Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Unclaimed Experience

I read Cathy Caruth’s book Unclaimed Experience: Trauma, Narrative, and History for a research project I’m working on. The author is well known for her work on trauma theory.

According to Caruth, “the term trauma is understood as a wound inflicted not upon the body but upon the mind” (3). “In its most general definition, trauma describes an overwhelming experience of sudden or catastrophic events in which the response to the event occurs in the often delayed, uncontrolled repetitive appearance of hallucinations and other intrusive phenomena” (11). Caruth applies trauma theory to works by Freud, Kant, and Lacan, among others.

The most interesting part of Unclaimed, though, is not found in the book itself. One chapter analyzes the French film Hiroshima mon amour in terms of trauma theory. Naturally, I immediately had to rent and watch the movie for myself.

Filmed in 1959, Hiroshima follows a French actress making a movie about “peace” in Hiroshima. She has a brief and intense sexual encounter with a Japanese man. The relationship releases the traumatic experiences both endure because of the war: the woman’s German lover is killed, and she is ostracized; the man’s family perishes in Hiroshima while he is away fighting in the war.

Perhaps the most moving element of the film, though, is the actual footage of bombing victims. I could only weep at the images of mangled, burned, and dying children.

For someone so obsessed with atrocities committed in Europe during WWII, I am ashamed for practically ignoring the carnage perpetrated by Americans. If only Caruth could tell me how to reconcile myself with this part of my own history, with the trauma inflicted by American hands.

1 comment:

notaconnoisseur said...

I think one of the first times that I was really struck by how destructive bombing or fire could be was when the fires raged through Oakland, CA several years ago. The pictures of the houses following that fire were basically of concrete slabs. The fires had burned so hot that even the refrigerators and stoves were consumed. Of course, a bomb would not even leave the concrete slab foundation. We definitely need more understanding and compassion in our world.