Ethical Imperative of Trauma Theory and Witnessing for Native American Autobiography

Radstone indicates that the ethical goals of trauma theory are not entirely unproblematic.  At a surface level, the goal of “cultural remembrance” for the “absent presence” is unchallenged:

Though trauma analysis is in its early stages of development, its ethical imperatives do appear to have been accepted: trauma analysis positions itself by analogy with the witness or addresseee of testimony to trauma and understands its task as that of facilitating the cultural remebrance and working-through of those traumas whose absent presence marks the analysed text/s.  (Radstone 22)

However, she identifies the risk that trauma theory may be shaped by “voyeristic” tendencies, and that the possibility of these influences should perhaps be acknowledged (23).  She describes Carolyn Steedman’s Empathy Theory as a 

“timely corrective to the view that the display of empathy, in cultural criticism, is simply to be welcomed….As well as partaking of a discource of power that establishes the critic’s sensibility as ‘finer’ than that of nameless others, the empathetic recovery of the voices of traumatized testifiers and texts may be at the expense of those for whom trauma criticism claims to speak” (22).

This immediately reminds me of the issues surrounding Native American autobiography.  To what degree are these “assisted autobiographies” (such as we see from Mary Jemison when compared to the real-life Mary Jemison) used to support status-quo hierarchies of power?  Or, no less disturbing to reformulate hierarchies that use the subjectivity of the victim to enhance the positionality of the cultural critic, perhaps at the expense of the oligarchies of cultural power, but certainly not to the benefit of the “absent presence,” who might also be understood as the “outsiders within” of Standpoint Theory.

In this case, reference back to Radstone’s discussion of psychoanalysis (18) may provide the theoretical means of correlating the potential for a “darker side of the mind” (19) that may produce a kind of ‘critical voyeurism’ (22) and the need to reveal the reality of trauma for those who remain voiceless.

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