Healing trauma starts where you are
“Writing on trauma is hard. It is harder not to. Nor can one easily stop, once one has started. As an open wound that cannot close over festering, trauma, if we do not write on it, begins to write on us” says Frank Seeburger in the Preface to his beautiful book on trauma, identity and community (1). It feels very much like this, when one starts to be interested in culture and trauma. Sooner or later she finds herself being immersed in intensive images and emotions a fundamental questions aries: „Should what I do be personal, or should it rather try to keep objective scientific distance?” With the course of time, reading and writing proves it be absolutely irrelevant, and the discovery comes, that any writing on trauma must be in this way or another personal, it is inevitable, aside from our personal story, as any way to reflect, define or conceptualize is based on the traumatized cultural tools we use.
It is always somehow easier and reassuring to relate to some distant cultural aspect of trauma, to define this or that fragment of reality as post-traumatic, while at the same time keeping the illusion of own un-wounded area. The trauma may remain delegated „somewhere there” – to some other culture, that is or was coming through difficult historical times. On the other hand speaking about our own culture, reaching deeper in its history might feel like drowning in depth of the sea of mourning and complicated feelings that are not always wanted come up. These two dimensions might be however essential to any writing that considers cultural trauma: one needs to relate both to one’s area of woundedness and one’s area of health – be it only symbolic or hoped for. The situation complicates in case of massive losses, and in the moments of history like the in XXth century it is difficult to relate to any of the European culture of not being post-traumatic, not being touched by overwhelming, unbelievable courses of events which in some regions touched almost every family, in others touched population more indirectly, even if by a cultural isolation.
Writing here relates to some specific fragment of European culture which can be without much consideration called post-traumatic reality – Polish culture (although we are far away from thinking about ourselves in these terms in everyday life), and speaking about other cultures, I am painfully aware, can be done here only from this specific perspective. This region, which at the end of XVIIIth lost its idenpendece for over 100 years, then after short regained independence was then turned by Nazis into massive grave and is the most often mentioned when it comes to the location of Nazi concentration camps because of Aushwitz, was turned by historical course of events from multicultural and multi religious country during once century into the country of Polish catholics, which borders after war were established by big empires whim, and afterwards was turned into a decades of repressive communists erasure, carries almost too many wounds and scars, which as can be easily imagined, continue to influence in invisible way the next generations’ life.
This is not very much unusual in Central and Eastern Europe, as shows Anne Applebaum in her great book: “The Iron Curtian. Crushing of Eastern Europe…”, where every region carries its own painful history. It allows at the same time to reflect on the next fundamental question: “If trauma demands from us some tools to be able to contain it, symbolical ability to transform it, a language that with the course of time can speak of unspeakable, how is it possible for the damaged to work on their own damage, with the damaged cultural tools, and damaged trust into symbolical order?”
The question seems to be depressive at first, giving the image of the impossible, but, as I hope to show with the images, words, pieces of films and fragments of what was and what still is, the cultural and group life continue to work on its own woundednes even in condition of a massive losses, and its long-term consequences.
It might carry some synchronistic meaning that the decision of this kind of writing is made while again in the face of the dynamics in the East of Ukraine we are all in the middle of differentiation of which feelings come from the past and which from current threat. But, again, coming back to Seeburger’s book, “writing on trauma must be given a beginning and and end, which remains a matter of chance – of the crossing of chains of innumerable factors (…). One must begin writing somewhere, but there is no one place to begin, so one just begins where one begins – then ends where one ends.”
Post picture: permanent exhibition for Dead Class by Tadeusz Kantor. See more…
1. Frank Seeburger, „The Open Wound: Trauma, Identity, Community”
2. Anne Applebaum, „Iron Curtain: The Crushing of Eastern Europe, 1944-1956″