chapter  10
The Psychological Politics of Catastrophe: Local, Personal, and Professional
Pages 15

Outside the town hall in Santa Fe, New Mexico, a roughly fashioned adobe monolith commemorates the massacre of a local Native American tribe. It is some ten feet tall; stuck into the four foot plinth on which the monolith rests are fragments of everyday life: children’s plastic toys; a sock; a toothbrush; a tattered teddy bear; chipped plates and cracked cups; a family photograph behind broken glass, the frame partly obscured by sandstone. The shocking poignancy of these familiar little objects scattered in and by the enormity of the memorial conveys, at a glance, a meaning that words alone must struggle to contain. How does one simultaneously describe the personal losses and the vastness of such an event? How does one fit one’s understanding of the individual survi-

vor into the larger picture of the catastrophe without losing sight of that individual’s own struggles, without objectifying them in some way? How does one keep the individual’s plight in mind without submitting to the mind-numbing enormity of a catastrophe? There is always a tension between an individual survivor’s need for recognition, understanding and engagement on the one hand, and society’s need to map trends, to categorize, to plan for, and to provide social programs on the other. These needs are at odds with one another. Too often, the general obscures the particular. As psychoanalytic clinicians, we turn our attention to the particular, to the socks and combs and discarded toys, the evidence of disrupted lives. Our practice concerns the individual. We cannot and should not work from the position of the general; but in the case of adult onset trauma, more than other psychological condition, there is often pressure to do so.