Saying the Unsayable: Narrative Experimentations in the Representation of Trauma
Trauma is typically considered ‘responsive to and constitutive of “modernity”’ (Micale and Lerner 2001). Certainly, as argued by Mark Seltzer, ‘modernity has come to be understood under the sign of the wound’: ‘the modern subject has become inseparable from the categories of shock and trauma.’
Trauma has invaded Western culture and the contemporary public sphere by transforming itself into a paradigm and offering compelling stories about identity, memory, and selfhood. Generally described as an overwhelming experience that exceeds the subject symbolically and/or physically, trauma corresponds, in terms of Lacanian psychoanalysis, to the encounter with the Real: a situation or an event that the subject experiences as excess as it exceeds the symbolic order and therefore cannot gain any meaning in the subject’s symbolic framework. This implicates the disjunction and the forever belated, incomplete understanding of the event, as Roger Luckhurst argues in his The Trauma Question (2008), thus fostering Cathy Caruth’s definition of trauma as a crisis of representation.
The relationship between trauma as a devastating disruption and the subsequent attempts to translate or assimilate this disturbance into reliable narratives lies at the core of its ambivalent nature. Trauma challenges the capacities of narrative knowledge as it disrupts language and escapes representation. As an experience of excess, it can only be manifested in the lack of a meaningful structure or form to express its extreme and can be mainly traced as an aporia in narrative. Nonetheless, even if trauma is anti-narrative in its shock impact, it generates a surplus production of retrospective narratives that seek to explicate the trauma and speak the wound. Of late, many visual and written stories involving trauma have experimented with narrative time, disrupting linearity, suspending logical causation, running out of temporal sequence, working over and over the originating traumatic event, and playing with belated revelations that retrospectively rewrite narrative significance. However, as Anne Whitehead argues, ‘if trauma comprises an event or experience which overwhelms the individual and resists language or representation, how then can it be narrativized into fiction?’
This panel seeks papers in literature, cinema, and media studies that engage with the possibility of narrating trauma through alternative and experimental forms of fiction and medium, both written and visual, both static and dynamic, as a vessel to explore different ways to convey the ineffable.