Reading trauma in postmodern and postcolonial literature: Charlotte Delbo, Toni Morrison, and the literary imagination of the aftermath
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
Comparative Literature (Interdepartmental Program)
Some personal or collective histories can never be completely integrated into the continuum of one's emotional life. Such stories produced in traumatic times or in disastrous events are likely to remain only partially understood or accepted. Examining the human consequence of traumatic events such as the enslavement of Africans in the United States or the attempted extermination of the Jewish people in Europe is one challenging focus of this work. It is comparatively productive, however, if these events are approached from the perspective of the trauma they have produced-an approach that suspends chronological and geographical barriers of time and space. The trilogy by postmodern French artist Charlotte Delbo, an Auschwitz survivor who narrated her story in testimonial form, offers that insight into trauma, as does the postcolonial work of Toni Morrison. The first volumes of both trilogies, "Aucun de nous ne reviendra" and "Beloved" expose the damage done to individuals and collectivities in terms of trauma by revealing the extent to which living at the edge of life and witnessing horrific acts of massive death and destruction shape and impact not only victims but the societies to which they return. Attempting to work through those strikingly traumatic experiences further highlights attitudes commonly found in narratives of survival. "Une connaissance inutile" and "Jazz," the second volumes of the trilogies, enhance that kind of understanding, while both point at the necessary impossibility of forgetting the traumatic experiences that remain clearly undigested. Events such as senseless extermination of an entire people and the brutal exploitation of an entire race were not only not avoided, but systematically promoted by the communities in question. "Mesure de nos jours" and "Paradise," the last volumes of the trilogies, clearly document the lack of attentiveness to the pleas of survivors and emancipated slaves by their respective communities after liberation and emancipation. Even though support was not shown by these communities in the aftermath of the traumatic occurrences, this should not disengage us from our gravest responsibility: to bear witness to the sufferings of an excluded other whose processes of recovery and working through remain elusive.
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Finck, Sylviane, "Reading trauma in postmodern and postcolonial literature: Charlotte Delbo, Toni Morrison, and the literary imagination of the aftermath" (2006). LSU Doctoral Dissertations. 1804.