Trauma and the Dialectical

In Enjoy your Symptom, Zizek’s “trauma” is critical to understanding the scope and meaning of the “symptom.” The “symptom,” as such, a cyclical occurrence–the repetition of the physical manifestation of something metaphysical. In other words, if situating the definition of “symptom” in a Heideggerian way, it is the ontical representation of that which is oriented primordially. That is to say, then, that the symptom, as we experience it, is more than just at the level of its ontics, but, instead, has a primordially to it.

To be clear, the primordial being of the “symptom” is a pre-existence that eventually comes to bear upon the traumatic event. Everything that the “symptom” is existentially prior to our ability to experience it ontically is in the primordial trajectory of it. The “symptom,” so to speak, is already out there before the traumatic experience of the ontical encounter with it. What this means, more specifically, is that human experience shares a dialectic with the “symptom” precisely predicated on the trauma human being (“being”) experiences when the “symptom” makes its full ontical representation to “being.” This existential trajectory of the “symptom” from its primordiality to its ontics becomes “traumatic” to “being.” Moreover, this trajectory, as Zizek points out, is the reason why “a letter always arrives at its destination.”

The question “why does a letter always arrive at is destination” is a distinctly Heideggerian question. It proposes that, in order to know what “trauma” is, we must ask what “trauma” means. Additionally, the only way to know what the “symptom” means, we must trace its origin to its “is-ness.” This line of inquiry positions us to not just focus on the ontics of the traumatic event, but orient our understanding to the primordiality of that event. Not only is this Heideggerian, but Socrates poses this same logic in Plato’s Theaetetus, for example. In this dialogue, Socrates poses the question to young Theaetetus–what is knowledge? Theaetetus proceeds to unknowingly give only ontical representations of knowledge and does not, as Socrates makes clear, ever get to the “is-ness” of knowledge. So what does this mean for Zizek, the “symptom” and “trauma”? It means that, when understanding trauma, as an event of existential (not to mention phenomenological and epistemological) proportions, the “destination” is the wrong place to look. The “letter” always reaches it’s destination, right? Once a traumatic experience has been experienced, the “symptom” has reached its destination. Meaning is not in the destination–not totally in the ontics of it–but is in the primordiality of the symptom itself.

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