Academic journal article Studies in the Humanities

The Future of Trauma Theory: Contemporary Literary and Cultural Criticism

Academic journal article Studies in the Humanities

The Future of Trauma Theory: Contemporary Literary and Cultural Criticism

Article excerpt

The Future of Trauma Theory: Contemporary Literary and Cultural Criticism, edited by Gert Buelens, Samuel Durrant, and Robert Eaglestone. London: Routledge, 2014. $43.95, paperback, 182 pages.

The early 1990s experienced what can usefully be called a traumatic turn in literary studies, and recent publications reassess the limits and possibilities of the trauma paradigm for the twenty-first century. The aptly titled collection, The Future of Trauma Theory: Contemporary Literary and Cultural Criticism, is a timely intervention in the theoretical dialogue concerning the future development of trauma theory. While the notion of suffering has always been an important topic for literary scholars, trauma theory has--more than twenty years after its inception in a canon of primarily Holocaust, modernist, and postmodern texts by North American and European authors with mainly (post)deconstructive and psychoanalytic literary methods--burgeoned into a decidedly diversified field, concentrating on a wide range of genres, writers, and artists from different parts of the world. The essays by international scholars from the U.S. and Europe, gathered together by Gert Buelens, Samuel Durrant, and Robert Eaglestone, innovatively reappraise trauma studies for the future, resituating Euro-American frameworks and models of trauma in postcolonial and global contexts. The volume falls short in largely ignoring gender issues (and less than a third of the contributors are women). In a study that engages with multiple disciplines (including history, philosophy, politics, cultural studies, and sociology) and in which editors claim that trauma theory is "profoundly interdisciplinary" (3), one would perhaps expect an engagement with gender theories. However, with its breadth of focus, the book stands as a solid contribution to the existing scholarship on trauma.

While the volume's first two essays by Dominick LaCapra (one of the founders of trauma theory) and Robert Eaglestone, respectively, advance trauma theory by exploring its beginnings in representations of the Holocaust, which in the 1990s was viewed as the trauma of Western modernity, the majority of The Future of Trauma Theory's essays reconsider core concepts or genres by engaging with biopolitics (Jenny Edkins and Pieter Vermeulen) and science fiction (Roger Luckhurst), or highlight some of the limitations of what Michael Rothberg in the preface calls "classical trauma theory" (xii) in the face of globalization and (post)colonial trauma. Stef Craps, in "Beyond Eurocentrism: Trauma Theory in the Global Age," analyzes Aminatta Foma's work. Craps contradicts Eaglestone's view that the future of trauma theory can be found by investigating it through its deconstructive history and instead sees "breaking with Eurocentrism" by "acknowledging the traumas of non-Westem or minority populations for their own sake" and "on their own terms" as central (48). The relationship of trauma theory to non-Westem minority cultures that concerns Craps is also taken up by Ananya Jahanara Kabir in "Affect, Body, Place: Trauma Theory in the World," in which she analyzes non-narrative cultural products from Cambodia, Angola, and Afghanistan as responses to trauma, underscoring that the future of trauma theory lies in finding tools "that acknowledge the myriad modes of consolation, memorializing and reconciliation which are deployed by traumatized subjects who may never have heard of Sigmund Freud, psychoanalysis and, indeed, 'trauma theory'" (64). …

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