All Things Interrogated: Why I Love Trauma (And You Should, Too!)
I have a vivid image in my mind of the first image that scared me. A little girl shambling towards the camera. A white nightgown contrasted against blood. At the time I was under ten and was flipping between channels. News, sports, sitcoms and a zombie pacing methodically pacing towards a mother. A mother froze by the realization that her daughter was something more than dead, and that she was not on the menu. At the time, I hadn't begun watching scary movies and was not able to place the film. Years later I stumbled on the remake of Night of the Living Dead (1990).
The scene which once froze my little mind was not a cause for cheering. The undead proletariat proved the fallacy of the self-preservation basement logic. A cause for celebration! Transformation! Transubstantiation! But what changed? The obvious answer is that between the 10 years between the two viewings I ingested a whole library of film and philosophy.
The sensation changed from what I remember. Terror was replaced with a satisfying thrill.
My journey through horror history was not only desensitization to violence and macabre but a reordering of my sensations. When I first glimpsed the zombie girl she was devoid of context. She was pure image. An image that felt like the sequence in Twin Peaks where the killer charges the camera and create a sensation in the viewer as if the killer was moments away from stepping through the screen. As if the threshold that demarcates the real word from the digital opened for a brief moment of permeability. This moment of perceived threat from the material dislocated an otherwise normal day. Enacting a disequilibrium of an otherwise safe living room.
Everything for these moment depends on the character of one's ability to empathize with the text of the video. Losing oneself in the moment and attuning oneself to the moment where the normality of the moment is crushed under the weight of the traumatic horror moment.
Over time, film by film we witness countless violence. Violence, that we all begin to engage with whatever experiences we had accumulated at the time. Often, by the time we see our first film we have witnessed real or actual violence that shaped our abilities to interpret horrors. Trauma forces open the narrative space calling us to make room for horror. Narrativize the trauma and make room by reordering psychic space.
Often this reordering, at least with horror film, takes shape by numbing the image. The image of the bloody zombie girl gets allocated to fantasy. Zombies aren't real. If people die they stay dead. Reason pragmatically sutures wounds. Or phobias are created, spiders find no place in one's life. The emotional projections become hair triggers. Re-ordering one's sense of self around trauma rather than formulating a personal reality where trauma is a fixed variable.