Helen Petrovsky. The Pain of Daily Living

The paper deals with the inadvertent tension that accompanies the psychoanalytic use of trauma and the way the concept is employed in the social sciences: Psychoanalysis has to do with individual experience, while trauma viewed from a social perspective points to its collective nature. The author proposes that trauma be interpreted as the condition of collective experience, that is, as that which always already structures it. Trauma is certified by the look of the other; it is the other (the observer, the stranger) that allows to recreate the event or, better still, to recover it by way of a coherent narrative. This narrative, however, contains irreplaceable ruptures and gaps through which we might glimpse the event in question that remains essentially unrepresentable. The event is what we do not remember, what exists only in the eyes of the other. The paper distinguishes between trauma and pain. If trauma is on the side of the sublime in the sense that it calls for an ethical interpretation of Kantian sensus communis (J.-F. Lyotard), pain fits into the scheme of social types or, rather, social affects deprived of any origin whatsoever. Pain, just like melancholia, is a special dimension of collective experience: Loss is not reworked into mourning, moreover, its very object remains unrecognized. Unlike trauma pain is linked to uneventfulness, to an ungrounded form of subjectivity. Pain essentially escapes symbolization and can be rendered only obliquely, for example, through the use of color (blue crepuscular light in Ch. Akerman’s documentary “From the East” (1993) and in B. Mikhailov’s photographic series “At Dusk” (1993)).