What Is Trauma?

Sketch of a phenomenological description (and the philosophy that comes with it)

Published in Oxford Public Philosophy’s Turn ThreeRead it here.


This is what Trauma feels like: entering the now as if it were hell, wishing for the world to be real again (1). What is this hell? It is ‘living-missingly’ or ‘being livingly-troubled.’      This experience is about not being tuned correctly – harmoniously – with the real as much as with ourselves, and thinking (believing? No–     knowing)  what is going on is not right. Everything  changed. It has all changed somehow. The frames are not right, chairs are more crooked than before, floors seem to be leaning–     all of this despite all the science and rationality available (2). The now is not experienced as it had to be (3). Everything is unforgiving: our mind, other people, time, and the rawness of life’s appearance in general. What is      more unforgiving is forgiveness itself: it has lost its initial meaning, which is an ability to turn back on events  and cancel their non-factual consequences. Forgiving oneself for what happened does not reset every clock in the world no matter what. It happened: The bomb detonated     –     she died     –     he was in the crowd when bodies fell on the ground (4). Trauma is permanent and the only thing for which empathy from others becomes a Sisyphus who sightlessly generates a movement of social back-and-forth. It is a mental tattoo. No amount of emotional distance will make us go back in time and prevent the unforgiving. Though we may find comfort over time and attempt to re-serialize our memories (5) to tune ourselves harmoniously back with time and space – this now, this space, of the right now, – the off-putting feeling evinced by what is real remains continuously. The French have the word “fatalité” to beautifully describe the unforgiving characteristic of time, but Trauma knows no language. Trauma is  mental assault. It knows nothing but to assault our intellectual and physical capabilities     –     the tandem juxtaposition of the experience and the phenomenon that precedes Trauma goes above and beyond the agency of our self-consciousness (6). Oftentimes it shatters this agency by subduing it with a cognitive experience that our self-consciousness would never experience on its own, as well as by making it seem as though these experiences were the product of consciousness itself. Keep reading »

Copied below is the preface I wrote for the 18th edition of Pensées Canadiennes. You can read the published version here.

This issue marks the 20th anniversary of Pensées Canadiennes. The masthead undergoes a rotation every year, and this way has allowed the journal to grow as an entity of its own, intersubjectively dependent on generations of undergraduate students. This means that our journal has also witnessed many events both within and outside the philosophy community over the past twenty years. Among these events include September 11 2001, the emergence of social media and the spring of technology, two large-scale financial recessions, the Idle No More Rights Movement, advancements in the acceptance of human sexualities (such as the legalization of same sex marriage in Canada in 2005), and space exploration. These are just to name a few. The list is long, but needless to say history and the world have been a constant source of inspiration for the philosophical community. In this same amount of time, students and professors who contributed to P.C. have also experienced what might have felt, at times, like a finger snap or an insanely slow symphony that is analogous to the two decades they endured. Despite the facts, events, news, announcements, or happenings dropping into their lives at different speeds, the questionings and philosophical practices from this side of the globe have remained lively throughout the years, echoing different trends and different ways of thinking. But these “happenings” are usually thought to be structured by beginnings, middles, and endings. The defining moment of Pensees Canadiennes is undoubtedly this pondering that began from its inception to its latest publication. In other words, 20 years later we still feel the defining moments experienced by the first team of editors, and every year we look at the future of the journal with the same anxieties and excitements that the first team had. These sensations of time are even stronger as we pass the torch to the new Editors-in-Chief and look towards the journal’s future with so much excitement. We can only hope that it continues to project itself into a future that unfolds at various speeds and in various subjectivities and through doubts and interrogations that emerge in the now.

Keep reading »