Issue 2.1 Homepage

Article Contents
·Crisis and Community
·Survival and Literary Witness
·Felman's Call to Crisis
·Witness and the Call to Action
·The Everyday vs. "The Normal"
·Speed, Action and Democracy
·Pedagogy, Survival and the Permanent Emergency
·Works Cited

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Alyssa Harad, "Resisting Crisis: Trauma, Pedagogy, and Survival" (page 5 of 7)

The Everyday vs. "The Normal"

Though I have argued against collapsing trauma and crisis, I do not mean to say that my colleagues were wrong to want to change their routines on 9/11, or that crisis doesn't exist. Rather, I am calling for attention to the presence of trauma in everyday life as well as and after crisis. To abolish crisis wholly would mean repressing trauma and its stories, and insisting on a version of normality that has no room for trauma.

At the University of Texas at Austin, for example, where I spent 9/11, President Laurence Faulkner issued an e-mail stating it was "better for the health of our community to continue as well as we can with the normal business of the campus, including holding classes" and that it was "important for us all to help our nation to remain functional and stable in this stressful time" (my emphasis). The statement offered no official plans to acknowledge the events of the day.

In an open reply to the president, also circulated by e-mail, Dr. Mary Kearney, a professor in the Radio, Television and Film Department, testified to the result of this tone-setting announcement: Graduate students who felt unable to discuss the catastrophe as students or teachers and undergraduates who, denied a chance to discuss the overwhelming events of the day, felt that their teachers "seemed callous about yesterday's events and unconcerned about any difficulties students were facing attempting to cope with their anxiety, fear, sadness, and anger." Kearney urged the president to "encourage the faculty to take the time that is necessary from our normal academic routines to talk with students about yesterday's horrible events" (my emphasis). Kearney received no reply, not even acknowledgment, from Faulkner or his office. She did receive letters from her fellow faculty, among whom her letter was controversial.

One common negative response to the call to account for student emotion in the classroom is that we are teachers, not therapists. It's a critique familiar to proponents of feminist pedagogy, which rejects false universalisms and divisions between emotion and "rational discourse," which constitute "the normal," and calling instead upon the everyday rhythms of the classroom to address the urgency Sedgwick recalls when she speaks of students encountering material that "addresses them where they live." I read Kearney's response to Faulkner as a similar call to adapt the tools of the classroom to a historical event that was, whether we wished it to be or not, the lesson of the day. The resulting classroom discussion is not therapy (the idea that only therapists may engage with, or are responsible for trauma stories or people's emotions about them is yet another attempt to cordon off trauma from everyday life) but a far more public discourse we might call education, or simply learning.

S&F Online - Issue 2.1, Public Sentiments - Ann Cvetkovich and Ann Pellegrini, Guest Editors - ©2003.