Trauma is commonly understood as Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Yet, as this book explains, the concept of PTSD is problematic because it is rooted in a solipsist Philosophy of the Subject. Within such a philosophical perspective, it is not only impossible to account for trauma’s causality, but the traumatic ‘event’ is also prioritised over traumatic social and political structures as trauma is depoliticised as an (individual) internal cognitive object.
Rooted in Frankfurt School critical theory, this book thus urges us to rethink the concept of trauma: trauma should not be understood as impaired subjectivity but rather as broken intersubjectivity. Hence, it not only presents a critique of the notion ‘PTSD’, but – drawing on the philosophies of Jurgen Habermas, Nancy Fraser, Rahel Jaeggi and Heideggerian trauma theory in particular - it argues that trauma entails the violent imposition of traumatic status subordination. In traumatic status subordination, intersubjective parity (the counterfactual presupposition of being treated as an equal human being) is so violently betrayed that the symbolic realm of the lifeworld collapses. As the lifeworld collapses, one suffers an atomized state of speechless disorientation, wherein the potential of creative collective becoming is destroyed. In this sense, human induced trauma should thus be understood as a political tool par excellence.
As this monograph indicates, traumatic status subordination was a tool which the Egyptian counter-revolutionary actors (consisting of the Egyptian military, and its temporary subsidiary the Muslim Brotherhood) used unsparingly as they attempted to put the revolutionary genie back into the bottle. Importantly, the Egyptian military not only sought to destroy the object of revolutionary politics, but rather the underlying existential structures of the possibility of its very existence as such. And thus, in the violent instrumental pursuit of economic and political power, the counter-revolution inflicted multileveled status subordination. It did so through a consistent tripartite structural mechanism: the infliction of grave (deadly) violence, the procedural colonisation and repressive juridification of the public sphere, and the acceleration of neoliberal economic rationalism. This not only accumulated in Sisi’s prisonification of society and his politics of death, but rather also threw activists ever deeper into an atomized state of demoralized silence as it destroyed the very potential of revolutionary and transformative becoming.
Vivienne Matthies-Boon is a Socrates Professor in Humanism, Europe and Global Justice and an Associate Professor in Political Philosophy at the Radboud University in Nijmegen (the Netherlands). Rooted in critical theory, her work centres around a practical philosophy of (lived) political violence, particularly focusing on authoritarian repression, protest and violence in Egypt and the Middle East.
Structure of the Book
PART 1. TOWARDS A CRITICAL THEORY OF TRAUMA AS BROKEN SUBJECTIVITY
Chapter 1. Trauma Studies and the Philosophy of the Subject
Towards Intersubjectivity: Habermas’ Critique of the Philosophy of the Subject
The Positivist Revolution and the Emergence of PTSD
Cognitive Trauma Theory: Intersubjectivity Within
Lazarus Never Dies: Anti-Mimeticism in Post-structural and Political Trauma
Chapter 2. Towards a Critical Trauma Studies: Trauma as Intersubjective Alienation
On Heideggerian Trauma Theory: Struggles of Intersubjectivity
Traumatic Status Subordination: Nany Fraser
Traumatic Alienation: Rahel Jaeggi
Traumatic Instrumentality: Jurgen Habermas
PART 2. COUNTER-REVOLUTIONARY TRAUMA IN EGYPT: INFLICTING TRAUMATIC STATUS SUBORDINATION
Introduction: Political Trauma in Egypt
Chapter 3. A Legacy of Traumatic Status Subordination in Egypt: From Nasser to Mubarak
Maldistribution: Neoliberal Economics
Misrecognition: Security State Violence
Destroying Potentiality: Traumatic Alienation
Chapter 4. Revolutionary Becoming: The Politics of Prefigurative Intersubjective Parity
Revolutionary Precursor: Kifaya
Egypt’s 2011 Revolution: Politics of Intersubjective Parity
Chapter 5. Supreme Council of Armed Forces: The Politics of Traumatic Status Subordination
Political Proceduralism: Colonising the Political Public Sphere
Direct Physical Force: Disorientation and Isolation
Neoliberal Economic Rationalism
Chapter 6. Mohammed Morsi: The Politics of Traumatic Status Subordination
Political Proceduralism: Morsi’s Struggle for Power
Direct Physical Force: Turning Violence Inwards
Chapter 7. The Military’s Deadly Return
Tamarrod and the June 30th Protests
The Rabaa Massacre
Chapter 8. Abdel Fattah el Sisi: The Politics of Traumatic Status Subordination
Political Proceduralism: Sisi’s Colonisation of the Political Public Sphere
Repressive Juridification of the Public Sphere
Direct Physical Force
PART 3. BREAKING THE REVOLUTIONARY LIFEWORLD AND POTENTIAL OF CREATIVE BECOMING
Interregnum: Prefigurative Intersubjective Parity in Egypt’s Revolutionary Public Sphere
Chapter 9. Breaking the Lifeworld: On the Existential Burden of Violence and Death
Being against Death: Clashes and the Politics of Violence, Death, and Disorientation
Martyrs, Revolutionary Betrayal, and the Burden of Death
Chapter 10. Deepening Intersubjective Imparity: Turning Violence Inwards
Conspirational Victim Blaming and (Deadly) Revenge
Rabaa: Mass Murder and the Destruction of Potentiality
The Destruction of Hope
Experiencing Existential Pain: Somatic Responses
Coping With the Counter-Revolution: Depoliticization
Chapter 11. Conclusion
About the Author
Matthies-Boon’s compelling retheorization of trauma offers a deeper understanding of the existential realities of an Egyptian society saturated in repressive violence following the revolution of 2011. By attending to different modes of subordination that have profoundly devastated the vital human capability to imagine alternate ways of becoming in the world, she movingly bears witness to the unjust suffering of Egyptian activists and incisively demonstrates their prospects for recreating politically meaningful lives.
Dr. Matthies-Boon has given us a path-breaking book on Egyptian activists and how they experience physical, emotional, and mental traumatic swings of political revolutionary atmospheres and counter-revolutionary repression. Political activists are usually portrayed as the heroes of political organizing and dissent. Rarely does the literature reflect on what happens to activists and citizens when a new group of elites coalesce and try to create a new political (dis)order through violent repression. The toll such crackdowns have on activists’ lives leave emotional wreckage, and a range of disorders like alienation, depression, and despair. Matthies-Boon shines a bright spotlight on these dark and depressing matters that are usually rendered invisible in academic works on activism. The research forces the reader to come to grips with the trauma vicious governments – trying to survive – inflict on society in an attempt to maintain or extend their rule. All this is done with careful, empathetic writing and rigorous and unrelenting evidence. This book advances what our field knows. It is a must-read for students of Egypt and the politics of dissent.
This book is a rare and precious combination of things: impassionate, powerful and moving, and at the same time theoretically path-breaking. It is critical theory according to its original promise by developing and utilizing philosophical and social scientific tools for understanding contemporary forms and causes of injustice and suffering. A must read for anyone interested in a thorough comprehension of trauma in general and counter-revolutionary trauma in particular.
Pain and suffering always involve an assault on meaning, and regaining meaning is always at stake when it comes to recovery. This is a missing dimension in our current, PTSD-centred, discourse on trauma. In this powerful, moving and scholarly exploration of pain, suffering and politics in Egypt, Matthies-Boon puts meaning at centre-stage. She demonstrates how we completely fail to understand trauma if we ignore its impact on our being-in-the-world.