Traumanticism: From Blake to the Bayou

Berka, Caitlin Elizabeth, Department of English, University of Virginia
Wicke, Jennifer, Department of English, University of Virginia

Trauma and suffering, distinct from physical pain, require a narrative, which in
turn implies a sense of a discreet if vexed self, an entity hinted at as early as the
Renaissance (in relation to the classical epics and tragedies), in the essays of Montaigne, and in the soliloquies of characters like Hamlet, for example, but perhaps not fully embraced in literature until the Romantic period, with its elevation of the value of the inner life. According to psychoanalytic theory, trauma is “an event in the subject’s life defined by its intensity, by the subject’s incapacity to respond adequately to it, and by the upheaval and long-lasting effects that it brings about in the psychical organization.” (LaPlanche and Pontalis, 465) The experience of trauma, then, has been the focus of much study, as theorists, psychoanalysts, and others explore its representation in an array of cultural, historical, racial, natural, and literary circumstances. It would not be an exaggeration to suggest that the apprehension of the workings and effects of trauma—the Holocaust, Hiroshima, a host of wars, gangs, cults, sexual abuse, genocide, natural disaster—is central to any understanding of the modern Zeitgeist.

MA (Master of Arts)
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