Svetlana Alexievich and Stranded Objects From A Post War Time

By Karen Barna

In German there is a work, Vergangenheitsbewältigung. It is a term used to describe “the struggle to overcome the negatives of the past,” a process that since the late 20th century have become key in the study of post 1945 German literature, society, and culture.

Vergangenheitsbewältigungas “public debate within a country on a problematic period of its recent history – in Germany on National Socialism in particular — where “problematic” refers to traumatic events that raise sensitive questions of collective culpability.” Specifically the generation responsible for Nazism, as noted by Peter Schneider.

The student movements in Germany was, in essence, performing a radical act of Vergangenheitsbewältigung. Never before in the postwar period had public discourse about the Nazi past attained such a feverish pitch. In retrospect, however, this explosive effort to condemn and to dissociate oneself from the crimes and morally tainted ways of life of the fathers and mothers seemed only to have numbed temporarily the psychic pain that accompanied the inheritance of a cultural tradition poisoned by the word “Auschwitz.”

Jacques Lacan commented that, “The images of man’s body is the principle of every unity he perceives in objects . . . All the objects of his world are always structured around the wondering shadows of this own ego.” These shadows of doubt that make man act in defense to his narcissistic ego needs. The reverberations of Adolf Hitler taken shape and form. Where Hitler’s ego was defending against the abusive shadows of his father, the children (or more accurately the German population, with its associated nations) were defending against the reverberations of abusive tyrant disclaiming ownership for their own father‘s or mother‘s actions. It was an ostentatious display of denial, but how can one deny what has been happening today in recent political events; Islamic terrorism, mass shootings, the unethical medical experimentation, are they not more of the same out picturing of what’s going on in the collective minds of men?

Other particularly important pieces of work to consider are Svetlana Alexievich’s polyphonic files and writings, which as of 2015 were being translated into the various different languages for the world to read. Her works reflect the “boom” of a war time sent through space to remind the world of these ’stranded objects’ that have not been left behind. In her Nobel lecture for the 2015 Nobel Prize in Literature, Svetlana entitles her lecture ‘On The Battle Lost,’ and writes, “I don’t remember men in our village after World War II: during the war one out of four Belarusians perished . . . .women talked about love, not death. They would tell stories about saying goodbye to the men they loved the day before they went to war, they would talk about waiting for them, and how they were still waiting…..Twenty years ago, we bid farewell to the “Red Empire” of the Soviets with curses and tears. We can now look at the past more calmly, as an historical experiment. This is important, because arguments about socialism have not died down. A new generation has grown up with a different picture of the world, but many young people are reading Marx and Lenin again. In Russian towns there are new museums dedicated to Stalin, and new monuments have been erected to him.. . . The “Red Empire” is gone, butt the “Red Man.” homo sovieticus, remains. He endures.”

Margret Mitscherlich, who wrote “The Inability to Mourn: Principles of Collective Behavior” recognized the narcissistic condition present as witnessed in the reverberations of events which manifest themselves as echoes from a painful wound, words and actions that present the evidence of repression and denial. The acts of young college students in the 1960’s sought validation through public protest and marches. These act ultimately served in freeing their libidos through the public voicing of their outrage, provided validation of, not suppression of their fears. And as we known, from viewing our historical past, extreme suppression of expression holds the potential energy in ending one day as the culminating manifestation of explosive rage, a force that is either taken out on ’other’ or the ’self.’ And isn’t this the picture we are seeing in the recent history of our civilization? In the exponential proliferation of mass shootings? What is the root of all this repressed anger and rage? Where is it coming from? Over-regulation through repressed libido? A highly narcissistic need to prove to someone an individual’s self worth?

In the history of student political movements are relatively nonviolent. In the very early sixties, politically activist students often worked with blacks under the nonviolent aegis of Martin Luther King, Jr., doing things like registering Southern blacks to vote, tutoring ghetto school children, sitting-in to protest institutional racism, and similarly benign activities. The black movement eventually turned separatist, though, as radical black leaders like H. Rap Brown and Stokely Carmichael challenged the essentially liberal Dr. King’s leadership.

Students took action during this time period to volunteer and help disadvantaged and impoverished people, these hipsters of the 1960s were not just drug dealing, acid dropping beatnicks. They used the tools of American imperialism to work for change and to try and dissolve the dissatisfaction that seemed so prevalent in society. The political machine known as Capitalism seeing the worst of these young hippies sought vengefully to silence them.

The vanguard of student rebellion, Berkeley’s Free Speech Movement, had fallen victim to repression at the hands of Governor Reagan and the California Board of Regents, a process which led ultimately to violence over People’s Park and left Berkeley’s streets to street people, “those who have dropped out of something – families, high schools, colleges, the Great Society – and are looking for something to drop into….begging for spare change, working occasionally, hustling for a place to crash, ripping off, dealing.” In Berkeley, protest was now more a matter of guns than of words; and Berkeley was where so much had begun, so very hopefully.”

As Keniston (1968) points out, the history of the New Left was one of “growing frustration, discouragement, anger, and what Robert Coles has aptly called the “weariness of social struggle.”

As the violent suppression of political movements sought to extinguish the voice of the young people it is no wonder that rage, anger, and hate would evolve in to modern day terrorisms; the Islamic extremist, and the random mass shootings. Peoples use of technological means to punish and exact change. Hence, the development of electro-magnetic frequency weapons.

In the movie 2005 Batman Begins Alfred Pennyworth explains to Bruce Wayne, “The murder shocked the wealthy and powerful into action.” Upon which Bruce Wayne concludes, “People need dramatic examples to shake them out of apathy and I can’t do that as Bruce Wayne. As a man, I am flesh and blood. I can be ignored, I can be destroyed. But as a SYMBOL, as a symbol I can be incorruptible.” Albiet, this is a motion picture based in the theme of a fantasy derived from a comic book super hero, but it was played out in a very real way when James Holmes, dressed in a costume of one of the Batman comic book villains, opened fire in an Aurora Colorado theater killing 12 and wounding 70 others.

Like, Adolf Hitler, James Holmes suffered from a mental illness, a form of personality disorder. Dr. William Reid testified at his trial that Holmes was mentally ill but legally sane, diagnosing him as having schizotypal personality disorder. Schizotypal personality disorder is characterized by severe social anxiety, paranoia, and often unconventional beliefs. People with this disorder feel extreme discomfort with maintaining close relationships with people, mainly because they think that their peers harbor negative thoughts towards them, so they avoid forming them. Peculiar speech mannerisms and odd modes of dress are also symptoms of this disorder. Those with STPD may react oddly in conversations, not respond or talk to themselves. Evidence suggests that parenting styles, early separation, trauma/maltreatment history (especially early childhood neglect) can lead to the development of schizotypal traits. Neglect or abuse, trauma, or family dysfunction during childhood may increase the risk of developing schizotypal personality disorders.

In light of these facts, what do you think is going on in the collective conscience and unconscience of the American people? And for that matter, the world? Are we completely sure that we are ensuring and protecting the healthy psychic developmental of our very young?

Comparative music to consider by Everclear, “I will buy you a new life”

Works read:
“Stranded Objects: Mourning, Memory, and Film in Postwar German” by Eric Santner (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1990)

“On The Battle Lost” by Svetlana Alexievich, 2015 Nobel Lecture,

“The Narcissistic Condition” A Psychotherapy Series by Marie Coleman Nelson; (New York: Human Sciences Press, 1977)

Other works to consider:
“The Seminar of Jacques Lacan, Book II” by Jacques Lacan (New York: W.W. Norton, 1991)

“The Inability to Mourn: Principles of Collective Behavior” by Margarate Mitscherlich (New York: Grove Press, 1975)

“Why War?: Psychoanalysis, Politics and the Return to Melanie Klein” by Jacqueline Rose (Wiley-Blackwell, 1993)




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