When I think about historical trauma, I think about transmission of affect. I just finished this book for another class that centered on the role of emotion and affect in radical organizing during the beginning of the AIDS epidemic. The author, drawing from Massumi and a bunch of other affect studies theorist, explains affect as a non-conscious somatic response to outside forces that exists before and during its articulation (to ones self or to others) as emotion. So as an interpersonal example, feeling someone’s vibe or feeling the tension in a room is affect. When affect is articulated, there is always an excess of it that resists articulation or even conscious understanding. Affect is messy, multi-directional, and interpersonal. How this relates to historical trauma is perhaps in its transmission. The suffering of others, one’s loved ones, one’s family, one’s community, the land itself, has weight of its own that resists articulation but is deeply felt.
In many ways, we experience the world as the stories that we tell about it, about ourselves, and about others. Narrativity of the self is a crucial part of many forms of psychotherapy. One can imagine absorbing the impacts of historical trauma through the stories told by family and community members or through the stories the dominant culture tells about those it leaves in its wake. Part of these stories or of the transmission of these stories is the affectual response that accompanies them but cannot be made part of the stories, that belongs to the body. Bodies themselves tell stories that escape articulation not just in that they absorb the impacts of environmental damage but in that they contain the excess of affect that transmits trauma.