Writing under Trauma

TRAUMA - "wound" in ancient Greek. Towards this deep opening in the soul the writer is drawn, whether he wants to or unwittingly.
The Holocaust is the black hole in my soul. Writing literature exposed that hole and pushed me closer to its edges. First, without being aware. Later, out of my free will.
Writing is always one step ahead before the writer. It leads - too often forces him - to reach the very same places he is reluctant to go. Thus, it bears resemblance to the psychological process.

Without being told "officially", I always knew that my mother survived Auschwitz. "Auschwitz" was a code word for all the horrors possible, the "Open Sesame" of death that had touched her once. Not only did I learn not to use the term - so terrifying - but I also felt it was my duty to distance my parents from the memories, to provide a protecting shield. In fact, we children reversed the natural pattern in the family, acting as fathers and mothers to our own parents.

Sons and daughters of Holocaust survivors grew up under a secret treaty of mutual silence "You won't ask and I won't tell". Home was fortified against direct memories or their echoes that were restored in the public ritual. It was our parents' decision that we should grow up with healthy spirits, immune. The past was a constant threat. It could pull us back and endanger our ability to fulfill the Israeli mission. We were the new warriors, strong, aggressive, aglow with youth, promising both ourselves and the world: "This will never happen again".

Our parents amputated their past. Although the Israeli system made sure we had all the historical knowledge, we became emotional ignorants, confronting the Holocaust only through its public ritual and ceremonial dimensions. Never on a private, intimate level. But even in its absence, mysteriously, the amputated traumatic past, like a missing limb, continued to send the ache through the nervous system. The loss and the torment penetrated, without anyone ever verbalizing them.

How does the soul protect itself against the most horrible experiences?
Memory as an entity in its own right intrigues me. On one hand, Holocaust survivors make a tremendous effort to remember, if not for their own sakes, than for the sake of their descendants. On the other hand, they subconsciously wish to erase the traumatic experience entirely, or at least be able to censure it.

In my novel "And the Rat Laughed", an old woman is finally persuaded by her granddaughter to reveal her past as a hidden child during the Holocaust. But how can she recall her life as a five-year-old, in total darkness, locked in a cellar, infested by rats, being raped night after night by her keeper?
The dialogue between the two becomes an emotional torture.
"The entire story should be fully recorded, the old woman hears a voice inside her, echoing the public demand, for this is the last moment. The owners of such tales are numbered. But she and her kind will never be able to act as the perfect storyteller. The little that comes out of their mouths is only the shell of the story."

Direct talk on trauma is the domain of the Media and other documentary vehicles, but a work of art is required to add another dimension beyond information and facts. Its' duty is to bring to the surface other point of view, new perspective and enable a voyage on the axis of time. Art must always reveal the untold. The writer must find ways to distance himself, yet always be emotionally involved. Do the two contradict themselves? Not necessarily.

For me writing provides a tunnel in an inner mine, leading from the deep hinterland to upper layers of awareness. This strange process - like a virtual game - is taking place within a closed circle, while the writer is both the operator and the one being operated.

Unlike the psychological arena that aspires to achieve a state of self-conciliation, a work of art should always be subversive, a constant conflicting arena. Only within an on-going boiling core can real art be created.

The fundamental of all Israeli traumas is that old existential fear. This deep anxiety still digs under the Israeli psyche, despite our young independence and our people's link to a territorial ground. Life in Israel resembles a fragile thin sheet of ice, when at every moment one's precious assets - your loved ones - can be snatched away and brutally taken from you.
Upon this open wound, a chain of blows is daily added. The current Israeli situation doesn't give much hope that this cycle of blood will end any time soon.
Unfortunately, all Israelis share a black hole that keeps bleeding.

Writing is an extra-ordinary therapeutically tool by itself, helpful indeed within the hands of therapists and other "soul healers". Unlike therapy, where the emotional outlet usually marks the end of therapy, writing literature brings the author back - full circle - to the source of pain, even AFTER he finishes writing.
It is my choice to return to this core of pain, only to give life to a new book.

In the futuristic universe created in "And the Rat Laughed" an innovative method for healing traumas exists.
"If the little girl had been living in our time, with our readily accessible technology for healing after horror, we would have taken her to one of the clinics for Memory Excision - a safe and simple operation - on an outpatient basis. Once it is over, the patient resumes normal life, and the memory gap - what they used to refer to as trauma - is completely eradicated.
...First, the surgeons would perform a memory bypass procedure, and then they would excise the irrelevant information. Once the traumatic experience had been severed from its carrier, it was deflected to a dedicated submemoryfolder which could only be accessed by special court order. ... Only recently, the legal world was all worked up. Some victims had pressed charges, and were demanding full restoration of their missing memory link. The petitioners argued that the excision violated their right to determine their own fate, and that without the missing event, no matter how unsettling, they were not what they were supposed to be.
...Stash, have you heard about the guy who wanted to have a false trauma imprinted in his brain? He said that he was under no obligation to actually experience it. When he entered an offer on the net to acquire traumatic experiences, his implachip was jammed with bids."

In its ancient meaning, the art of story telling is also the art of healing, when the story succeeds in pulling something from the deep. Through my story telling I embraced my mother's personal account of pain and loss. I'm well aware of the fact that a complete repair - Tikkun in Hebrew - isn't possible. In English this word means also ‘mending', or ‘healing'. In Hebrew it means much more. It contains a grain of hope. We are entitled to hope, after all.

Published in: The Annual publication of Psychology Association in Israel, January 2003

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