Screams Somehow Echoing: Trauma and Testimony in Anglophone African Literature

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Postcolonial literary critics note persistently recurring representations of colonial violence in post-independence Anglophone African novels. I suggest that complex psychological and political processes of colonial trauma compel this narrative repetition. This dissertation juxtaposes postcolonial and trauma studies in order to analyze literary representations of colonial violence in terms of race, gender, identity, and the post-independence nation-state. To do so, I engage with black feminisms, African history, Subaltern Studies, and Latin American testimonio studies.

I contend that, despite variations in aesthetic mode, melancholia, haunting, and mourning recur in realist and postmodern Anglophone African and diaspora novels with interesting variations beyond the usual stylistic differences. This tendency spans sub-Saharan Africa, the Atlantic, and generations. My work suggests that we use the vocabulary of psychoanalysis to fruitfully read post-independence literature as testimony representing the trauma of colonial occupation.

Trauma and justice studies teach that testimony is the route to surviving productively after an experience of traumatizing violence. While mine is not the first analysis of Anglophone African literature to employ the vocabulary of psychoanalysis, it is the first to suggest doing so in the context of traumatic testimony.

I explore three modes of telling--testimonial bodies, censored testimony and its ghosts, and trans-generational testifying wounds--represented in Ayi Kwei Armah's Fragments (Ghana, the United States, and France), Tsitsi Dangarembga's Nervous Conditions (Zimbabwe), Nuruddin Farah's Maps (Somalia), Moses Isegawa's Abyssinian Chronicles (Uganda and the Netherlands), Meja Mwangi's Carcase for Hounds (Kenya), Helen Oyeyemi's The Icarus Girl (Nigeria and Britain), and in Zoë Wicomb's David's Story and J. M. Coetzee's Disgrace (South Africa). Modes of telling crisscross the continent, suggesting that traumatic suffering binds different communities together.

Read as traumatic testimonies, the texts critique the intersected, normalizing discourses of globalization, trans-Atlantic migration, women's rights, and decolonization. They demonstrate that moments of national birth mark historical sites of potential for the collective to revise the past, create a national citizenry, and chart a socially progressive future through transformative mourning processes.