September 12, 2013

Frank Seeburger - Unable to Die

"The Open Wound: Trauma, Identity, and Community" by Frank Seeburger (Published on September 14, 2012).

"Frank Seeburger has been a faculty member in the Department of Philosophy at the University of Denver since fall 1972" (Source: University of Denver).

Description of "The Open Wound: Trauma, Identity, and Community" (Source: Amazon).
 A sustained philosophical reflection on trauma and recovery, this work is an original contribution to contemporary trauma studies, integrating material from psychology, sociology, history, literary studies, biography, and fiction. It addresses trauma as an open wound that cannot be closed over without festering. Distorted by trauma, we automatically react by trying to draw away from it, as we do from all pain. Trying to close the wound, cover it, and secure ourselves against further wounding, we strive to preserve our identity in the face of the blows that would shatter it. Inevitably, however, such reactive efforts only distort us even more painfully. Genuine recovery requires that instead of struggling to avoid our wounds we turn toward them, opening ourselves to the very way they so painfully split us open. Then we may find to our surprise that the open wound of trauma also opens, perhaps for the very first time, upon the real possibility of building a truly universal, all-inclusive, human community, one in which each and every one of us is allowed to be just who we are. In addition to investigating the impact of trauma upon identity and community, the book gives serious attention to such topics as: the politics of trauma; trauma and sovereignty; trauma, memory, and memorials; the meaning of trauma; trauma and history; the role of resistance in recovery from trauma; the social dimensions of trauma; and the complex connections between perpetrators and victims of trauma. 
Below is an excerpt from Professor Frank Seeburger's article, "Unable to Die" from his blog, "Trauma and Philosophy" published on June 14, 2013.
“Only those with no imagination, and no grounding in reality, would deny the possibility that they will live forever.”

The speaker is Jonathan Safran Foer, author of Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, a highly regarded novel about September 11, 2001, not long ago made into a film starring Tom Hanks. Foer speaks that line as part of the commencement address he gave at Middlebury College this spring. At least one can read the line in the essay adapted from that address and published in the editorial section of the New York Times this past Sunday (June 9, 2013). The “they” at issue—those who might “live forever”—are the real or imagined grandchildren of those Foer is addressing.

It is by no accident, then, the title the Times gave Foer’s brief essay in last Sunday’s op-ed pages was “How Not to Be Alone.” I’m pretty sure the editors at the Times, however, had no idea, when they selected that title, just how utterly appropriate it was. That’s because I’m just as sure that they were using ‘alone’ as a synonym for ‘lonely,’ rather than as its antonym, when they chose that title.

But Foer’s whole essay is a thoughtful exploration of how all the endless stream of endlessly updated electronic gadgets that have come to constitute the global environment today creates ever growing distance between us, assigning each of us to perpetual loneliness. In the very midst of all our Facebook “friends,” Linked-in “links,” and Twitter “followers,” all of whom belong to our ever expanding “network” via the “social media,” we find ourselves growing ever more lonely. The last mentioned—the “social media”–would, if we follow up on Foer’s suggestive analysis, be far less deceitfully called the a-social media, since they in fact chop at the very roots of any genuine society, any true social being together: “Contacts, contacts everywhere, but not a one contacted!”

Foer’s essay is a gentle but persistent call not to let all our social-media “connecting” totally dis-connect us from any further contact with one another. “Technology,” reads the editors’ blurb-insert to one side of his essay, “pushes us apart, so we must work harder to connect with others”–or with ourselves, we should add.

Against the appealing siren-song of technology, calling us into globally interconnected disconnection, Foer calls upon us, instead, to cultivate genuine connections by doing no more—but above all no less—than just simply, as our ongoing daily practice, listening to one another, attentive to one another’s needs. “Most of the time, most people are not crying in public,” he writes in the next to last paragraph of his piece, “but everyone is always in need of something that another person can give, be it undivided attention, a kind word or deep empathy.” What’s more, he adds immediately, “[t]here is no better use of a life than to be attentive to such needs.”

He then adds a remark that brings us clearly back to the focus on loneliness–and aloneness (or “solitude,” if Latin derivation is preferred)—by adding that “[t]here are as many ways” and opportunities to practice listening or attending to one another “as there are kinds of loneliness.” There are innumerably many of the latter, of course—at least as many as there are conceivable future internet connections.

Though Foer himself does not say so directly, if we listen attentively to what he does say himself (whether he knows it or not, by the way), we will hear that it is precisely because our technologies are so well designed perpetually to divert us from the fact that each and every one of us is finally, irreducibly alone, that the more “connected” we become with our contemporary technological environment, the more lonely we become. If we listen well to what he is saying, we will hear, however, that it is only alone that we can ever truly be together. Paradoxical as it may sound, all genuine community consists in being alone together, as we are, for example, whenever any two or more of us pray together in total silence—praying, perhaps, that we be taught again how to die.

It is only our own mortality itself that has the power to shock us into the silence of such prayer. In turn, it is only there, in that silence, that we can truly build community the only way it can be built—by, as Foer suggests, practicing that simplest and therefore most difficult of all human things: listening attentively to one another.