Academic journal article Women's Studies Quarterly

Susan Suleiman Responds to Judith Herman

Academic journal article Women's Studies Quarterly

Susan Suleiman Responds to Judith Herman

Article excerpt

Judith Herman's comments made me realize that I had expressed myself clumsily in places, and I am glad to have this chance at clarification. My aim in my essay was to try to understand the stakes in a major contemporary debate, not to take sides. As concerns the question of memory and the definition of trauma, the conflicted issue is not memory disturbance, but total obliteration of the traumatic event in consciousness. I'm afraid there is disagreement on this issue among theorists, and the DSM-IV's listing of "inability to recall an important aspect of the trauma" does not resolve it; it is one thing to be unable to recall an important aspect of a traumatic event, and another not to remember that the event occurred at all.

It was clumsy of me to say, without apparent qualification-and Judith Herman is right to reproach me for it-that we live in a "cultural and legal environment where being a victim 'pays.'" Yet I am not the first to point out that contemporary society, especially in the United States, has a tendency to wallow in stories of victimization-which does not mean that victims don't suffer and often lead sad and miserable lives, as I think I acknowledge in my essay. Judith Herman herself was a bit hasty in attributing to me the "presumption" that "all patients who recover traumatic memories after a period of amnesia are . . . either overly suggestible (read feminine) or frankly malingering" (284). The link between suggestibility and femininity is not one that I make, nor do I imply it. …

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