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Judith Herman’s new book, Truth and Repair is disappointing

Judith Herman’s new book, Truth and Repair is disappointing

A review in the New York Times calls Judith Herman’s recently published Truth and Repair, “a beautiful, profound and important book.” (Kenneally)  In some ways that may be true.  What it’s not is a “blazing bookend” to Trauma and Recovery (1992).  Not only is this just about the silliest phrase I’ve ever read in a review, but it’s wrong.  Truth and Repair never deals with the internal changes necessary to overcome the wounds of trauma, above all the experiences of dissociation and the constant presence of the past.  The books between the bookends never touch.  The inner world of trauma is lost to reflections on tyranny, enlightenment, and justice. 

Recognition and justice, what truth and repair look like to Herman, may help the traumatized woman integrate her inner self.  But it’s also possible that this integration will remain superficial, social not psychological.  Social integration may drive psychological disintegration further underground.  Herman fails to address this complexity.   

Trauma isolates

Because trauma isolates and shames, says Herman, recovery must be social. 

If traumatic disorders are afflictions of the powerless, then empowerment must be a central principle of recovery. If trauma shames and isolates, then recovery must take place in community. These are the central therapeutic insights of my work. (p 7)

Tracing the recovery of survivors over time a large body of research has now documented facts that make intuitive sense: social support is a powerful predictor of good recovery, while social isolation is toxic. People cannot feel safe alone, and they cannot mourn and make meaning alone. (p 8)

Herman is concerned with only two types of trauma, the sexual abuse of children and the domination of women by force.  This is no criticism, and it allows her to see trauma as continuous with tyranny, and tyranny as continuous with patriarchy, the original tyranny.  But these are political categories, and while the trauma of sexual and marital abuse takes place in a political environment, its suffering is not necessarily resolved by rendering it social.  I worry when psychic trauma is seen from a political point of view.  Not because trauma isn’t political, but because a political point of view tends to treat the inside as a mirror of the outside. 

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