Kristine Stiles

       A multitude of representations and cultural productions emanate from social and political events located in, and imprinted with, trauma, the ancient Greek word for wound. These images and attendant behaviors constitute the aggregate visual evidence of the "cultures of trauma," a phrase I want to introduce to denote traumatic circumstance that is manifest in culture, discernible at the intersection of aesthetic, political, and social experience.1 While research in traumatogenesis has proliferated during the past two decades, few have examined the cultural formations that result from, and bear illustrative witness to, the impact on world societies of the ubiquitous wounds of trauma. Meditating on the history of trauma, British psychiatrist Michael R. Trimble observed that its "etiology and pathogenesis . . . remains invisible" (my emphasis).2 Yet, however invisible its origin and development, I maintain that the cultural signs of trauma are highly visible in images and actions that occur both within the conventional boundaries of visual art and in the practices and images of everyday life. This essay explores two of these sites: shaved heads and marked bodies.

       Trauma may be defined concisely as "an emotional state of discomfort and stress resulting from (unconscious and conscious) memories of an extraordinary, catastrophic experience which shatter(s) the survivor's sense of invulnerability to harm."3 War, its institutions and practices, is a ubiquitous source of trauma. But the genesis of trauma is not limited to the effects of war since the abuse of bodies destroys identity and leaves results parallel to war and its consequences. For several centuries trauma was diagnosed as neurosis.4 But the term post-traumatic neurosis, used to describe the symptoms of shellshocked World War I veterans, was changed to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in the 1970s when the symptoms of Korean and Vietnam war veterans began to be diagnosed as stress.5 This diagnosis refers to a heterogeneous group of causes with a homogeneous set of behaviors: disassociation, loss of memory coupled with repetitive, intrusive, and often disguised memories of the original trauma, rage, addictive disorders, somatic complaints, vulnerability, guilt, isolation, alienation, detachment, reduced responsiveness, inability to feel safe or to trust, and numbing.6 Causes include war, shock, concentration camp experiences, rape, incest, and sexual abuse, racism, shocks related to natural disasters or accidents, prolonged periods of domination as in hostage and prisoner-of-war situations, and the brutal psychological conditions perpetrated by some religious cults. I do not want to suggest that the omnipresence of trauma means that all traumatic experiences are the same. But if one considers the genocide in Cambodia, India and Pakistan, Bosnia, the Kurds, or black men in the U.S.A., or considers the cultural influence of the disappeared in Argentina, Chile, and El Salvador, or the Boat People of Vietnam and Haiti, or the effects of the Chinese Cultural Revolution, then the occurrence and advance of trauma is staggering and global. Indeed, the some 40 million world refugees, most of whom are women and children, offer a material image of trauma. If I were to identify the capitals of the cultures of trauma, they would be such places as the second largest city in Pakistan or the third largest city in Malawi, both of which are refugee camps!7

       At the nexus of the cultures of trauma is the highly celebrated new world order which, I think, did not begin with the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, but with the ethos of the Holocaust and nuclear age. The epoch of the Cold War and its aftermath might be understood as an age of trauma whose threats increase exponentially especially with the grim reality of the thriving global business in weapon-grade plutonium and enriched uranium contraband, and in such nuclear industry disasters as Three Mile Island (1975) and Chernobyl (1986).8 In this regard, the U.S. response to the so-called rape of Kuwait was, perhaps, as much an excuse to dismantle Iraq nuclear weapons capacity as it was to restore Kuwait sovereignty. Where such continuous peril exists, trauma is constant. The task is to undermine its invisibility. For its concealed conditions, its silences, are the spaces in which the destructions of trauma multiply. 

       My past research attended to the impact of destruction in the formation of works of art that grew out of violent experience.9 In particular, I studied the use artists made of their bodies as the primary signifying material of visual art performances, actions removed from the context and history of theater. While certain antecedents in Futurism, Dada, the Bauhaus, and Surrealism exist for this historically specific phenomenon, it developed as a viable independent visual art medium in Japan, Europe, and the United States in the 1950s, and, I think, must be correlated directly to the corporeal threat experienced by populations living in the geographical spaces most terrorized with destruction.10 The actualization of destruction in performative works of art was a cultural sign, I suggested, a techne for making one's life into an aesthetic coefficient of survival. Such art not only bore witness to various survival strategies by converting invisible trauma into a representation, but, more immediately, into a presentation. Simultaneously representational and presentational, this art offered an alternative paradigm for cultural practices, one that appended the traditional metaphorical mode of communication, based on a viewing subject and an inanimate object, to a paradigm of exchange, based in the connectedness implied by metonymy. In this model, the human body held the potential for an exchange between individual subjectivities.

       While I concentrated on the unprecedented physical and material violence and destruction that artists used, paradoxically, as the creative means for making art, that research was confined generally to the topic of war. Typically, although not exclusively, questions related to the interconnection between sexuality, identity, and violence I thread through that lens. Now my work examines the shared symptoms that result from the interrelated causes of trauma in war and sexual violence. This work poses such questions as: What are the visual codes of trauma, and how does an understanding of these representations facilitate knowledge of the cultural effects of trauma? Such a question is not, however, concerned with the history, methodology, or therapeutic aims associated with either the research or practice of art therapy, practice that involves the treatment of individual cases. Nor does it engage in a psychoanalytic analysis of individual works of art. Rather, I seek to map the behavioral symptoms identified with trauma onto cultural representations and actions produced in conditions where trauma occurs. For I reasoned that the heterogeneity of traumatic causes which results in a homogeneity of symptoms equally may produce a heterogeneous body of images and actions that can function as homogeneous representations of trauma.

       This study explores how visual responses to trauma may assist peoples of diverse individual, social, and political experiences in arriving at a shared language from which to construct different cultural, social, and political institutions and practices. In seeking to identify a shared body of visual representations of trauma, I have no lingering desire for holistic humanism, nor the need to attempt the constitution of false homogeneous communities. Rather, the goal is to acknowledge the growth and development of global networks of information-sharing systems and shared ecological concerns, and to reclaim for visual art the powerful role it is capable of playing in the development of a global humanitarian discourse of humane concern, a role threatened by the disempowering conditions of the economies and markets of art, and usurped by the cynical denials of art's contemporary efficacy by many theorists of postmodernism. Identifying the visual results of cultures of trauma may hasten development of shared cultural terms through which to address disparate cultural events. Transforming visual representations into textual analysis may increase insight into, and compassion for, suffering, empathy which is the first and necessary stage for reform.

       This essay considers two sites within the cultures of trauma. Shaved heads is a representation that refers both to an image and a style which result from a wide variety of social and political experiences outside of the context of the visual arts. Marked bodies is a representation that pertains to the performative paradigm that developed within the visual arts, and aesthetic practice that I believe is rooted deeply in cultures of trauma in accordance with larger political frames of destruction and violence.

       Image I 

       The community gathered in French towns and villages to shear her head with animal clippers and then smear the sign of the swastika in soot on her bald forehead. The citizens judged her a "horizontal collaborator" for having sex with German soldiers during World War II. Denigrated and denounced as a whore, she was even stripped naked sometimes before being paraded through town, a token of the emblematic territories, defamations, and controls of war. She remained solitary amidst the molesting, persecuting assembly, exiled in a particularly sordid historical moment in a throng of her countrymen and women. 

       Horizontal collaborators served as metonymic signifiers for the "vertical collaborators" who, under the Vichy government, maintained an upright appearance while they capitulated to the Germans, raised their hands in the Nazi salute, and welcomed "The New Europe" into their beds. These women with shaved heads were used as communal purgatives, scapegoats for the French who themselves had whored for jobs in Germany, for extra food, and for peacetime amenities especially during the years 1940 to 1943. In 1944-45, photographers like Robert Capa and Carl Mydan documented the terrible brutality to women accused of sexual collaborations with the Germans; and Marcel Ophuls included documents of one such incident in the town of Clermont-Ferrand in his 1969 film The Sorrow and the Pity.11 Female collaborators whose crimes were not sexual were not treated with the same kind of corporeal violations as the horizontal collaborators whose primary sedition was to have slept with the enemy. The ritual scrutiny by French communities of the intimate affairs and bodies of "their" women, suggest that these women's crime was vulvic, the vaginal betrayal of the patrimonial body of the State. The assault on, and psychological domination of, the female body and the photographic and filmic records "taken," or "shot," of her display on communal viewing stands, all typify physical and scopic aggression linked to sexuality, especially sanctioned in the "theater of war."12 War condones and ritualizes the destruction and occupation of territories and bodies. Marked as properly owned by the community, the shaved head confirms feminist's observations that wars are fought for, among other things, privilege to the bodies of women.13

       The visual discourse of the phallocratic order may be seen in the shaved female head, the site where rule by the phallus joins power to sexuality.14 Phallic rule is foundational in cultures of trauma and forms the interstice connecting war to sexual abuse, an intersection where assaults on the body and identity produce similar traumatic symptoms. In his important new book Shattered Selves: Multiple Personality in a Postmodern World, political theorist James M. Glass argues that the justification for taking women issues from the same "perversion of power and the arrogance of patriarchal assumptions over the possession of women" that results in incest and other kinds of sexual abuse. He concludes that "to the extent that power moves beyond its ordered field and beyond its respect for the lives and bodies of others, it is not much different from political forms of power which define sovereignty as the infliction of harm, the punishment of bodies, and the depletion of life."15

       Nowhere is this conjunction more agonizing than in the testimony of Bok Dong Kim, a Korean military comfort women (jugun ianfu), one of the many Asian women abducted for sexual service during World War II by the Imperial Army under the name of the Japanese emperor. Kim testified about war crimes against women on June 15, 1993, at the Center for Women's Global Leadership during the International Conference on Human Rights in Vienna. She explained that after her body was unable to continue to provide sexual services for as many as fifty soldiers a day, her blood was used in transfusions for the wounded. The comfort woman provided the furniture of sex and her body, when broken, became a mere blood bag from whose veins drained the life of one woman into the health of many men. The ferocity of her experience is unbearable and related to the pornography now being made of the rapes of Bosnian women conquered as territory, possessed, and displayed.16

       Hélène Cixous and Catherine Clement, French feminist theorists, identify the "intrinsic connection...between the philosophical, the literary...and the phallocentric" which, they argue, is a bond "constructed on the premise of woman's abasement (and) subordination of the feminine to the masculine order."17 Shaved heads signify humiliation, a visual manifestation of a supralineal condition of domination and power that joins war and violence to the abuses of rule by the phallus. The doctrine of male hegemony is global and founded in the texts of organized world religions. In the Judeo-Christian tradition, this instrument is the Bible: 

I want you to know that the head of every man is Christ; the head of a woman is her husband; and the head of Christ is the Father. Any man who prays or prophesies with his head covered brings shame upon his head. Similarly, any woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered brings shame upon her head. It is as if she had had her head shaved. Indeed, if a woman will not wear a veil, she ought to cut her hair. If it is shameful for a woman to have her hair cut off or her head shaved, it is clear that she ought to wear a veil. A man, on the other hand, ought not to cover his head, because he is the image of God and the reflection of his glory. Woman, in turn, is the reflection of man's glory. Man was not made from woman but woman from man. Neither was man created for woman but woman for man. For this reason a woman ought to have a sign of submission on her head, because of the angels. [Corinthians I, Chapter 11, 1-16.]
The above citation from the New Testament is anticipated in the Old Testament: 
The Lord said: Because the daughters of Zion are haughty, and walk with necks outstretched ogling and mincing as they go, their anklets tinkling with every step, the Lord shall cover the scalps of Zion's daughters with scabs, and the Lord shall bare their heads. On that day the Lord will do away with the finery of the anklets, sunbursts, and crescents; the pendants, bracelets, and veils; the headdresses, bangles, cinctures, perfume boxes, and amulets; the signet rings, and the nose rings; the court dresses, wraps, cloaks, and purses; the mirrors, linen tunics, turbans, and shawls. Instead of perfume there will be stench, instead of the girdle, a rope, and for the coiffure, baldness; for the rich gown, a sackcloth skirt. Then, instead of beauty: Your men will fall by the sword, and your champions, in war; her gates will lament and mourn, as the city sits desolate on the ground. [Isaiah 3:16-26] 
This passage recasts the theme of women's culpability in the original fall from grace. Here the vanity and narcissism, with which she is charged, is cited as the source for the demise of men by the sword in war. He shall check her haughty and seductive ways, the Lord God, who shall meet punishment upon her body in the form of scabs, stench, and baldness. 

       The French were not alone in shaving the heads of women who slept with the enemy. similar proprietary national interests, rights, and rites regarding the sexuality of German women were recorded by Bertolt Brecht in his poem entitled Ballad of Marie Sanders, the Jew's Whore, 1934-36. Brecht wrote that Marie Sanders, a woman from Nuremburg, was "driven through the town in her slip, round her neck a sign, her hair all shaven..."18 Her crime was to have slept with a Jew who, ironically, had he been Hasidic, might have insisted upon shaving her head after marriage.

       In yet another context, African-American novelist Ishmael Reed summons the specter of a shaved head in his book Reckless Eyeballing. This time, however, the image refers to the war between the races. Advocating shaving the heads of black feminist writers whom he accused of collaborating with white feminists, Reed growled, "They deserve what they get. Cut off their hair..."19 Reed charged black feminists with acting on behalf of white men in whose name white feminists serve to emasculate black men: "To turn the afro man into an international scapegoat...showing black dudes as animalistic sexual brutes." Reeds rage lives in the "colonialist program" identified by Frantz Fanon in which "the woman (is given) the historic mission of shaking up the man," a strategy described by Gayatri Spivak as, "Brown women saved by white men from brown men."20 Reed detested any association with the architects of colonization, white men, who he labeled "the biggest cannibals (who) have cannibalized whole civilizations, they've cannibalized nature, they'd even cannibalize their own mothers." 

       Reed's diatribe, coupled with his misogynistic advice to shave black women's heads, offers a multifarious view of the convoluted manifestations of rule by the phallus. Kinship, race, and/or national identity, for Reed, resolves the question of sexual access to female bodies, and entry into them is determined by war, colonization, enslavement, incest, and rape. Here, too, the Bible offers instruction, schooling again complete with shaved heads: 

Marriage with a Female Captive. When you go out to war against your enemies and the Lord, your God, delivers them into your hand, so that you take captives, if you see a comely woman among the captives and become so enamored of her that you wish to have her as wife, you may take her home to your house. But before she may live there, she must shave her head and pare her nails and lay aside her captive's garb. After she has mourned her father and mother for a full month, you may have relations with her, and you shall be her husband and she shall be your wife. However, if later on you lose your liking for her, you shall give her her freedom, if she wishes it; but you shall not sell her or enslave her, since she was married to you under compulsion. [Deuteronomy 21:10-14] 

       The doctrine of privileged right to women, especially comely women, mandated in Deuteronomy, has chilling social reverberations in Reed's text. But it also has demoralizing parallels in cultural practices. For example, the 1973 film Soylent Green, directed by Richard Fleischer, depicts a ravaged and famine-ridden chaotic New York in the year 2022, a war-like environment where every luxury from strawberry jam to comely women is guarded jealously.21 Beautiful women are assigned to apartments as furniture and provided for only as long as the incoming male tenant agrees to continue to rent them or, in the language of Deuteronomy: if you later on lose your liking for her, you shall give her her freedom. Moreover, Thorn West (Carlton Heston) refers to Shirl (Leigh Taylor-Young) as a "hell-of-a piece of furniture," and "like a grapefruit," both metaphors interchangeable with the ways in which the actual bodies of the comfort women, mentioned earlier, were used as furniture and nutrient. But while women are without question the majority of those who suffer the rule of the phallus, this fact does not abrogate the reality that men, too, may be, and are, abased in phallocracy. Few more striking and unpredictable examples of such men exist in this constellation than the Skinhead. Skinhead derived their look, in part, from an identification with "West Indian immigrants and the white working class," James Ridgeway explains in his horrifying history of the rise of a new white racist culture.22 Dick Hebdige adds that, it was "those values conventionally associated with white working-class culture which had been eroded by time that were rediscovered embedded in (the Black musical culture of) ska, reggae, and rocksteady."23 Prevented from participation in white male power and privilege because of their class and lack of education, Skins adapted an appearance of marginality with respect to Western systems of power. They also condensed a stunning array of differing cultural and political sites and meanings into an image. The result was a representation of absolute brute force signified by the shaved head but also by such articles of clothing as black army surplus combat boots and camouflage gear. 

       Skins visualized interconnected networks of brutality ordinarily categorized as different in culture. These include the hardened countenance of the military man under whose sign society contracts death, and the veneer of the outlaw, or prisoner of ball, chain, and spiked collar, whose transgressions bar him from the privilege to kill, and the demented, dangerous, unpredictability of the mental patient--shaved and lobotomized--and an image of ravaged diseased bodies, radiated and suffering, and, finally, the debased aspect of the concentration camp Jew, the ultimate picture of oppression.24 The image of the Skinhead contains the powerful and the abject, the oppressor and the oppressed, the killer and the killed.25 Skins would seem to differ from the women with shaved heads cited above because they appear to be the agents in the reconstruction of their own identity. To a certain degree they are. But agency depends upon a more complex set of relations that involve not only personal will but social forces. Thus, the constitution of an image, like that of the Skins which is aimed at vitiating the impression of helplessness and powerlessness, succeeds better in betraying and reinforcing the locus of its identity in the trauma of that threat.

       Toni Morrison addresses this seeming paradox when she points out how the U.S.A. is simultaneously a "nation of people who decided that their world view would combine agendas for individual freedom," and the "mechanism for devastating racial oppression."26 Morrison thus demonstrates how such apparent paradoxes are better understood as the reciprocal ways in which different languages, cultural representations, social and political institutions, races and sexualities comprise identity. Morrison's deconstruction of this intertextuality offers further access to the links shared by black Ishmael Reed and white Skinheads. "The Africanist character," she writes, becomes a "surrogate" who "enables . . . whites to think about themselves . . . to know themselves as not enslaved, but free; not repulsive, but desirable; not helpless, but licensed and powerful; not history-less, but historical; not damned, but innocent; not a blind accident of evolution, but a progressive fulfillment of destiny."27

       Skinheads live contradiction. Their social experience is to be enslaved, repulsive, helpless, damned, and to belong to the very group who has a history, and a promise of fulfillment in which they cannot share. This paradox is the foundation also for the anger that incited the dispossessed French in World War II, for Reed's rage, and for the Skins' lethal frustration, a fury that takes its revenge upon the bodies of the women proclaimed their own. This delusion of possession helps to explain why the image of a happy coupling between a white woman and a black man is described in a 1981 Aryan Nation flyer as "the ultimate abomination." For if nothing else belongs to the British or American Skinhead (French/German/Japanese/African/Serbian/Iraquian, etc.), if he is socially fucked by other men, he alone will fuck her white (black/brown/yellow/red) body.28 The vicious retaliation of the Skinhead unfolds within the epistemological spaces insured by white male hegemony, a phallic rule in which his virility becomes merely a caricature unmasking the reality of his impotence, a lack derived from the fact that he actually cohabitates the same disempowered spaces of women and all other dominated peoples. His inadequacy sustains his obsession with White Suprematism where, fortified by emblematic images of superiority and power, he attempts to exercise his deprived authority. 

       All of these shaved heads inhabit the visual memory of culture, a memory of the history of war, domination, and colonization across whose pages bodies reach back to the Old and New Testaments and forward to the White Power of Skinheads, the youth para-military arm of ultra-conservative groups whose theology is based on Scripture and who act out of a belief in their divine right to be on top where power and sexual abuse fire the cultures of trauma. "Organization by hierarchy makes all conceptual organization subject to man," Cixous and Clement write, and that organization "is located in the logocentric orders that guarantee the masculine order a rationale equal to history itself."29

       Image II

       In the performance Test of Sleep, Amalia (Lia) Perjovschi, a Romanian artist, covers her body with white paint over which she inscribes a complex sequence of symbols resembling hieroglyphic marks, untranslatable signs, a visual language that she then animates with gestures deployed in silence; hand, arm, leg, and full-body signals enacted in her home before her husband, the only witness.30 Perjovschi's principle means of communication, beyond the direct, but silent, intimate liaison with her husband, artist Dan Perjovschi, is through photographs, documents that he--as husband, collaborator, and beholder--recorded. Her action took place in 1988, one of the darkest years of Romanian captivity under the autocratic totalitarianism of Nicolae and Elena Ceausescu who were assassinated December 25, 1989. In 1993, in Timisoara, site of the revolution, Eastern European artists gathered for the performance festival, Europe Zone East. Dan Perjovschi's action was to sit silently while the word "Romania" was tattooed on his upper left forearm.31

       While shaved heads provided visual access and insight into the linkage between power and sexuality that contributes to the construction of cultures of trauma, Lia and Dan Perjovschi's marked bodies enunciate the silence that is a rudiment of trauma and a source of the destruction of identity. Silence was maintained efficiently by the Romanian secret police, the Securitate, who enforced Ceausescu's crushing control. In large measure, that organization was successful, through the sheer force of rumor, hearsay that numbered the Securitate, with its system of informers, at one in six Romanian citizens.32 No one remained above suspicion. Fear and secrecy resulted in the effective supervision of all aspects of Romanian life. Stealth was augmented by reports of reprisals against challenges to authority, threats that were invigorated by actual punishments. Extreme even among nations of the former Soviet block countries, Romanians endured their conditions in isolation. Prevented from travel, the government retained Romanian passports and politically sequestered the nation from exchange with most of the world. Romania resembled a concentration camp especially in the 1980s when Lia and Dan Perjovschi (both born in 1961) were in their twenties.33

       While such coercion was the most obvious process by which Romanians were traumatized into obedience, a double bind, comprised of intense nationalism coupled with economic shortage, incapacitated the people into perceiving themselves absolutely dependent upon a government which they could not criticize without being labeled unpatriotic.34 This paradoxical predicament reinforced what Katherine Verdery, a U.S. anthropologist specializing in Romanian culture, calls the "symbolic-ideological" discourse in Romania, a discourse that utilizes "the Nation . . . as a master symbol."35 Romanian debates over national identity rose to a fever pitch in the 1980s, especially with the programmatic decimation of Romanian traditional life, the destruction of villages, and the relocation of peasants and workers into the bleak city block houses, all of which were part of Ceausescu's massive relocation and urbanization project that followed his 1971 visit to North Korea, China, and North Vietnam when he inaugurated "a 'mini-cultural revolution', with renewed emphasis on socialist realism."36 The ambitious reconstruction of Romanian cities included the erection of highrise apartment complexes in an idiosyncratic and hybrid Korean-Chinese style imitative of the international style. In the redevelopment of Bucharest, especially between 1984 and 1989, some fifty thousand people lost their Beaux Arts and Victorian homes to the unrivaled, infamous, architectural complex leading to the vulgar Casa Poporlului, House of the People, funded by Romanian taxes at the expense of all other civic, social, industrial, and agricultural projects. Like its historical antecedents, Ceausescu's building campaign was aimed at a monolithic representation of power through which to arouse awe and complete compliance. An effective means of social control, its sterility mirrored the repression of interior life.

       But questions related to Romanian national identity did not originate in Ceausescu's regime. They reside deep in Romanian history and consciousness, both of which have been split for centuries between the philosophical and teleological world views of the Occident and the Orient, as well as along the geographical political exigencies of North-South and East-West. Romanians trace their bipolarity to the occupation in 106-107 A.D. of roman Emperor Trajan who invaded the ancient lands of the Carpatho-Danubian people, the Geto-Dacians (Gateo of the lower Danube, Dacians of the Carpathian mountains) who inhabited what is now modern Romania since Neolithic times. Such divisions make Romanians especially vulnerable to psychological fragmentation, and contribute to the renowned "distrust of all the cherished notions...of progress and history" that is "characteristic" of Balkan peoples, Andrei Codrescu, a Romanian expatriate poet living in the United States, has noted.37 The historic rupture of Romanian national identity was reinforced in, and is echoed by, the shattering of personal identity under Ceausescu. In this regard, Verdery has recognized a "social schizophrenia" among Romanians which she has described as an ability to experience a "real meaningful and coherent self only in relation to the enemy party."38

       Artist Ion Bitzan (b. 1924), an admired professor of art at Nicolae Grigorescu Academia de Arta in Bucharest, provides a special example of this schism. Bitzan lived through Stalin, Gheorghiu-Dej, and Ceausescu. Under Stalin, Bitzan learned as a student that transgression was impossible. He remembered the painful "unmaskings" (his term) during which students denounced each other and their professors, denunciations accompanied by obligatory applause, the same obligatory applause required at the very mention of Stalin's name.39 His terror was so deep, he remembered, that he felt "guilty for being human," and was afraid of "being an enemy of the party, an enemy of the State, an enemy of the Soviet Union." 

       In 1964, one of Bitzan's paintings was selected for inclusion in the Venice Biennale. A social realist work of "a lorie filled with wheat, a field worker, and a red flag in the corner," the socialist subject and style, like the applause, was mandated. But Bitzan felt his work was "perfect" because he had composed it precisely according to the rules for the Golden Section. When he traveled to Venice to attend the Biennale, however, he saw the assemblages and collages of Robert Rauschenberg, the American artist who received first prize at that Biennale. Bitzan returned to Romania confused, disturbed, and embarrassed by his art. He felt himself to be a provincial outsider and was humiliated by the very painting of which he had been so proud. Three years later, Bitzan also began to make collages, constructions, and to fabricate exquisite made papers on which he wrote in a flowing and elegant, but secret, unreadable personal language. These works he did, however, only in the private of his studio. In public, Bitzan continued to paint in a socialist realist style. Like many Romanian artists, he capitulated to Ceausescu's frequent requests to paint Him or Her--the terms Romanians used for Nicolae and Elena. For his compliance, Bitzan earned money, prestige in the Art Academy, and the right to travel. He "sold" himself, he insisted, "but only for an hour or so a day when I worked on their pictures." After that he turned the canvases of Him or Her--emblems of his repression--to the wall and began his secret life. In telling this story for the first time, in his own words Bitzan became "ashamed" and left the room. I too felt shame. My interview had perpetrated the familiar form of an interrogation. Before contributing to and witnessing Bitzan's shame, I had been sheltered from understanding the interview form of discourse as a persecuting interrogative. 

       Bitzsan's private collages, hand-made papers, artist's books, and indecipherable texts are, all, a microcosm of the conflict that characterized Romanian artist's conduct, their need to invent alternative languages and to make hidden private works. Verdery's observation about Romanian's "social schizophrenia" is related to Bitzan's experience. Comments by a number of Romanians confirm her view. Alexandra Cornilescu, a linguist from Bucharest University, noted that survival in Romania depends upon "hedging."40 Hedging means that one cultivates the ability to live multiple lives. Romanians learned to say one thing and mean something else, to speak in layered codes impenetrable to informers, often even confusing to friends, to use their eyes and gestures as if they were words. Or, as Codrescu confessed, "I lie in order to hide the truth from morons."41 "Repressive discourse," Cornilescu continued, "gradually developed towards a rigid inventory of permissible topics; religion, non-dogmatic philosophy or political theories, poverty, prisons, concentration camps, political dissidents, unemployment, sex, etc., were, as many taboo topics, unmentionable and, largely, unmentioned in repressive discourse." 

       Nothing is more pernicious in the "discourse of fear" than the problem identified by Cornilescu when she writes that in Romania, "If an object/person/phenomenon is not named, then it does not exist." With the word Romania emblazoned on the surface of his body, Dan Perjovschi staked the authenticity of his existence on a name. His tattoo divulges the dependence of his identity upon his country, a territory marked by centuries of uncertainty and the challenged, manipulated, and traumatized conditions in which he and his fellow Romanians lived. But his tattoo is also an indeterminate sign signifying the synchronicity of a visible wound and a mark of honor. A symbol of resistance and icon of marginality, it is a signature of capture, a mask that both designates and disguises identity. As a signifier for the charged complexity of Romanian national identity, the tattoo brands Dan Perjovschi's body with the arbitrary geographical identity agreed upon by governments, and it displays the ambiguous psychological allegiances such boundaries inevitably commit to the mind. His action-inscription also conveys some of the content of the accreted spaces of Romanian suffering and guilt, guilt that Perjovschi addressed when he explained that in Romania, where both prisoners and citizens alike habitually were transformed into perpetrators, guilt and innocence intermingle inseparably. And he asked, "Who may point a finger?" Similarly, Herman describes the process by which incest victims are silenced and made to become complicit in their own abuse: "Terror, intermittent reward, isolation, and enforced dependency may succeed in creating a submissive and compliant prisoner. But the final step in the psychological control of the victim is not completed until she/(he) has been forced to violate her/(his) own moral principles and to betray her/(his) basic human attachments. Psychologically, this is the most destructive of all coercive techniques, for the victim who has succumbed loathes herself. It is at this point, when the victim under duress participates in the sacrifice of others, that she/(he) is truly 'broken.'"42

       Only recently have such experiences begun to be verbalized in Romanian discourse. Cornilescu explains that in the media terms such as "survival, nightmares, shock therapy" appear increasingly as metaphors describing the past and referring to the current transitional period. Such words comprise the languages of trauma and provide new textual evidence of the stress that punctuates the Romanian imagination.

       But Romanian silences must be understood in the context of silences that result from terror threatened by the situation and its perpetrator(s), from the repressed silences shielding victims from the pain of memory, and from the robotization that results from chronic captivity.43 These silences represent only some of a host of traumatic silences. All these conditions lead to what many researchers describe as the conspiracy of silence, a complex environment that culminates in the silence remembered by Holocaust, incest, and rape survivors.44 Psychiatrist Judith Lewis Herman proposes that the shame, fear, and horror that traumatized victims experience which lead to silence is augmented by public denial of trauma, and even by the behavior of mental health professionals who sometimes treat those who "listen too long and too carefully to traumatized patients" as "contaminated" (my emphasis).45

       Romanians feel contaminated. This emotion is embedded in journalistic metaphors that refer to Romania as a "dead" or "diseased body," an "organism...undergoing some form of therapy...severe pain...nightmares," and in need of "shock therapy." Such "therapy" is administered in a collage created by Romanian artist Ion Grigorescu (b. 1946). In a black and white photomontage, overpainted and decorated with collage elements in gold foil, Grigorescu depicted himself as St. George slaying a Dragon. Entitled Bine si Rau (Good and Evil), 1986, Grigorescu montaged two photographs of himself together to create a composite image of a conqueror and a vanquished. In the image, Grigorescu appears to leap over a figure who bends over a large boulder. The vaulting Grigorescu plunges a huge wooden stake through the bent figure's back killing the "dragon" that turns out to be simply another image of himself. Driving the stake into his own back, Grigorescu spills his own blood and it gushes from his self-inflicted wound, the life fluid of a body that spurts out and pours over the rock that breaks his fall. Set against the backdrop of a landscape image and around this striking scene, the murder takes place in what appears to be a room, an architectural space created when the artist drew faint lines of ink that traced the perspectival space of a box. In gold ink on one of the room's transparent walls, he painted a half-figure who, reclined on a pillow, wails from the pain inflicted by a foot and leg clad in Roman Centurion sandals which stomps on his stomach. At the top of the picture and outside of the architectural space, Grigorescu collaged a small scale that he cut out of gold metallic paper, a symbol of judgment that suspends from the sky.

       In the image, Grigorescu collapsed self-sacrifice into the martyrdom of Romania. Visually comparing his suffering to that of the sacrificed Christian, he also summoned the forces of Christianity necessary to vanquish the predator, a tyrant that he slayed in the same manner required to rid the world of the mythic Romanian terror, Dracula, by plunging a stake through the heart. But Grigorescu drives the stake through his own heart dashing its evil, and shedding his blood on the rock that suggests St. Peter's church. The recollection of Roman dress and Roman Catholic faith draws the Occident into this dramatic scene of violence. Internal repression and external invasion commingle across the territories of power, faith, self-sacrifice, violence, guilt, and martyrdom. These complex threads weave through Grigorescu's image of pain as visual witness to a conflict in which all are implicated. Inside individual subjectivity, and outside that being in the social and political world of competing ideologies and teleologies, Grigorescu confesses his own culpability. Such a representation gains even more force as an authentic image of Romanian social and psychological experience when considered in light of the observation that Romanians "resist anything that resembles the construction of state power (yet) with internalized expectations of a state that is paternalistic, that frees them of the necessity to take initiative or worry about their pay checks, hospital bills, pensions, and the like. They simultaneously blame the state for everything and expect the state to resolve everything (in an)...amalgam of accusation and expectation."46

       Grigorescu's collage is made even more compelling by the fact that these photographs are self-portraits of a performative action the artist undertook in private to prepare this work. His private ritual suggests an exorcism of self undertaken in secret, stealth demanded by the political exigencies of 1986, the year of the work's making. Such hidden performances recall other actions Grigorescu did before the gaze only of his own camera. A self-portrait of 1975, for example, features another striking image o the martyred artist, this time with a crown of thorns encircling his neck. Another self-portrait shows the artist with an elongated neck over which is superimposed the image of the Egyptian King Tut's renowned coffin. In another series of auto-portraits, Grigorescu created body-actions in his own living quarters. One series entitled The Tongue, c. 1973-75, pictures only the anatomical feature of a mouth, teeth, and tongue that is gaping wide in a clear invocation of a scream. 

       The choking, silently screaming, entombed self-image offers other representations of Romanian self-recrimination, guilt, anger, futility and suffering. "Sufferance" was a term Cornilescu also used in her discussion of textual practices in the contemporary Romanian press. Suffering cohabits the silences that literary theorist Elaine Scarry argues "actively destroy" language, a process that brings about "an immediate reversion to a state anterior to language."47 In Test of Sleep, Lia Perjovschi conjures that anterior state. As the apparatus of the dream condenses and displaces meaning, so Romanian silence registered existence as somnambulant. "Everyone in Romania silently calls out loudly," Lia said. "I wanted to draw attention to that inner life, to make it possible for people to understand it without words." Even the title of her action--Test of Sleep--offers textual access to the blocked layers of the performative unconscious available in sleep. Sanda Agalidi, a Romanian artist and expatriate living in the U.S., also has summoned the idea of sleep in relation to Romanian social reality. She writes about the "determined will" necessary to maintain aspects of the estranged self, to create an "alternative language," that "as the words awaken" the "bad world falls asleep."48 In both artists' metaphors, the silence of sleep parallels repression but also approximates a space within which a different language may be formed, a language that Lia described as the "discrete communication" she enacted in Test of Sleep. Mikhail Bakhtin, a victim of Stalin's despotism, might have compared her corporeal narrative to the heteroglossia of the oppressed who long to speak for themselves. For he observed that all social life is an ongoing struggle between the attempt of power to impose a uniform language and the attempt of those below to speak in their own dialects (heteroglossia).49 The struggle between the multiplicity of internal voices and the monolithic voice of external authority breeds trauma.

       Many theorists of postmodernism celebrate schizophrenia, or decentered fragmentation, as the cultural sign of postmodern political resistance to holistic models of self and society associated with the hegemony of the humanist paradigm.50 My personal experience, knowledge of Romania, and scholarship, all support different conclusions. For such theories fail as viable theoretical constructs when called upon to address the actual experiences of Romanians. Recently conclusions similar to my own have been argued eloquently by James M. Glass who believes that the textual critique of postmodern resistance to unicity is not only "naive" but "dangerous." These theories collapse before the actual conditions that real people with multiple personalities suffer; and they cannot account for, or move toward healing the terrible incapacitating fragmentation and the agonizing internal struggle for unity without which it is impossible to survive and function. Glass asks, "Is it not equally as important to understand and interpret the world from the point of view of the victims themselves?"51 Scarry approached this question from a slightly different position. She insists that trauma sometimes causes so much suffering that "the person in pain bereft of the resources of speech...that the language for pain should sometimes be brought into being by those who are not themselves in pain but who speak on behalf of those who are."52 Yet while trauma may be so severe that victims might require someone other than themselves to speak, recovery depends upon victims speaking for themselves.

       Mute, but gesturing, Lia wrote the language of internal spaces on the surface of her body, words that although reversed and unreadable, narrated her private suffering. Speechless and immobile, his body imprinted by another man with an inscription, Dan documented the interdependence of the psyche, identity, and ideology in history. The Perjovschi's art provides ocular witness to, and gestural voice for, the prolonged psychological, intellectual, and physical oppression that transformed Romania into a culture of trauma. Through their signifying bodies, they suggest means to express "the corporeal threat in social and political experience (and) the inexorable human link between subject and subject."53 In such performances, the body and its languages may transform victimization into personal agency. "Write yourself," Cixous declared. "Your body must make itself heard."54

       "The systematic study of psychological trauma depends on the support of a political movement," Herman has argued, a movement "powerful enough to legitimate an alliance between investigators and patients to counteract the ordinary social processes of silencing and denial."55 Lia and Dan Perjovschi contribute to such an alliance by producing cultural signs that convert invisible pain into images able to be shared with, and scrutinized by, the public. Such actions impart the visual language of survivors and, however specific to Romania, remain paradigmatic of the kinds of representations found in cultures of trauma.

       Analysis of the regularization of trauma is pressing and may advance understanding of its human consequences. Marked bodies and shaved heads visualize the aggregate forms of suffering. Should we learn to recognize them, we may reform. But I am not optimistic. 


       Over the past two years since this paper was first published and immediately reprinted, I have had the privilege of lecturing widely on this paper in the United States and abroad. Repeatedly, three identical questions have emerged:

(a) Why, if I choose to shave my own head or tattoo my own body, is this not an act of self-empowerment, a wresting of my own fate and identity from historical antecedents? 

(b) Can it be said that all historical examples of shaved heads and tattooed bodies conform to your paradigm and are "representations from cultures of trauma?"

(c) Is there implicit in your argument a value judgment, moral or ethical, of people who elect to have their heads shaved or their bodies tattooed?

The frequency with which these questions have been posed by women (although not exclusively by women) necessitates a response, especially in the context of this book. I am grateful to the editors for an opportunity to expand and further explain my thoughts. 

       In answer to the first question, I would characterize my interlocutor's cross-examination as urgent. Women have insisted that by choosing to shave their own heads, they have refused both to surrender to classical representations of female beauty and have "taken control" of their own representation and self-image. The shaved head, they insist, is a sign of personal agency, of resistance, of independence from the paradigm of the erotic woman. They have wrested power from history, they persist. This argument has been made by women of all age groups, sexual preferences, class, race, and education. The aggressiveness with which this view is avowed and typified by a remark made to me by three different women, on three different occasions, in three different cities. Each one said she could "see me being shot" for my views. Obviously, something profoundly critical to a woman's sense of self and personal agency is at stake. 

       Especially since the mid-1970s in Western culture, alternative groups have celebrated and practiced body modification; and tattooing, multiple piercing, scarification, and head shaving (even perceived as de rigueur and obligatory by some marginalized or self-selected alternative groups) has been on the rise and, as I noted above in a footnote, has become fashionable.56 Writing on behalf of such body modification, V. Vale and Andrea Juno, editors and publishers of RE/Search Magazine, an infamous, internationally distributed art journal, situated these practices "amidst an almost universal feeling of powerlessness to 'change the world,'" and they insisted that body modification permits "individuals (to) change what they do have power over: their own bodies." They continue: "A tattoo is more than a painting on skin; its meaning and reverberations cannot be comprehended without a knowledge of the history and mythology of its bearer.... These body modifications perform a vital function identical with art: they 'genuinely stimulate passion and spring directly from the original sources of emotion, and are not something tapped from the cultural reservoir.' (Roger Cardinal) Here that neglected function of art, to stimulate the mind, is unmistakably alive. And all of these modifications bear witness to personal pain endured which cannot be simulated."57

       These comments suggest that to mark the self is to make of oneself a work of art, to exacted agency and self-representation from history, and to be alive--not simulated, in other words, not a product of what Vale and Juno characterize as "civilization" with its "stifling and life-thwarting logic." But the equation of primitivism with agency is, as Marianna Torgovnick correctly observes in Gone Primitive, "a modern and post-modern...version of the idyllic, utopian...the wish for 'being physical' to be coextensive with 'being spiritual'; the wish for physical, psychological, and social integrity as a birthright, within familial and cultural traditions that both connect to the past and allow for a changing future....58 Indeed, a woman (or individuated groups of self-selected women) cannot escape the history of cultural tradition by merely claiming to have done so. 

       My point has been that the semiotic universe of signs and representations that Western culture inhabits pervades all its practices. But moreover, because of the might of Western economies, technologies, weapons-development, and communication systems, Western culture permeates the globe with its culture leaving its own tattoo on social and cultural practices around the world.59 Resorting to fantasies of resistance and agency or imitations of the "primitive" cannot change this condition any more than attempts to refuse negative representations by denial can reverse the overdetermined meaning and legacy of these signs.

       The allegation that representations may be recuperated, seized from the histories in which they originate and with which they are in dialogue, is misguided and becomes little more than inflammatory rhetoric in the publications of such writers as Camille Paglia.60 Paglia's idol, Madonna, equally falls prey to these illusions. Madonna's book Sex is nothing if not a compendium of the most audaciously gullible, simplistic, immature, self-destructive, and ultimately exploitative assertions on behalf of the notion that anything goes--including sexism, racism, self-abuse, masochism, and sadism--as long as the perpetrator claims its value as self-representation.61 To say this is not to "loathe Madonna" as Paglia claims. I watch and listen to Madonna with the same fascination as anyone interested in the paradoxes and spectacles of entertainment culture; I even enjoy Madonna, in her frames of reference. 

       Paglia and Madonna are only the most flamboyant examples of those who claim to control all aspects of their representation. They are joined by numerous academics who theorize that both the construction and reception of conventional signs may be subverted by projections of self that emanate from a spectrum of individuated needs and desires ranging from the butch-femme aesthetic to the heterosexual straight, from black (Michael Jackson is often the example offered here) to browns to whites.62 Without belaboring this argument, my point is this: in an effort to posit agency outside of history, to escape history, a spurious kind of independence folds back on itself creating a double indemnity: one has been damned to damn oneself. The effort to deny the interconnectedness of historical representations is akin to sleepwalking through time. It may be done, but at what expense?

       While this response may seem to suggest a futility in altering history and asserting agency, I believe the situation is redeemable, even if I am pessimistic. What I do insist is that certain kinds of historically loaded representations cannot be reversed without a thorough understanding of their embeddedness in a complex overlapping cultural network of experiences, contexts, and conditions. That Ishmael Reed's advocacy to shave the heads of black feminists who collaborate with white feminists might be related to the French punishment of women who slept with Germans during World War II, Germans' punishment of German women who slept with Jews during the same period, or Skinheads who advocate White Supremacy, is a dense web of shared violence and ugliness that few imagine can be aggregate. The idea that a woman who elects to shave her head participates in this configuration is even more odious to him or her. And I suppose this is why the three women who could "see" me "getting shot" for saying these things imagined such a violent reaction to my supposition: for in fact I do believe that people share the space and continuity in time with this historical structure, despite her loftiest aims.63

       The other two questions require only a brief response, and the answer to the second one is an emphatic, "No." All generalizations are dangerous, and I even cautioned, at the beginning of this paper, about the use of terms. The concept of trauma itself, I pointed out, must be used judiciously. I offer it only as a model for examining cultural configurations and representations if one remembers not only the wide range of traumatic experience possible, but also the differences of intensity and duration of these experiences. I insist that each trauma must be examined in, and for, itself; and in theorizing "cultures of trauma," I struggled to clarify that my examples are limited to themselves. Moreover, they are also limited to the Western Judeo-Christian tradition. I cannot, and would not, attempt to speak about pre-Columbian, African, or Asian instances of shaved heads, as I have been asked to do. But I will say that on the subject of monks, nuns, and other members of religious orders who shave their heads, it is not imprudent to point out that this practice is one usually signifying submission to a higher authority. That trauma is involved is entirely a different question.

       Finally, in no way do I pass moral, ethical, or a value judgment on anyone who chooses to shave her/his head or wear a tattoo. Both my scholarship and artistic practice have been devoted to trying to understand the social structures and cultural representations that invent and perpetuate destruction and violence, that destroy and harm identity, that strip agency from human will, and that leave a legacy of despair in the world. Those are the subjects of this essay. To attempt to decode (by describing) these structures is very different from passing judgment on individuals who, in their attempt to resist these negative histories, may appropriate aspects of them. Rather, if there is a qualifying feeling that comes from my work, a personal opinion about the people who shave their heads or tattoo their bodies as signs of difference and self-empowerment, it is that I have empathy for the struggle.

       In trying to make a contribution to that struggle, I hope this essay underscores the dangers of unconsciously perpetrating negative traditions. I selected examples of shaved heads and marked bodies because of their contemporary popularity and the connections I perceived between our current historical moment and the histories and practices of Western culture. No argument is perfect. Mine is flawed. But these imperfections spring from an imagination that seeks, seeks to contribute to the construction of a more humane interaction and a responsible relationship to history, the present, and the future. 


This essay was first published in Strategie II: Peuples Mediterraneens [Paris] 64-65 (July-December 1993): 95-117.  It has been excerpted in French and English in Lusitania [New York] 6 (1994): 23-39; excerpted in Dan Perjovschi: Anthroprogramming (New York: Franklin Furnace, 1996); excerpted in German in kursiv [Linz, Austria] 2-3 (1995): 19-25; reprinted in full with a new "Afterword," in Jean O'Barr, Nancy Hewitt, Nancy Rosebaugh, eds., TalkingGender: Public Images, Personal Journeys, and PoliticalCritiques. (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1996): 36-64; and excerpted in Romanian and Russian in various publications on Dan & Lia Perjovschi. 

1 The phrase cultures of trauma evolved out of my unpublished dissertation on "The Destruction in Art Symposium (DIAS): The Radical Cultural Project of Event-Structured Art," University of California, Berkeley, 1987. Shame culture and guilt culture are two additional concepts mentioned by Bernard Kox in a review of Bernard Williams' Shame and Necessity (1992) and Ruth Benedict's The Chrysanthemum and the Sword (1946). See Knox, "The Greek Way," in The New York Review of Books 18 November 1993: 42.[back]
2 Michael R.Trimble, "Post-traumatic Stress Disorder: History of a Concept," Trauma and Its Wake: The Study and Treatment of Post-traumatic Stress Disorder, ed. Charles R. Figley (New York: Brunner/Mazel, Publishers, 1985): 13.[back]
3 Figley, introduction to Trauma and Its Wake: xviii-xix.[back]
4 Trimble reports, for example, that Charles Dickens was unable to recover from having witnessed a horrifying railway accident in 1865, and Samuel Pepys became suicidal after a fire in his home. Trimble, "Post-traumatic Stress Disorder": 7. See also, R.J. Daly, "Samuel Pepys and post-traumatic stress disorder," British Journal of Psychiatry 143 (1983): 64-68; and J. Forster, The Life of Charles Dickens, 2nd vol. (London: J. M. Dent and Sons, 1969).[back]
5 Some critical studies in post-traumatic stress disorder and its relationship to larger social and political frames include: M. J. Horowitz, Stress Response Syndromes (New York: Jason Aronson, 1976); A. Egendorf, et al., Legacies of Vietnam, vols. 1-5 (Washington D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1981); Robert J. Lifton, Death in Life: Survivors of Hiroshima (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1967); Robert J. Lifton, The Future of Immorality and Other Essays for a Nuclear Age (New York: Basic, 1987); Richard Ulman and Doris Brothers, The Shattered Self: A Psychoanalytic Study of Trauma (Hove and London: The Analytic Press, 1988); and Judith Lewis Herman, Trauma and Recovery: The aftermath of violence--from domestic abuse to political terror (New York: Basic Books, 1992).[back]
6 See Raymond M. Scurfield, "Post-trauma Reactions and Symptoms," Trauma and Its Wake: 233. See also Judith Lewis Herman, "Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder," Trauma and Recovery: 121.[back]
7 I am indebted to Judit Katona-Apte, United Nations World Food Programme, for this information and other comments put forward in her unpublished paper, "Refugee Women: An International Existential Anomaly?" presented at the Bellagio conference on War and Gender. See also Diane Weathers, "Impact of Refugee Camps," WFP and the Environment (Rome: World Food Programme): 9-10.[back]
8 On the subject of nuclear proliferation see, for example, Frank Barnaby, ed., Plutonium and Security: the Military Aspects of the Plutonium Economy (London: MacMilan, 1992). I consider this subject in my essay, "Irreparable Damage: James Lerager's Documentary Photography and Social Activism in the Nuclear Age," in Tales from the Nuclear Age. (Raleigh: City Gallery of Contemporary Art, 1995).[back]
9 A summary of that work appears in my essay "Survival Ethos and Destruction Art," Discourse: Journal for Theoretical Studies in Media and Culture 14:2 (Spring 1992): 74-102.[back]
10 Although in World War II the continental United States did not experience anything remotely similar to the destruction that occurred in Europe and Japan, it is clear that the increased militarization of U.S. economic and domestic life during the nuclear age had traumatizing effects. Robert J. Lifton and Eric Markusen refer to this result as the genocidal mentality in their book The Genocidal Mentality: Nazi Holocaust and Nuclear Threat (New York: Basic Books, 1990).[back]
11 See Frank Capa, Robert Capa, Photographs (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1985): 162-165; Carl Mydans, Carl Mydans, Photojournalist (New York: Harry H. Abrams, 1985): 104. Ophuls film includes extensive interviews with Pierre Mendes-France, Albert Speer, Sir Anthony Eden, Claude Levy, and others, but no comment at all from the women with shaved heads! See also, Alain Brossat's Les Tondues: Un Carnaval Moche (Mesnil sur Estrée: Éditions Manya, 1993). Brossat's extensive research documents and analyses the phenomenon of women with shaved heads from the perspective of medieval carnival and ritual.[back]
12 Susan Sontag was one of the first to theorize about the sexual aggressivity (akin to rape) of the photograph in On Photography. (New York: Farrar, Strauss & Giroux, 1973). See also Bill Jay's "The Photographer as Aggressor," in Observations: Essays on Documentary Photography, ed. David Featherstone (Carmel, California: The Friends of Photography, 1984): 7-23.[back]
13 In the 5th century BC, Herodotus accounted for the importance of women in the Persian Wars when he pointed out that "as for the carrying off of women, it is the deed, they say, of a rogue; but to make a stir about such as are carried off, argues a man a fool.... The Asiatics when the Greeks ran off with their women, never troubled themselves about the matter; but the Greeks, for the sake of a single Lacedaemonian girl, collected a vast armament, invaded Asia, and destroyed the kingdom of Prima, hence they ever looked upon the Greeks as their open enemies." See Herodotus, The Persians Wars, trans. George Rawlinson (New York: Random House 1942): 3, quoted by Barbara Harlow, introduction, The colonial Harem, by Malek Alloula, trans. Myrna Godzich and Wlad Godzich (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1966): xiv-xv. See also "Maternal Thinking and Peace Politics," Maternal Thinking: Toward a Politics of Peace, ed. Sara Ruddic (New York: Ballantine Books, 1989).[back]
14 For an extended discussion of the term phallocratic, see Luce Irigaray, This Sex Which Is Not One, trans. G.Gill (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1982); and Lacan's "The signification of the phallus" in Écrits: A Selection, trans. Alan Sheridan (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1977): 281-291.[back]
15 James M. Glass, Shattered Selves: Multiple Personality in a Postmodern World (Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press, 1993): 127.[back]
16 On the subject of comfort women, I am indebted to Kazuko Watanabe's unpublished paper "Militarism, Colonialism and the Trafficking in Women: Military Comfort Women Forced by the Japanese Imperial Army," presented at the Bellagio Conference on War & Gender, 1993. See also, Iryumiyon Kim, Emperor's Army and Korean Comfort Women (Tokyo: Sanichi Shobo, 1976). On the Bosnian pornography see Catherine A. MacKinnon's "Turning Rape into Pornography: Postmodern Genocide," MS 4:1 (July/August 1993): 24-30.[back]
17 Helene Cixous and Catherine Clement, The Newly Born Woman, trans. Betsy Wing (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1986): 65.[back]
18 Bertolt Brecht, "Ballade von der 'Judenhure' Marie Sanders," Bertolt Brecht Gedichte: Ausgewahlt von Autoren Mit einem Geleitwort von Ernst Bloch (Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp Verlag, 1977): 132-33.[back]
19 Ishmael Reed, Reckless Eyeballing (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1986): 55.[back]
20 Frantz Fanon, A Dying Colonialism, trans. Haakon Chevalier (New York: Grove Press, 1967): 39. I am grateful to comments regarding Fanon that Bruce Lawrence, Professor of Religion at Duke University, made during the Bellagio conference on War & Gender. See also Spivak, quoted by Barbara Harlow in her "Introduction" to The Colonial Harem by Malek Alloula, xviii. Harlow also points out that the French in Algeria and the British in India and Africa attempted "to collaborate with the women under the pretext of liberating them from oppression by their own men," and that this "would happen later in Iran during the Khomeini-led revolution against the Shah's dictatorship" (xviii-xix).[back]
21 I am grateful to Judit Katona-Apte and Mahadev Apte for bringing this film to my attention.[back]
22 James Ridgeway, Blood in the Face: The Ku Klux Klan, Aryan Nations, Nazi SkinHeads, and the Rise of a New White Culture (New York: Thunder's Mouth Press, 1990): 164.[back]
23 Dick Hebdige, Subculture: The Meaning of Style (London: Meuthen, 1979), quoted in Ridgeway 164.[back]
24 The style, or fashion, of Skinheads was rapidly assimilated by very different groups that do not identify with White Suprematism, ranging from Punks to neo-hippie ecological Skins. Pop folk singer Sinead O'Connor's shaved head, for example, represents popular cultural icons of protest while the shaved and tattooed head of a current Parisian fashion model demonstrates how quickly style transforms ideology.[back]
25 For a discussion of the abject, see Julia Kristeva, Powers of Horror: An Essay on Abjection. (New York: Columbia University Press, 1982).[back]
26 Toni Morrison, Playing in the Dark: Whiteness and the Literary Imagination (Cambridge, Massachusetts and London: Harvard University Press, 1992): xiii.[back]
27 Ibid: 51-52.[back]
28 When performance artist John Duncan purchased a female corpse in Tijuana in the early 1980s for the purpose of necrophilious sex, his act was a desperate exhibition of this excruciating lack. Duncan's pain is palpable, however contemptible.[back]
29 Cixous and Clement: 64-65.[back]
30 My research in Romania began in the fall of 1991. The following October 1992, I lectured on the subject of Art and Politics at the University of Bucharest and on Performance Art at the Nicolae Grigorescu Academia de Arta in Bucharest. At that time I began to discuss art and politics with many artists in the Romanian avant-garde, and to do research that continues today in my work on cultures of trauma. All quotes from Lia and Dan Perjovschi date from my conversations with them in Bucharest in October 1992 and August 1993.[back]
31 Katherine Verdery and Gail Kligman explain that many Romanians now believe that the December 1989 revolution was a coup, a coup that may have been plotted for up to two decades, a coup that may have been supported by the former Soviet Union, and a coup that was carried out by the National Salvation Front, reformed communists many of whom are still in control of the government and the Securitate. See Verdery and Kligman's "Romania after Ceausescu: Post-Communist Communism?" Eastern Europe in Revolution, ed. Ivo Banac (Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press, 1992): 119. [back]
32 The Romanian Securitate, unlike the German Stasi or the Russian KGB, has yet to have been purged.[back]
33 Primo Levi, an Auschwitz survivor, and philosopher Walter Benjamin both believed that the concentration camp was a microcosm of the external world. See Levi's Survival in Auschwitz and The Reawakening: Two Memoirs (Se questo e un uomo [1958] and La tregua [1963]) (New York: Summit Books, 1986); and Levi, The Drowned and the Saved, trans. Raymond Rosenthal (Sommersi e i salvati [1986]) (New York: Vintage International, 1989). See also Pietro Fransisca, Primo Levi as Witness: Proceedings of a Symposium held at Princeton University. (Florence: Casalini Libri, 1990); and Hans Sahl, Walter Benjamin: Im Lager. (Frankfurt: Suhrkamp, 1972).[back]
34 Katherine Verdery, National Ideology Under Socialism: Identity and Cultural Politics in Ceausecu's Romania (Berkeley: University of California Press): 101. This is a complicated history involving claims made by Romanian intellectuals for the priority of Romanian cultural inventions and even historical events in the cultural and political history of Europe. Verdery carefully charts "protochronism" (temporal priority) in several chapters.[back]
35 Ibid: 122.[back]
36 Ibid: 107.[back]
37 Ralph Earle, "On the Virtues of Distrust: An Interview with Andrei Codrescu," The Sun 143 (October 1987): 8.[back]
38 Unpublished comments by Katherine Verdery from a talk entitled "Nationalism & the 'Transition' in Romania" that she gave at Duke University, 23 February 1993.[back]
39 Ion Bitzan, personal interview, October 1992. All further quotes from Bitzan come from this discussion.[back]
40 Alexandra Cornilescu, "Transitional Patterns: Symptoms of the Erosion of Fear in Romanian Political Discourse," unpublished talk at the Modern Language Association Annual Meeting, New York, 1992. All further quotes by Cornilescu come from this article.[back]
41 Andrei Codrescu, Monsieur Teste in America & Other Instances of Realism (Minneapolis: Coffee House Press, 1987): 14.[back]
42 Herman: 83.[back]
43 See Henry Krystal, "Trauma and Affects," Psychoanalytic Study of the Child 33 (1978) 81-116, quoted in Herman: 84.[back]
44 On the "conspiracy of silence" see also, Haei Danieli, "The Treatment and Prevention of Long-term Effects and Intergenerational Transmission of Victimization: A Lesson From Holocaust Survivors and Their Children," Trauma and Its Wake: 298-99, 307-08, 311; and also Milton E. Jucovy, "Therapeutic Work with Survivors and Their Children: Recurrent Themes and Problems," Healing Their Wounds: Psychotherapy with Holocaust Survivors and Their Families, eds. Paul Marcus and Alan Rosenberg (New York: Praeger 1989): 51-66.[back]
45 Herman: 9.[back]
46 Verdery and Kligman: 143.[back]
47 Elaine Scarry, The Body in Pain: The Making and Unmaking of the World (New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1985): 4.[back]
48 Sanda Agalidi, "Notes on 'Vox'," Oversight [Los Angeles] 2 (1990): 23. [back]
49 See Mikhail Bakhtin's The Dialogical Imagination (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1981), quoted in Verdery: 122.[back]
50 See Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattarti, Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1975), and Jean Baudrillard, The Ecstasy of Communication (New York: Semiotext[e], 1987).[back]
51 Glass: 158.[back]
52 Scarry: 6.[back]
53 Kristine Stiles, "Synopsis of the Destruction in Art Symposium and Its Theoretical Significance," The Act 1:2 (1987): 28-29.[back]
54 Helene Cixous, Inside, trans. C. Barko (New York: Schocken, 1986): 97.[back]
55 Herman: 9.[back]
56 The concept of alternative cultures is complex and a full definition of this term is beyond my present aims. Provisionally, however, I am including people marginalized by any number of differences that separate them from what is conventionally agreed upon (even by the marginalized) as normative behavior and appearance. Alternative cultures then include individuals whose sexual preferences, social practices, age, class, education, and race, but also intelligence, creativity, and sensitivity, in some way or another, separate them from what they, themselves, might even consider normative.[back]
57 V. Vale and Andrea Juno, introduction, Modern Primitives, special issue of RE/Search 12 (1989) 4. It is noteworthy that RE/Search began in the San Francisco Punk scene as Search & Destroy (1977-1978). The original newspaper format was initially used when Search & Destroy became RE/Search, but the latter over time transformed into a glossy, trendy "scene" publication specializing in such heros of camp culture as William Burroughs and J.G. Ballard, and producing such special issues as #11, Pranks!, and #10, Incredibly Strange Films.[back]
58 Marianna Torgovnick, Gone Primitive: Savage Intellects, Modern Lives (Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 1990): 245.[back]
59 A student of mine, Ducphong Nguyen, once told me a story her mother recounted to her after hearing about my essay. There is a custom in some Vietnam villages in which an adulterous woman is taken from her home, her head shaved, her body covered with lime, tied to a boat, and then set adrift to die on the river. I have been unable to substantiate this story and have not been able to determine how old this custom may be or whether it reflects western practices. But the parallel to the West is astonishing. This is just one of many references individuals have given me regarding the pervasive evidence of trauma related to shaved heads and tattoos. I cannot list all of them here, but I should mention Ruth Mellinkoff's book Outcasts: Signs of Otherness in Northern European Art of the Late Middle Ages. (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993). This book includes an entire chapter (Chapter 9) entitled, "Hair and Heads: Close-Cropped, Balding, Hairless, and Shaved." Thanks to Charlotte Houghton for this reference. My colleague Claudia Koonz also gave me several articles on the fraught conditions signified by tattoos and shaved heads in Ireland and Russia. A most compelling report states: "Since the collapse of communism and the decay of Russia's old social welfare system, statistics show that teen criminals are becoming even more violent and aggressive.... One of the most harrowing teenage crimes this year involved a group of boys who raped a 16-year-old girl and burned her to death in southern Russia.... Some (of these) teens also amuse themselves by getting tattoos, although getting caught often means serving in solitary." See Jennifer Gould, "Inside Russia's Gulag for teenage criminals," Toronto Star Newspaper (30 May 1993): F2.[back]
60 Paglia's oratory, while silly and dismissable, is seductive because of the ways in which she summons myths of women and states of being (i.e., primitivism) that are familiar in a time of great change and challenges to dominant patriarchal paradigms. For example, writing on Elizabeth Taylor's performance in the film Suddenly Last Summer, Paglia stated, "It is an astonishingly rich picture, full of the paradoxes of concealment and exhibitionism that make woman so elusive and so dominant" (17). On Madonna's video, "Open Your Heart," she opined: "Responding to the spiritual tensions within Italian Catholicism, Madonna discovered the buried paganism within the church." This is the reason, she concluded, that, "The old-guard establishment feminists who still loathe Madonna have a sexual ideology problem" (11). The mysticism of interiority, paradox, concealment, and exhibitionism associated with women conforms precisely to the phallocratic universe about which I have been writing; and summoning the "pagan" in the Church is calling forth the "primitive." See Paglia's Sex, Art, and American Culture (New York: Vintage Books, 1992).[back]
61 See Madonna's Sex, ed. Glenn O'Brien, photographer Stephen Meisel, artist Fabien Baron, producer Calloway (New York: Warner Books, 1992). The mere list of those who contributed to the construction of Madonna's "self-representation," alone, is telling.[back]
62 See Susan McClary, "Living to Tell: Madonna's Resurrection of the Fleshly," Feminine Endings: Music, Gender, and Sexuality (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1991): 148-166; or Lisa Lewis, Gender Politics and MTV: Voicing the Difference (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1990), esp. "Female Address Video (1980-1986)": 109-148. I am grateful to Victoria C. Vandenberg's Duke University Women's Studies senior distinction thesis paper, "Bodies, Gender, and Rock-n-Roll: Making Music Dance on MTV," 1990, for these citations.[back]
63 Angela Carter offers an excellent critique of the claims that women may appropriate signs of negativity as a representation or practice of self-construction and self-empowerment. See The Sadeian Woman and the Ideology of Pornography (New York: Pantheon Books, 1978).[back]