Select Page

Between Railway Spine and PTSD

A hundred years ago the world witnessed the start of an armed conflict unlike anything that preceded it. A series of initiatives to commemorate the human suffering involved typically used the framework of psychic trauma to understand what had transpired. Although such a move seems obvious to the contemporary eye, the author argues that it was by no means straightforward at the time of the conflict itself. In this article, the current, hegemonic model of psychic trauma is briefly described, in which special attention is paid to the problematic core assumptions that underpin it. Next, the author turns to the history of trauma studies, mainly focusing on two crucial moments: (1) the railroad accidents in the 19th century, which gave rise to the idea of railway spine, and (2) the controversy regarding Shell Shock in World War I. This historical review allows the author to formulate four conclusions that call into question the tendency to reify our current understanding of traumatic phenomena.