THE TRAUMA OF THE CARIBBEAN TEXT: ETHICS AND PROBLEMS OF VICTIMIZERS AND VICTIMS, AUTHORS AND READERS
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Since the early 1990s, trauma theory has acquired paradigmatic status as a methodology for studying literary representations of victims of various forms of violence, oppression, and social upheavals. However, with a genealogical foundation in Freud and an empirical basis in the Holocaust, trauma studies have been Eurocentric in orientation. My project seeks to “decolonize” trauma by bringing contemporary psychological and cultural trauma theory to bear on postwar Caribbean literature. Conversely, I use the insights provided by my investigation to reassess certain of the central tenets of trauma theory. I argue that in canonical Caribbean trauma texts, including Jean Rhys’ Wide Sargasso Sea, and Mary Chauvet’s Amour, Colère et Folie [Love, Anger, Madness], characters may be understood best as positioned at the intersection of psychological and cultural trauma theories. Victims of traumatic violence may be members of groups that have perpetrated violence on others; and perpetrators of violence may identify with groups that have been historically victimized. Viewing characters along a psychological trauma axis as individuals, and a cultural trauma axis as members of collectivities with which they identify, opens a range of new intepretive possibilities, and illuminates the manner in which critics respond to trauma texts and to each other. Trauma literature places extraordinary demands on writers and readers who, through empathetic identification with victims, are exposed to potentially destabilizing representations of victimization that transmit something of the experience of the original trauma. I propose a reading practice for Caribbean trauma literature that urges critical readers to maintain an ethical awareness of their own responses to scenes of traumatic violence so as to read the characters of both victims and perpetrators in their full complexity. This work includes an extended case study of the literature that emerged from the January 2010 earthquake in Haiti, supplemented by interviews of prominent Haitian authors that I conducted in Port-au-Prince in 2012-2013. Haitian earthquake texts and testimony tend to undermine significant Freudian-derived assumptions of modern trauma theory, including the doctrine of “unspeakability.” I sought in my readings of Haitian earthquake literature to identify a template of common thematic elements and distinct discursive modes that characterize these writings.