The crisis of the modern human subject in the wake of traumatic encounters / by Tsila Elbaz.
This dissertation examines the crisis of the modern human subject in the wake of historical catastrophes, such as Auschwitz and Hiroshima. These traumatic historical events dramatize the inherent crisis of the modern subject and bring into light the impossibility of conceiving of the human subject as an autonomous unified being, as modernity seeks to portray it. At the end of the twentieth century the human subject is placed in the site of trauma, which confronts it with a profound rupture with its epistemological and ethical foundations that were issued by the imperative of consciousness and reason. This dissertation is composed of four chapters, in which the first one provides the essence of the human subject in the modern epoch and the paradoxes that emerge from the singular modern vision of the human subject as an autonomous subject who makes reason and consciousness the guiding principles for its life. This exploration is inevitably engaged with the modern philosophical discourse, through Descartes and Kant who essentially instituted the modern subject and influenced the conceptualization of the subject of psychoanalysis. The following chapters focus on the crisis that the human subject endures in the wake of historical traumatic events and the forms by which this crisis manifests itself, specifically epistemological and ethical crisis. Two films, directed by Alain Resnais, Night and Fog and Hiroshima, Mon Amour serve as my clinical material to explore the above.Night and Fog, a documentary film on the concentration camps, shows that the trauma of Auschwitz exceeds reason and representation and confronts the human subject with epistemic rupture. But more significantly trauma betrays a violation of ethical obligation that defines us as human subject to begin with. I explore the work of Freud, Lacan and Caruth who view trauma as a missed experience and discuss the ways their works on trauma touch upon subjectivity, epistemology and ethics. Through the literary and psychoanalytic work of Felman, Laub and Oliver I address the crisis of epistemology as evidenced through the crisis of testimony and bearing witness to trauma, and the necessity of an ethical engagement that the act of bearing witness calls for. The discussion of ethical engagement is elaborated through focusing on the address-ability and response-ability that Oliver identifies in the structure of witnessing and which she views as fundamental for subjectivity itself. Drawing upon the work of Oliver and Matte-Blanco I suggest that by placing ourselves simultaneously in a symmetrical relationality with each other and in an asymmetrical relationality with ultimate otherness we are obliged to one another, which in turns makes us responsible for the traumatic encounters we inflict on each other.Hiroshima, Mon Amour presents melancholia and abjection in the wake of traumatic atrocity. The film presents us with a private calamity that is parallel to and part of sociopolitical violence. Alongside with exploring the impossibility of rendering traumatic history, this chapter focuses on melancholia experienced by the French heroine following the loss of her German lover. Melancholia and abjection are discussed through the work of Freud and Kristeva, and through my examination both reveal a lack of object-relation, a failure of linguistic symbolic activity and a symmetrical mode of functioning that essentially testify of an epistemological and ethical crisis. The last chapter addresses the significance of the therapeutic situation in the context of traumatic encounters. It is not only that trauma demands from the therapeutic encounter a distinct listening, address-ability and response-ability, but also trauma teaches us that ethical engagement and ethical obligation need to be part of the therapeutic milieu.
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