Academic journal article Mosaic (Winnipeg)

Traumatic Forgetting and Spatial Consciousness in Dionne Brand's in Another Place, Not Here

Academic journal article Mosaic (Winnipeg)

Traumatic Forgetting and Spatial Consciousness in Dionne Brand's in Another Place, Not Here

Article excerpt

Although current discourses of trauma are rightly suspicious of the political dangers of willful forgetting, an absolute repudiation of deliberate forgetting may be reductive, particularly in the context of Dionne Brand's novel In Another Place, Not Here. Richard J. McNally's Remembering Trauma offers a useful classification of two overarching types of forgetting in current trauma studies: one is traumatic amnesia, often associated with a dissociative response, which "many therapists interpret [...] as a defensive process that attenuates awareness of otherwise overwhelming emotional information" (172) and prevents voluntary access to memories of trauma. The other is "ordinary" forgetting, whereby the trauma sufferer engages in a conscious, deliberate process and refuses to access memories of the traumatic past (169). In her analysis of Brand's later novel At the Full and Change of the Moon, Julia Grandison recognizes that these two modes of forgetting are the "limit case for discussions of trauma." Citing Ann E. Kaplan, who encourages a more "flexible" understanding of these modes not as diametrically opposed but potentially "simultaneous," Grandison attests that Brand's text challenges current conceptualizations of traumatic memory by allowing "dissenting theories to coexist" (774); that is, At the Full and Change of the Moon works along a continuum of memory--past, present, and future--as opposed to rigidly adhering to either of these diametrically opposed poles. In Another Place, Not Here similarly challenges rigid responses to traumatic memory; however, the focus of this critique will be the evaluative responses attached to these two "limit cases" of traumatic forgetting, and the ways in which certain forms of forgetting are privileged over others in contemporary theories. Willful traumatic forgetting, McNally continues, is typically elided in the modern "recovered memory movement," which privileges the dissociative response and effaces the possibility of deliberate forgetting: "A person's failure to think about the trauma, these theorists say, constitutes 'amnesia,' and they attribute this amnesia either to repression or dissociation. They are reluctant to invoke 'ordinary' forgetting to explain why someone who was abused in childhood might not think about the abuse for many years" (183).

Ruth Leys offers an explanation for this elision, particularly in the context of Judith Herman's influential work Trauma and Recovery. Leys posits that this repudiation of willful forgetting serves to satisfy the ethics of historical representation: "What appears to motivate Herman's attitude here is a powerfully entrenched commitment to the redemptive authority of history [...] For Herman and for the modern recovery movement generally, even if the victim of trauma could be cured without obtaining historical insight [...] such a cure would not be morally acceptable" (109, emph. Leys's). For Herman and others, traumatic narratives are testimonies; they are inherently political and collective, and so the narration of the remembered event is of significant importance and must not be erased or forgotten. Shoshana Felman clearly points to this imperative: "It is judged unethical to forget [...] the silence is interpreted as a deliberate concealment, a suppression of accountability that can only mean a denial of responsibility" ("Apocalypse" 121). Thus, one of the few spaces where forgetting might be designated acceptable is the unconscious dissociation of trauma, whereby responsibility for the erasure of history is circumvented: because the process is defined by an inherent inability to recall by active will, denial and the responsibility associated with it are beyond the control of the sufferer. Deliberate forgetting is, thus, generally repudiated, designated therapeutically ineffective as well as ethically problematic.

Brand's novel In Another Place, Not Here interrogates the notion of traumatic forgetting. In essence, this work investigates the competing ideological implications of traumatic forgetting, particularly as a deliberate act, suggesting both its productive and problematic dimensions, and thereby complicates current discourses of trauma. …

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