Date of Award

Spring 5-1-2010

Document Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

First Advisor

Warren F. Motte, Jr.

Second Advisor

David S. Ferris

Abstract

For victims of trauma to speak about the events they have undergone is a complicated act, as it is both necessary to the healing process and painfully evocative of past suffering. A victim frequently senses a dual compulsion: one that makes speaking necessary, and another that makes it impossible. Verbal expression helps a victim to process what has happened, and may also have important practical implications (as in a legal testimony that could bring the aggressor to account); at the same time, though, traumatic experiences are often referred to as unspeakable or unimaginable, implying that it is not only difficult, but impossible to distill what has happened into language.

The nature of writing exhibits a similar tension between expression and silence. The attempt to express the ineffable is part of the impetus to create, as a writer strives to bridge the gap between words and ideas or emotions. While the process yields a product of a linguistic expression, it also results in a paradoxical disconnect or silence at the root of that same creation. When writers write about trauma, the double pull toward language and toward silence is even stronger, as the writer must engage with both the tension present in processing trauma, and that inherent in writing itself.

In each chapter I explore the ways in which fiction writers experiment with the form of their works in order to best depict the reality of a traumatic experience. Some of these traumas are vast, as in Edmond Jabès's Le livre des questions (1963-1973), which addresses not only the Holocaust, but also questions of exile and identity. Others are on a smaller scale, such as Jacques K. Rogers | iv Roubaud's Quelque chose noir (1986), Julio Cortázar's Los autonautas de la cosmopista (1983), and Macedonio Fernández’s Museo de la Novela de la Eterna (1967, posthumous); in each of these works, the author grapples with the loss and subsequent mourning of a spouse. Finally, Gérard Gavarry’s Hop là! un deux trois (2001) and Toni Morrison’s Beloved (1987) both address the difficulties of responding to more ambiguous, insidious forms of trauma perpetrated by an entire society.

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