That which stimulates and numbs us : the museum in the age of trauma / by Lisa Shinkle Patt.
This dissertation examines four museum projects that opened in the last quarter of the 20th century with the purpose of presenting traumatic cultural material to the general public. These museums are (1) the Narrenturm Federal Pathological-Anatomical Museum in Vienna, (2) the Temple of Confessions by Guillermo Gómez-Peña, (3) the NAMES Project Memorial Quilt (the AIDS Quilt), and (4) the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C. Although focusing on diverse materials, these projects are similar in the way they challenge the “edification” paradigm that describes the function of the traditional museum. In studying museums built to accommodate traumatic material, we must consider not only the physical objects but also the potential for viewers coming upon the traumatic material to become traumatized. Viewer traumatization contradicts the edification paradigm because, by definition, trauma occurs in individuals when they cannot assimilate what stands before them into their existing knowledge. In order to understand how these museum projects present traumatic material and deal with potentially traumatic effects on viewers, it is necessary to construct an alternative museum paradigm. Because trauma is a central concern of psychoanalysis, it is productive to use psychoanalytic theory in this construction. The psychoanalytic museum paradigm eschews models that begin their analysis with the museum object or collection. Instead, the new paradigm focuses on the performative acts (symptoms) of the museum visitor. In these four museum projects, symptoms point to the presence of trauma in the viewer. In this dissertation, the psychoanalytic museum paradigm, developed through a consideration of the work of Sigmund Freud and Jacques Lacan, is proposed and developed. It is used to help unravel the symptoms of trauma in the museum visitor, especially the often perplexing and contradictory behaviors that follow its manifestation. In a final analysis, this study proposes new configurations for museums that will be built in the future to present traumatic material to the general public.
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