The new wounded

All week long I’ve suffered the
indignity of a cold.  It started
with my lost voice and moved up and down from my nose to my chest.  It’s subsiding now but the urge not to
cough at all the wrong times is excruciating, for instance to break into that
hacking racket in the middle of a lecture is almost as bad as having your
mobile phone go off in the middle of a public talk. 
There’s something awful about trying to stop a cough from starting
through sheer force of will.  It’s
that sneaky little itch that lands mid throat that makes my eyes water and my
nose run and try as I might to ignore it I have to cough it away.  Delicate sips of water are not enough.  
Sometimes my body becomes even more of
an irritant than I’d like.  And
immediately my mother’s  mantra to ‘think of the starving Biafrans’ comes racing through.  After all it could be so much worse.
On Thursday night I took myself off
to a free public lecture at the University of Melbourne.  Ruth Leys talked about a group of people she and others call ‘the new wounded’.  She talked
about the ways in which people suffering from trauma are viewed differently
over time.  
There’s a theorist from
France, Catherine Malabou, who argues essentially that all people who’ve been
traumatised, whether through abuse or torture or war or accident, whether as a
consequence of literal brain trauma such as in brain injury or even folks with
schizophrenia and autism are part of this new category.  Her emphasis is on what she calls ‘cerebrality’.  The brain and affect.  
For these people the consequences are dire indeed.  In Malabou’s terms they lose all
connection to the past before the traumatic event and become almost like
robots, affect-less people unable to make decisions, unable to feel compassion
and so on.  These people, these
victims if you like, are no different in Malabou’s terms from the
perpetrators.  All have been traumatised so badly as to cease
to exist as they once were.  The lack all intentionality.  
has a point.  But it’s one I think
she takes to extremes.  It’s the
sheer physicality of her view, that we are bodies first and foremost and if our
brains get damaged in whatever way, whether literally through injury or
emotionally through trauma, we can change so dramatically as to cease to be
human.  The old us no longer exists.  
Ruth Leys argues against this
extreme view.  She reckons, and I
agree, that we are far more complex. 
What about resilience, as one person in the audience asked, and the fact
that some people cope with trauma differently? Some do well in spite of the
worst and others break down completely.
I find this fascinating, struggling
with these ideas, which I’ve boiled down in far too simple terms.  
My daughter who joined me for the talk
kept digging me in the ribs for my enthusiasm during question time.  She complained that I nodded my head in agreement with the speaker too many times.
‘You’re such a suck’ she said to me
later.  ‘You have to agree with
everything she says.’
 I think about
this now later and wonder.  Am I a
suck or was I merely trying to respond to a talk about which I felt
enthusiastic.  I try hard to engage with talks because if I’m going to sit for a hour listening to someone speak on a topic that’s
dear to their heart and meaningful, a talk I have elected to attend because
it’s on a topic that is also of interest to me, then I
want to make the most of it.  
want to join in the talk as though there’s only the two of us, the speaker and
me and maybe one or two others, in the room.  I hate the distance that can emerge between speaker and
audience.  I want a conversation,
not a monologue.  I find if I
engage with all of me, including my nodding head or furrowed brow at times when
things don’t make sense to me then I’m more likely to take things in and to
Most of the time I’m not conscious of this, until a daughter jabs me in the ribs.  Most of the time I sense I’m like any other member of the audience.  
 My daughter I expect is fearful that I
will embarrass her, after all Melbourne University is her stomping ground.  It was once mine many moons ago but now
it’s her place.  I must not take over her territory.