Reading this week’s material reminded me of an article on trauma narratives that I read for my theory class a couple of weeks ago. According to this article (“The Black Hole of Trauma” by Bessel A van der Kolk and Alexander C. McFarlane), we live and die by stories. People who suffer trauma must make sense of the their suffering, put in a story, a context, a metanarrative, to make sense of it. Individuals who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder fail to make sense of the pain and so the pain becomes the only story in their lives, the sole metanarrative.
I think that In the Shadow of No Towers is a good example of trauma literature. Spiegelman’s intense focus on the incidents and aftermath of September 11 indicates a kind of fixation, which may or may not be healthy. His proximity to the tragedy, physically and emotionally, and the influence of his family’s history with the trauma of the Holocaust contribute to Spiegelman’s gravitation toward this dark subject matter. He also admits at various points in the text that he was fairly neurotic before 9/11, further suggesting a state of mind that is not ideally suited for comprehending the disaster. Even still, I think that this work is cathartic for both the author and his readers. The last sentence of the book is particularly conciliatory and redemptive, giving us all a reason to hope.
An individual afflicted with PTSD ruminates on the events of his or her trauma, and, in the case of Spiegelman, the news media fans the flames by covering the story non-stop. He writes
I know I see glasses as half empty rather than half full, but I can no longer distinguish my own neurotic depression from well-founded despair! I’ve consumed ‘news’ till my brain aches. The papers have confirmed that the towers I saw fall really did fall… aside from that, the news just confirms that I’m right to feel paranoid. My subconscious is drowning in newspaper headlines! (8)
I wonder about what role the media plays in how we view not terrorism, which is a politically charged subject, but but just the simple experience of trauma. In the case of Spiegelman, the media’s constant coverage of the 9/11 immediately after the attacks helped his already somewhat highstrung, paranoid personality (this is not an indictment of Spiegelman’s mental constitution) to focus even more on his trauma. Of course, the media does not always encourage this kind of fixation. For people who are more distant from an act of violence, the event is less jarring, less traumatic, thus the media’s buzz becomes background noise and the individual becomes numb. Media has this strangely dualistic capacity to bring people closer to trauma and also to numb them to it, an idea which I’m having some trouble reconciling.
An semi-related side thought: do you think we can come up with a more original, imaginative, unpoliticized name for what happened on September 11, 2001, which does not rely on saying the date? Just something to ponder.
An even more unrelated side thought: to celebrate the end of the semester and to provide you all with something to soothe you as you work on your final papers, I give you this link.