Apr
2006

first trauma theory post

Having received the official word that this will, indeed, be my last semester of coursework and that I can spend the summer studying for the comps and trying to publish something, anything, I’m ecstatic. Also making me ecstatic are my tax return, distinguished scholar award money, and a June trip to Kona thanks to Pat and Vanna (don’t ask!)

In “what theory am I gonna use” news, my current reading of the work of Cathy Caruth and a stack of others points in the direction of trauma theory. I know I posted earlier about using it, but I hadn’t actually read any of it until this week and it’s quite interesting. An order from Amazon is on it’s way, but here are a few tidbits I want to share (hence the reason I added a trauma theory category). I’ll be composing a lit review for my Criticism and Theory class and hope to let that extend into a summer directed study and area of my comprehensive exams, but the putting together of that exam committee can’t start until I finish this semester. Well it probably could start before then, but I am swamped with final papers, teaching stuff, and my parents are in town for Easter, etc., etc., etc!!!!

So back to the trauma, here is Cathy Caruth’s definition of it:

…the response to an unexpected or overwhelming violent event or events that are not fully grasped as they occur, but return later in repeated flashbacks, nightmares, and other repetitive phenomena

She also writes of a model form the trauma takes:

traumatic experience, beyond the psychological dimension of suffering it involves, suggests a certain paradox: that the most direct seeing of a violent event may occur as an absolute inability to know it; that immediacy, paradoxically, may take the form of belatedness.

I find this amazingly well-suited for my dissertation. To begin, a trend already proven by Pew is that more and more people turned to online sources for information and to make donations after the hurricanes. And that number has grown since 9/11. And remember the Tsunami blog?

Furthermore, my research will illustrate how evacuees of Hurricane Katrina used websites and blogs to post information, correct the television broadcasters, or call for help for people who stayed back. They turned to the web for comfort and it was the only means with which to take action. Because they (me included) were not there, they could not see things directly for themselves, but they could turn to the web to try and find out. For New Orleans natives, who were not even allowed back to their homes (or the debris) until October, all there was to do was wait; therefore, subsequent suffering and belated immediacy.

Work by Caruth is used in Samuel Pane’s “Trauma Obscura: Photographic Media in WG Sebald’s Austerlitz” and that brings in narrative theory too. But another resource I’ve found on this topic is the work of Bessel van der Kolk. He connects the body and mind and suggests trauma victims need more than traditional “talk therapy,” which led to his research involving brain scans. According to van der Kolk, what these scans revealed is that “when people relive their traumatic experiences, the frontal lobes become impaired and, as a result, they have trouble thinking and speaking. They no longer are capable of communicating to either themselves or to others precisely what is going on.” Most importantly, van der Kolk “credits Hurricane Hugo [1989 Puerto Rico] with showing him how physical helplessness contributes to the development of serious post-traumatic symptons.” read more in the PDF here.

I’m not sure how or if I will connect these points to online usage during Katrina and since the storm, but I feel they are important to note, especially considering a move beyond Freud. I realize I am throwing a couple of quotes out there and expecting whoever reads this to see the connections I am making in my head as to how I plan to use this, but I just wanted to post something to show that the reading I am doing is exciting me and I can’t wait to write more.

2 thoughts on “first trauma theory post

  1. This is really –– I mean really –– interesting, Daisy. I can’t wait to see what comes out of it. I downloaded the .pdf, and after I present my project tomorrow, I plan on getting to that. Man, you have a topic if you can connect the dots. I do know one thing: Your lit review is going to be out of control, my friend.

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