Trauma and Horror
“Trauma and Horror”
ELN (English Language Notes) 59.2, Fall 2021 (Duke University Press)
Editor: Kelly Hurley, University of Colorado at Boulder
Later nineteenth-century psychology appropriated the medical term trauma, used to denote a wound derived from the violent piercing of the skin, to describe a violent breaching of subjectivity. Thus trauma came to refer to the violation of psychic boundaries (often conjoined with a physical violation as in the case of railway and industrial accidents), the event that caused the breach, and the long-term aftereffects of the breach. The event instantiating psychic trauma is so shocking, so devastating, that the ego’s defenses are broken down, and the subject is powerless to resist the overwhelming impressions that flood its barriers or to manage the swell of affective distress that results.
The abreaction or working-through of trauma should be furthered by the most painstakingly accurate representation of its inception and effects. However, contemporary trauma theorists have described the difficulty, perhaps impossibility, of a “true” representation of traumatic events, given that the very experience of trauma involves the derangement or shattering of the subjective apparatus designed to process it. Traumatic events can only be understood belatedly and imperfectly; they give rise to repetitive dreams and uncontrollable flashbacks, and generate narratives characterized by disjunction and distortion, including the interpolation of fantasy elements. Thus the most faithful accounts of traumatic events, perversely, can only be rendered by means of narrative breaks and refusals, hyperbole and other modes of distortion, and displacement at one or more removes.
One genre that can be said to generate such perversely accurate representations of trauma is Horror. Horror specializes in hyperbolic scenarios of human subjects in the throes of excruciating physical and psychic pain, and develops these scenarios by means of phantasmatic images and hallucinatory narrative sequences. As a further complication, Horror invites its reader or spectator into a pleasurable relationship with trauma, offering up trauma as a compelling spectacle to be consumed and even enjoyed. This special issue invites essays that explore Horror’s strategies for representing personal and historical trauma, Horror’s ability (or failure, or refusal) to abreact trauma, and the paradoxical appeal of a popular genre devoted to the unpleasure of shock, violence, and psychic disorientation.
Other topics might include:
— Horror consumption as a form of traumatophilia, whereby the subject wilfully seeks out traumatic encounters that threaten to swamp or pulverize the boundaries of the psyche.
— Ecohorror and the post-apocalypse, from Mary Shelley to the Strugatsky brothers to Jeff VanderMeer.
— Horror as a genre that elicits “empathic unsettlement” (LaCapra 2001), as opposed to aversion, disgust, or other forms of denial, in its consumer.
— Critiques of Horror as an exploitative or “pornographic” genre, particularly in its representations of war, genocide, and other large-scale atrocities.
This CFP understands Horror as a capacious genre that may overlap or intersect with other fantastic genres such as Gothic, Science Fiction, Kaidan, the Weird, and so forth. It welcomes discussions of literature, film, television, graphic novels, visual arts, music, and other cultural forms, and essays that discuss national and/or regional traditions of Horror as well as individual texts. It also solicits essays that discuss the phenomenon of violent de-subjectification during earlier periods, and propose discursive antecedents (clinical, sociomedical, philosophical, religious) to the later-modern trauma paradigm.
Essays are due by September 1, 2020. They can be of varying lengths, including position papers and longer research articles. Please use Chicago-style formatting, and submit double-spaced, 12-point font, .docx files to the special issue editor, Kelly Hurley, email@example.com. Please omit identifying information from all pages except the cover page, as we use a blind review format. Send all inquiries to Kelly Hurley.