Prof. Vera Schwarcz
HISTORICAL TRAUMA FROM A CROSS CULTURAL PERSPECTIVE
This research project grows directly out of two decades of writing about memory and trauma in the context of Chinese and Jewish culture. The goal is to explore internal resources, both cultural and individual, that account for surviving trauma with dignity and even hope. In disparate ways, Chinese and Jewish traditions provide tools for remembrance and for the articulation of suffering that may be used to challenge conventional Western definitions of historical trauma.
Listening to voices of survivors requires something very different from the stony memorials into which we have consigned so many broken lives both in China and in the West. The din of atrocities remains, alas, deafening in our contemporary world. What is missing in the public discourse is what Jewish sources call kol d’mama daka—the soft, nearly- silent whisper of empathetic understanding which allows the sharing of pain. From the Chinese lexicon I will be building upon a long cultural tradition which values ren –a concept of endurance that emphasizes the individual’s opportunity to use conscience as a tool for resisting violence and oppression. The challenge of building upon Chinese and Jewish pioneers of conscientious remembrance remain urgent in our own times.