Re-reading some of Anne Anlin Cheng’s work on Theresa Cha, and was struck by this statement:
“A painful distance lies between memory and historical event. In hindsight, in history, it seems as if disasters never cease to speak: in papers, journals, histories. Yet one’s ‘own’ relationship to that disaster (one’s ownership of that memory) can express itself only in description. Even ‘experience’ cannot guarantee authenticity for the event. For no one can be at the center of an ‘event’; its ‘eventness’ is its historicity and therefore at some level it is unavailable to personal experience or possession…., the ‘I’s relationship to historical trauma is always inherently journalistic.”
I was thinking about Underground National, and how that text was so personally painful for me to write. I have previously very much felt that span between historical event and myself, this wide gulf of unknowability that I felt I was asked to span in order to have a claim to my heritage. Who or what was asking? This sensation, this request—or rather this demand—felt outside of myself but deeply personal, like shame. More should be said and explored of this some time. Looking back, I did tend towards a documentary approach as a means for navigation. There was something journalistic about the process…of fact-finding, collecting, shaping in order to re/present this field that was my reaching for.
But there’s something that feels off-kilter about Cheng’s remarks when I compare them to my own experiences. Is the “I”s relationship to historical trauma always mediated through the process of description? Many historical traumas have been distilled down to me as a sort of psychological aftershock I contend with without knowing what it is I contend. A blankness that swells. My father’s childhood, for example. I know very little about it, but it presses down on me through him, the way he communicates with me. And that is intimately bound up in the trauma of war. And the way I express my relation to that—that skirts description, it fails to say. It rises like a mood.