Breaking the Trajectory of Psychoanalysis: Perpetrator Trauma in Current World Cinema
This paper proposes a new paradigm for cinema/trauma studies – the trauma of the perpetrator. Canonical trauma research from Freud’s Aetiology of Hysteria to the present has been carried out from the perspective of identification with the victim, as have cinema trauma research and contemporary humanities-based trauma studies, climaxing during the 1990s in widespread interest in the victim vis-à-vis the Holocaust, war, and domestic violence. Breaking over 100 years of repression of the abhorrent and rejected concept of the perpetrator in psychoanalytic-based research proposes an uncanny shift in our conception of psychoanalysis’ trajectory from women’s ‘hysteria’ to ‘post-traumatic stress disorder.’
This new paradigm is driven by the global emergence of new waves of films (2007-2013) representing trauma suffered by perpetrators involved in the new style of war entailing deliberate targeting of non-combatants. Analyzing prominent examples from Israeli post- second Intifada documentaries (e.g., Ari Folman’s Waltz with Bashir), and post post-Iraq (and Afghanistan) War American documentaries (e.g., Errol Morris’ Standard Operating Procedure), the paper addresses questions such as, is victim trauma limited to the victim by the firm boundaries it (rightly) set in order to defend the victim of nineteenth- and especially twentieth-century catastrophes? Is perpetrators’ trauma an inevitable part of psychiatric-psychological or cultural perspectives on trauma? How should we define the perpetrator’s trauma in contrast to the victim’s? Can we go beyond the limitation of current trauma theory’s relation to the Real through analysis of the perpetrator’s figure, thus transgressing the ‘unspeakableness’ of the trauma itself?
The paper seeks an exploration of what perpetrator trauma teaches us not only as a counter-paradigm to victim trauma, but as a reflection on the complex intertwining of the two paradigms in the twenty-first century collective new war unconscious, and on what psychoanalysis might offer us in the first decade of this terrorized-ethnicized century.
Raya Morag is an associate professor of cinema studies and head of the Smart Communication Institute at the Department of Communication & Journalism, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Israel. Her research and publications deal with psychoanalysis, trauma, ethics, and cinema; New German Cinema; Vietnam War movies; Israeli and Palestinian second Intifada cinema; post-traumatic cinema, war and masculinity; perpetrator cinema; documentary cinema; and corporeal-feminist film critique. She is the author of Defeated Masculinity: Post-Traumatic Cinema in the Aftermath of War (Peter Lang, 2009), The Defeated Male. Cinema, Trauma, War (Koebner Series, Jerusalem, and Resling, Tel Aviv, 2011) (Hebrew), and Waltzing with Bashir: Perpetrator Trauma and Cinema (I.B. Tauris, London and New York, 2013). Morag served as guest editor for a special issue of Studies in Documentary Film on Israeli cinema (April 2013). Morag is an artistic director of the Documentary Film Committee, the Rabinovich Fund for the Arts, Tel-Aviv. The Rabinovich Fund contributes considerable support to Israeli films.