Trauma and Fiction: Representational Crises and Modalities
Khan Touseef Osman, PhD
Abstract: Trauma involves a rupture in the temporal and symbolic orders at individual and collective levels. Fictional representation of trauma, therefore, is marked by a problem of referentiality, where mimesis fails and chronology breaks down. The article opens with a discussion on the disorientation in the co-ordinative links between the world, the self, and representational tools in the event of a traumatic experience, which results in the crisis of referentiality. The inadequacy of language as a representational medium on the one hand, and unacknowledgement of extreme events beyond “socially validated reality” on the other, constitute two of the major issues creative artists have to deal with. An extreme event leaves a mnemonic gap in the psyche of the traumatized individual, and the process of recovery involves the gap being filled in with narrative memory, suggesting an epistemological void. Narrative memory acts as the surrogate memory of the traumatic event, which is unavailable to willed recollection. This surrogate memory is compared to Jean Baudrillard’s third order of simulation, where a false presence conceals the absence of any basic reality. Recognizing the referential and representational crises at work in rendering traumatic experiences in fiction, the article goes on to explore the ways of bypassing them and discuss the idea of indirect representation in Michael Rothberg’s Traumatic Realism: The Demands of Holocaust Representation. Rothberg believes that an oblique rendition of traumatic events in fiction may be an appropriate representational mode within the conflicting demands of the documentation of reality, meditation on the formal limits by the creative artist, and risky circulation of images in the globalized world. This leads to a deliberation on Anne Whitehead and Laurie Vickroy’s idea of the emerging genre of “trauma fiction” with its thematic and stylistic concerns. The article ends with a summary of the representational techniques likely to feature in fictions written on violent events.
Keywords: trauma, fiction, referentiality, representation, traumatic realism
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Published in 2017