Archives for : transitional objects

What makes trauma political? And how does it work?

Can a society or culture be traumatic? No, it doesn’t make sense. No matter how closely we are imbricated in each other’s lives, trauma remains an individual experience. Nevertheless, a society or culture can make it easier or more difficult for its members to bear trauma. It is in this way that trauma becomes a political issue. (My argument applies to societies of ordinary immorality, not to regimes like Nazi Germany, Stalin’s Russia, or Mao’s China.)

D. W. Winnicott, a British psychoanalyst, concluded that a traumatic culture is one which its members can’t appropriate and make their own. Behind this way of thinking is the idea that a culture is itself a transitional experience. The first transitional experience is the child’s experience with a favorite toy or “blankie,” a soft object that represents me and not me, mother and not mother. Transitional objects are logical impossibilities: something that is and isn’t at the same time. It is through our relationship with transitional objects that people are able to take first a comforting object, and later the resources of an entire culture, such as its music, food, smells, art, movies, and so forth and make them their own.

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