Narratives of Trauma and the Question of Ethics
Edited By Martin Modlinger and Philipp Sonntag
Susannah Radstone - Trauma Studies: Contexts, Politics, Ethics -63
Susannah Radstone Trauma Studies: Contexts, Politics, Ethics Trauma is often associated with the stripping away of agency and the ren- dering helpless of victims of catastrophe and disaster. The psychologists van Der Kolk and van Der Hart state, for instance, that ‘[m]any writers about the human response to trauma have observed that a feeling of helplessness, of physical or emotional paralysis, is fundamental to making an experience traumatic […]: the person was unable to take any action that could af fect the outcome of events.’1 While these attributes are most usually associated with those who have survived catastrophe at first-hand, the sense of there being nothing that could have been done, of impotency, of lack of agency extends to those close-up against, but not immediately imperilled by disaster as well as to those whose witnessing takes place on safer shores. In her essay on documentary films about Hurricane Katrina, Janet Walker, referring to one instance of situated testimony in Spike Lee’s When the Levees Broke (2006), describes the moment when a survivor ‘looks straight into the lens […] with her remembered helplessness’ as she witnessed a neighbour f loating in the f loodwaters.2 Much more recently, a searing account from a witness to the shipwreck of a boat carrying asylum seekers from Iran and Iraq to the Australian territory of Christmas Island reported hearing the screams of children as the boat broke up in the crashing waves. Her voice faltering, the unnamed witness related that ‘it was terrifying to watch and...
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