Published online by Cambridge University Press: 30 June 2019
There are things that cannot be said, things that lay waiting to be said but are not, and things that we refuse to say. The literature on trauma emphasizes the difficulty of speaking about terrible events. This seems to be a real phenomenon, and it is a platitude of psychoanalysis that finding ways to put such unspeakable experiences into words is an important and necessary step on the way to psychic healing. We might add that it is a necessary step on the way to social healing too, as the silencing of social wrongs perpetuates suffering and oppression, and finding a voice is a way of challenging these continuities. But hard as speaking out may be, it is the failures of listening that really count: the difficulty that witnesses have when faced with the demand to listen to a testimony that implicates them directly or indirectly, or requires some kind of painful action in response, or possibly simply shows how emotionally challenging it is to witness a suffering that cannot be remedied. This chapter draws on psychoanalysis to explore the haunting effects of such unrecognized experiences. A key question is how to respond to these in ways that allow silenced voices to be heard.