The Brokenness of Being: lacanian theory and benchmark traumas

Angelaki 28 (6):123-170 (2023)
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Abstract

In “The Brokenness of Being,” Mari Ruti investigates the impact that trauma can have on being. Informed by her own experience of breast cancer, Ruti argues that there are some traumatic experiences that entirely change one’s symbolic coordinates. She calls these types of experiences benchmark traumas. Diagnosed with terminal cancer, Ruti boldly explores how encountering a benchmark trauma forced her to recognize the brokenness of her being. She theorizes that this recognition reveals the split in the subject. Encountering this brokenness, as she calls it, at the heart of being can be completely debilitating. However, Ruti argues, there is a way to engage rather than repress this impossible reality. She theorizes that creativity is the one human expression that can grapple authentically with the split in the subject. To explore this idea, she collaborates with painter Dwight Smith. Smith’s twenty-two paintings respond to the benchmark trauma of the death of his twenty-two-year-old daughter. The twenty-two paintings are positioned throughout the manuscript and are in conversation with Ruti’s theory. Ruti is fascinated by both the paintings and Smith’s process, which is similar to her own. For Ruti and Smith, their creativity is how existential engagement takes shape.

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