Trauma Theory / Trauma Narratives

(MA seminar; Winter and Summer or Winter only)


Professor Deborah Madsen

Mondays 14.15-16.00





In this seminar we will read texts on the literature of and about trauma and violence, identifying the connections (and disconnections) between theory and practice. We will consider trauma in the context of race, class, and sexuality; the ethics of representing trauma in testimonial literature, autobiography (including false trauma memoirs) and fictional texts; and the capacity of language to articulate the experience of trauma. Topics for discussion include: personal trauma such as rape, incest, relationship violence, and mental illness; as well as historical trauma such as the Holocaust, American slavery, Native American genocide and the Vietnam War. Trauma theory can be situated at the intersection of poststructuralist, feminist, and psychoanalytic theoretical approaches. The engagement with this body of theoretical work is an essential dimension of the seminar.




 Texts available from Off the Shelf, Payot (Chantepoulet), and the seminar shelf in the English Library.




1. weekly reading assignments and active participation in discussion

2. regular attendance

3. satisfactory oral presentations




MA1: a written examination (6 hrs) OR an attestation of approximately 10 pages;

MA2: an oral examination (30 mins) OR an attestation of approximately 10 pages;

MA3a and MA3b: a written paper OR written exam.

This seminar is also available under the old plan d’études as AB5, AB6, AB7 or AB8.




Attestations are due on the following dates:

Monday January 9th for the February exam session;

Monday May 8th for the June exam session;

Monday September 10th for the October exam session.

Attestations submitted after the deadline will be graded for the following session.

NOTE: October 2006 is the latest session for which the Winter seminar is valid; February 2007 is the latest session for which the Summer seminar is valid. All assessed work must be completed by this date. No further work will be accepted after this date.




All students must read the English Department Style Sheet (available on the departmental website and as a booklet from the English secretariat) and follow the instructions for the formal presentation of written work. Attestations that do not observe the Style Sheet will be returned for correction before they are graded. Note that this may mean that essays returned in this way will miss the deadline for the exam session.

All papers must be submitted in hard copy. Electronic (email) submission of assessed work is not permitted except in extraordinary circumstances and with the prior agreement of the professor.

Attestations should be accompanied by a cover page which includes:

   your name,

   your student number,

   the module number,

   your postal address and

   email address.

Corrected attestations will be returned (in person at the lecture or by post) with a copy of the form sent to the service des examens by the English secretariat.


Students taking both Winter and Summer seminars as module AB7 or AB8 may submit one long paper covering material from both seminars rather than two shorter papers. Topics must include substantive engagement with the theoretical material covered in the seminar ; papers should discuss entire texts and not only excerpts used in seminars. Students are encouraged to submit an outline and bibliography for approval before beginning work on essays.




Students are required to sign the attendance sheet each week. It is the student’s responsibility to ensure that the sheet is signed. Any student who is absent more than three times will not be permitted to submit assessed work for this course. Only certified medical absences will be excused.





Winter Semester


31 Oct                Introduction

from Shoshana Felman and Dori Laub, eds., Testimony: Crises of Witnessing in Literature, Psychoanalysis and History (1992) ; from Cathy Caruth, Trauma: Explorations in Memory (1995); from Cathy Caruth, Unclaimed Experience : Trauma, Narrative, History (1996)



In this first part of the seminar, two novels will form the basis for applying and evaluating our theoretical readings: Nora Okja Keller, Comfort Woman (1999) and Dorothy Allison, Bastard Out of Carolina (1993). All students must have their own copies of these novels.


7 Nov                 Testimony, Memory, Survivor Narrative: STUDENT RESPONSE PAPERS

Keller; Jacques Derrida, “On Forgiveness” (2001): seminar shelf; Jeffrey K. Olick (1999), "Collective Memory: The Two Cultures," Sociological Theory, 17. 3 (November), pp. 333-348 JSTOR; Nora Okja Keller, Asianweek,


14 Nov               Trauma Narratives and Mental Illness

Keller; Sigmund Freud, “Remembering, Repeating and Working-Through” (1914); Sigmund Freud, “Mourning and Melancholia” (1917 [1915]): seminar shelf


21 Nov               Trauma Narratives and Mental Illness: Freud and Keller, continued


28 Nov               Who tells the Trauma? Witness and Autobiography: STUDENT PRESENTATIONS

Keller; from Sangmie Choi Schellstede, ed., Comfort Women Speak: Testimony by Sex Slaves of the Japanese Military, (2000): seminar shelf

See this article and responses in Japan TodayArt exhibit by wartime sex slaves opens in Tokyo’ :


5 Dec                 Narrativizing Trauma

Keller; we return to Derrida’s essay, “On Forgiveness” (2001); STUDENT PRESENTATIONS: Keller’s trauma symbolism


12 Dec               Trauma and Relationship Violence

Allison; Kali Tal, “We Didn't Know What Would Happen: Opening the Discourse on Sexual Abuse” and “This Is About Power On Every Level: Three Incest Survivor Narratives” in Worlds of Hurt: Reading the Literatures of Trauma (1996).


19 Dec               Sexual Violence/Incest Narratives: STUDENT PRESENTATIONS

Allison; Wendy S. Hesford, “Reading Rape Stories: Material Rhetoric and the Trauma of Representation,” College English, 62. 2 (November, 1999), 192-221. JSTOR


9 Jan                   What is the ‘Experience’ of Trauma?

Allison; Ernst Van Alphen, “Symptoms of Discursivity: Experience, Memory, and Trauma,” in Mieke Bal, Jonathan Crewe, and Leo Spitzer, eds., Acts of Memory: Cultural Recall in the Present (1999), pp. 24-38: seminar shelf



16 Jan                 The Language of Trauma

Allison, Keller; Peter Ramadanovic, “Introduction: Trauma and Crisis”, and Linda Belau, “Trauma and the Material Signifier,” Postmodern Culture 11. 2 (January 2001),






Holocaust Trauma: Narrative and Theory


23 Jan                 Binjamin Wilkomirski, Fragments (1997) ; Kali Tal, Worlds of Hurt: Reading the Literatures of Trauma (1996), Chapter Two: A Form of Witness: The Holocaust and North American Memory,


30 Jan                 Wilkomirski; Giorgio Agamben, from Remnants of Auschwitz: The Witness and the Archive (1999) : seminar shelf


6 Feb                  Cynthia Ozick, “The Shawl” (1990): seminar shelf: STUDENT RESPONSE PAPERS





Summer Semester


13/3      Reprise of Winter seminar discussions; Dominick LaCapra, from Representing the Holocaust : History, Theory, Trauma (1994)


American Slavery Narratives


20/3      Harriet Jacobs, from Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl (1861):; Agamben, The Witness


27/3      Jacobs;

               Toni Morrison, “The Site of Memory” in Inventing the Truth: The Art and Craft of Memoir ed. William Zinsser (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1987), 103-124: seminar shelf


3/4        Jacobs; Octavia Butler, Kindred (1988)

               Walter Benn Michaels, “You who never was there? Slavery and the New Historicism, Deconstruction and the Holocaust”, in Hilene Flanzbaum (ed.), The Americanization of the Holocaust (Baltimore, MD: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1999), pp. 181-97: seminar shelf


10/4      Butler;

Dominick LaCapra, “Trauma, Absence, Loss,” Critical Inquiry, 25 (Summer 1999), pp. 696-727: seminar shelf


17/4      EASTER


Vietnam War Narratives


24/4      Michael Herr, Dispatches (1977);

Kali Tal, Worlds of Hurt: Reading the Literatures of Trauma (1996), Chapter Four: Between the Lines: Reading the Vietnam War,




8/5        Herr; Le Ly Hayslip, Child of War, Woman of Peace (1993), Part Three, ‘Taking the Long Road Back.’


15/5      Hayslip;

Marita Sturken, “The Remembering of Forgetting: Recovered Memory and the Question of Experience,” Social Text, 57 (Winter 1998),103-25:



Native American Genocide: Another Holocaust?


22/5      Representations of the Wounded Knee Massacre:

Charles Alexander Eastman (Ohiyesa), from From the Deep Woods to Civilization (1936), Chapter Seven: “The Ghost Dance War”; Dee Brown, from Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee (1971), “Introduction” and Chapter Nineteen, “Wounded Knee”;

STUDENT PRESENTATIONS: American Indian Movement activism


29/5      Leslie Marmon Silko, Ceremony (1977);

Elizabeth Cook-Lynn, from Why I Can’t Read Wallace Stegner and Other Essays (1996), Chapter One: “Wounded Knee, 1973” AND Chapter Seven, “The Relationship of a Writer to the Past: Art, a Literary Principle, and the Need to Narrate”: seminar shelf.


5/6        PENTECOST


12/6      Silko; Hartwig Isernhagen, “Mourning as a Creative Strategy: The Native American Renaissance and the Reconstruction of Home as a Type of Diaspora,” in Harald Zapf & Klaus Lösch, (ed.), Cultural Encounters in the New World (Tubingen: Gunter Narr, 2003), pp. 281-99: seminar shelf.


19/6      Conclusion: Silko; Freud; Derrida; LaCapra.







Kali Tal, Worlds of Hurt: Reading the Literatures of Trauma (1996)

Review :


Anne Whitehead, Traumatic Fiction (2004)


Leigh Gilmore, The Limits of Autobiography: Trauma and Testimony (2001)


Suzette Henke, Shattered Subjects: Trauma and Testimony in Women’s Life-Writing (2000)


Elaine Scarry, The Body in Pain (1985)




Stefan Maechler, The Wilkomirski Affair: A Study in Biographical Truth (2000)


Michael Rothberg, Traumatic Realism: The Demands of Holocaust Representation



James E. Young, At Memory's Edge : After Images of the Holocaust in Contemporary Art and Architecture (2000)


James E. Young, Writing and Rewriting the Holocaust : Narrative and the Consequences of Interpretation (Indiana University Press,1990)


Marianne Hirsch, Teaching the Representation of the Holocaust (2004)


Lawrence Langer, The Holocaust and the Literary Imagination (1975)


---, The Age of Atrocity : Death in Modern Literature (1978)


---, Admitting the Holocaust : Collected Essays (1995)




Nancy K. Miller and Jason Tougaw, eds. Extremities : Trauma, Testimony, and Community (2002)


Paul Fussell, The Great War and Modern Memory (1977)


James Freeman, ed. Hearts of Sorrow : Vietnamese-American Lives (1989)


Jeffrey Walsh, American War Literature: 1914 to Vietnam (1983)




David E. Stannard, Native American Holocaust: The Conquest of the New World (1993)


Paula Gunn Allen, The Sacred Hoop (1992)


Paula Gunn Allen, Off the Reservation (1999)