Academic journal article Journal of Haitian Studies

Wounds Seen and Unseen: The Workings of Trauma in Raoul Peck's Haitian Corner and Edwidge Danticat's the Dew Breaker

Academic journal article Journal of Haitian Studies

Wounds Seen and Unseen: The Workings of Trauma in Raoul Peck's Haitian Corner and Edwidge Danticat's the Dew Breaker

Article excerpt

Drawing on recent réévaluations of trauma theory from a postcolonial perspective, this article comparatively explores Haitian filmmaker Raoul Peck's 1988 work Haitian Corner and Haitian American writer Edwidge Danticat's 2004 novel The Dew Breaker. I argue that these two forms of cultural production about contemporary Haiti and its diaspora engage the psyche as well as the body as sites of trauma. They do so both through their characters and in the form that their narratives take, characterized as they are by an aesthetics of fragmentation that seems to "reproduce the 'symptoms' of disjunctive 'temporality and causality' that characterize narratives of trauma."1 As Jo Collins states about The Dew Breaker, "The text splits into often disconnected 'chapters,' moves unsystematically across different spatialities and temporalities, and coalesces through fragmented sections that comprise the chapters, a kind of violence perpetrated on the text itself."2 Though Peck's Haitian Corner is mostly linear, there are several moments when the past irrupts into the present as the protagonist's memories of his torture in a Haitian prison, years before, resurface. Phis fragmented narrative structure is in turn reflective of the tortured person's sense of self, which, Michael Flynn and Fabiola F. Salek assert, is also "usually very fragmented."3 Such a narrative form mimetically represents the traumatized person's inability to integrate the traumatic experience into his or her existing framework. It illustrates the way that, as psychoanalyst Cathy Caruth posits, one's response to trauma is often delayed and uncontrolled, making repeated appearances in the form of hallucination and other intrusive phenomena such as in "fragmented sensory or motoric experiences" or through flashbacks and nightmares.4

A C ONTEXTUALIZATION OF TRAUMA THEORY AND ITS RETHINKING

With its roots in the social sciences, the field of trauma studies is largely defined by the work of Caruth, whose groundbreaking edited publication Trauma: Explorations in Memory (1995) was a multidisciplinary approach to trauma theory. The theory's foundation rests on Caruth's proposal that the pathology of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) "consists . . . solely in the structure of its experience or reception: the event is not assimilated or experienced fully at the time, but only belatedly, in its repeated possession of the one who experiences it. To be traumatized is precisely to be possessed by an image or event.'" Consequently, the irruption of one time into another, as a form of possession or haunting, represents a kind of disjunction of temporality, a surfacing of the past in the present that may take the form of flashbacks and nightmares.6 Beyond the social sciences, Caruth's theory has implications for the humanities-in particular, literature as well as film-as it suggests that if trauma can be put into a narrative form, it requires one that departs from a conventional linear sequence. Finding that the impact of trauma can be adequately represented only by mimicking its forms and symptoms, novelists and filmmakers who explore trauma and its effects deploy repetition and indirection, temporal and chronological collapse as well as fragmentation, to tell the stories they wish to tell.'

Caruth's 1996 Unclaimed Experience: Trauma, Narrative and History contributes still more to the field of trauma studies and, by extension, trauma fiction. Drawing on Sigmund Freud's work on trauma, which expands the Greek word for an injury inflicted on the body in order to address psychological wounds, she argues-based on Freud's reading- that there is an unbridgeable divide between the mind and the body and that criteria for identification and expression cannot be extended from one to the other. In fact, she proposes, "the wound of the mind the breach in the mind's experience of time, self, and the world-is not, like the wound of the body, a simple and healable event."8 Of course, the problem with Freud's formulation and Caruth's interpretation is that the wound of the body is not so "simple. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.