In the article “Auto-Heteronomy, or Levinas’ Philosphy of the Same” Gabriela Basterra writes that the role of trauma in the signification process is “central” because “the signifying and affective dimensions are inextricably linked: paradigmatic substitutions depend on affect because they are ruled by the unconscious” (121). If the role that trauma plays in this signification transformation works at a level that is unconscious and affective, what does that mean in regards to the autonomy of the signifier? Is the process of “becoming a sign” as the result of trauma a kind of Rube Goldberg Machine that once initiated is impossible to escape?
According to Basterra, the subject speaks to its trauma, or as Levinas describes, the subject must make “signs of signification itself… to the point of becoming a sign” (121). This raises the question as to what constitutes a sign of signification. Must the subject speak to their trauma or is it something that can be totally unavoidable, like a physical lesion across the body? The word trauma itself comes from the Greek word titrōskein meaning “wound.” Although in the modern use of the word trauma is considered something which can be hidden—which can maintain a secret, signified interior—the Greek root of “wound” is more physically present and more difficult to conceal. Perhaps the inevitability of becoming the sign through trauma can be explained by this concept of being wounded and thus being changed, acknowledgement of such change is not necessary in the paradigm and not reversible or capable of healing.