‘It’s beyond me’: trauma, combat and the paradox of mediation.
Thesis DisciplineMedia and Communication
Degree GrantorUniversity of Canterbury
Degree NameMaster of Arts
Current theorising of trauma continues to suffer from Post-Holocaust understandings that render trauma as indefinable, yet the myriad representations produced across different discursive domains – testimony, documentary, film and art – challenge such claims. Rather it is difficult to define, plagued by the parameters of trauma – as having no “beginning”, “ending”, “during” or “after” as Laub contends – and is further hampered by its clinically inadequate categorisation as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) within the Diagnostic Statistical Manual (DSM). While the inclusion of PTSD in the DSM-III in 1980 promised to normalise the long history of trauma resulting from combat experience, its increasing and continuing expansion of categories since then has undermined this combat-specific diagnosis. Particularly, it fails to recognise the specific traumas intrinsic to soldiers who wage war as an occupation (specifically the act of killing), and the complex way in which PTSD is triggered in veterans (the political deceit and denial that accompanies the experience of the initial event). With 1 in 5 returned soldiers currently screening for PTSD, and more veterans having committed suicide than have died in combat, it is clear that there is a crisis in the way PTSD is theorised, recognised and understood.
This thesis provides a discursive analysis of contemporary media texts, proposing that discourses produced within these domains challenge, undermine and potentially remedy combat trauma’s current “crisis of representation.” While professionally produced documentaries and current affairs programmes were found to align with the political and ideological discourses prominent within the military and psychiatric professions, soldier-produced content – through raw video, art and digital pastiche – functioned as traumatic performances that produced personal articulations of trauma. Moreover, the televisual flashback succeeds in conveying the “traumatised subjectivity” through cinematic and aesthetic conventions that allow the viewer to see beyond the confines of the body and into the flashback as it is experienced by the eye-witness. In doing so, these texts help to construct social and cultural knowledge of trauma and PTSD and facilitate acts of bearing witness. Such articulations allow veterans to understand their own disorder as normal and are influential in the processes of healing and recovery.