Page 24



Making sense of our violent times Author Sarah Schulman talks about her new book ‘Conflict is Not Abuse’ By DARNELL MOORE

Sarah Schulman is a New York-based novelist, playwright, nonfiction writer, screenwriter and AIDS historian. Photo Courtesy HBO

There is no turning away from the stark consequences of violence in the U.S. and abroad in our current moment. We feel the effects of such horrors. We sense in our bodies, in our homes, and within our communities their consequences. But we often lack the language and analyses that can move us beyond a shortsighted focus on the after effects of violence and into a place of clarity in which we might collectively find resolve. Sarah Schulman, a novelist, playwright, nonfiction writer, screenwriter and activist whose three decades of work has established her as a distinguished and sharp cultural producer and critic, has written a book that brings relief, in the form of careful examination, for our conflicted times. Schulman’s “Conflict Is Not Abuse: Overstating Harm, Community Responsibility, and the Duty of Repair” charts a course we might follow as we attempt to move from conflict to transformation. She argues, with impeccable clarity and insight, that “any pain that human beings can create, human beings can transcend.” To some, that line may read as too quixotic during times when so many vulnerable people in the U.S. face the real threat of imminent harm by the state or other people, but what is hope but a belief in the possibility of overcoming seeming impossibilities? DARNELL MOORE: The mass shooting at Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida was committed by a 19-year old, Nicolas Cruz, who was accused of assaulting his ex-girlfriend, and is an alleged white supremacist. He killed 17 people. How might the central argument in “Conflict Is Not Abuse” help us to respond collectively? SARAH SCHULMAN: My book examines two different sources of abusive behavior: supremacy and the trauma (while recognizing that both can live in the same body.) Some people are raised with a sense of superiority that implies the right to never be opposed or questioned, and certainly to never question themselves. If anyone resists their

supremacy, they feel uncomfortable and falsely equate that with being under attack. They escalate against others, acting in ways that are not justified but feel reasonable because of the distorted thinking of entitlement. But sometimes when we are traumatized, it is so hard to just keep it together, that facing difference, or when not everything can go our way, feels threatening. Further self-interrogation feels impossible, and so- similarly to the supremacist, the traumatized person may feel under attack when they are simply facing difference, and act out in ways that are terrible for other people. I cite the work of Edith Weigert, a German psychiatrist who treated people during the rise of the Nazi Party. She and another refugee psychiatrist Frieda FrommeReichman, wished to treat Nazis to separate anxiety from the need to act on it. Racism is an interior anxiety that people falsely blame on other people. A fascist, a rapist, a school shooter, a brutal police officer, feel compelled to act out their internal conflicts on others. We need awareness, and responsible group relationships to help us separate anxiety and fear and grief from actions that destroy other people. Rather than expelling Nikolas Cruz and selling him guns, we needed to surround him with community, with acknowledgement of his pain, with help in separating his painful feelings from destructive actions, to avoid this kind of disaster. MOORE: “Conflict Is Not Abuse” could not have been written at a more appropriate time. Share a bit about the book’s timing and the ways it is in dialogue with so many of tremors shaking our world? SCHULMAN: I’ve been writing this book for years. It started with my book “Ties that Bind: Familial Homophobia and Its Consequences” (New Press), in which I examined the homophobic family. How they bond with each other to blame and exclude the queer family member. They give each other pleasure, in their bond of supremacy, by claiming that it is the queer in the family who is the problem. But

Profile for Los Angeles Blade, Volume 2, Issue 4, February 23, 2018, Volume 2, Issue 4, February 23, 2018, Volume 2, Issue 4, February 23, 2018, Volume 2, Issue 4, February 23, 2018