Thursday, June 5, 2008

Turner Hospital's Question of Finding Testimony to Terror

Trauma contains within it an essential ambiguity. The terrorist act invokes this absence. The various networks within our society - media, government, ngo's - capitalize on the absence to foreclose the meaning of the event. They ursurp the voices of the dead and fill in their own discourse in what amounts to realpolitik. Yet, the question remains, how do we see the event for what it is, finding testimony to trauma?

"The dead never stop telling stories. Those whom we have betrayed, no matter how pure our intent, how scrupulous our reasons, they tell their tales to us night after night, which is why some of you will lose all capacit to sleep" (270). Janette Turner Hospital understands that the story lies with the dead, the intefral insight of Primo Levi comes through here. But somewhere between the loss of testimony and the foreclosure by outside means is an ethical way forward, investigating the event and responding to it. Giorgio Agamben explains that it is in understanding the absence and directing our attention to the middle ground. "Survovors bore witness to something it was impossible to bear witness to," according to Agamben (13). With this understanding, is Due Preparations for the Plague seeking a new ethical territory to respond to the essential absence that terrorism provokes? Are "due preparations" not simply ways of preventing terrorism, but ways of dealing with the aftermath?

18 comments:

MacCollum said...

I think the middle ground is the experience between the violent death of the victims and the visual overload (force-feeding of the Spectacle) that the rest of us receive.
We cannot know what the death was like, and even the survivors cannot communicate it (witnessing the death, experiencing death second-hand)to us, because of the nature of the horror, and because the trauma has often warped their memory of the event anyways. For the rest of us though, terrorist acts are communicated to us through video footage, and we begin to see the same images reoccur: torched and twisted cars or trains or busses, blackened bodies, bleeding and wailing bystanders, women crying on the screen about how awful it was and how scared they are, &c...
Part of the way I think Hospital has created middle ground for me is the way the beginning of the book evokes such frustration and confusion and despair, especially with Lowell. It describes a lot about the psychological effects of the event, and how long-lasting and wide-ranging and completely debilitating they can be.

CAH said...

Is hospital trying to prepare us for real life?---if so she needed to publish it years ago for me--on page 268 I felt like I was in the "jaws" of an alligator being swirled around and around in the (black) water, fighting to come up for air, fighting to grasp the story-line, then at the end still trying to put the pieces together, who died, why and learning that people are jealous of people who knew the people who died. CAH

callie grace said...

I believe Hospital is attempting to 'prepare' us for real life where we face both traumas and blessings. In a sense, the 'due preparations' are daily holding on to the good we have in life-good friends, family, memories, laughter, touch, faith, passion, taste, etc. It is the recollection of these joys that in 'the plague' will sustain hope and peace.

Going back to the original post, i agree that the due prepartions are the ways in which we deal with the aftermath of a terrorist attack, whomever or whatever form the terrorist comes in.

On page 395 "the past leaves traces that eventually come to light. No one can stop them". what you reap, you will sow.

so what is the answer to hospitals closing question? I rest in that it is savoring life so that when adversity comes, my heart is sustained by the joys and memories of my yesterdays.

Jiggloz said...

Is "due preperations" ways of dealing with the aftermath?

I believe so. We all have ways and means of putting ourselves in vulnerable positions. When we experience trauma, our senses and understandings are completely transformed. We find meaning to trauma, and experiencing the trauma we are prepared for the future.

I agree with callie... we live by the moment and expect to understand what is to come.

CAH said...

Hospital left me wondering if who Sirroco is, Lowell's dad is a high echelon CIA operative in Operation Black Death. Mather was killed in a crash either accident or murder. Sam and Lowell might get married and are also under surveillance, after having released the tapes to the press in France. Questions:
1) What is the significance of Mary Elizabeth Sharrod 1762-1770? 2) Do we know for certain Genie and Tristan are dead? There was a crack where they were getting air and the sound of people outside the death bunker.
3) Who is Sirroco? CAH

CAH said...

I guess I'm the only one who hasn't drawn a final conclusion. I'm still reviewing clues.
p. 24 Lowell's mother left Mather, his father for Levinstein, Elizabeth thought it could have been Siroco.
p. 25 Lowell says that Mather was arguing with Siroco or with Salamander every night. That Mather is being stalked.
p. 27 Dr. Rueben delivers docs to Lowell says Mather was murdered eliminated) or may have committed suicide, Lowell says heart attack.
p. 30 Lowell has key to Pandora's Box, Logan Airport Locker B64, according to Dr. R containing journal, videotapes, classified papers.
p. 40 Nimrod claims Sirroco was killed either June 30 or July 40, Sirocco is a Saudi has 4 passports, Saudi, Iraq or Algeria & Pakistan, at least one being legitimate
p. 42 confusing dialogue says Sirocco is leaking through the pages of information from the Airport Locker. So does Salamander (makes reader wonder if Salamander is looking along with Lowell)
p. 43 Elizabeth gets call in Washington DC from Lowell and hangs up
p. 44 Elizabeth calls Lowell from a payphone because she has just had a visit from National Security. They said Mather was a suspect in a crime. CAH

lilyofthefield09 said...

I think Mather's death was an accident caused by his paranoia. I don't think that the government would have killed off someone who still had so many ties to international intellegence. They could have used him later, if they really needed him.

On the topic of the original point, "are due preparations preparing us for real life?", I also agree with callie. I think that one of the purposes of Hospital's book is to illustrate for us the importance of finding happiness after tragedy. Through Lowell and Samantha, she gives us prime examples of how people naturally react to tragedy, but could they have tried harder to find happiness? Lowell had his children, he could've focused more on them than on a past he had no control over. I think that Hospital is trying to communicate the idea that while it's true that everyone suffers, the degree of suffering could perhaps be lessened if the survivors reached out for happiness instead of drowning in sorrow?

Also, does anyone have an opinion on whether Tristan and Genie lived or died?

be love. said...

i have this strange feeling that they are definitely still out there (tristan and genie, that is). but then again, maybe not. perhaps hospital is just using that as an avenue for our minds to take to find peace with the situation. the thought of having a crack for air to come in, it allows us to think that maybe... just maybe they made it out, because we need that resolution. i feel like if we are left with this possibility looming that perhaps they are still out there somewhere, everyone sleeps a little better at night. it gives us just that little bit of good in the world to hold onto. what do you think?

KLamm said...

I think Janette Turner Hospital does an excellent job of showing us the variety of reactions people will have to trauma, no matter what "preparations" they may make. Sam is a fighter. Lowell is haunted by nightmares. Lou, although not directly involved in the event, tries to completely block the crash from her memory.

The Decameron Tape was a little surprising to me, and it provided another reaction to trauma. It wasn't what I expected. I pictured a lot more emotion, a lot more desperation. These people were under the most intense stress, but yet they were calm and collected.

Can these tapes give us "testimony to trauma?" From the book, it seems like the people left behind after a tradgedy experience the most trauma. But can we really know that? What allowed the hostages to be so at peace? Had they made their "due preparations?"

Can anyone really be prepared for something like this?

KLamm said...

Oh, I forgot..

I really hope Tristan and Genie are okay. But I feel like if they were, wouldn't their story be out? Wouldn't they tell people about the hostage situation and about the tape? They wouldn't just disappear if they were safe.

John Collins said...

I feel the same way, I really want for Tristan and Genie to still be alive and just be in hiding. I just don't know how they could have survived after the government had already denied that the were any hostages being held in a bunker. The first thing I thought of when Tristan and Genie heard people outside of the bunker was that either Sirroco was pissed that the hostages weren't acting as desparate and fearful as he hoped so he came back to kill them, or somehow the American government found where they were and they sent people to kill Tristan and Genie to keep the truth from coming out.

meaganlaue said...

I agree with John. As much as I would love for Tristan and Genie to still be alive I think that its impossible. There would be too much at risk for the Government. With that being said, I started to think about how this book can open doors to thinking about crazy situations in real life. For me, thats what these authors do. They take my stubborn conservative views on religion, politics, LIFE and open them to a different view.

In regards to finding testimony to terror. I think it is possible. Like "maccollum" sated, events can often have a long term effect in a variety of ways. Does this not contribute to the testimony of those who died. We all know, like we said in class, that the only people that really know what happen and can tell the whole story are those that lost their lives. For me personally, 9/11 is a prime example of how testimony can still be attained. We are able to take the trials that we are still going though as a nation with war, security, remembering those amazing innocent victims lost and maybe not completely but for a split second take "our nations pain" and relate to the pain that those people that lost their lives. Is that testimony? I dont know but I would like to think that we can somehow find this testimony...

CAH said...

There is a 50/50 chance that Tristan and Genie are still alive and that would be even more possible if Tristan is Sirocco. To say that I would have to look over everything in that chapter but it was said that he liked to see the people he tormented.
About REAL ESTATE--it was mentioned in class discussion that sales of Austrialian real estate escalated after 9/11. I was in real estate at the time. Nothing happened for 6 months after the Twin Towers was hit--people were in front of the TV and uncertain about their futures. Ironically, my first customer was a man from the Middle East. I didn't know exactly where but I was driving with him I had a lot of thoughts about terrorism. However, he turned out to be from India and was an investor who wanted rental property because of his losses with ENRON. The blogs are good! CAH

blfreemyer said...

I am torn on whether Tristan and Genie are alive. On one side, Salamander was disscussing how Sirocco followed Tocade and even referenced how Sirocco had crushed Tocan. However, I was then thrown off when Salamander said "Tocan and Geneva. Certainly I think about them. because I'm drawn to people who-" (239). This makes me think that they in fact did live bceause in the paragraph before Salamander was saying how he never thought about the doomed fliers. Then I wonder if maybe they were in on the whole set up?

op.3no.2 said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
op.3no.2 said...

In class somebody observed that there was a concept in mathematics where you add up many numbers, and you get closer to a number, but you never get there. The concept is the calculus concept of a limit, which I thought was a good analogy of what happens with victims and testimony. When he said that, it made me think of a concept in physics: Heisenberg's uncertainty principle. Basically it says that to observe a property of an object, you will inevitably affect and change another property of the same object (ex. to observe the position, you will have to disturb the momentum), such that all the properties of an object will never be known accurately at the same time. Heisenberg found this to be a fundamental aspect of the universe. Knowing this, the idea that one will never know the exact truth of an event fits in exactly with the logical framework of our universe. One can ask, how to fix it? How can one know everything at once? Well, in calculus, with the concept of the limit, they go about it like this: for example, if one wanted to take the limit of the summation of 1/x - that would be 1+(1/2)+(1/3)+... one sees that the answer will get ever closer to 2, but never 2. 2 is assumed to be the answer. So, in finding out the truth of an event, we simply need to do the same thing - take everything that we have, which will not add up to the exact truth; but then make that small leap across to the logical answer. No, we'll never know what really happened, but we can make that leap over and arrive at an answer to almost exact accuracy. And I think we reached this conclusion in class without the math, but here, I guess, I've put the math to back it up.

JE said...

Callie grace, you keep doing it for me...Hospital made us see life in a new way. reguardless what you believed in, there was an idea or interest that helped you grow. I really am impressed with the the scenes where the people where all dieing together. this was a deep moment, because it helped each person grasp thier true meaning of life. Hospital helped every reader grow up a bit quicker with this story line. I am impressed how tis made me feel. I did not even like the book until this part. I believe that testimony tells the truth of your soul. keep talking until you can pour it all out. terror has a meaning and a message behind the madness, and that is thier testimony. the testimony of the dead and the survivors speaks of strength and independence, but the act of the crime is the message that the terrorist are trying to get across. the problem is that no one is heard, therefore it is pointless, yet there are so many in the world who continues this pointless system.

Monica said...

I'm reading these posts late, now that I've read the book. But I wonder...are we not all, always already, capitalizing on absence? Do we not on a daily basis "usurp the voices of the dead"--even if the dead voice usurped belongs to us from long ago, when we were "alive"? Is this ever effective or reasonably justifiable? Is there a way in which this act does not "foreclose the meaning of the event"?