The ethical challenge of the case

The significance of trauma is that it is that which refuses to be known, not only because to remember the thing would be to be terrified, but also because there is something about it that remains irreducible to being spoken about. What gets repeated therefore is the relation to this irreducibility, even if the form of the repetition is constantly changing. The ethical challenge therefore contains a double challenge within it. Not only must that which is terrifying be faced and borne, but also the insistence of that about it which is irreducible. Not to accept this challenge is to be reduced to being the trauma’s victim.

This is to invoke Lyotard’s notion of the victim: “What constitutes victimhood is precisely that one is in a situation in which one unable to speak – not because it is disallowed or legally barred, but rather because the nature of the suffering cannot be spoken in the particular idiom that is entrenched in law.” (Lyotard, Jean-François. 1988. The Differend: Phrases in Dispute. Trans. Georges Van Den Abbeele. University of Minnesota Press).In this sense, the member of the flock/community is rendered a victim of the structure of affiliation offered by the church hierarchy or religious orthodoxy insofar as they displace their anxiety onto it.

Accepting it is to accept that the work of repairing can never be finished.

The allusion here, or course, is to the understanding of humanity’s role as ‘Tikkun Olam’.

But what kind of challenge is this in practice? Not only must the whole formation within which the nature of the present moment is approached be held in question, but also the formation of the moment itself. We see this challenge particularly clearly when approached within a religious frame.

Borowitz (Renewing the Covenant: Eugene Borowitz and the Postmodern Renewal of Jewish Theology) calls it a ‘covenantal relationship’. Momany speaks of it in relation to Wesley as conjunctive. (Wesley’s General Rules: Paradigm for postmodern ethics, by Christopher P. Momany). The following shows us how a person is implicated in how they interpret the moment, represented here by the biblical text:

“… the text is a sign that has its meaning (or refers to its object) for some interpretant (or some interpreting mind or context of interpretation). Each interpretation of the biblical text would thus represent a particular, triadic relation among sign, meaning, and interpretation. Criteria for truth would be particular to each relation, engaging biblical text and interpreter in what Borowitz would call a covenantal relationship.” (Peter Ochs, quoted from a review of Borowitz’s book above. What is being invoked here is a Peircean logic of vagueness, the modality of the relational (in this case, covenantal) rule being that of vagueness[1], rather than of either universality or particularity.)

What this triadic relationship means is that the individual is always personally implicated in the way s/he gives meaning to what-is-going-on, and although there are always ready-made interpretative frameworks that can be used to avoid being personally implicated, it is in trauma itself that the individual is brought up against the limits of this.

What, then, is the ethical challenge of the case? In working together, trying to pay attention to that about which we do not speak, the reflexive work is to use these silences to question our ways of interpreting the truth of what-is-going-on.

[1] Vagueness being that which is held acritically because indubitably, i.e. without doubt. The meaning of somethign vague can only be established by reference to the speaker, and Peirce refers to the encounter with (what is experienced as) irremediable vagueness as an encounter with a limit to what may be known… the equivalent to that which remains irreducible to being spoken about.

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