Studies in the Novel
The group of cultural and literary theorists whom I would loosely categorize as practitioners of “trauma theory”–including, most notably, Cathy Caruth, Shoshana Felman, Dori Laub, and Dominick LaCapra–share several assumptions. Their ideas all derive to a large extent from Freudian conceptions of memory and trauma, and they all emphasize the temporal aspects of psychic trauma: Caruth, for instance, describes the traumatic encounter as “a break in the mind’s experience of time” (61). Implicit in this conception of trauma, as well, is the assumption that trauma is an individual and private phenomenon. And they all suggest, moreover, that trauma manifests itself primarily as a loss of language, coupled paradoxically with the compulsion to talk about that loss. The corollary of this point is that the “cure” for traumatic memory disorders is some variant of the talking cure. For some theorists, this is the task of formal psychoanalytic therapy: Dori Laub, for instance, argues that therapy is “a process of constructing a narrative, of reconstructing a history and essentially, of re-externalizing the event” (Felman and Laub 69). For LaCapra, “testimonial witnessing” is a more effective mode of constructing narratives around traumatic occurrences: “witnessing based on memory… provides insight into lived experience and its transmission in language and gesture” (History and Memory 11).
“‘This Text Deletes Itself’: Traumatic Memory and Space-Time in Wicomb’s David’s Story.” Studies in the Novel 40.1-2 (2008). 127-45. (Special issue: “Postcolonial Trauma Narratives.”)