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Author: Cassie Pedersen

Abstract

The event of Auschwitz is conceived through a series of contradictions surrounding its ability to be represented. Where some argue that the event marks an unbridgeable rupture in representational frameworks, Auschwitz is also understood as an event that it is all too accessible to representation. I argue that by focusing too adamantly upon the incomprehensibility of Auschwitz, or by refusing its uniqueness altogether, dominant discourses are limited by the dichotomous assumption that the event need either be speakable or unspeakable, radical or banal.

Turning to the work of political theorist Hannah Arendt, and poststructuralist philosopher Jean-François Lyotard, this chapter demystifies the unspeakable character of Auschwitz by repositioning it between incommensurable genres of discourse, in response to a rupture in juridical understanding. Arguing that the banality of evil signals a break in traditional notions of criminality, Arendt highlights the urgent task of reconciling the gap between the unprecedented event of Auschwitz and the judgment of the law. However, Arendt’s insistence on the hegemony of the law blinds her to the significance of other competing discourses. This chapter thus turns to the work of Lyotard in order to reconcile the problematics of Arendt’s account, and to situate unspeakability between incommensurable genres of discourse. For unlike Arendt, Lyotard rejects the hegemony of juridical discourse and goes on to offer a pluralistic conception of justice that respects the multiplicity of competing genres of discourse in making sense of the event.

In: Perspectives on Evil
Author: Cassie Pedersen

Abstract

The event of Auschwitz is conceived through a series of contradictions surrounding its ability to be represented. Where some argue that the event marks an unbridgeable rupture in representational frameworks, Auschwitz is also understood as an event that it is all too accessible to representation. I argue that by focusing too adamantly upon the incomprehensibility of Auschwitz, or by refusing its uniqueness altogether, dominant discourses are limited by the dichotomous assumption that the event need either be speakable or unspeakable, radical or banal.

Turning to the work of political theorist Hannah Arendt, and poststructuralist philosopher Jean-François Lyotard, this chapter demystifies the unspeakable character of Auschwitz by repositioning it between incommensurable genres of discourse, in response to a rupture in juridical understanding. Arguing that the banality of evil signals a break in traditional notions of criminality, Arendt highlights the urgent task of reconciling the gap between the unprecedented event of Auschwitz and the judgment of the law. However, Arendt’s insistence on the hegemony of the law blinds her to the significance of other competing discourses. This chapter thus turns to the work of Lyotard in order to reconcile the problematics of Arendt’s account, and to situate unspeakability between incommensurable genres of discourse. For unlike Arendt, Lyotard rejects the hegemony of juridical discourse and goes on to offer a pluralistic conception of justice that respects the multiplicity of competing genres of discourse in making sense of the event.

In: Perspectives on Evil
Author: Cassie Pedersen

Abstract

While the term ‘trauma’ was originally used in medicine to denote a wound to the tissues of the body, it has more recently come to refer to the wounding impact of a shocking and overwhelming event on the mind or psyche. Trauma is a phenomenon that ruptures – rather than enters – consciousness; it is a failed experience that cannot be cognitively assimilated at the time of its arrival. Instead, the impact of trauma manifests belatedly in intrusive symptoms such as nightmares, flashbacks and other repetitive phenomena that have been classified under the rubric of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (ptsd).

This chapter draws on the theoretical insights of Sigmund Freud, Cathy Caruth, and Jean Laplanche to explicate the dual temporal structure of trauma. I contend that the locus of trauma can neither be posited in the event that brought on the traumatic symptoms, nor can it be situated in the traumatic symptoms that follow. Drawing on the Freudian concept of Nachträglichkeit, I argue that the complex temporality of trauma is a missed encounter that manifests belatedly – so that which occurs too soon paradoxically occurs too late. Instead of privileging the past at the expense of the present (or future), or the present (or future) at the expense of the past, I argue that these extremes are caught up in a reciprocal and dialogic exchange. Accordingly, the past assumes a belated impact on the present and the present retroactively modifies the event of the past. Consequently, trauma bears just as much weight on the present and the future as it does on the past.

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In: Topography of Trauma: Fissures, Disruptions and Transfigurations
Author: Cassie Pedersen

Abstract

While the term ‘trauma’ was originally used in medicine to denote a wound to the tissues of the body, it has more recently come to refer to the wounding impact of a shocking and overwhelming event on the mind or psyche. Trauma is a phenomenon that ruptures – rather than enters – consciousness; it is a failed experience that cannot be cognitively assimilated at the time of its arrival. Instead, the impact of trauma manifests belatedly in intrusive symptoms such as nightmares, flashbacks and other repetitive phenomena that have been classified under the rubric of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (ptsd).

This chapter draws on the theoretical insights of Sigmund Freud, Cathy Caruth, and Jean Laplanche to explicate the dual temporal structure of trauma. I contend that the locus of trauma can neither be posited in the event that brought on the traumatic symptoms, nor can it be situated in the traumatic symptoms that follow. Drawing on the Freudian concept of Nachträglichkeit, I argue that the complex temporality of trauma is a missed encounter that manifests belatedly – so that which occurs too soon paradoxically occurs too late. Instead of privileging the past at the expense of the present (or future), or the present (or future) at the expense of the past, I argue that these extremes are caught up in a reciprocal and dialogic exchange. Accordingly, the past assumes a belated impact on the present and the present retroactively modifies the event of the past. Consequently, trauma bears just as much weight on the present and the future as it does on the past.

In: Topography of Trauma: Fissures, Disruptions and Transfigurations

This chapter draws upon respective concepts of postmodern theorist, Jean-François Lyotard and political theorist, Hannah Arendt in order to account for the unspeakability and incomprehensibility attributed to Auschwitz. This will be achieved in a means which neither mystifies unspeakability and incomprehensibility, nor negates the legitimacy of that which is said to lie outside of speech and comprehension. Throughout his works, Lyotard uses the term ‘postmodern’ to describe what he deems to be the state of culture following on from certain transformations in conceptions of knowledge prevalent within the twentieth century. The postmodern condition, according to Lyotard, heralds incredulity towards legitimizing grand narratives and the subsequent visibility and proliferation of heterogeneous discourse genres. Due to their heterogeneity, genres of discourse are incommensurable and irreconcilable. It is within this context that the ‘differend’ emerges: the manifestation of the unspeakable, where one cannot express damages inflicted upon them, due to a lack of any universally applicable rule of judgment between heterogeneous genres of discourse. Arendt, on the other-hand, argues that the traumas associated with Nazi totalitarianism constitute a break with traditional ways of understanding; there has been a rupture in moral, political and juridical categories in the wake of Auschwitz. Specifically, this chapter will look towards Arendt’s account of Nazi senior functionary, Adolf Eichmann, who supposedly re-defined what it is to commit evil in terms of the banality of his crimes. Such banality signifies a rupture of pre-existing ways of making sense of evil, thus resulting in incomprehensibility and unspeakability. Through this discussion, it will be demonstrated that the incomprehensible can indeed emerge, when a phenomenon challenges one’s pre-existing ways of understanding the world – especially when these means of understanding are reliant upon universal, totalising regimes. In these instances, it is vital to acknowledge that one’s modes of judgment have been pushed to their limits, in order to explore the possibility of new ways of understanding.

In: I Want to Do Bad Things: Modern Interpretations of Evil

This chapter draws upon respective concepts of postmodern theorist, Jean-François Lyotard and political theorist, Hannah Arendt in order to account for the unspeakability and incomprehensibility attributed to Auschwitz. This will be achieved in a means which neither mystifies unspeakability and incomprehensibility, nor negates the legitimacy of that which is said to lie outside of speech and comprehension. Throughout his works, Lyotard uses the term ‘postmodern’ to describe what he deems to be the state of culture following on from certain transformations in conceptions of knowledge prevalent within the twentieth century. The postmodern condition, according to Lyotard, heralds incredulity towards legitimizing grand narratives and the subsequent visibility and proliferation of heterogeneous discourse genres. Due to their heterogeneity, genres of discourse are incommensurable and irreconcilable. It is within this context that the ‘differend’ emerges: the manifestation of the unspeakable, where one cannot express damages inflicted upon them, due to a lack of any universally applicable rule of judgment between heterogeneous genres of discourse. Arendt, on the other-hand, argues that the traumas associated with Nazi totalitarianism constitute a break with traditional ways of understanding; there has been a rupture in moral, political and juridical categories in the wake of Auschwitz. Specifically, this chapter will look towards Arendt’s account of Nazi senior functionary, Adolf Eichmann, who supposedly re-defined what it is to commit evil in terms of the banality of his crimes. Such banality signifies a rupture of pre-existing ways of making sense of evil, thus resulting in incomprehensibility and unspeakability. Through this discussion, it will be demonstrated that the incomprehensible can indeed emerge, when a phenomenon challenges one’s pre-existing ways of understanding the world – especially when these means of understanding are reliant upon universal, totalising regimes. In these instances, it is vital to acknowledge that one’s modes of judgment have been pushed to their limits, in order to explore the possibility of new ways of understanding.

In: I Want to Do Bad Things: Modern Interpretations of Evil