"You've Got Me in My Feelings": Discomfort and Discourse of "Excessive" Emotions in Trauma Memoir (NeMLA 2024/Boston, MA/March 7-10, 2024)

deadline for submissions: 
September 30, 2023
full name / name of organization: 
Danielle French, Kent State University
contact email: 

Northeast Modern Language Association (NeMLA) Conference 2024

Boston, MA

March 7-10, 2024

Trivialization of trauma is an increasing concern for scholars and clinicians alike, and Americans often culturally employ the language of trauma in hyperbolic or sarcastic ways, but does this humor or hyperbole also couch collective cultural unease with overwhelming emotions?  In The Body Keeps the Score, Bessel van der Kolk reminds us that “the essence of trauma is that it is overwhelming, unbelievable, and unbearable,” making bearing witness to it discomfiting and making witnesses acutely aware of their own mortality salience (197). In order to heal from traumatic experience, van der Kolk and van der Hart argue, “Traumatic memories are the unassimilated scraps of overwhelming experiences, which need to be integrated with existing mental schemes, and be transformed into narrative language,” concluding that it is necessary to “return to the memory often in order to complete it” (176). While what is traumatizing to one individual may not be for another, the vast majority of people will experience something that elicits particularly overwhelming, “negative” emotions, like grief, terror, or rage. 

While society tends to embrace collective shows of emotion that are viewed as “positive,” narratives that are focused on a happy ending, or storytelling that is neatly packaged to encourage consumerism or crowdfunding, too often Americans devalue, denigrate, and avoid individual experience of overpowering emotions to our individual and collective detriment.  In trauma memoir—memoir that narrates traumatic experience(s) of the author—the reading public functions as witness to these raw, private experiences of emotion, providing a necessary space for readers to learn to sit with the discomfort of intense, inconvenient emotions while also seeing how the memoirist copes and, most importantly, survives. 

This accepted panel invites explorations and analyses of “excessive” or inconvenient emotions in trauma memoir.  For general inquiries, please contact dfrenc12@kent.edu.  Finally, no remote presentations are permitted per NeMLA guidelines, so please be ready to present in Boston.  For all general guidelines and 2024 NeMLA Conference information see: https://www.buffalo.edu/nemla/convention.html.

Please submit your paper proposals to:  https://cfplist.com/nemla/User/SubmitAbstract/20533.