Trauma: Explorations in Culture (NeMLA 2021)

deadline for submissions: 
September 30, 2020
full name / name of organization: 
Courtney Mullis / NeMLA
contact email: 

Theorist Cathy Caruth popularized literary trauma theory in the mid-1990s, arguing that in the event of psychic trauma, “while the images of traumatic reenactment remain absolutely accurate and precise, they are largely inaccessible to conscious recall and control” (Caruth 151). Objections to Caruthian trauma theory often take one of two forms; scholars either object to the underlying theory of psychic trauma, or they object because of the limitations of psychic trauma. Literary scholar Sonia Baelo-Allué advances the latter objection in her 2016 article, “From the Traumatic to the Political: Cultural Trauma, 9/11 and Amy Waldman's The Submission.” Baelo-Allué argues that novels about 9/11 too often focus on the psychic trauma of individuals, ignoring, in turn, the panoramic and public” (168). While Baelo-Allué acknowledges the importance of individual, psychic trauma and its literary representations, she favors what she calls the ‘cultural trauma novel’ because they question the political origins and cultural consequences of large-scale traumatic events. Baelo-Allué’s term builds on the theories of sociologist Jeffrey Alexander, who argues that “Cultural trauma occurs when members of a collectivity feel they have been subjected to a horrendous event that leaves indelible marks upon their group consciousness, marking their memories forever and changing their future identity in fundamental and irrevocable ways” (6).

This panel seeks papers on representations of cultural trauma in literature that consider how depictions of cultural trauma differ from depictions of individual trauma, how writers use different genres or forms to represent cultural trauma, and how literature about cultural trauma changes the world.

Submit abstracts online via the NeMLA portal: