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Maria Tumarkin does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment. I’d read it many times before, in Russian and in English, and I taught it too and I loved my students for being devastated by it, for not judging a six-months pregnant woman who touches the husband she is forbidden to touch, hugs him, holds him, kisses him, cuts his hair when clumps start falling out, a husband called to the Chernobyl nuclear reactor when the fire broke and who went as he was, in his short sleeves, and now is dying torturously, it’s a phantasmagoric death, in front of her, and I loved them for not thinking this woman is unethical or a child murderer or deranged by trauma or the victim of a system in which her husband’s life, and hers, and their already dead unborn child’s, are worth nothing. Could witnessing call on us to make invisible suffering visible? Just the other day I was sitting in my office here on campus waiting to chair some event I stupidly said yes to, eating a Portuguese tart out of a brown paper bag. I picked up Svetlana Alexievich’s Voices from Chernobyl (1997). Somehow my students knew this woman’s, Lyusya’s, capacity for love and pity was incredible, too big to witness fully. ’ Walking in the hospital courtyard, ‘I love you.’ Carrying his sanitary tray, ‘I love you.’ I was in my office with Portuguese crumbs all over my jeans while reading Alexievich. That’s not a person anymore, that’s a nuclear reactor. In the mornings, just before eight, when the doctors started their rounds, they’d be there on the other side of the film: ‘Run! Witness itself failing at its most fundamental duty? Former head of the central Queensland diocese of Rockhampton Brian Heenan (right) and Francis Sullivan from the Catholic Church’s Truth, Justice and Healing Council, leave after giving evidence at the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse public hearing in Rockhampton, Friday, April 17, 2015. “The ever-repeated scene of the unlistened-to story.” This is the bit I know. Australian Roman Catholic Cardinal George Pell was in Rome at the time to give evidence to the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse via video link. They work with survivors of institutional sex abuse. They say, “Yes, we have outsourced it.” How does one witness the earth-shattering revelations and testimonies the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sex Abuse has been eliciting and documenting? What I don’t know, what I believe is becoming harder to know, is what witnessing is. It is not taking someone’s pain and putting it in a box with your name or some organisation’s name on it and calling this box a book, or a report, or a recommendation, film script or thesis. – twisting, contorting under the burden of suffering and secrecy. And this thing she does has nothing to do with insisting that vicarious traumatisation is an ethical precondition to witnessing, and it cannot be summed up by Dominick La Capra’s good term “empathic unsettlement”. Until recently I thought taking someone else’s pain and putting it in a box and filling this box with people in wigs and special costumes and calling this box a Tribunal, or a Royal Commission, and giving the people in costumes expressions of sorrowful intensity and the tasks and the tools of naming previously unnamed things, and of bringing to justice those people who are as skilled at hiding in the shadows as they are at torturing other human beings – I’d thought this was one of the main kinds of witnessing available to us. All these things must continue, they must be done, but I wonder what price we may be paying for believing that’s pretty much all there is to witnessing. It’s always those people who testify of their anguish into what might end up feeling like a black hole. I ask Nigel Denning and Linda Tilgner, “Have we outsourced the witnessing of child sexual abuse in Australia to the Royal Commission? Linda Tilgner says, there is a perception that those proceedings in themselves have produced something. Royal Commission – the danger is that people see it as the first and the last step. It focuses a large amount of energy, mobilises research, mobilises discussion, has the potential to lead to something very transformative. I told them very clearly that no one should shake my hands. I wondered, if I am telling people something horrible, will they get sick? You travel back, you go back to all the horrible stuff, you re-experience it. I came out and the first thing I said to my friend, ‘How did I sound? ’ Straight away I had no memory about what happened in the room. When I left that room I walked out with the burden. Therapy shifted it to another part, but it’s still inside of me. I want this voice to talk to you directly about the Royal Commission. So hard to do everything – reliving a lot of things and being ill at the same time. I thank profoundly the woman whose voice it is, who spoke to me, she too is “something else” but I will not reveal her name. And it is unwitnessed human pain that I think of when trying to understand why this idea – common humanity – feels particularly, acutely fragile in today’s world. An Australian ‘survivor’ of sex abuse outside the Quirinale Hotel in Rome, Italy, 28 February 2016. It is what Primo Levi described all those years ago. He is wearing a shirt with an image of himself as a child printed on it.
Keep in mind—this isn't about desperation or cheap sex. (Other top spots to scout for men are gyms, museums, and libraries.) For her part, Arden Leigh recommends doing things in groups and having a "fulfilling social circle." She suggests joining "a running club, chess club, or philosophy meetup; wherever you think you'll find people with similar interests. "Knowing your type is important," Amy Van Doran says. Noble suggests distinctly making eye contact if you spot a man you're interested in: "Women need to remember that behind all that cocky banter, men are actually incredibly frightened of women." Initiating eye contact can help give the poor fellow a little courage. TAILOR YOUR CONVERSATION TO WHERE YOU ARE (AND WHO HE IS).If you're anything like me, you think of men: Slithery, sexist men banded together to forge underground alliances of high-fiving bros, with the solitary shared goal of bedding women.But thankfully, pickup artistry is beginning to broaden beyond the boys' club.She says, Alexievich’s people exist on the edge of what is tolerable. And then they come together – Alexievich makes them – into a chorus. Of the method, we know Alexievich uses only a small proportion of actual transcripts and picks a hundred or so voices out of sometimes three or five hundred interviews, and of the hundred, ten to twenty will become “pillars”. It has served no purpose to many women I know who testified. It stays in people’s lives like radiation stays in the soil for thousands of years. They put the bag with the body in it in a wooden coffin. In which criminal barrister Cleaver Green, played by Richard Roxburgh, is just out of jail, but still in disgrace, desperate for the shittiest gigs going, he’s practically begging drink-driving offenders to let him represent them, when all of a sudden he has three Royal Commissions to be at in one day because Sydney has run out of lawyers and even Cleaver can now get a Royal Commission gig. This may seem frivolous; except I am convinced it’s not. Talking about it as part of our lives, not as something completely separate. Alexievich goes back and speaks to her pillars up to twenty times each. Yes, three Royal Commissions in one day: a Royal Commission into institutional child sex abuse, plus one into government corruption, plus another called the Orphanos Royal Commission, investigating unlawful stock market trading.
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