new. Power is reestablished within this
new person, and a sense of self control ensues: This simple statement I know I have myself could stand
as the emblem of the third and final stage of recovery. The survivor no longer feels possessed by her traumatic
past; she is in possession of herself. (202) At this point, the victim recreates him/herself, and moves on
creating a future in a way that secures the continuation of experiencea securitization we have seen already
suggested in Nietzsche. Therapy can be suspended at this point, but Herman will not go so far as to say the
victim is ever cured, finishing her work with a chapter on Commonality, stating that it is of great importance
that a victim take part and maintain attendance within a support group:
Traumatic events destroy the sustaining bonds between individual and community. Those who have
survived learn that their sense of self, of worth, of humanity, depends upon a feeling of connection to
others. The solidarity of a group provides the strongest protection against terror and despair, and the
strongest antidote to traumatic experience. Trauma isolates; the group re-creates a sense of
belonging. Trauma shames and stigmatizes; the group bears witness and affirms. Trauma degrades the
victim; the group exalts her. Trauma dehumanizes the victim; the group restores her humanity. (214)
It becomes very clear in Hermans work on recovery the great importance of community for the victim. The
victim requires a sort of scene of hospice and in order to recoverwhich does not mean to overcome. Their
history becomes revealed through their work with the therapistthis is key. The therapist serves as a sort of
vessel, in Hermans work, by which the patient/victim is transported to the forgotten, and is thus able to
reconstruct, reassemble, and re-member what was lost, repressed, detached.
This is by no means the case in Nietzsches work, but this is because the very nature of the violence
that occurs in the Genealogy is pre-historic and necessarily unreachable. Hermans method toward
remembrance, as shown above, guides the victim through a review of [her] life before the trauma and the
circumstances that led up to the event. (176) This is impossible in Nietzsches story, as the prehistoric
prohibits any access or review in its secrecy. Such is the fundamental difference in these notions of trauma:
Hermans trauma occurs as a breakage within historical time that demands reconstruction, whereas
Nietzsches trauma happens at the breaking point of prehistory into history
, which is precisely the beginning
of all historical construction. This difference becomes problematic, however, if we even begin to attempt a
relation of prehistorical and historical traumas, as the means by which we are able to recover, so to speak, are
in no way congruent.
To specify, we must examine how it is that Nietzsche will explain the cure for bad conscience:
Man has all too long had an evil eye for his natural inclinations, so that they have finally become
inseparable from his bad conscience. An attempt at the reverse would in itself be possiblebut who
is strong enough for it?that is, to wed the bad conscience to all the unnatural inclinations, all those
aspirations to the beyond, to that which runs counter to sense, instinct, nature, animal, in short all
ideals hitherto, which are one and all hostile to life and ideals that slander the world. To whom
should one turn today with such hopes and demands? (95)
Not a therapistto overcome bad conscience, one must do so alone:
The attainment of this goal would require a different kind of spirit from that likely to appear in this
present age: spirits strengthened by war and victory, for whom conquest, adventure, danger, and
even pain have become needs: it would require even a kind of sublime wickedness, an ultimate,
supremely self-confident mischievousness in knowledge that goes with great health; it would require,
in brief and alas, precisely this great health!
This man of the future, who will redeem us not only from the hitherto reigning ideal but
also from that which was bound to grow out of it, the great nausea, the will to nothingness, nihilism;
See note 28, above.
this bell-stroke of noon and of the great decision that liberates the will again and restores its goal to
the earth and his hope to man; this Antichrist and antinihilist; this victor over God and nothingness
he must come one day.(96)
Nietzsche asserts that a cure is possible, in the sense that eventually a powerful man will, through sublime
knowledge, manage to overcome the bad conscience that has haunted man since the dawn of history, but we
must remain hesitant to agree with this prediction, as it is just thata prediction: a declaration of the yet-
unknown. We might believe Nietzsche was aware of this, if only as our own conjecture, for he backs away
from his prediction in his final sentence, silencing himself before saying any more.
All the same, no cure is
yet available, and bad conscience haunts on.
Nietzsche and Herman will agree that, prehistoric or not, there is not (at least yet) a discernible cure
for trauma. The insistence, however, upon memory tracing, remembrance, and community interaction in
Hermans method is directly oppositional to Nietzsches position that seems more so to suggest that a very
specific type of man will be able to overcome his trauma through a sort of individuated knowledge and
power. Whether a conversation relating these remedies is possible at all is contingent upon the question of
whether prehistorical trauma is in any way related to historical trauma in the first place, for Nietzsche and
Herman, as noted above, are respectively dealing with these quite different events.
6. Secret Problems
Trauma is secretive. Unwritten and lost, it resides in two time-frames: once in the midst of history,
and once at the moment when something was lost to give way to history. Each manifests a certain
symptomatology of ailments, rendering capable a certain diagnosis. What occurs, however, is a diagnosis of
something blanksomething secret. We remain haunted by the unknown, without yet any hope for a cure.
But what am I saying? Enough! Enough! At this point it behooves me only to be silent; or I shall usurp that to which only one
younger, heavier with future, and stronger than I has a rightthat to which only Zarathustra has a right, Zarathustra the godless.
However, it appears that any psychological or philosophical pursuit must aim toward some ending notion
akin to a cure. On the one hand, Hermans clinical treatment method allows us to approach our trauma from
behind and before, in order to permit reconstruction from that lost point, toward a slow and ceaseless state
of recovery. On the other hand, Nietzsches work suggests that all of mans history has been this sort of
construction from its beginning, which is itself a lost point.
This distinction should be made again: there are two types of traumatwo types of secret. One lies at
our very origin as a pure loss, the other between said origin and our present as partial-loss. Nietzsches work
deals only with the former traumaeverything thereafter, up to the present, can be written, but both
prehistory and our relation to it remain wholly absent. Hermans work, however, deals specifically with the
latter trauma, as her narrative of recovery requires an understanding of what happens before and after a
traumatic event, but suggests that a representational relation (between the Subject and the trauma) can be
reconstructed. For this reason, we must suspend ourselves before adhering ourselves to either definition, as
such adherence would be ignorant of another problematic. While suspended, we will be able to look back at
our history, driving ourselves into the future.
History begins and continues with trauma. Its haunting does not endnot yet. This seems to hurt us,
to manifest neurosis and psychological disorder, but it demands of us a certain amount of care and attention.
The holes in our memory beg questions, and drive us toward the unknowntoward the answer and the cure.
It is no wonder why Nietzsche ends his essay with three question marks, and why Herman ends with
communal dialogue. Trauma remains, invisibly lingering, like a veiled and imperturbable ghost. However, as
we have attempted to know it, we have likewise attempted to document our pursuit. This is where we begin
to write history, and this is where we continue to maintain discourse with it. This is how we will construct
stories and develop new ideas, so long as we remain aware that we are haunted by our origins and that this
ghost will return again and again.
Chapter 3
The Responsibility of the Parrot:
On Response and Failure
There are Orinoco tribes that no longer exist; all that remains of their dialect is a dozen words
uttered in the treetops by a few parrots enjoying their newfound freedom, like Agrippinas thrush warbling
Greek words from the balustrades of the Roman palaces. Such will be, sooner or later, the fate of our modern
jargons, the debris of Greek and Latin. Having flown out of its cage, some raven belonging to the last Franco-
Gallic priest will address foreign peoples, our successors, from the heights of a ruined bell tower, saying:
Hark the inflections of a voice once familiar to you: you shall put an end to all such speech.
-Chateaubriand, Mmoires doutre-tombe
Our structural understanding of history is at first a response to a traumato that which necessitated
the documentation of cause and effect in the first placeaimed toward the maintenance of a moral
conceptual world, as we have seen already in Nietzsche, and toward the recovery and societal integration of
victims, as we have seen in psychological literature. This call for structure, however, threatens the integrity of
a reconstructed narrative when answered by a voice not belonging to the victim or other Subject. It occurs
from time to time that a traumatic event transpires that does not directly involve us. We may understand
such an event as one which we are informed of well after its occurrence. In a narrow sense, we might think
toward a recent news broadcast, whereas in a broader sense we might consider these events to comprise the
entirety of our documented history. We remain, in relation to these events, indirectly associated; witnesses
solely of a linguistic representation of a trauma. The reconstruction of traumatic history by such third-party
witnesses must be understood as entirely separate from a narrative reconstruction by a victim for the
purposes of recovery and reintegration. On the contrary, such reconstruction functions only as a
representational repetition of a trauma; a parroting that works only to confuse and incapacitate our ability to
appropriately respond to traumatic events.
When Mark Glaze, the director of Mayors Against Illegal Guns, made a statement in the aftermath of
the massacre at Newtowns Sandy Hook Elementary School in late 2012, he critiqued the White Houses Press
Secretary, Jay Carney, stating: I have to wonder if [he] is aware of how perfectly hes parroting the NRAs
talking points. Thats exactly what they say after every mass shooting. Its not the time. But the time never
comes. Glazes reply was to Carneys comment that to discuss the means by which 20 children were
murdered, and the policy surrounding it, so soon after the tragedy would be temerarious.

The response options presented by the media in the week following the attack seemed to be blatantly
exemplified. The first pertained to Glazes concern, vocalized by previous mayor of New York City, Michael
Bloomberg, that we need immediate action,
and that weapons policy should be addressed without any
period of mourning. The second was Carneys option (parroting previous NRA talking points) which
demanded a postponement of such a discussion for an indefinite amount of time. The third option was one
that embodied such a postponement and was taken up by the NRA itself for a week after the incident in
Newtownno response whatsoever. It was not until December 18th, four days after the shooting, that the
NRA issued a statement on Twitter, stating what was already abundantly clear: Out of respect for the families,
and as a matter of common decency, we have given time for mourning, prayer and a full investigation of the
facts before commenting.
The NRA announced as well that they would be holding a press conference for
their comments on December 21st, a week after the massacre.
Carney, accused of parroting the NRAs silence and subsequent deferral of commentary, echoes a
statement to come, repeating what has not yet been said, what Glaze assumes never comes, for it never yet
has come. As such, even Glazes criticism is a parroting of silence. He fails to respond to a tragedy through
Huffington, Arianna. Newtown Massacre: What We Don't Need Is a 'National Conversation' -- We Need Action. The Blog. The
Huffington Post, 17 Dec. 2012. 18 Dec. 2012.
Siddiqui, Sabrina. Michael Bloomberg: Gun Control Needs 'Immediate Action' From Obama In Wake Of School Shooting
Huffingtonpost.com. The Huffington Post, 14 Dec. 2012. 14 Dec. 2012.
Important Statement from the National Rifle Association NRAILA.com. National Rifle Association. 18 Dec. 2012. 18 Dec. 2012.
affirming a permanent absence of something that has not presented itself, bringing even those who have
made no comment into a discussion that at once is and is not happening. The cause of this failure is simply
located in the fact that each party sought only to respond as a means to determine how this happened to
othersto the victims and community of which no responding party was part. No mention was made
pertaining to a response that might work to help the victims in the wake of their tragic experience.
In his memoirs, Chateaubriand writes of a few parrots that sound the hollow remnants of a language
belonging to tribes lost to the effects of European imperialism. Our own languages, he suggests, will one day
succumb to a similar fatepreserved only in the parroting voice of birds. These birds cry out noises no
longer understandable to those who hear them. Despite this unintelligibility, the source of the noisesa
language of lost tribesis attributed to them. This is to say that the loss of the tribe is signified by the
meaninglessness of the parrots cries, but this parroting echo does nothing to reconstruct a history that
narrates the obliteration of the tribe.
The parrot is third-party to the loss of the tribe, signifying a loss without reconstructing it. The parrot
alerts us to that which we do not knowit signifies a secretive traumatic rupture. The cry of the parrot
demands of us a response to this rupture, immediately presenting an ethical problematic. Given the case in
which an other is subjected to a traumatic rupture, be it a loss or otherwise, a secret is established in the
other Subjects history that is not presented to us. If we must respond, if we must ensure the Subjects
recoverydependent upon the narrative reconstruction of their traumait thus follows that a victims secret
history need be divulged. This is, of course, by no means something that can be demanded of the Subject, as
the Subject is at risk of re-traumatization if forced to relive their experience.
As such we are led to attempt
such reconstructions ourselves, as third-parties, as parrots. This effort, however, maintains and accepts the
silence of the victim and is demonstrative only of a failure to respond.
Brown, Daniel P., Alan W. Scheflin, and D. Corydon. Hammond. Memory, Trauma Treatment, and the Law. New York: W.W.
Norton, 1998.
Any reconstruction of a traumatic event necessarily requires an affirmation of the events occurrencs.
During a roundtable conversation at Villanova University, Jacques Derrida elaborated on this affirmation and
function of the parrot:
[Yes] has to be repeated, and immediately, immediately it implies what I call 'iterability', it implies
the repetition of itself. Which is a threat, which is threatening at the same time because the second
yes may be simply a parody or a record or mechanical repetition; it may say 'yes, yes' like a parrot,
which means that the technical reproduction of the originary 'yes' is from the beginning threatening
to the living origin of the 'yes', which means that the 'yes' is hounded by its own ghost, its own
mechanical ghost, from the beginning. Which means that the second 'yes' will have to reinaugurate,
to reinvent the first one. If tomorrow you don't reinvent today's inauguration... it will have been
dead. Every day the inauguration has to be reinvented. So that's one thing.
According to Derrida, the parrot speaks a mechanical repetition, threatening an inauguration
, haunting it.
We can see this at work in the Sandy Hook confusion: while the massacre is undoubtedly affirmed, it is never
reinventedit is only mechanically repeated, leaving the event dead in the past. Nothing has been
inaugurated since the death of 27 of Newtowns residents. Rather, a ghastly conversation has come to be
solely the reverberation of a deafening silence that promises already to echo throughout the future.
What does the parrot perpetuate? What is already required for parroting? Can the parrot be
responsible, despite its inability to respond? Gustave Flaubert begged these questions in his Un Cur
Simple, and in the research he conducted in writing it
. Flicit, a servant woman mourning the loss of the
two children whom she loved and cared for, receives Loulou, a parrot born from the very rupture, filling the
void that Victor and Virginie left behind. Already, however, the parrot is subject to much scrutiny and derision:
Loulou avait reu du garon boucher un chiquenaude, stant permis denfoncer la tte dans sa
corbeille, et depuis lors il tchait toujours de le pincer tranvers sa chemise. Fabu menaait de lui
tordre le cou, bien quil ne ft pas cruel, malgr le tatouage de ses bras et ses gros favoris. Au
contraire! il avait plutt du penchant pour le perroquet, jusqu vouloir, par humeur joviale, lui
apprendre des jurons. Flicit, que ces manires effrayaient, le plaa dans la cuisine...M. Paul, un jour
Jacques Derrida; John D. Caputo. Deconstruction in a Nutshell. (Fordham UP; 1997) 28. Here abbreviated as DN
We must read Derridas use of inauguration as pertaining here to a renewed affirmationinauguration is a yes, which must
break with the past and at the same time keep the memory of the past (DN 26-8).
Flaubert is known to have kept a stuffed parrot on his desk while writing Les Trois Contes, of which Un Cur Simple is part.
eut limprudence de lui souffler aux narines la fume dun cigare; une autre fois que Mme Lormeau
lagaait du bout de son ombrelle, il en happa la virole; enfin, il se perdit.
Loulou had been snapped at by the butchers boy, having allowed himself to wedge his head through
his cage, and since then he always tried to nip him through his shirt. Fabu threatened to wring his
neck, even though he was not cruel, despite the tattoos on his arms, and his long whiskers. On the
contrary! He had more so a penchant for the parrot, such that he wanted, in a jovial spirit, to teach
him swear words. Flicit, disturbed by these manners, placed him in the kitchen Monsieur Paul,
one day had the imprudence to blow at him from his nostrils the smoke of his cigar; another time
when Madame Lormeau was bothering him with the tip of her parasol, he snatched the ferrule from
it; finally, he got lost.
Loulou, born already out of loss, becomes suddenly lost himself, by nothing, as a disconnected result of
menace, bother, and imprudence, only to return to Flicit suddenly as un poids lger [qui] lui tomba sur
lpaule, (a light weight that fell upon her shoulder).
The parrot returns, appropriating an inappropriate
responsibilityone that appears through a mistranslation, through a hearing-through-an-others-ears.
The parrot manifests a maladie, un mal doreilles. Three years suddenly pass, and Flicit becomes
deaf, affirms her stupidity, and retains the capacity to hear only one squawking echo:
Des bourdonnements illusoires achevaient de la troubler. Souvent sa matresse lui disait: Mon
Dieu! comme vous tes bte!; elle rpliquait: Oui, Madame, en cherchant quelque chose autour
Le petit cercle de ses ides se rtrcit encore, et le carillon des cloches, le mugissement des bufs,
nexistaient plus. Tous les tres fonctionnaient avec le silence des fantmes. Un seul bruit arrivait
maintenant ses oreilles, la voix du perroquet.
Il se perdit, presents a difficulty in translation, as the reflexive se perdre does directly translate to the English to lose oneself. To
get lost would be a mistranslation, as loss would thusly become an object posessed by an autonomous subject, or an object
understood by a subject (in the sense of getting as comprehendingget it?). The French redirects loss to the subject, rendering the
subject simultaneously an object, creating a double-bind as a result of loss akin to the English lose oneself where the self is
simultaneously and coterminously that which is losing, and that which is lost. This aporetic sense of loss is of great importance, for
despite Loulous loss of himself, Flicit suffers a consequence as well: Elle lavait pos sur lherbe pour le rafrachir, sabsenta une
minute; et, quand elle revint, plus de perroquet! (She had placed him upon the bush to refresh him, left him one minute; and,
when she came back, [no] more parrot!) Here, the French plus de perroquet signifies at once no more parrot, as well as more of
parrot, demonstrating a monstrosity already in Loulous reflexive lossit is a phenomenon with which Flicit cannot cope. Either
he is lost or not, and as such, she makes a futile attempt to retrieve him. Gustave Flaubert. Un Cur Simple. (Livres de Poche; 1994)
74-5. (Translations of Flaubert are my own.)
Here is another interesting mistranslation. A weight on ones shoulders harkens to the English idiom of a burden or certain
responsibility, absent in the French language. Ibid., 76.
Illusory hummings ended up confusing her. Often her mistress said to her: My God! how stupid
you are! She replied: Yes, Madame, looking for something around her.
The little circle of her ideas retracted itself still more, and the ringing of bells, the mooing of the
steer, no longer existed. All beings functioned with the silence of ghosts. One sole noise now reached
her ears, the voice of the parrot.
Then the parrot dies. Flicit stuffs it, begins to revere its corpse, praying to it, speaking to it as if it were the
Holy Spirit (le Saint-Esprit). Flicit becomes ill, stricken with pneumonia, goes blind, and on her deathbed,
quand elle exhala son dernier souffle, elle crut voir, dans les cieux entrouverts, un perroquet
gigantesque, panant au-dessus de sa tte.
when she exhaled her last breath, she believed she saw, in the heavens opened, a gigantic parrot,
soaring above her head.
Flicit ends at the parrot, beneath the parrot. The parrot returns inappropriately, in belief and in death, from
the heavens.
The post-traumatic parrot arrives again, this time named Brenda, in the final pages of Sophie Calles
Prenez Soin de Vous. Calles project begs the same questions of proper response:
Jai reu un mail de rupture. Je nai pas su rpondre. Ctait comme sil ne mtait pas destin.
I received an email telling me it was over. I didnt know how to respond. It was almost as if it hadnt
been meant for me.
Already unable to respond to the email, Calle attempts to transfer responsibility elsewhere, forwarding the
rupturing email to 107 women, asking them to analyze it, comment on it, dance it, sing it. Dissect it. Exhaust
Flicit becomes animal in this passage. Of course, bte signifies both the animal and the stupid. Flaubert will define btes in the
Dictionnaire des Ides Reues as such: Ah! si les btes pouvaient parler! Il y en a qui sont plus intelligentes que des hommes. (10)
Avital Ronell has established and disestablished several connections already between the animal, the stupid, and the mute in her
work Stupidity, suggesting that it is the inability or failure to respond characterizes all three. The case of Flicit, however, functions
differently here, for she responds as the parrot does, as we have already seen suggested by Derrida. The parrot can speak, can
respond, but remains nevertheless irresponsible and non-animal (mechanistic).
Gustave Flaubert. Un Cur Simple. (Livres de Poche; 1994) 77.
Ibid., 95.
Sophie Calle. Prenez Soin de Vous (Actes Sud; 2007). (Translations are the authors.)
it. Understand it for [her]. Answer for [her]. It was a way of taking the time to break up. A way of taking care
of [her]self.
The final response in Calles work is from Brenda, a parrot, in the form of a video. Brenda, presented
with a paper copy of the email, shrieks several words from it, and subsequently attempts to eat the paper
itself. Calle has already parroted the email, mechanically affirming it, copying it, disseminating it, while never
reinaugurating it. The email is cast out, and returns in 107 different ways, each parroting the squawk of
Sophie Calle. Calles inability to respond, her irresponsibility, her stupidity in the face of the rupture parrots
the parrot. Each received response, rather than increasing a number of options for responding, only retracts
Calles focus closer and closer upon the email, allowing for closure upon the voice of the parrot.
One page succeeds those of Brendawhite, with a few words in the bottom corner: This was all
about a letter. Not the man who wrote it... Calles work was about a letter of rupture, a response to the event
of rupture, not the cause of it. As such, each parroting response to Calles request surrounded the rupture,
the breakage and the wound within and opened by the letter. Each response attempts to ingest the letter in its
parody, already accepting a non-understanding and a disgust that is required for such a response. Brenda fails
to eat the words, however, tearing them to shreds, ruffling her feathers, and dropping the paper entirely,
moaning something incomprehensible.
Responding to a traumatic rupture takes time, and Calle is fully aware of this, but her project fails to
narrativize the experience of the rupture. Opening it up to a grand discourse, Calles work repeats the
rupture without structuring it, without reconstructing it. Derrida writes elsewhere:
This event I called a rupture, the disruption alluded to at the beginning of this paper, would
presumably have come about when the structurality of structure had to begin to be thought, that is to
say, repeated, and this why I said that this disruption was repetition in all of the senses of this word.
From then on it became necessary to think the law which governed, as it were, the desire for the
center in the constitution of structure and the process of signification prescribing its displacements
and its substitutions for this law of the central presencebut a central presence which was never
itself, which has always already been transported outside itself in its surrogate. The surrogate does
not substitute itself for anything which has somehow pre-existed it. From then on it was probably
necessary to begin to think that there was no center, that the center could not be thought in the form
of a being-present, that the center had no natural locus, that it was not a fixed locus but a function, a
sort of non-locus in which an infinite number of sign-substitutions came into play. This moment was
that in which language invaded the universal problematic; that in which, in the absence of a center or
origin, everything became discourseprovided we can agree on this wordthat is to say, when
everything became a system where the central signified, the original or transcendental signified, is
never absolutely present outside a system of differences. The absence of the transcendental signified
extends the domain and the interplay of signification ad infinitum.
The rupture, or the disruption decenters structure. Derrida is working to demonstrate the uncertainty already
within language as a result of some unknown, indistinguishable rupture. What remains of import here,
however, is the ruptures decentralization, recentralization, and interplay of signification ad infinitum. The
rupture, Derrida points out, destroys structure, rendering all response necessarily impossible in that any
response to a certain structural locus will already miss, as the very nature of the post-ruptural structure is
always decenteredits center is always on the move.
In Calles work, we see 107 failed responses, each failing as a consequence of themselves. If there
were an appropriate response, then there would be no need for 107 different versions. The response to a
rupture must be divided, and responsibility for a rupture is shattered again and again, ad infinitum, and
divvied out amongst all who care to even catch a quick glance. Flicit cannot fail to cope once, she must fail
incessantly until the moment of her death, which even then provides her with an illusory, sensory failure.
Brenda fails to be herself: parroting a parroting, she drops the words. She stops responding, stops parroting.
The response will miss, and already has. The response cannot miss if any law demands its missing,
that is to say, a response to a rupture demands that it is not to a rupture. As such, when Calle declares that
this was all about a letter, it necessarily cannot beunless we consider about to imply a missing in and
through its inexactitude, which is already impossibleand we have to turn the page back to Brenda, hearing
Jacques Derrida. Structure, Sign, and Play in the Discourse of the Human Sciences. Writing and Difference. (Routledge; 1997)
her shriek and repeat an interminable parody of a letter that cannot be cared for, that demands a deferral of
response that Calle understood by not understanding. The rupture has already become an impossible event
(which is why Derrida will place event within quotation marks), that renders all response irresponsible. From
time to time, however, we may become stuck upon one parroted response attempt, one line of thought, one
trace or resonating thread that will never succeed in a reconstruction. This illusory getting-stuck, getting-it, or
understanding is as much the doom and vice of Flicit, who sees celestial truth and its revelation in one
parrot, as it is of Calle, who makes an attempt to understand her rupture through the parroted responses of
For Flicit and Calle, the dependency upon the parrot, upon the third-party witness, renders
recovery impossible. The same impossibility presents itself in the response attempts of Carney, Glaze, and the
NRA, all of whom are already third-party witnesses. These failures demonstrate precisely the problematic at
hand when traumatic events are brought into a realm of language and discourse: they cannot be
reconstructed by any party save for the Subject of the trauma itself, and even then reconstruction must
continue interminably with consistent reinauguration for otherwise its structure runs the risk of becoming
mechanically reproduced, removing the voice from the narrator, silencing its source, obliterating the victim.
Therein lies the very threat issued by the parrot: any third-party that attempts to narrativize the trauma of
another, of a victim, removes said victim from the scene. The victim is, in this way, victimized once again:
silenced, dis-integrated, and cast into obscurity.
To reconstruct a narrative is to piece together the shattered remnants of a broken history. Any
narrative construction requires the sequential association of historical events that were, before their narration,
dissociated. Dissociation of historical events, as we have seen in the chapters preceding, is the effect of a
traumatic event, of a rupture or interruption of what we consider to be a linear, sequential history that
precedes and encompasses a trauma. However, a logic that views history as that which can be partially
dissociated (as events can be removed) dictates that an a priori association was established of historical
events. In other words, if history were considered on the one hand to be simply a sequence of all events
remembered (without consideration for that which is secret, silent, or unknown), a sequence on a temporal
line, then history would have no issue in sequentially associating whatever order or assortment of events
history would be a totality of knowledge. On the other hand, if history is a history of traumaas Caruth
points outor a sequence that is not fully perceived, because ceratin events have been stricken by way of
dissociation, then our perception of history must have been at first constructed in such a way that allowed for
the removal of events: if trauma dissociates events, events must have been at first associated.
The association, or sequencing of eventswhich is precisely narrative constructionis made possible
by our memory faculties, that is, our ability to re-member. The argument in Nietzsches Genealogy stakes the
entire development of man and morality upon such rememberance, but calls into question the manner in
which such remembrance is made necessary. Nietzsches argument, with which I will agree, hinges this
development on a promissive act, which is that which demands remembrance. The promise, or what we have
also called the vow, is that which secures the future in Nietzsche, but also allows us to secure historical
information in secrecy if we so choose. Remembrance, which permits the upholding of the vow, is as such a
behavior that secures our historical understanding by and through the constructive association of events.
What is vitally important in Nietzsches work, however, is the very notion of a prehistory, or that which
precedes our entrance into a mode of cognition that depends upon remembrance. This prehistory is what we
call in the first chapter the Secret, as that which lies beyond beingoutside of discourse. To lie beyond being
is thus to ex-ist as non-historical, out of history.
What Nietzsche demonstrates is namely that genealogy, which is in every way an examination of our
known history, is the drive toward the question of the Secret; of whatever came before us, of whatever
preceded our tendency to narrativize history. The movement into remembrance for Nietzsche is that which
allows society to integrate. The same movement is supported in the trauma theory and psychology of
Herman, Van Der Kolk, Janet, and others: the narrative reconstruction of that which lies outside of history
(trauma) is precisely that which allows a victim to reintegrate into a societal realm. Society as such is
dependent in every way upon this narrative construction of history. Furthermore, the Secret must not only be
prehistorical, but also pre-social and thusly pre-narrative. This narrative is a remembrance constructed in
language, as a cause-and-effect structure. As language itself is reliant upon such an association of elements, as
we have seen
, it falls into a category of concepts dependent upon associative construction that include
narrative, grammar, historiography, memory, traumatic recovery, and the promise. The Secret, which lies
outside of language and history, is by no means associated. It is, as we have seen in our invocation of
Levinas, wholly Other, exterior, and otherwise than being.
If historical research or examination is ultimately founded upon the question of our origin, then it
can be stated that our relationship to history, our narrativization of history, and our historiographical pursuits
are all in response to this unattainable, unspeakable Secret. Knowledgeas that which is upheld by
historiographical narratives, memory, and languageprovides us with the capacity to integrate as a society,
and further to associate, society is also made manifest in response to the Secret. In other words, our
In either the S-V-O grammar, or the depiction of the Secret as being unspeakable and as such outside of language insofar is it
resists predicative discourse (Derrida), both discussed in Chapter 1.
knowledge, which is always constructed and informed (with regard to Flusser), comes into being as a
response to that which ex-ists as entirely unconstructed, uninformed, unformed, unassociated, and unknown.
This means that society, history, and language, come into play as an attempt to construct and secure that
which lies outside of history.
If an approach toward recovery from a trauma is made possible by never-ending reconstruction of a
traumatic event that is forgotten and lies outside of history, as Herman details, then it is not difficult to see
the parallels that are drawn when we examine our attempts to reconstruct our prehistory through the
historical research that depends on language and memory. Both recovery from a trauma, and our relation to
history are unending processes, wherein narratives need be constantly reconstructed and readdressed. The
pursuit of historical knowledge, as such, is itself a form of recovery, or more precisely, a form of attempted
recovery. Recovery, as we have already discussed in regard to history, is only ever an attempt, as it never
reaches a discernible end; it must continue interminably. It follows thusly that recovery and the pursuit of
historical knowledge never reach a point of whole construction: so long as reconstruction continues, no
narrative, no story, and no history has yet been constructed.
This is not to say reconstruction is impossiblewe cannot force such a claimbut rather that a fully
constructed narrative of history has never come into being as long as our historiographical attempts to
reconstruct the past have endured. The question that arises therein is namely whether or not the lack of a
fully constructed historical narrative is indicative of a failure to adequately interact with history. That is to say,
as we have discussed here in the third chapter, a failure to reconstruct a narrative occurs when we attempt to
reconstruct that to which we are not directly related. The very stakes of our historical understanding lie on
this claim. If the history we are endlessly attempting to examine is not necessarily one we are part of, it may
be the case that we will never be able to adequately reconstruct it. To be specific, the very action of
historiographic writing would be a failed response to lost histories if it can only muster a parroting of events,
without allowing for the vocalization of every subject involved in the history itself.
If a history does not belong to us, the reconstruction of it silences the voice of those involved in it.
What remains to be determined is whether the whole of history itself belongs to us, and whether we are
suited for the endeavor of its reconstruction. If we are notif our involvement with the past is only as a third-
partywe run the risk of casting a much greater number of narratives into obscurity than can be recapitulated
and reconstructed by our historiographies. In this way, historiography would serve only to incessantly ensure
the silencing of others, and the obliteration and secrecy of histories, rather than documenting them. This
would indicate, however, that an endlessly self-sustaining economy is at work in historiography, as the act of
historical documentation of others histories would produce an ever-expanding pile of unclaimed histories,
ripe for reconstruction in further historiographic work. In this way, it may very well be the case that the
recovery of the pastnarrative reconstruction itselfdemands its own incessancy and interminability,
securing its future in a sense. If the histories we reconstruct do not pertain or belong to us, our societal
integration (contingent upon the capacity to remember and reconstruct) would as such progress and develop
at the cost of the silencing of countless others, throwing unnumbered histories into secrecy. But before this:
who is to say with any certainty which histories pertain to whom?
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