Trauma as a wound in time. I was listening to a podcast by an English professor, and he said these words, and I stopped glancing around the subway car and started to listen for real.
The professor, Philip Weinstein, was referring to Freud and Modernist writers. And while I will never pretend to know much about either, and I have no idea what the current thinking on Freud is, this image resonated in both my life and the people around me.
The idea is that a trauma traps us in the moment of pain, that we “operate in the scene of now and the scene of then.” Meaning that traumatized people are only partly present now.
He said this to try and pierce the certainty of most of the literature we read, in which everyone is sure of their memory, sure of time.
So is everyone scattered across time, stuck in moments of little trauma? When we deal with others, how much is in the present and how much in this kaleidoscope of time, of these hard moments that wound and build and shape our personalities.
But mostly, I think of New York City after 9/11. I realize now that for months, if not years afterwards, everyone around me was split between those weeks in September and the present. I could not understand at the time the lionization of Giuliani, the acquiesence to the Patriot Act, to the Iraq War even. But maybe this is it.
And why was I not stuck in that moment (though now I think I have been in other ways)? Because I had gotten stuck to some degree, big or small I can’t tell, in other moments. I lived for three years in post-war Croatia, so the weeks after 9/11 were nothing new, they evoked old traumas. And while maybe they deepened them, I just wasn’t stuck in that moment in the same way. I know we all got stuck in that moment differently, but there was a unity to the response that I still don’t get.
Or maybe I do now a little. Thanks to Freud.
Here is the link to the hour-long lecture.