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Writing History, Writing Trauma (Parallax:…
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Writing History, Writing Trauma (Parallax: Re-visions of Culture and… (edição 2000)

por Dominick LaCapra

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Trauma and its often symptomatic aftermath pose acute problems for historical representation and understanding. In "Writing History, Writing Trauma, " Dominick LaCapra provides a broad-ranging, critical inquiry into the problem of trauma, notably with respect to major historical events. In a series of interlocking essays, he explores theoretical and literary-critical attempts to come to terms with trauma as well as the crucial role post-traumatic testimonies--particularly Holocaust testimonies--have assumed in recent thought and writing. In doing so, he adapts psychoanalytic concepts to historical analysis and employs sociocultural and political critique to elucidate trauma and its after effects in culture and in people.In the first chapter LaCapra addresses trauma from the perspective of history as a discipline. He then lays a theoretical groundwork for the book as a whole, exploring the concept of historical specificity and insisting on the difference between transhistorical and historical trauma. Subsequent chapters consider how Holocaust testimonies raise the problem of the role of affect and empathy in historical understanding, and respond to the debates surrounding Daniel Jonah Goldhagen's book "Hitler's Willing Executioners: Ordinary Germans and the Holocaust." The book's concluding essay, "Writing (About) Trauma," examines the various ways that the voice of trauma emerges in written and oral accounts of historical events. Theoretically ambitious and historically informed, "Writing History, Writing Trauma" is an important contribution from one of today's foremost experts on trauma.… (mais)
Membro:loop
Título:Writing History, Writing Trauma (Parallax: Re-visions of Culture and Society)
Autores:Dominick LaCapra
Informação:The Johns Hopkins University Press (2000), Edition: 1, Paperback, 248 pages
Colecções:A sua biblioteca
Avaliação:****
Etiquetas:Holocaust, history and criticism

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Writing History, Writing Trauma por Dominick LaCapra

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Just an incredible piece of writing; LaCapra is able to take the conversations from his field and apply them writ large to the study of history, and he has so many insightful things to say about trauma, acting out, working through, and how each should be of deep concern to historians. The titular essay honestly should be required reading for all folks studying history--he does a great job of boiling down the field's major arguments while maintaining room for nuance within them. An incredible book, and one I will definitely return to again and again. ( )
  aijmiller | Aug 22, 2018 |
Dominick LaCapra is a Cornell historian concerned with history and historiography, especially how traumatic experiences (which he also refers to as “limit experiences”) relate to historical writing. He might be called one of the first writers to ask serious questions about what has lately come to be known as “trauma studies,” in which he integrates concepts from psychoanalysis, critical and literary theory, and philosophy all for the purpose of better understanding, talking about, and writing about historical traumatic experiences. Because of the way this short book is constructed - it’s a series of five essays in addition to one long interview - there is no unifying thesis but instead a number of ideas that popped into the foreground and, at least in my opinion, were of both real theoretical and practical importance in the writing of history.

The first essay mostly carves out two kinds of historical writing, which LaCapra calls the “documentary or self-sufficient research model” and “radical constructivism.” In the former, “priority is often given to research based on primary (preferably archival) documents that enable one to derive authenticated facts about the past which may be recounted in a narrative (the more ‘artistic’ approach) or employed in a mode of analysis which puts forth testable hypotheses (the more ‘social-scientific’ approach).” The purpose of this method is to tell what happened, how it happened, oftentimes with an emphasis on facts, figures, dates, places, and names. Its extreme form is positivism, which was popular in nineteenth-century historical writing. Radical constructivism, less widely known outside of the academy, suggests that history is merely one mode of writing, and really has no pride of place over any other form of writing, whether it’s philosophical or literary, and that we are mistaken in believing that the writing of history is in any way more objectivist or “real” than a novel. Two proponents of radical constructivism working today are the theorists Frank Ankersmit and Hayden White. LaCapra eschews both of these and advocates for what he calls a “middle voice” – a term he takes from linguistics – which carves out a middle road between these two methodologies which can leave room for both objective facts, but also account for the performative, figurative, aesthetic, rhetorical, political, and ideological factors that “construct” structure and narrative. As LaCapra asks in another essay, “Rather, the problem [of resolving these two approaches] is how an attentiveness to certain issues may lead to better self-understanding and to a sensitivity or openness to responses that generate necessary tensions in one’s account. This attentiveness creates, in Nietzsche’s term, a Schwergewicht, or stressful weight in inquiry, and it indicates how history in its own way poses problems of writing or signification which cannot be reduced to writing up the results of research” (p. 105).

In the second essay, “Trauma, Absence, Loss,” he argues for a more clear distinction between loss and absence in historical writing – a difference which he says is often made ambiguous. Absence is transhistorical and signifies an existential lack whereas loss is always historical specific and tangible: something is taken away or let go. Therefore, loss always entails absence, but not always vice versa. “My contention is that the difference (or nonidentity) between absence and loss is often elided, and the two are conflated with confusing and dubious results. This conflation tends to take place so rapidly that it escapes notice and seems natural or necessary. Yet among other questionable consequences, it threatens to convert subsequent accounts into displacements of the story of original sin wherein a prelapsarian state of unity or identity, whether real or fictive, is understood as giving way through a fall to difference and conflict” (p. 47-48). In other words, ignoring or not recognizing this difference can exacerbate historical traumas needlessly by creating unnecessary tension.

Another essay, “Perpetrators and Victims,” is in many senses an extended criticism of Daniel Goldhagen’s “Hitler’s Willing Executioners.” LaCapra raises questions as to what the real task of the historian is and what it’s not. Is the job of the historian to attempt to completely identify with the victim of traumatic limit events, or to stay completely, coolly objective? This is different, but slightly related to, the distinction between the two kinds of historical methodology outlined above. It will come as no surprise that LaCapra supports a mediating path that attempts both empathy and concern for the victim, but also a willingness to see how their accounts accord with and sing in tandem with others.

In a couple of the essays, LaCapra discusses another important distinction – between what he calls “acting out” and “working through.” In acting out, a person or society revisits the site (which is not always a physical place) or trauma over and over again, unable to come to terms with it. This is a compulsive behavior which blocks recovery, even if that recovery would never be complete or totally harmonizing. Though he doesn’t explicitly say this in the book, I would imagine two examples would be Nazi sympathizers in modern-day Germany who are still upset, seventy years on, about Allied victory in WWII. Another similar example would be modern-day Americans who historically fetishize the South and their affiliation with it, proudly flying their Confederate flags, denying that they ever lost the Civil War. The other kind of relationship to history – since “acting out” isn’t really a form of resolution at all, but rather a compulsive behavior – is “working through,” which involves a certain distance from historical trauma which will eventually allow for the possibility of healing, acceptance, and political progress. While these two are not mirror images of one another, I found them really useful in thinking about trauma studies as a field and the problems of history writing.

One of the looming themes running through the essays is that historians need to realize and reckon with what LaCapra refers to as, explicitly borrowing language from Freud, as our “transferential implication” in history. History isn’t something that we can separate ourselves from; when writing it, it is necessarily something we implicative ourselves in. While objective facts exist, the objectivism of positivism and the self-sufficient research model have wholly failed to realize this. This, along with their lack of affect toward victims and sensitivity toward kinds of narrativity, largely account for their failures as methodologies.

This is a superb book whose only weaknesses are due to its lack of cohesion as a unifying narrative. Then again, given what LaCapra’s trying to talk about here, this may have been an intended effect, not a mistake. If we’re lucky, we’re always working through history; we’re certainly always implicated in its processes however much we would like to see ourselves as separate from them. There are some wonderful ideas here that any intelligent students of history, in the academy or otherwise, should be exposed to. ( )
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Trauma and its often symptomatic aftermath pose acute problems for historical representation and understanding. In "Writing History, Writing Trauma, " Dominick LaCapra provides a broad-ranging, critical inquiry into the problem of trauma, notably with respect to major historical events. In a series of interlocking essays, he explores theoretical and literary-critical attempts to come to terms with trauma as well as the crucial role post-traumatic testimonies--particularly Holocaust testimonies--have assumed in recent thought and writing. In doing so, he adapts psychoanalytic concepts to historical analysis and employs sociocultural and political critique to elucidate trauma and its after effects in culture and in people.In the first chapter LaCapra addresses trauma from the perspective of history as a discipline. He then lays a theoretical groundwork for the book as a whole, exploring the concept of historical specificity and insisting on the difference between transhistorical and historical trauma. Subsequent chapters consider how Holocaust testimonies raise the problem of the role of affect and empathy in historical understanding, and respond to the debates surrounding Daniel Jonah Goldhagen's book "Hitler's Willing Executioners: Ordinary Germans and the Holocaust." The book's concluding essay, "Writing (About) Trauma," examines the various ways that the voice of trauma emerges in written and oral accounts of historical events. Theoretically ambitious and historically informed, "Writing History, Writing Trauma" is an important contribution from one of today's foremost experts on trauma.

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