Triggers

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/05/18/us/warning-the-literary-canon-could-make-students-squirm.html?emc=eta1

As concerned as I am for student mental health, I have to part company with those who are asking for warnings on syllabi and the like about potentially triggering classroom material. My chief objection to this kind of labeling is as follows: we don’t do justice to the phenomena of suicide, depression, war, trauma, by referring to them as “course material.” They are everywhere. They are the tragedy of our time and of all times. They are happening to you and to me and those we love and those we don’t know but still care about. They affect and shape all of our ways of producing knowledge, not just literary or film studies, but history (whose stories get told, and by whom?), economics (are we driven by rational interests or passion?), statistics (counting the dead in World War I), chemistry (Big Pharm), psychology (the American Psychology Association’s refusal to condemn torture), physics (the Bomb). Some disciplines are good at generating the appearance of neutrality and dispassion; others are more candid. But, as Michel de Certeau put it, each knowledge discipline is subject both to the “law of the science” and to the “law of the group.” Even this distinction is too clear-cut, since scientific practice is itself heavily determined by the law of the group; scientists used to resist multiculturalism, fearing it was an attack on “universals”; now comparative research helps us make many more fine, and important, distinctions (cultural differences in how caregivers address infants, for example) than we once could. In my understanding of psychoanalysis, we need, above all, to be aware of our “badness” so that we can learn to bear the almost-inevitable concomitant of unbearably bad feelings, so we can free ourselves as much as possible from Blake’s “mind-forged manacles.” We do not have a problem with course material. We–I–have a problem with a world that turns a blind eye to cruelty.