This blog has lain fallow for quite some time now, hasn’t it? And I’m not sure—actually, I’ve never really been sure—who is reading! But I’m thinking that there might be some things that some of my old readers might like to know about what’s been happening in my life, academic and otherwise.

There’s been some good, some bad, and some ugly as fuck, naturally, because that’s kinda what life does, right? So: the good news, as least career-ish-wise, is that I have been offered a postdoc in Austria. It’s for 9 months, and is designed to get me moving on my new project. More on that in a sec. I’m managing to stress myself out about this because I’ve applied for multiple postdocs, which of course inevitably overlap so that I’m anxious about negotiating multiple offers (I know, the horrors ;-P).  I also seem to have a fairly impressive (well, I think they are!) publisher maybe wanting to see my manuscript for the PhD to be published… which would be so fabulous I feel myself holding my breath every time I think about it…

I’ve been thinking about writing a piece for, say, the Higher Education Supplement or something about my hilarious and hideous experiences over the last few months: being abruptly and unexpectedly screwed over for teaching; going on – horrors! I thought the days of Centrelink were dim and hazy undergrad nightmares, but no – the dole; teaching a teensy bit and travelling a long way to do it; living at home where my incredible parents put up with me pretty well; the ups and downs of recognition within academia (namely  moving from being treated as eminently replaceable to being a valued member of a department); and, well, in general, the strange and complex place that is Early Career Researcher and Scholar Without Institutional Support… Maybe… I’ll think about it. I do have some fairly hilarious horror stories to tell about Job Network Providers…

But futures! The next project – which will start probably when I head O/S later this year – is focused on ‘therapeutic forgetting’. It’s new enough to me that I am both anxious about talking about it, because it’s not much discussed as yet, especially by those who might share my take on it, and wanting to try on various ways of approaching it. But I am thinking that perhaps, when I’m in Austria surrounded by those whose language I do not speak (though thankfully and somewhat shamefully, the majority seem to speak English as well) this blog might develop back into a space to try out and test ideas… to draft and consider and kick thoughts around… even if no one boots them back my way at any point!

So: a small intro to ‘therapeutic forgetting’. I’ve long been fascinated by the ‘origin stories’ the psy disciplines have given us – I am a particular way because I have always been that way, or because x happened to me – and the way that, in the formation of more-or-less (usually less, though we pretend otherwise a lot!) coherent senses of self, we narrativise ourselves, and those narratives are actually forms of engagement with memory, which give asymmetric weight to different experiences. So, for example, in the Body Integrity Identity Disorder campaign for inclusion in the DSM, there are stories of encounters with amputees at a young age, with the sense that they were momentously influential (which, clearly, they are, in some way; but it’s not clear whether they are the site of origin of desire, or narrativised to become such). At the same time, many encounters with amputees in youth don’t lead to BIID. Or again – someone changing careers will often re-narrativise their history, so that they were ‘always interested in’ X. Or, in the case of those seeking access to sex reassignment/affirmation/however-it-might-be-experienced surgery or hormones, the stories that work, both for social legitimacy and in a clinical setting, are stories about how I’ve always felt like a boy/girl, and here are the various manifestations of that feeling, which have generally worked to obscure and delegitimise the complex and varied histories and experiences of those who wind up classed as ‘suffering from GID’. So. Memory. Strange, flexible, and key; and a key site at which the essentialisation of subjectivity takes place; and a key site at which the fragmentary, the incoherent, the different, and— as Sara Ahmed, the stellar scholar she is, points out—the ‘hap’ is erased. So far, so proximate to my existing interests, especially in relation to the memorialising and forgetting stuff, which I’ve already discussed on this blog…

BUT. Therapeutic forgetting is the name given to the effect of taking propranolol, a particular beta-blocker, immediately following a traumatic event. Catching the traumatic memory in the short-term memory space (about 6 hours, I think?), before it gets ‘written in’ as long term, and administering propranolol in this time brings about ‘memory dampening’. It reduces, so the scientists tell us, the traumatic ‘weight’ of the memory (I even love that metaphor: it’s precisely how we think about traumatic memory, dragging us down, drawn back away from freedom; and proximate to the metaphors used for embodiment, especially in the Cartesian and existentialist tradition). There’s a lot to think about in relation to this, but briefly: I’m fascinated by how this reworks our ideas about trauma, harm and suffering. I’m especially intrigued by how this capacity to rework our given vulnerabilities to suffering (which were always individual anyway, whatever medicine thought!) utterly rewrites the subject at the heart of liberalism. After all, if liberalism is meant to reduce harm (particular harms, obviously; those that can be imagined as occurring to those modelled after the model subject) then what happens when harm doesn’t occur where it’s expected to? Or, potentially more problematically, does occur where it could not. In relation to this, obviously, I want to think about how the asymmetries of our social world affect this. For example – and this is an example I hope to present on soon, details to follow if it comes off – given existing discourses of victim blaming, what happens when the victim could have chosen to take propranolol and didn’t? How does responsibility get assigned or reassigned in this context? If  rape survivor, for example, could have taken the drug, could have reduced hir trauma, and didn’t, does this reconfigure the weight of the crime? Or could it? (This is more likely to have a more immediate effect on tort law, which seeks to compensate a specific loss, rather than assume a general standard of harm). And of course, if one is less traumatised, is this likely to have an effect on prosecution? Foucault told us that the psy disciplines were taking on a substantial portion of ‘doing justice’; what happens when ‘justice’ is reconfigured, potentially such that it never needs to be done, because there is no harm anyone wants redressed that way? (And especially given that, in the case of rape, the survivor will often refuse this form of redress given that it’s so punitive an experience!). So you can erase the effects of the traumatic event; does that make it okay that the event ever occurred? No? Yes? Why? Why not?

These are the kinds of things I will be wondering about – about the embodied experience of trauma and memory, about the relevance of them to our existing political systems, and of course, about how and why suffering is significant, and how and why it is obscured, and how and why our attempts to ‘treat’ it so often reproduce it…

So same old, same old, really  😉

Oh, and you lot? I’ve missed you! 🙂