Danger and Deformation: A Social Theory of Trauma Part II: Disrupting the Intergenerational Transmission of Trauma, Recovering Humanity, and Repairing Generations
- American Imago
- Johns Hopkins University Press
- Volume 72, Number 2, Summer 2015
- pp. 133-155
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This essay is the second of a two-part American Imago article on a social theory of trauma. Measures to disrupt the transmission of traumatic experiences and their social sequelae are discussed as an ongoing cross-generational challenge, in which traumatic pasts capture a portion of a nation’s self-understanding. The essay examines how to repair societies and to recover lives freed from past experiences when trauma felt by earlier generations impinges both on collective healing and on in-the-present autonomy. It focuses on post-apartheid South Africa, where recovery from past racist practice requires measures to reduce its continuing effects on those who survived or were born after the 1994 abolition of apartheid. Derived from lessons learned in the psychoanalytic consulting room, three propositions are offered to understand the phenomenology of traumatic experiences. These three insights can help undo trauma’s lasting impacts in subsequent generations, including the persistence of racism: trauma is a memory illness, whose healing can only be done in the present; traumatic transmission across generations often occurs unconsciously and affectively; and traumatic symptoms surface as the result of an in-the-present interpersonal or societal failure.