Study of Trauma’s Essential Bodies

Stevens says that trauma is poorly understood and needs to be “interrogated.” He says that trauma first came into society as an effect of railway accidents and war experiences, but it spread to mean catastrophic injuries and to the self that couldn’t be seen. He says that trauma studies need to be interdisciplinary. He says it is essentially colonialist and white because there are racial, cultural and gender biases in understanding what trauma means and who can be traumatized. 

“We must submit it to an analysis that highlights the work it does to define who can and cannot be understood as injured, who possesses the capacity for being the object of empathy, what scales of injury warrant analysis, and whose recuperation merits the marshaling of state or global resources and research energies.”  (Stevens, 177-178)

Theories of both the body and embodiment have been critical to studying trauma. Every theory accounts for the disruption of the subject’s capacities through trauma, which creates a layer that records both suffering and rupture. This layer becomes the medium that “traces” the event’s story and expresses it. Trauma Studies register the traces, which can be scars or symptoms or lapses upon bodies, not only physical bodies but psychic projections or narratives of selfhood.

Trauma studies go from the “marks” left by trauma, which may be a bloodied body or a ruptured mind, and offer an explanation of the story. “Trauma Studies registers these traces, appearing as they do in the form o f scars, or symptoms, or lapses, or repetitions upon “bodies” of various types: corporeal entities, psychic projections, narratives of selfhood, and informational archives.” (Stevens, 171) These stories of how the person was ruined make us imagine a time of wholeness and innocence before the trauma happened, like Eden or paradise before the fall of man.

The “society of control and surveillance” and the precariousness of our existence in this time of the world make this idea necessary. We need this fantasy that says we can improve and return to perfection and innocence. It is an excellent time to understand injury as something that can be understood and healed. We like to think that healing can be done through technology and that technology can manage populations with trauma symptoms.

Trauma Studies look at people’s disintegration and promise to heal so that we can be part of the average community. It can only make that promise after recognizing the signs of damage. Whether those signs of wear are to the body’s “protective shield” or to its capacity to communicate, it is overwhelmed by the traumatic event. Imperfect or “hobbled” bodies show these signs.

Trauma is generally understood as completely disrupting what we know about our bodies. Its power is to “unmake worlds” and disorient time and space. It compares to the Greek myths of Dionysus and Apollonia - where the world is disrupted, but then order returns with the promise of new crops. It assumes that with perseverance, survivors can make an order to return. This vision of trauma is heroic and promises the future. The demon is neither evil nor good. It is simply a force of upheaval. Trauma Studies promise to make the overwhelming event manageable. It does this by providing a narrative to understand this. 

PTSD and “trauma” are words in everyday use. We think we understand them, but we don’t, not all people. Trauma is meant to be very specific, like an event on a particular day in a precise place. But it is also very mysterious because it ultimately “disorders” the injured person. Therefore it makes the body the site of the struggle for explanation. Harm is universally understood. However, “having been harmed” is different. People defining trauma must understand the culture and life experiences of the injured person. They must realize they have been harmed even if the injured person is not white, male, or part of a dominant society. 

Source: Stevens, Maurice. (2011). Trauma’s Essential Bodies. 

Emily  Honderich  - Copyright eRose Graohics
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