Trauma and Transfiguration (1): The Accidence, Incidence, and Intransigence of Trauma

This is the first in a series of four posts under the general title “Trauma and Transfiguration.”

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The words accidence and incidence (and therefore also co-incidence) come from the same Latin root: -cidire, the combining form of cadare, which itself comes from the presumed Proto-Indo-European root kad, meaning “to fall.”

An ac-cident (from ad-, “at, to, toward,” + -cidire) is something that happens to—be-falling that to which it happens, at which it falls.

In turn, an in-cident is something that falls on or upon.

The two go together: Every accident is incidental and every incident accidental, as it were.

 An accident is an incident (an event or occurrence) that happens “by chance” rather than by necessity, design, or intent. Conversely, an incident that was no accident, that is, one that did not happen by chance, would lose its natural incidence, its way of falling upon what it be-falls, like a thief falling upon passersby along a dark highway. *

Let incidence mean the nature of incidents, that is, the being of an incident as incident. Similarly, let accidence mean the being of an accident as accident. Finally, let intransigence mean the being of the intransigent as intransigent.

To be intransigent is to be uncompromising, refusing to agree or come to an understanding. The word intransigent does not share the common root of accident and incident, the derivation from Latin cadare, “to fall.” Instead, intransigent comes from the Latin prefix in- (here in the negative sense of “not, opposite of, without”) plus the adjectival derivative of transigere, “come to an agreement, accomplish, carry through,” which itself derives from the prefix trans-, “through, across,” and the root agere, “to set in motion, drive, drive forward.” What is intransigent will allow no passage forward, it blocks all attempts to come to an agreement with it or carry it through to final accomplishment. The intransigent stubbornly denies passage through or beyond it. It insistently blocks the way.

A trauma is an intransigently incident accident—an event or occurrence that befalls someone by chance and that brooks no compromise to allow the one to whom it happens to pass through and beyond it.

Not every accident is an incident that displays such intransigence. Some accidents are trivial: minor matters of good or bad luck. Examples would be winning or losing a few dollars playing slot machines at some casino, chancing upon a stray bit of change dropped on the sidewalk along which one is walking, or being caught outside in an unexpected shower. Such accidental incidents are no more than incidental accidents (in the sense of incidental that means “of no special consequence”). They have no intransigence.

Trauma, however, does—as I will consider further in my next post.

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To be continued.


* Heard with an ear tuned to etymologies, the expression “happen by chance” is actually redundant, since happen literally means “to occur by hap,’ which is to say “by fortune (good or bad)”—that is, “by chance” (which itself derives ultimately from cadare, “to fall,” the same Latin verb at the root of both accident and incident).