Since my first introductory post, I have focused my time on thoroughly processing the experiences I have had, the stories I have received and engaged with, and the wealth of information I have collected throughout the summer. What I have come to discover, and what is potentially the most valuable piece of my project, is the distinction between my assertion as an intellectual and my responsibility as a human being.
In Jonathan Shay’s book, Odysseus in America, he discusses the intellectual’s tendency to listen to an individual’s story and immediately begin to compartmentalize the information he or she is receiving for the purpose of further analysis with the intent of developing some semblance of a conclusion to his or her research. While much of this sort of engagement with communities, is usually done in order to further our scientific, medical, psychological, etc… understanding of an injury, illness, or condition, too often researchers engage with these communities for their own personal indulgence and for recognition.
I exchanged several emails with one of my first interviewees. He had many questions for me concerning the origin of my project and my intentions in interviewing veterans. I later found out in the interview that he had been interviewed several times by people who were just looking for riveting sound bytes for their low budget documentaries, or who just wanted to hear gruesome combat stories. When I explained what the project was, and underlined the fact that at this point I had no artistic agenda or intent of exploitation with this project, he wrote this:
“ I appreciate a civilian desire to understand war experiences and war narratives. I think that’s the ultimate goal (from “our” end) is to inspire that kind of curiosity. I have lots to say about that, if the interview ends up going in that direction. There are obligations on both sides…”
In Shay’s Odysseus in America, I came across this quote:
“…the trauma survivor must be permitted and empowered to voice his or her experience; the listener(s) must be allowed to listen, believe, and remember; the listener(s) must be allowed to repeat what they have heard to others” (243-244).
Shay later goes on to describe the sense of communalization that arises from the telling, mediating, and retelling of a trauma survivor’s story. In much of the reading I have done, particularly Sebastian Junger’s, Tribe, communalization of trauma and grief is determined crucial to the healing process.
I have determined that in my research, my responsibility as a human being to be a respectful listener comes before my agenda as an intellectual. It is hard. I read and immediately begin to spiral into a world of hypotheticals and analyses. But ultimately, it is the moments taken to reflect on the stories shared with me as these texts illuminate a universal truth in their specific experiences that is more fruitful. And I must also acknowledge that there is no simple conclusion to the research I am doing. My next big question is: How can I continue to engage with these stories in a way that will carry all that I have learned, and will continue to learn, about the human experience of war and homecoming to a greater population that arguably lacks a willingness to understand and a capacity to empathize with the experiences of American war veterans?
One thought on “Gwen Hornig: War: The Human Experience (How do we listen? How do we tell stories?)”
Your post brings up some essential issues I have come across as well during the interviewing process. It is sometimes difficult to interview without research in the front of one’s mind, thinking immediately of what one can elicit from the subject to fit their research, and rather keep and open mind and listen. Especially with stories of war — it must be a hard balancing game between empathy and humanization of one’s story with the end goal that you must do something with those stories. It seems like you clearly gave your interviewees full disclosure of your project, and that honesty and willingness to make the person not feel exploited is beautiful and rare. I look forward to seeing your compassion translated into your research!
Comments are closed.