Re-enchanting Trauma and Memory Studies: MLA Just-in-Time Session Proposal

deadline for submissions: 
September 15, 2020
full name / name of organization: 
Ryan Topper (Western Oregon University) and Jay Rajiva (Georgia State University)
contact email: 

The MLA has invited “just-in-time” sessions for the fully virtual 2021 convention (Jan 7-10). Please send abstracts (250 words) to and by Sept 15, 2020.

Call for Papers

One of the most widely debated problems in trauma and memory studies is the discourse's relationship to postcolonial contexts. Are our understandings of individual and collective trauma—and perhaps more fundamentally how individual and collective memory is stored, structured, disseminated, and renegotiated—too Western to make sense of the traumas memorialized in postcolonial literature, culture, and life? Rather than offer yet another critique of trauma and memory studies' Eurocentrism, this seminar exists to pursue the next step within this conversation. We believe one route forward is to theorize how trauma and memory are conceptualized within the many forms of animism throughout the postcolonial and indigenous worlds. Here, we employ Harry Garuba’s definition of animism as the continual re-enchantment of a world disenchanted by colonial modernity. Drawing on Nobel laureate Wole Soyinka’s studies of African animism, Garuba defines it as an “umbrella designation for a mode of religious consciousness” that “does not name any specific religion,” and which refuses “to countenance unlocalized, unembodied, unphysicalized gods and spirits” (267). If, for Garuba, the postcolony is marked by “a manifestation of an animist unconscious, which operates through a process that involves [. . .] a continual re-enchantment of the world” (265), how might such a process inform our understanding of postcolonial trauma and memory?

Topics for submission include but are not limited to:

-What types of animist narrative and/or poetic structures do we find in postcolonial and indigneous literatures? How do the principles of relational existence in such structures shape the subject’s ability to tell and retell trauma? How might collective memory be conceptualized in animist terms?

-How might animist concepts of healing challenge Eurocentric ideas of posttraumatic recovery? Alternatively, are there fruitful overlaps between psychoanalytic and indigenous visions of trauma and memory that bear further exploration?

-What can literary scholars concerned with trauma and memory glean from the “new animism” within anthropology and religious studies?

-How might indigenous animisms build upon or challenge the neo-animism of new materialist critique or the assumed relationships between matter and spirit in trauma and memory studies?

-What can recent theories of environmental trauma learn from animist ontologies? 

-How are spaces of postcolonial trauma “animated” in literature? How are collective memories challenged by animist principles of localized and concrete spirituality?

-What kinds of postcolonial memories find expression through animist narrative modes? What is the relationship between media representations of collective memory and animist re-enchantment?



Ryan Topper (Western Oregon University)

Jay Rajiva (Georgia State University)