Ruins of the past



I think it is useful just to make open the fact that the bulk of both Emotional Life of Nations and Origins of War in Child Abuse are averse, grotesque, offensive, to a good number of psychohistorians. One now knows that if one actually likes these books, hasn’t never though to shy away from them, exactly where one stands. One had been wondering, hearing discussions of changing … of improving childrearing through time, if the full story of what this means is being kept in clear view; or if the matter can only be discussed and explored at some remove ... as if if one actually had to write of possessed mothers seeing demons in their "bad" children and rejecting them only out of that, the game would be up, and all of a sudden the discourse on the matter would change so that Mother is exonerated, and the child, at fault. One would be wondering if the whole subject is being manoeuvred not just to suit the academic temper, but so that if one's own mother espied what you were up to she wouldn't say, hey! you're pointing at exactly the kinds of things I've told you are not ever, ever, to keep conscious of, and you know what’ll result of this, don’t you, young man?, and perhaps just more drowsily say, eh? what's this all about then? before losing interest and digging into her latest read. Whew!

DeMause's theory of gradually improving childrearing, if true, means that a lot of adults have to confront the phenomena of having children before them from whom they actually have more to learn than they have to impart. We're starting to hear a lot of credentialing here on this list  … with space created by Judith to allow that some of those who predominated in the 1960s may not have all what we hope the current field of professionals would possess, but were of such massive, credible depth that they bequeathed great jewels of influence to the subsequent generation of professionals — so they get a pass, and then some! I think deMause helps create the space so that young people interested in psychohistory can take some faith that if they aren't yet possessed of many of the accoutrements of a long professional career, they can also claim some “advantage.” What you may have is the emotional health to be able to sustain a kind of abandonment that would follow pursuing taboo subjects that would blanche most of those, generations past. You may be able to distance yourself from subject matter that had occupied minds for generations, but which were never really worthy of the fully healed, "helping class," homo sapiens’ attention. 

Those at the student paper at Columbia University are insisting that many humanities courses carry "trigger warnings" on their syllabi. It's been getting a lot of press lately. Professors of Ancient Greece/Rome, for instance, are being pressed by students to make clear beforehand that a lot of the texts from their periods carry offensive attitudes towards women, and a casual approach to rape — such as the “wisdom” of reconciling with the rapist  —  as well as a grotesque preponderance of it. They deem this, not just offensive, but hideously damaging ... to them it's like being made to watch a gang rape without a hint of warning, by a professor who’s somehow convinced themselves there’s redemption in the matter (my own personal experience of Anthropology struck me as like this, btw). The famous online feminist site, Jezebel, describes Donna Zuckerberg’s —the editor at Eidolon, an online classics journal — account of the matter here; and sums up her whole field of study like this: 

My subfield inside Classics is Greek drama, and if I wanted to expunge all texts containing triggering material from my syllabi, my classes would consist in me and my students staring at each other silently across a seminar room. Domestic violence, war, rape: these are the foundation of Greek tragedy. And jokes about them are the foundation of Greek comedy.

Euripides’ tragedies are especially full of sexual assault. In the Ion, Creusa identifies as a rape victim, racked with guilt because she initially found Apollo attractive, even though the text specifies that he used force on her and that she screamed for her mother. Euripides’ Trojan Women is the story of a group of wives of dead Trojans who know that they’re about to be divided up among the Greek generals to be their sex slaves. The prophet Cassandra is raped before the beginning of the play by Locrian Ajax in Athena’s temple, and her obvious mania in an early scene of the play could be seen as a response to her recent trauma.

Unfortunately, Euripides’ fixation on sexual assault doesn’t extend to sensitivity about its effects. Tragedy uniformly assumes that these female characters who are given away as the spoils of war will eventually resign themselves to their fate and become affectionate and loyal towards the men who won them. One prominent scholar calls the world of Greek tragedy an example of a rape culture. 

Zuckerberg ends up being cool with students’ complaints, seeing means to go half-way, but the implications of the students being alarmed by something she had accepted, never really thought to question, aren’t really considered. These students have climbed to the level of emotional health that what ought always to have offended — hey, this work of art is full of rapes … why are we studying this? — offends in the way it should, and the professor has massive credentials in a field of study that is beginning to look like it could eventually disappear … eventually, no longer of interest to intellectuals in the Ivy Leagues. What do her “trophies” signify, after all? Accomplishment, or gruesome misfortune: one’s bizarrely chaining one’s whole life to demons in the past, who raped, and raped, and raped; feeling pleasure when one’s own involvement was intense enough that it would be recognized? What was wrong with you? 


The student who wants to respect you but knew enough from all the tell-tale signs to split early and commit to something else, doesn’t want to understand her very beginning as superior to your whole life’s accomplishment, but she can’t hide from herself the conclusion self-respect indicates she keep alert to. The world must be remade. Much of what was once revered, must go. Personal trophies, not even worthy of nostalgia, but of the wayward inflations those of worse childrearing, injected into the objects of their world.

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