Bearing Witness or the Vicissitudes of Listening

A Record That Has Yet to Be Made The listener to the narrative of extreme human pain, of massive psychic trauma, faces a unique situation. In spite of the presence of ample documents, of searing artifacts and of fragmentary memoirs of anguish, he comes to look for something that is in fact nonexistent; a record that has yet to be made. Massive trauma precludes its registration; the observing and recording mechanisms of the human mind are temporarily knocked out, malfunction. The victim's narrative-the very process of bearing witness to massive trauma--does indeed begin with someone who testifies to an absence, to an event that has not yet come into existence, in spite of the overwhelming and compelling nature of the reality of its occurrence. While historical evidence to the event which constitutes the trauma may be abundant and documents in vast supply, the trauma-as a known event and not simply as an overwhelming shock-has not been truly witnessed yet, not been taken cognizance of. The emergence of the narrative which is being listened to-and heard-is, therefore, the process and the place wherein the cognizance, the "knowing" of the event. is given birth to. The listener, therefore, is a party to the creation of knowledge de novo. The testimony to the trauma thus includes its hearer, who is, so to speak, the blank screen on which the event comes to be inscribed for the first time. By extension, the listener to trauma comes to be a participant and a co-owner of the traumatic event through his very listening, he comes to partially experience trauma in himself. The relation of the victim to the event of the trauma, therefore, impacts on the relation
56 57

Her presence was indeed barely noteworthy in spite of the overwhelming magnitude of the catastrophy she was addressing. He has to address all these. The listener to trauma needs to 58 know all this. people were running. a companion in a journey onto an uncharted land. has to be at the same time a witness to the trauma witness and a witness to himself." There was a silence in the room. watched the videotaped testimony of the woman. psychoanalysts. therefore. "All of sudden. passion and color were infused into the narrative. He needs to know that the trauma survivor who is bearing witness has no prior knowledge. shots. battle cries. and if trauma is to emerge. The listener to trauma. The gates of Auschwitz closed and the veil of obliteration and of silence. a conference of historians. The listener. through his simu1taneous awareness of the continuous How of those inner hazards both in the trauma witness and in himself. exploding it into a shower of sights and sounds. Many months later. He needs to know that such knowledge dissolves all barriers. therefore. To not return from this silence is rule rather than exception. It is only in this way. when facing it. mostly to herself. grave-like landscape with dashing meteoric speed. The listener. The number of chimneys was misrepresented. and a binding oath. gathered to reflect on the relation of education to the Holocaust. speaking mutely both in silence and in speech. position and perspective. so that its henceforth impossible witnessing can indeed take place. so that they can assume the form of testimony. Since the memory of the testifying woman turned out to be. The comet of intensity and of aliveness. She was slight. She became subdued again and her voice resumed the uneventful. Testimony and Historical Truth A woman in her late sixties was narrating her Auschwitz experience to interviewers from the Video Archive for Holocaust Testimonies at Yale. brilliant moment from the past swept through'thefrozen stillness of the muted. She was relating her memories as an eyewitness of the Auschwitz uprising. breaks all boundaries of time and place. a fixed silence against which the woman's words reverberated loudly. if he is to carry out his function as a listener. both from behind and from within the speech. however. almost talking in whispers. The testimony was not accurate. a sudden intensity. needs to know "the lay of the land"-the landmarks. Historically. as though carrying along an echo of the jubilant sounds exploding from behind barbed wires. almost monotonous and lamenting tone. of self and subjectivity. explosions. that he can become the enabler of the testimony-the one who triggers its initiation. confusion. He or she must listen to and hear the. The Hames shot into the sky. It was no longer the deadly timelessness of Auschwitz. a journey the survivor cannot traverse or return from alone. only one chimney was blown up. Silence ls for them a fated exile. A dazzling. and the pitfalls in the witness and in himself. one cou1d not accept-nor give credence 59 . injury. so as to be a guide and an explorer. a stampede of people breaking loose. to which he has to pay attention and respect if he is to properly carry out his task. it serves them both as a sanctuary and as a place of bondage. know them from within. at once oppressive and repressive. He or she must recognize. even if this simply means respect-and knowing how to wait. The listener must know all this and more. dread and conflicts that the trauma victim feels.Bearing Witnesa of the listener to it. fallible. descended once again. She was fu1lythere. the explosion of vitality and of resistance faded andreceeded into the distance. to a degree. self-effacing.debate ensued. a battleground for forces raging in himself. he nonetheless does not become thevictim-he preserves his own separate place. the undercurrents. "we saw four chimneys going up in flames." she said. The listener has to feel the victim's victories. Yet the meteor from the past kept moving on. while carrying out his function of a witness to the trauma witness. in this way. acknowledge and address that silence. as well as the guardian of its process and of its momentum. That while silence is defeat.silence. with the experience of the victim. therefore. a destination. It was unbelievable. shrinks aW<iY from it and is apt to close off at any moment. leaving hardly a trace. and artists. not all four. While overlapping. That the speakers about trauma on some level prefer silence so as to protect themselves from the fear of being listened to-and of listening to themselves. no comprehension and no memory of what happened. by definition partakesof the stru~te of the victim with the memories and residues of his or her traumatic past. is also a separate human being and will experience hazards and struggles of his own. screams. The woman fell silent and the tumults of the moment faded. exploding. historians claimed. and the latter comes to feel the bewilderment. A lively . That he or she profoundly fears such knowledge. The listener. in an attempt to better understand the era. She tread lightly. defeats and silences. yet also a home.

I felt. and return every night with various items of clothes and shoes in excellent condition. The woman testified to an event that broke the all compelling frame of Auschwitz. and though my attitude vis-a-vis her testimony was different than the attitude of the historians. unexpected information. And whether my agenda would have been historical or psychoanalytical. more crucial: the reality of an unimaginable occurrence. She did not think of them as the remainings of the thousands who were gassed. She did not ask herself where they had come from.Bearing Witness Bearing wUness to-her whole account of the events. the Jewish underground was. would I have questioned her about it? Probably not. She did not. and to hear. a hearing. but I myself did not know. where Jewish armed revolts just did not happen. One chimney blown up in Auschwitz was as incredible as four. moreover. I knew. that what the woman did know in a way that none of us did-what she came to testify aboutcould come forth and could receive. the Jewish inmates found themselves completely alone." one historian passionately exclaimed. diverging. Had [ known. the specific contribution of the Polish underground to the defeat: I did not know of the extent of the betrayal. The listener must be quite well informed if he is to be able to. I asked nothing more about her work. The testifying woman spoke indeed at length of her work in a commando that would leave each morning. 60 My attempt as interviewer and as listener was precisely to respect-not to upset. but failed to do so. Yet knowledge should not hinder or obstruct the listening with foregone conclusions and preconceived dismissals. or could not. Does the term "Canada commando" mean anything to her? I followed up. Of course. She ascribes importance to an attempt that. It was only at the price of this respect. She was perking up again as she described these almost breathtaking exploits of rescue. I had myself the opportunity of encountering--<iuring the very process of the interviewing--questions similar in nature to those that the historians were now raising. least the revisionists in history discredit everything. the better. which had promised to assist in the rebellion. since such questions might have in effect suppressed her message. The historians' stance. They Dung themselves into their death. In this respect." he insisted. "Don't you see." The psychoanalyst who had interviewed that woman happened to have been myself.hear-to be able to pick up the cues. The presents she brought back to her fellow inmates. separately from the others. it is by no means ignorance that I espouse. taken aback. She emphasized with pride the way in which. She testified to the breakage of a framework. the silence out of which this testimony spoke. more radical. The event itself was almost inconceivable. by asking questions that could have derailed the testimony. The number mattered less than the fact of the occurrence. as though startled by my question. When the attempt to break out of the camps began. newer clothes and shoes. know. that the Auschwitz uprising was put down. That was historical truth. I might have felt driven to confirm my knowledge. sometimes. We did not talk of the sorting out of the belongings of the dead. that is. however. No one joined their ranks. Not only was the revolt put down and all the inmates executed. not to know too much. thus saving the lives of some of them who literally had no shoes to walk in and no clothes to protect them from the frost. A psychoanalyst who had been one of the interviewers of this woman. And yet I had to deal with those objections and those questions in a different manner. and by proceeding to hear everything she had to say in light of what I knew already. furthermore. It was utterly important to remain accurate. of course. should not be an obstacle or a foreclosure to new. "not to the number of the chimneys blown up. profoundly disagreed. to respect. had for her no origin. but to something else. differed from my way of listening." she said." When I interviewed the woman. 61 . and had no place. made no difference. she would supply these items to her fellow inmates. alone and in desperation. Had I known. not to trespass-the subtle balance between what the woman knew and what she did not. "No. I figured from the woman's testimony that in Auschwitz she had been a member of what is known as "the Canada commando. it might be useful. I might have had an agenda of my own that might have interferred with my ability to listen. upon returning." a group of inmates chosen to sort out the belongings of those who had been gassed. however. suppressed what she was there to tell me. indeed. betrayed by the Polish resistance. in their firm conviction that the limits of the woman's knowledge in effect called into question the validity of her whole testimony. it might unwittingly have interfered with the process of the testimony. I had probed the limits of her knowledge and decided to back off. so that those belongings could be recuperated by the Nazis and sent back to Germany. historically. "The woman was testifying. "that the woman's eyewitness account of the uprising that tookplace at Auschwitz is hopelessly misleading in its incompleteness? She had no idea what was going on. I asked her if she knew of the name of the commando she was serving on. this respect of the constraints and of the boundaries of silence.

in her possession. yet there are times III which It IS . And she came to testify to the unbelievability. is breaking the frame of the concentration camp by and through her very testimony: she is breaking out of Auschwitz even by her very talking. the melody is gone and "work proceeds" in its empty track-:-a styl~ dance-a minuet of empty postures. that her very testimony was now reenacting. in other words. not to the empirical number of the chimneys. Setting W'rJnessing· in Motion: The Password It has happened to me many times that thinking back to a psychoanalytic session with a patient. Occasionally. of surviving. as w~1I as to the fact of the betrayal of the Polish underground.t. an understanding. She saw four chimneys blowing up in Auschwitz: she saw.. in the same way.<l?d~us make myself known as one who knows. between what I as interviewer did not know 62 and what I knew. in fact. that helped her now to come to know of the event And it was through my listening to her that I in turn came to understand not merely her subjective truth. an event in its own right. and my patient and I . or overshadow-what she was there to tell me. a more subtle melody.It is as though two sunultaneous dialogues proceed and the ordinary one. waiting to be liberated from its captivity of though a cord is struck and an internal chorus. th~ next appointment. and exhaustively. They often do not last. I had to be particularly careful that what I knew would not affect-would not obstruct. Only this time I 63 . then emerges. I thought that she knew more. that barely touches on what it i!i really aU about Such sudden illuminations are not rare. to testify. On the contrary. the one that is cOmJIlQnplace. but to her vital memory of helping people. Can I lock in on it. an essential part of the historical truth she was precisely bearing witness to. of resisting. but the very boundaries of silence which surround it. Because the testifier did not know the number of the chimneys that blew up. center-stage. there is another. to this assertion of resistance. not simply a factual given that is reproduced and replicated by the testifier. however. Yet hardly anything of all this gets explicitly said in wor~. A cue is dropped. of what she had eyewitnessed-this bursting open of the very frame of Auschwitz.the breakage of the frame. . the historians said that she knew nothing. on the other hand. the patient s hfe.. does not break the frame. I had. she had come to testify not to betrayal. I seize upon It and echo it in my response. it was her very talk to me. since she knew about .thought. In a case such as this witness. and its. in other words. The woman's testimony. coerce.patie. precisely. which attest. a thousand voices are set free: The other melody. We part at the end of the session with an ostensible understanding of what went on. that subtler music. to the breakage of the frame ot death. It seems to me that in addition to what ISmanifestly said.In the· process of the testimony to a trauma. as in psychoanalytic practice. She had come. She was testifying not simply to empirical historical facts. I do iOl"getth~m before. Knowledge in the testimony is. but to the very secret of survival and of resistance to extermination. a word by which the patient names h~el~ and #Slc$llgainst all odds for a reciprocal identification.nt ~a~ dISmiSSIt or pass over it in silence. but a genuine advent. because she did not know of the betrayal of the Polish underground and of the violent and desperate defeat of the rebellion of the Auschwitz inmates. I suddenly realize that I have u~de~t~ it Everything falls into place and comes together. however. in the expectation that It be passed QVei'once again. At other times. between what the historians knew and what they did not know. the way in which her silence was itself part of her testimony. in effect.prevalls. indeed. you often do not want to know anything except what the patient tells you. when llose myself in such deliberati?ns. take hold of It? Is It not too esoteric? Is it not simply originating from the deep recesses of my own unconscious? At times. associated to. the issues that slhe was addressing and the ones that were on my mind. because what is important is the situation of discovery of knowledge-its evolution. The. to be all the more cautious because this testifying woman did not simply come to convey knowledge that was already safely. to the-affirmation of survival. This was her way of being.s~nk back lOt? the routine of everyday quabble. but to resistance. for example. barely heard. It is not merely her speech. suddenly resollnding loud and clear. The historians could not hear. the very process of her bearing witness to the trauma she had lived through. dreamt about and elaborated. It has always been there. 1 am aware of both dialogues during ~e cIlIU~aI encounter. to her effective rescuing of lives. but the very historicity of the event. I simply indicate that I know i. very happening. in an entirely new dimension. The historians' testifying to the fact that only one chimney was blown up in Auschwitz. There is thus a subtle dialectic between what the survivor did not know and what she knew. the unimaginable taking place right in front of her own eyes. "Do 1 ~eally_ hear something?" 1 ask myself. . It IS~ though a secret paSsword has been uttered. . today as well as in the past. nor to her actual removal of the belongings of the dead.

. in spite of his unyielding struggle and thirst for life. otherWise than through this black hole both of knowledge and of words. 65 64 . a hstener who can recognize.I life and the driving force that shapes the meanmg of one's destiny. corresponds to the impossibility ohemembering and of forgetting. unWittingly.-- __ . which they have failed to tum around. acknowledge both to myself ~d to my patient. And only this time. builds a new family. To speak up and thus to realize the grip of death. structuring an. that one can give oneself the right to feel as real and~lasfing'. "a concentration of death.. the knowledge of what facing it and living in its shadow are really all about.recognition of a shared knowledge. 417-427.was forced to witness the destruction of his entire f~ily in the Dames of Warsaw and Treblinka He rebounds from it.f as a hst~ner who can precisely recognize.of one's actua.. the only place which can provid~ an analysIS 1984. bef?re destruction. ." in International Review of Psycho- Survivors will experience tragic ." As Nadine Fresco puts it: As if one gave Oneself the right to remember only with genocide as one's memory.made up of selections from the war. As if the very faculty of remembering imd forgetting derived IroIfi the genocide. The slienceformed like a heavy pall that weighed down on everyone. W. The continued powerolthesilenced memory of genocide as anoverriding. when such secret password comes to be a signal that we both share the knowledge of the trauma. otherwise than through the genocide. seems to have represented for these parents too grave a danger for such an action to seem possible. children asked nothing. nor recognized as a massive trauma l would suggest. th~t the figure'of" the concentration" is..~ngjJ in this way both the . an unchanging story. destroys it all again. As if the genocide alone had made you a being of memoryand events not as mere catastrophes. may be. Second Holocausts. the analyst identifies ~1~I. but it is also the ultimate concentration of life. a black-hole.nidus . and the final corroboration of the defeat of their powers to survive and to rebuild. . the ultimate victory of their cruel fate. whIch was the grip of silence. Concentrating at once life and death. then. neither truly known by the survivors. could the door be opened and the hidden voice e~erge and be released.." notes Fresco.J had to hear it first.Itself only in. lN~ne Fresco.. in my listening to victims of trauma and particularly to survivors of the Holocaust and to their children.dshaping force. gaping. a new castle for himself in the South of France. and. Such was the experience of French author Martin Gray. It is thus genocide.tbe form of in~omprehensible attacks of pam . the past before death.again. who. It is thus that the place of the greatest density of silenc~the place of concentration Where death took p)ac~paradoxically becomes for those children of survivors. in hearing it as a signal o~this mutual. vertigino~ black hole of the ~ntionable years . so that it would be possible for him or her to really speak. 'Itwas a silence that swallowed up the past. the black hole in effect collapses.genocide alone. when I was present enough to recogruze and hear the password.marked. The silence wasall the more implacable in that it was often conceal~ behind a screen of W'0rds. in this way. on the basis of her mte~ews Withcllildren of HOlocaust survivors. until a forest fire. I the silence that has swallowed up their past: . ~e gaping.: It IS in ~ wordSthatNadiileFrescodescribes. otherwise than through this "hole of memory. but rather as a second Holocaust. both the gaping hole of genocide and the gaping boleof silence.thus acknowledging. It findSIts way into their lives. II. or the Return of the TI'tlUT1W. through ail uncanny repetition of events that duplicate--in structure and in impact-the traumatic past. The iJIlpOSSibilityof speakiqg and. identify myself to it.-- -. and meet the victim's silence. a tale repeated over and over again. no.Jn. vertiginous black hole" of the experience of the traUma.the password and. "It is. than. in effect. always the same words. Nowhere in my work With patients have I found this to be more true. indeed. all the past. r~ponded. memory of trauma. "Remembering the Unknown. Parents explained ~olhin~. otherwise than through this silence. The Black Hole In.mhe-F-WOrds and meet "~e. The·forbidden memory of ~th IIlimIfest:<." As a site which marks. intum. and is. however. acknowledge that I spoke Its lan~age. who I really was. in fact of listening. ----~-------- ---~. momentarily. access to the life that existed before their birth.

an inescapable fate he couJd neither prevent nor fight.retum. Bettelheim). To her surprise. The act of telling mightitself become severely traumatizing. inexpressible. He promptly gave up the baby for adoption. and not one of that had been mine remained alive .not to love. with nothing but my life . my people. whose life unwittingly bore witness to the trauma of this second holocaust which her father was attempting to repress and tofo~t. For the second time J remained alone.. but further retraumatization. a late sequela of the pregnancies she sho. if the price of speaking isre~living. They are all listening to me and it is this very story that I am telling: the wbistle of three notes. she carried on her father'sIegacy. chik?'en. and he gave In. Levi. only this umearound. Poets and writerswno have broken their silence may have indeed paid with their me lor that deed (Celan. married an Americanborn woman from the nei~borhood. the wife suddenJy died ora severe Internalhemorrhage.1 those ~d such w~ the experience of another man who came to live the tragic I~ss of h~s second family as yet another Holocaust. one mightnot be spared nor have the power to endure.IrI1Soutto be itself a testimony to a history of repetition. rebuild and recreate the farriilYthe father had.. In ~ graves. Moreover: if one talks about the trauma without being truly heard Of truly listened to.e husband she ha~. the hard bed. married and aborted the baby she had conceI~ed. f~led-to. relinquished. When her biological brother. this·~ in ~m had lost all his family in Auschwitz and married another survivor m the DP camp. ·.Jl()~treIief. my siblings. r speak. it seelDed that after all my lonesomeness. thatsmell. not t()dare fate." disappeared for a whole yearostensibly hospltal~zed . the Holocaust from which one had been hiding..ttbat tlm:too. The "second hruocaust"thus tI. The dead mother's name was banned m this new family-her existence was denied. Two Years after the boy was born..later. It was the child. died in them a second death. the time had come forme to ~dmy peace: my wife. I also speak diffusely of our hunger and of the lice-control.other~ents. my friends were corrnng back to life. but. Like Martin Gray. because of persecution-related health damage. Both the father and the daughter slriedaway from knowing and fromgrieving. Iby to cort'iprehend. my parents. a life. and to the inability to talk about it. the crackling of the fire. !1i1Ul:ron ill lIames. but whom I am afraid to wake as he is stronger than me. .· from one generation to another. and a. Primo Levi narrates a recurring nightmare in Auschwitz. the children. boy--of herown and on her own. of their newborn baby-whIch· was experienced by the camp survivor as a second "Martin Gray. to be at home. The couple had two children a girl ~d then a boy. that heatJustl~ Warsaw. It is an intense pleasure. or transmission. I fled from sewers and from Treblinka..·she proceeded to have a baby-a lIttle. my family. without the encumbrance of a.for a mysterious iI1ness. meanwhile estranged and raised ~y. it was the second. Once again everything was taken away from me.the telling might itself be lived as a return of the trauma-a re-experiencing of the event itself. by acting out and living out the lessons learned from hiJJl-. Borowski. physical. reiterated loss of the SUrvIVOr'S !annly--of his first wife and consequently./karlng Wltneu BearlngWitness In Martin Gray's own words:" could save nothing but my naked life. in effect. his daughter. the trauma of the second holocaust ~ witness not just to a history that has not ended.. Amery. husband. But then that blaze. does not end The Dreod Of the Return The fear that fate will strike again is crucial to the memory of trauma.Munich: holocaust.ThrOU$h itsuoCaDllyreoccurrence.devastating blow to which he had no choice but to succumb. and after insisting that the daugh~er call hi~ n~w wife "mother. specifically.. I escaped from ~ltIs of rums. 66 . r A. Their death has reopened all the graves. among friendly people and to have so many things to recount: 67 1988. was totally delighted with the newborn baby. notto risk having a family of her own (forsuchfanlilyandsuch19ved ones were only destined to be taken away again}-and by §ettingPtlt at the same time to refind. her people. at once through the actual return of the trauma and through its inadvertent repetition. When the daughter grew up. Oer Goldman Verlag.uJd not have had.. may come to life and once more be relived. She left th. a loss they could henceforth only relive as hauntingmemory in rea1life. This loss was more than the survjvorcould bear. . to the historical occurrence of an event that. and of the Kapo who hit me on the nose and then sent me to wash myself as I was bleeding.andembarked instead on a mission of repair: to refind and to ~e~am her younger brother-the son her father has lost of his own volition. ~ in Marti? Gray's case. although saddened that she didnot have a conventional family. my neighbour whom I would like to move. On breaking the internal silence. ~rything ~t seemed to have been given to me as a present: a wife. Der Schrei nach Leben.

p. Jacques. In fact.Suroival in Ausduauz. 301-19. with hardly any variations of environment or details. :oaUo~ the psychoanalytic process of evolving knowledge to be set m motion. Stuart Woolf. of tr~a IS uniquely suited for this process to take place. is not truly in tourn.. Alan Sheridan. took place outside the para. although real. both parties nave to 'pass a mutual. test-ei-safety. gets up and goes away·witll()uta word. The trauma is thus an event that has no beginning. of the psychoanalytic work has been described as the Ph~ of Jomt acceptance of the Holocaust reality" by both analyst and patient. Whj1~ the trauma. inside. vol.len~ it a quality of "otherness. .·an event that could not and did not proceed through to Itsc~letio~. an other who can hear the .00 ending. ed. To undo this·entrapmeotin a fate that cannot be known. blow. And it is. must walt With patience and with readiness for the latter to join him in that place. such as causality. is that which always comes back to the same place . 1961.mge ·of assocIatively linked expenences.a Similarly.. Why does it bapgtm? Why is the pcUn of ev~day translated~c()nstantly into our dreams. of reconstructing a his~ory an~essen~ally. not tempered by a sense 01 re&ityand by the intrusion of extraneous cir<!UIDStances." says Lacan. of recounting and of ~tery. lam now quite. This absence of categories that define It. 42. During thisioinrendeavor of the psychoanalytic encounter.~ oJeveryolle. pp. My sister looksirt me. stIlI warm. have to prove to each other that they are stable and. . My dream standSinfrOnt·of me. a~m. trans." This denial by the listener infticts." a salience. as ifI was not there. . 39. 68 .[t is pain in. III lfndo:ing the Enlropment: Psychoanalytic Worlt with Trauma "The real. absence of an empathiclistener. Adesplating grief is now tx. cannot be heard and of a story that cannot be witnessed. 1984.hatitis. a place that is safe and safe~arde41 by human. once having acquired factual information. In psychoanalytic work with survivors indeed. strong enough to. "From Concretism to Metaphor. 52-53. of manY0thers'. literally transfer I! to ano~ outside oneself and then take it back again.tQmy aJDaZement. no . but Wlth. but can only. reality continues to elude the subject who lives in its grip and unwittingly undergoes its ceaseless repetitions and reenactments. this ultimate annihilation of a narrative that. either with the core of his traumatic reality or with the fatedness of Its reenactments. sequence. portrays the image of a man who narrates thestoryof his sufferings in the camps only to hear his audience say: "AU this cannot be true.a.. TeUing th~ ~ntails a reassertion of the hegemony of reality and a re-~~lzatiOn of the evil that affected and contaminated the trauma Victim. awake and I remember that Ihave recQunted it to Alberto and that he.--------------- -- ----~ Bearing Witness but I cannot help noticing that my listeners do not follow me.but this time Ideliberately open my eyes to have·a guarantee In frOnt· of me of being effectivelyawake . precisely. The psychoanalytic reconstruction of the history.. cannot be told. 69 "Jacques Lacan: The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psychoanalysis. no during arid no after. continues into the present and IS c~ent l~ every respect. ThesurvWor. indeed. place and time. has no ending. the stOff. outside the-range of comprehension. The.tbe absence of an addressable other. the ultimately fateful.eless~essand a u~lqUlty that puts it outside the r.confidedto me. ~taras I~ survivors are concerned. likecertain b. presen~e has to be . You must have made it up. attained no closure. in the ever-repeated scene of the unlistened-to story?.its pure state. can sustain and survive.before. trans. and it is better for me to swim once again liP toth~surlace. its ~ Levi..NewYork: Mactnillan/ColUer. which constitutes the mortal eighty-first blow. a pain likethatwhichmaiceschildren cry. affirm the SUse Grubrieh-Slmltls. they are completely indifferent: they speak confusedly of other things among themselves. ~d. The traumaticevent. "in The Psychoanalytic Study of the Child..uncannilyretums in actual life. annihilates . The.n_teters of ''normal'' reality.. in his film The Eighty-first Blow.. Chaim Guri. and although awake I am still fullolitsanguish: and then !remember that it is nota haphazard drearr4but~<[ havedreameditnot once but many times since I arrived here. 1978. pp. in Jewish tradition.berepeated.or more radicalJy. Alain Miller.aIso his dream t and the dream. New York: Norton. Trauma survivorslive not with memories of·the~t. Thi! primary s~e.rnin me. fundamentally. ahead of hi~~tient. of re-extemalizating the eveizt---has to be set m motion.therapeutic process--apr~ess of constructing a narrative. beyond the eighty blows that a man. New Haven: Yale University Press. they.mguish of one's memories and thus affirm and recognize their realness. analyst must often be there first.:u"eIy remembered pains 01 one'~ ~ infan~. and thereby remains entrapped in both. according to the film. it could not have happened. created. and therefore. historical reality bas to be reconstructed and reaffinned bef~reany other work can start. ThIS reexternalizationoftheevent can occur and take effect o~ when one can articulate and transmit the story.

throughout the duration of the testimony. Thus. for only when the survivor knows he is being heard. And he has to see and hear beyond the trauma fragments. in that it is yet another medium which provides a listener to trauma. a latent and forgotten. Testimonies are not monologues. another medium of re-extemalizationand thus historicization--oflheevent As such the testimonial enterprise is yet another mode of struggle against the victims' entrapment in trauma repetition. converge. against their enslavement to the fate of their victimization. through the unfolding of her life account. ( shall leave you. both unobtrusive. or that slhe wishes to remain alone. will he stop to hear-and listen to--himself. to get too intense. yet not succumb to the temptation and the danger of a premature 70 71 . accelerate.Bearing Witness Bearing Witness reality of the terror of the extermination camps in actual nonmetaphoricai statements. lmplieltly. so much hopelessness. in the lead. From a clinical perspective. they cannot take The task of the listener is to be . when the flow of fragments falters.unobtrusively present. The witnesses are talking to somebody: to somebody they have been waiting for for a long time. Paradoxically enough. that the survivor is enabled to surrender himself to the psychoanalytic process and to reclaim both his life and his past. at the end of the journey. threaten. Where such circles of associations and reflections intersect. I will propose that there is a need for a tremendous libidinal investment in those interview situations: there is so much destruction recounted. in tum set-in-motion a testimonial process similar in nature to the psychoanalytic process. throughout the testimony. the listener has to enhance them and induce their free expression. in complete withholding. even when and if at moments the narrator becomes absent. He has to move quietly and decisively in bringing things together. When the trauma fragments. we can try to understand what is happening in the testimonial interviews in the technical. although very much in someone's presence. the interviewer has to be. too tumultuous and out of hand. active.. assist in its full deliverance. to modulate their tlow. he has to reign them in. a wish for aloneness that sometimes coincides . reaches an almost detached state. a process that includes the listener. I find the process that is set in motion by psychoanalytic practice and by the testimony to be essentially the same. For the testimonial process to take place. nondirective. ('II be with you all the way. with the emergence of a creative testifying sell.memory might suddenly emerge-come back to lif~stablishing a further link 'in the testimonial chain. It is only when and if this task is accomplished. otherwise the whole. to resume contact. and yet imminently present. experience of the testimony can end up in silence. the listener says to the testi6er: "For this limited time. the listener has to be exquisitely responsive to these cues. The listener has to respond very subtly to cues the narrator is giving that slhe wants to come back. to wider circles of reflections. The Listening Position: The Interviewer's Task Undoing the Entrapment: The Testimonial Process Autobiographical accounts of trauma such as the historical testimonies recorded by the Video Archive for Holocaust Testimonies at Yale. ( want to go wherever you go. the intimate and total presence of an other-in the position of one who hears. With all the obvious and Perhaps irreconcilable differences between these two perspectives. place in solitude. Survivors beginning to remember often desire to be alone. My personal experience comprises both these perspectives of listening to trauma: that of the analyst in my practice with patients and that of the historical witness-of the testimonial interviewer-in recorded interviews with Holocaust survivors. metaphorically approximate terms of "a brief treatment contract": a contract between two people. The listener must firmly be there to confirm it. and I'll hold and protect you along this journey. Because trauma returns in disjointed fragments in the memory of the survivor. to keep alive. that there has to be an abundance of holding and of emotional investment in the encounter.' For lack of a better term. on the contrary. one of whom is going to engage in a narration of her trauma. both in the narrator and in myself as listener (analyst or interviewer). there needs to be a bonding. Then. the listener has to let these trauma fragments make their impact both on him and on the witness." Bearing witness to a trauma is. Testimony is the narrative's address to hearing. thus. as much as I can. the witnessing narration. in fact. so much loss. so much death.

of losing the ones that are close to us. These are some of the ways in which the listener feels the need to protect himself from the offshoots of the trauma and from the intensity of the flood of affect that. ~at w_em~~ to avoid in our daily living. Insofar as they remind us of a horrible. rebuilt new friendships. survivors 73 • A sense of total paralysis. and the thrust of this rebuilding covers the widest spectrum of activities and the highest levels of accomplish-.g ~ime and i. a fragility. an absorbing interest in the factual details of the account which serve to circumvent the human experience. and inadvertently wish for the illness to be the patient's responsibility and wrongdoing. and have kept the careers highly successful and the families intensely bonded and cohesive. • A flood of awe and fear. ~nceforth. or the Holocaust experience. • A sense of total withdrawal and numbness. keep erecting castles. through the testimony. • Hyperemotionally which superficially looks like compassion and caring. A Cultural Transvaluation Sometimes the defenses in the listener are engendered. of parents and children. or through a crushed surrender to the ubiquity of silence. They cannot stop. rebuilt their lives. The notion of a life cycle which comprises a diversity of rhythms and of phases. the great question of our ultimate aloneness. new families. often through preoccupation WIth trivia. driven productivity.l As one comes to know the survivor. of the meaning and purpose of living. There are hazards to the listening to trauma Trauma-and its impact on the hearer-leaves. Survivors have. a nightmare. These listening defenses may include the following: • Foreclosure through facts. dedicated effort remains a danger. consciously or not. ment. . The Holocaust experience is an inexorable and. is radically alien to their self-perception and does not pertain to their life scheme. to avoid the intimacy entailed in knowing. and that is not a simple task. The testifier is simply flooded. The listener can no longer ignore the question of facing death: of facin. ~hich might be reached. through a cognitive suppression. one really comes to know oneself." ahead of time. Yet in the center of this massive. our responsibility to and for our destiny. to withdraw into a safer place. • A sense of outrage and of anger. of the limits of one s omrupotence. To maintain a sense of safety in the face of the upheaval of such ques~ons and the onslaught of the images of trauma. ceaselessly erecting fortresses against the danger of its own annihilation. a cycle in which one can sometimes take pause and decide to change direction. an urgency to pull back. both to pay our tribute to him and to keep him at a distance. a woundedness that defies all healing. traumatic past. . the listener in tum experiences a need. a place where he can in turn protect himself. The survival experience. we endow the survivor with a kind of sanctity. an unavoidable confrontation with those questions. by any measure. unwittingly directed at the victim-the narrator. indeed no hiding place intac. a journey fraught with dangers lies ahead. Another version of this foreclosure.ts~e. in fact. We are tom apart by the madequacy of our ability to properly respond.------ Bearing Witness Bearing Witness f?reclosure. which he needs to control and of which he needs to be aware if he is to carry out his task. new careers. The Hazorrls 01 Listening For the listener who enters the contract of the testimony. we often feel angry at that person. of this obsession with factfinding is a listener who already "knows it ail. in response to the defensive life activities the listener observes or senses in trauma survivors. the listener experiences a range of defensive feelings. brought about by the threat of flooding-by the fear of merger with the atrocities being recounted. leaving little space for the survivor's story. When we meet a friend who has a malignant dise~. Most Holocaust survivors have. insofar as they bear witness to our own historical dis figuration. our otherness from any other. the question of loving and its limits.-----------------------. Before the defensive fierceness of this relentless productivity. through an emotional catharsis. through an obsession with factfinding. drowned and lost in the listener's defensive affectivity. this fierce' undoing of destruction. comes to be directed toward him. and so on. Around and against this woundedness survivors keep amassing fortunes. They cannot help but keep up this relentless. cannot divert their gaze. is a very condensed version of most of what life is all about it contains a great many existential questions. a1t~tively.

constitutes as yet another threat in that it is the vehicle of an inexorable historical transvaluation. They PQ~ for us a riddle and a threat from which we cannot tum away.implidtrevolutiQn in all values.' Their very life-assertion. New York: Norton. as asserters of life out of the uery dislntegration and deRation of the old culture. a reevaluation _J. As a wa~ershed event.(l. investments. the Holocaust entailed an.l[JQJlseaNietzsrhean ten. families and institutions have lost their meaning." which may itself be explained as a historical diversion. We are indeed profoundly terrified to truly face the traumasolour history. have lost their context.' political conventions. Within today's "culture of narcissism. a philosophical escape from. the depth and the subversive power of the Holocaust experiencethe survivors. What can we learn from the realization of our fear? What can we learn from the trauma. from the testimony and from the very process of our listening? In the wake of the atrocities andol the trawna that took place in the Second World War. 74 . The Culture of Narcissism.BeurlngWitness frighten us. "Ct. unwittingly embody a cultural shock value that has not yet been assimilated. and a psychological denial of. cultural values. 1978. paradoxically enough. a trivialization. social mores. the implications of which we have yet to understand. Christopher Lasch. a "tz"ansvaluilJioll" of which we have not yet meaSured the array of cultural implications for the future. national identities. much like the survivor and the listener are.

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