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The Culture of Survivors Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and Traumatic Memory* Pamela Ballinger The incest survivor has been likened to the Vietnam veteran who went through the war "on automatic," only to later hear an innocent car backfire and throw himself under a bush to escape the imagined explodinggrenade. "The incest survivor, too, endured life in a war zone; like the veteran, she got through it by blocking out the most traumatic parts.33 She hasflashbacks thatfeel like she is experiencing the trauma for the first time. These flashes, it is claimed, are "the picture ofthe abuse."1 Despite, or perhaps as a result of, the stereotypical image of the United States as a modernistic society with little appreciation for history, contemporary American culture appears obsessed with the past. From interest in family genealogies to the nostalgia industries of antiques and history theme parks, from multiculturalist critiques of the previously hegemonic narrative of American history to the media creation of neotraditions (particularly anniversaries—e.g. the 30th anniversary of Kennedy's assassination, 50th anniversary of D-Day), the theme of memory pervades American public culture.2 This preoccupation with memory embraces not only the lay public but also political leaders and historians. The latter group comprises members of the academic guild, as well as nonprofessional historians involved with "public history," 99 Pamela Ballinger including oral history projects and museums. This suggests a field of inquiries about "pastness" quite different from that mapped out by David Lowenthal, who postulates that memory is to history as nostalgic lay public is to professional historian.3 Hand in hand with a blurred history/memory distinction, one also finds an overlap between individual and "collective" representations of the past. One of the most dramatic examples of this interplay has been, in the course of the last decade and a half, the construction of "PostTraumatic Stress Disorder" (PTSD) as a valid category of analysis for a variety of types of individual memories. In particular, the validity of "recovered" memories ofabuse have derived authority through analogy to war veterans and victims of concentration camps, memories which in turn draw upon and interact with discourses of social or collective memories. In 1980, the American Psychiatric Association officially recognized PTSD, which is commonly defined as a "response, sometimes delayed, to an overwhelming event or events, which takes the form of repeated, intrusive hallucinations, dreams, thoughts or behaviors stemming from the event, along with the numbing that may have begun during or after the experience, and possibly also increased arousal to (and avoidance of) stimulants recalling the event."4 This category thus embraces victims of historical traumas such as war veterans, concentration camp survivors and atomic-bomb survivors (in Japanese known as hibakusha) along with individual victims of sexual and other abuse.5 PTSD has been extensively applied to these latter victims, who often suffered childhood abuse, the knowledge of and/or emotional response to which they are said to have subsequendy repressed. One may even go so far as to say that in the United States there exists a repressed memory movement, reinforced by media talk-show culture, networks oftherapists and a backlog of legal cases brought ex post facto against putative offenders. The "delayed discovery doctrine," first put into use in Washington state in 1989 and subsequendy adopted by many other states, has permitted victims ofchildhood sexual abuse to prosecute their offenders at any time within three years (the period varies from state to state) of the recollection of the abuse.6 Such charges and legal actions have affected a considerable number offamilies and have even given rise 100 The Culture of Survivors to a False Memory Syndrome Foundation dedicated to the interests of those parents who claim to have been falsely accused by their children.7 As will be discussed further, many such claims to repressed memory —some ofwhich involve charges ofabuse at the hands ofsatanic cults— have recendy come under heavy criticism from experimental psychologists and journalists, prompting the beginnings ofa more general "backlash." This "repressed memory" thesis relies upon analogies drawn between collective violence (war, the Holocaust) and individual violence (abuse), a connection that lies at the heart of the psychoanalytic enterprise itself, given that...


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