Academic journal article Mosaic (Winnipeg)

Trauma Remembered and Forgotten: The Figure of the Hysteric in Kerri Sakamoto's the Electrical Field

Academic journal article Mosaic (Winnipeg)

Trauma Remembered and Forgotten: The Figure of the Hysteric in Kerri Sakamoto's the Electrical Field

Article excerpt

Kerri Sakamoto's novel The Electrical Field successfully resists a new and insidious form of social amnesia surrounding the Japanese-Canadian internment. Perpetuated by the act of collective remembering and reinforced by the teleological structure of social and literary narratives representing the internment, this communal forgetting is resisted through the novel's use of discourses of hysteria.

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In his critique of collective memory, Laurence J. Kirmayer recognizes that, as a society, we not only aim to remember trauma but also to forget it: "As remembering is a social act, so too is forgetting." Forgetting in this configuration is not defined as dissociation or even repression, that is, an unconscious or instinctive response to overwhelming events; rather, forgetting is a "strategic," conscious, and collective act (191). As Paul Ricoeur puts it in his recent work, Memory, History, Forgetting, we are "speaking here less of wounded memory than of forgetting by those who hold power" (80) and by society at large. In their analysis of Joy Kogawa's internment narrative Obasan, critics such as Guy Beauregard and Apollo O. Amoko draw attention to this deliberate form of social forgetting in response to the Japanese-Canadian internment. However, rather than gesturing to the postwar silence that surrounded the internment, both paradoxically attribute this social amnesia to the act of collective remembering. They suggest that by recollecting the internment, particularly through reading Obasan, audiences feel they can turn the page on the past, wiping it from memory and national consciousness. As Amoko states, we "ultimately remember purportedly forgotten injustice precisely in order to 'have forgotten it,' or, more properly, to get over it" (54).

This new social amnesia is not, however, overt; indeed, it is often manifested insidiously. Amoko locates it in discourses of harmonious multiculturalism that "ask Canadian national subjects to have already forgotten the legacy of racial injustice it expects that they will naturally remember" (54). In her study of the redress movement, Joanna Clarke locates this mnemonic erasure in the "discursive trajectories" that define our responses to the internment after redress. She recognizes that we "participate in a forgetting of crucial details that surround particular events" by relying on "presupposing references to the 'unjust internment' [that] stand in for multiple events rather than provide the opportunity for the retelling of historical detail" (249).

Kerri Sakamoto's novel The Electrical Field also gestures to the existence of this insidious social amnesia, and so realizes the need to return to the internment. Published in 1998, almost twenty years after the internment was recuperated by Obasan and ten years after the redress settlement seemingly resolved the political and ethical implications associated with the event, the very appearance of The Electrical Field suggests the need to revisit the internment and re-evaluate our current responses. In interviews, Sakamoto reveals that her decision to offer another fictional representation of the internment was predicated on her choice to render it differently from her antecedents. She wanted to present a more complex reconstruction of the event, a reconstruction that would address the needs of the post-redress period out of which she was writing (Wyman). In these interviews, Sakamoto particularly recognizes that her revisions focus on representations of the victim, and the need to move beyond sympathetic depictions in order to avoid the institutionalization of Japanese-Canadians as official victims of internment, a subject position that ultimately results in a loss of agency (Melnyk). However, her work also addresses the developing social amnesia surrounding the internment, and seeks to revise the rhetorical strategies with which the internment and the redress movement are represented, both in Kogawa's earlier works and in current social discourses. …

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