Being There

  • Stephen FroshEmail author
Part of the Studies in the Psychosocial book series (STIP)


This chapter explores some of the processes that might be necessary for the ground to begin to be cleared in order for recognition and acknowledgement to happen. It reaches back to Chap.  2 of this book in being concerned with what in some ways might be thought of as the first step: the articulation of hurt; or more fully, the conditions of speech and listening. It has quite a simple premise, building on some of the material previously described: that for it to be possible to lay the ghost of destruction to rest, it is necessary first to give it a voice. Put more prosaically, the claim that trauma leads to silence is again disputed, this time because it seems that it is not so much that potential narratives of suffering are inexpressible, leaving the subject silent, but rather that they are silenced. That is to say, the first task of the witness might be to find a way to communicate that the speech of testimony can be endured. This involves the witness staying in the situation and making it possible for the testifier to do so as well and therefore to begin to speak, however hesitantly and uncertainly – this hesitation often being a response to previous failures of witnessing, previous rebuffs. In human affairs, the claim is, there is no such thing as silence; there is always at least a murmur or hint of something amounting to incipient speech. Frequently, however, especially when what is being murmured is disturbing, it is silenced in an active way, it is resisted and so ceases to be audible. The act of silencing is quite often conscious, as those in power or responsible for past and present violence do not want the stories to be told. But silencing can also be unconsciously determined, despite the apparent wish of the witness to comprehend what is being said. This happens because the witness becomes over-excited or stares blankly back at the testifier, unable to connect with horror; or perhaps the position of being an implicated witness becomes too painful to manage, and the witness withdraws. Many of us will recognise this in ourselves: we know we should be listening carefully to something, but somehow we cannot manage it; our attention wanders; we take refuge in clichés and truisms; we fidget or look away; we have somewhere else we need (psychologically) to be. The result is a message back to the speaker that what is being said cannot be listened to, and silence intervenes. Yet the silence is rarely complete; there is almost always some murmur that continues, however much it may need amplifying before it can be fully heard.


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Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Psychosocial Studies BirkbeckUniversity of LondonLondonUK

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