Archives for : March2015

Trauma is Evil, Creativity is Good


DSC00481One doesn’t ordinarily think of trauma as evil. We may think about people who inflict trauma as evil, but not the experience of trauma itself. I think it’s useful to see trauma as evil.

Evil was not always what bad people do. Today the Holocaust is the leading image of evil. It comes as a surprise that for over a century the Lisbon earthquake of 1755 was the paradigm of evil. Tens of thousands perished, and Voltaire wrote Candide, a satire about this best of all possible worlds. Theodicy, or the justice of God, was debated as never before. Consider how differently evil must have been understood then: not what humans do, but what humans suffer.

This view of evil is ancient, going back to what the Hebrew Scriptures called rac. Evil is anything that is bad or harmful to humans (Isa. 45.7; Jer.4.6; Amos 3.6; Mic. 2.3; Eccles. 1.13; Job 2.10). It’s an ancient way of thinking about evil, but it has its advantages, particularly if we think about what trauma does. Trauma unmakes the victim’s world, to use Elaine Scarry’s phrase. And trauma makes it almost impossible for the victim to put his or her world back together again.

What does this mean? For some it means that the victim is unable to testify to his or her own experience. This is an influential view held by Cathy Caruth, Dori Laub, and Soshana Felman, among others. It does not seem to be literally true. The testimony of thousands of victims of the Holocaust provides the counter evidence.

Continue Reading >>


Demystifying transgenerational trauma. Review of History Beyond Trauma and The Shell and the Kernel.


B0000722History Beyond Trauma, by Françoise Davoine and Jean-Max Gaudillière, has been well-received for over ten years. I could hardly find a negative review. But, in my view the book provides no evidence at all for its most fundamental claim: that historical and social trauma is the origin of madness (pp xxii-xxiii).

To be sure, intergenerational trauma exists. Parents inflict it on their children. Davoine and Gaudillière recognize this, but the message the book sends, and certainly this message has been widely received, is that historical traumas such as war are passed down the generations in ways that can’t be readily explained by the familiar experiences of children in troubled families.

Continue Reading >>


Daddy Mad Face and Daddy Angel Face: trauma and attachment

DSC00634Consider the following odd exchange between parent and child.

There were two sides to my father. I called them Daddy Mad Face and Daddy Angel Face.

We had a game we played when we were quite young. When Dad arrived home late on a cold, dark night, we’d make him go out again, first turning up his collar and mussing up his hair. Cast by us as some poor, homeless wanderer he’d knock at the door and we’d bring him into the warmth, take his coat and lead him to the table. It was a strangely satisfying ritual that I wanted to repeat over and over again.

Dad escaped from a train bound for Auschwitz, leaving behind his mother, his brothers and sister – Lawrence, Henry, Fela, Tola – their husbands, their wives and their children. And, as I found out only a few years ago, his first wife.

Sometimes we’d ask questions that must have caused him a lot of pain. How could you leave your mother on the train? “They would shoot you.” Why didn’t you fight? “They would shoot you.” Why didn’t you all just run away? “They would shoot you.” How can you be sure they are all really dead? “I went back.”

He firmly banned us from having toy guns, until we nagged for long enough. Once, looking down the sights of a toy rifle he got for my brother, he remarked almost casually, “I saw them shoot the breasts off a woman.”


Continue Reading >>