Between Entrapment and Release: Navigating Trauma in Contemporary World Literature (Panel)


Comparative Literature

Liana Pshevorska (United States Military Academy)

Olivia Holloway (United States Military Academy)

Trauma is a deeply unsettling personal experience that impacts one’s psyche and underscores tension between experience and language. Considered from the sociological perspective, trauma can also be shaped by public discourse. The main dialectic of trauma, as Judith Herman argues, is “the conflict between the will to deny horrible events and the will to proclaim them aloud” (1992). It transforms the way survivors perceive themselves and the world and impacts their relations with others.

The pioneering scholarship of Cathy Caruth, Shoshana Felman, Dori Laub, and Geoffrey Hartman has shaped the field of trauma studies with innovative frameworks for interpreting responses to traumatic experiences and mass violence. Shifting from this traditional paradigm, new studies argue against the “unspeakability” of trauma (Mendel, 2007) and rethink the notion of “unrepresentability” (Forter, 2011). As the critical field evolves, new pluralistic models of analysis emerge and reveal points of tension in representing trauma in literature.

We seek proposals that advance our understanding of the relationship between trauma, memory, and identity at the intersection of psychological and sociocultural factors, official discourse and private memories. This panel aims to investigate the multifaceted nature of trauma, both in its infliction, repercussions, and the various intimate and collective points comprising the social matrix of resolutions. In what ways does fiction represent trauma, its silences, and its imperative to speak? To which extent is fiction able to represent the impossibility of representation itself? How do fiction (including graphic novels) and interdisciplinary inquiry instigate empathy and create an ethical imperative to witness an event? The preferred language of presentations is English. Suggested topics may include, but are not limited to:

- War trauma, political violence

- Childhood/family trauma, intergenerational trauma

- Private vs public memories

- Gender-based violence

- Migration, displacement

- Fiction and testimony

Trauma is a deeply unsettling personal experience that impacts one’s psyche and underscores tension between experience and language. Considered from the sociological perspective, trauma can also be shaped by public discourse. We seek proposals that advance our understanding of the relationship between trauma, memory, and identity in fiction at the intersection of psychological and sociocultural factors, official discourse and private memories, intimate and collective points of resolutions.