Around this time last year, I was asked to contribute a chapter to on Testimony to The Routledge Companion to Literature and Trauma, edited by Colin Davis and Hanna Meretoja. https://www.routledge.com/The-Routledge-Companion-to-Literature-and-Trauma-1st-Edition/Davis-Meretoja/p/book/9781138494923
It was rather late in the day to be asked, but it seems that the editors has just been reading my recent book (https://www.palgrave.com/gp/book/9783030061050) and realised that their volume needed a chapter on Testimony and that I was the person they should ask to write it.
I was in the midst of researching and writing two other articles at the time (part of a list of things I saved to do ‘when I finish my book’ but when I saw the list of contributors and topics that Hanna and Colin had assembled for this collection (Stef Craps, Michael Rothberg, Roseanne Kennedy and Cathy Caruth among them) I said “count me in.” I didn’t get much sleep between March and June, but I am delighted I was able to contribute. The book will be out in the next month or so and my chapter explores the relationship between “testimony” and literature, particularly in the context of traumatic discourse.
“Testimony” as both mode and genre is frequently identified as the emblematic literary and discursive mode of the past fifty years and counting. But to what precisely does this term refer in relation to literature and discourse? And how might those definitions be challenged in the context of witnessing that testifies to traumatic events? Testimonial forms that attest to traumatic experience are as old as humanity itself. From ancient myths, legends and folk tales in all cultures, to songs of war, conquest and revenge, both the power and the vulnerability of what it means to be human has been expressed through narratives with varying degrees of adherence to actual events. Moreover, testimony is often generated by marginalised populations in which it frequently constitutes a dangerous act.
In my forthcoming chapter, therefore, I consider various forms of eye-witness narrative offered as evidence of suffering – including Holocaust and Soviet Gulag testimonies, the testimonio of oppressed indigenous peoples in Latin America, African-American slave narratives, rights campaigning materials produced by former Cambodian child prostitutes, and the thousands of disclosures generated by the #metoo movement. In doing so I hope to identify and problematize the complex social, biological, rhetorical, psychological and cultural networks along which such narratives must travel in order to generate and disseminate meaning, and, potentially, new forms of knowledge.
A Description of the volume follows below:
Literary trauma studies is a rapidly developing field which examines how literature deals with the personal and cultural aspects of trauma and engages with such historical and current phenomena as the Holocaust and other genocides, 9/11, climate catastrophe or the still unsettled legacy of colonialism.
The Routledge Companion to Literature and Trauma includes a comprehensive guide to the history and theory of trauma studies, including key concepts, consideration of critical perspectives and discussion of future developments. It also explores different genres and media, such as poetry, life writing, graphic narratives, photography and post-apocalyptic fiction, and analyses how literature engages with particular traumatic situations and events, such as the Holocaust, the Occupation of France, the Rwandan genocide, Hurricane Katrina and transgenerational nuclear trauma.
40 essays from top thinkers in the field demonstrate the range and vitality of trauma studies as it has been used to further the understanding of literature and other cultural forms across the world. Routledge Companion to Literature and Trauma