Monday, October 8, 2012

When Trauma is Common

When watching Rosetta, I was struck by the way Rosetta was unable to have real human connection. We see the extent to which the economic pressures she is under manifest themselves in her interpersonal relationships. I’m struck by the scene in which Rosetta throws out the fish her mother tries to cook and claims that her mother should not plant flowers because they are not staying at the trailer park. Rosetta’s claim that that they are not staying at the trailer park seems to be a fantasy. Berlant writes, that “the adults want to pass the promise of the promise on to their children. That may be the children’s only sure inheritance—fantasy as the only capital assuredly passed from one contingent space to another” (174). In the case of Rosetta, we see the danger of fantasy. Her real desire for a steady job and a steady life is shown to be impossible. However, we see too the power of fantasy to push Rosetta forward.  I am interested in the way Berlant discusses how relationships are crushed under the weight of living within a capitalist structure in which “you are managing belonging to worlds that have no obligation to you.” (175) The scene in which, “the mother tries to make a middle-class dinner there, Rosetta destroys them, because the simulacrum of normalcy is a perversion in their context” (172). To what extent does this attempt at a middle class dinner create a sense of rupture to remind Rosetta of the context in which she lives? I want to talk more about the dichotomy between survival and human relationships—how do the filmmakers show that it is nearly impossible to have real human intimacy while living in degrading conditions?  

Berlant raises a question, I think, about what happens when trauma is not a rupture but instead a state of being. What happens when trauma is common?  When watching Rosetta, we, as viewers feel  a sense of paranoia and anxiety throughout the entire film. The film cuts to shots of her lying on top of the bag of flour—holding onto the hopes of a stable job and the “good life” she attributes to her boss. Later on, Rosetta lies on top of the gas tank, her body again in fetal position. In this moment, it is unclear if she is planning to kill herself or if she is planning to get gas to heat the house. Indeed, when the film “cuts to darkness” (175), we do not know whether Riquet will go toward her and comfort her or if he will watch her weep, continuing to seek revenge.  What I found intense about Rosetta is that we, as viewers, hold her anxiety with her. Whenever she locks the waffle shack, I wondered if Riquet would be around the corner waiting to hurt her. As she ran up the stairs away from Riquet, I wondered if she would slip and fall. When she carried the gas tank, I wondered if she would kill herself. But this sense of danger and panic is continuous. We have a sense that whether Rosetta is getting the gas tank to heat the house or kill herself, either option is some sort of death—neither option is a good one. Berlant writes about “recasting the traumatic event into an ordinary intensity.”  For Rosetta, this intensity is both ordinary and lasting. Indeed, Berlant raises a question about what happens when the crisis space is “embedded in the ordinary.” (88) 

I think that Berlant’s passage on biography helps clarify many moments in Rosetta. She writes,

 “It is as though the most sublime threat of all to the sensorium that must make an ordinariness out of what could be shattering trauma is the revelation that, in the singular present that is the zone of an ongoing life, one has only been loaned a name and a biography and personality and meaningfulness, and that that loan could be recalled not just by death but by cruel forces of life, which include randomness but which are much more predictable, systemic, and world-saturating than that too.” (91) 
I appreciated this section in Berlant because it is incredibly political. Berlant argues that systemic systems rob people of their ability to claim an identity as theirs.  Indeed, Rosetta’s ability to govern her own life is continually made difficult by predictable and powerful systems of inequity in which she cannot get a break. We see the way she constantly risks losing herself in the scene in which she says, “you have a friend” “I have a friend,” “you have a job” “I have a job.” In saying, “you” and “I,”  (which draws back to our conversations in lecture about the use of  “you” and “I) she is seeking to hold onto a slipping understanding of herself. This slippage and inability to locate herself in space and time is dangerous. How can she map herself when she cannot even find herself? 

In section, I would love to talk more about Berlant’s sections on trauma, specifically the idea that trauma makes experiencing the historical present possible. (81)

No comments: