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coffee & ink

Currently reading

Gilbert and Gubar's The Madwoman in the Attic after Thirty Years
Annette R. Federico, Sandra M. Gilbert
Annette LaPointe
Denial: A Memoir of Terror - Jessica Stern When she was fifteen, Stern and her fourteen-year-old sister were raped at gunpoint by a stranger who invaded her house; Stern responded with a kind of emotional freeze that allowed her, years later, to interview terrorists without turning a hair, and which she only even later realized was a result of PTSD. Stern traces the effects and responses to trauma to her family history: her father was a Holocaust survivor, her mother died at 28 of a cancer most likely caused by her father's "treatments" for childhood diseases, Stern was molested by her grandfather.

This is really good on the personal memoir bits, but the policy bits crowded into the last few chapters are terrible. Stern consults Iraq War vets and only then is convinced she has PTSD; she cites Judith Herman's Trauma and Recovery in her notes, but apparently only came to it later (the timeline could use clarification here). Anyway, what really made me flinch was a line at the end of the book about society needing to support traumatized people by not encouraging their denial -- I will have to copy down the exact words, but basically it seemed to be arguing that denial as a response mechanism springs from the personal reaction of the traumatized person, rather than being a complex interaction between personal history and social norms. Stern's own history really seems to me to argue against this view -- sure, she "freezes" or denies her emotions, but this began and perhaps continued because of social as well as interpersonal pressures. For example, the cops were convinced she and her sister were lying about not knowing their attacker, and so never linked the case to over forty similar cases in the surrounding area. I'm not convinced they would have been nearly that skeptical with any other crime.