The Poetry of Louise Gluck: A Thematic Introduction

By Daniel Morris | Go to book overview

Chapter Five

Challenging Trauma Theory
Witnessing Divine Mystery

In the struggle to put words to inexpressible episodes of grief and loss, Glück’s writing fits well into theories of traumatic witnessing that give priority to horrible experience. The psychological scars traced in “The Untrustworthy Speaker” (AR) and “Archipelago” (HM) give rise to the witness’s fragmentary words, which signal the gap between what a survivor can say about the experience of a catastrophic event and what one cannot describe with anything like historical accuracy. Trauma theory, as Sandor Goodhart has observed, serves “as a way of talking about an interruption that comes from outside,” and thus “that maintains a relation to the events preceding its appearance.”1 Trauma theory gives priority to inexpressibly horrible experience—be it war shock, the Shoah, or sexual abuse—in a phenomenal realm that the author was never able, in Caruth’s formulation, to consciously “own” in the first place. In commenting on the variety of witnesses to Jesus’ mysterious appearance as the fully human figure who is also fully divine, Glück adds a transcendental biblical corollary to the sort of traumatic witnessing found in “The Untrustworthy Speaker” (AR). In “Winter Morning” (TA), she writes: “And there were other witnesses / though they were all blind, / they were all swayed by love—” (FFB 163).

“Winter Morning” (TA) and several other poems dealing with the figure of Jesus can be interpreted as foregrounding the issue of witnessing, through the accounts of cathartic experiences that involve divine insight. Like the Old Testament witnesses to divinity (such as that of the stammering prophet to Hassem, who leaves His mark in the radiance of Moses’ face, or in Jacob’s

1. Sandor Goodhart, Sacrificing Commentary: Reading the End of Literature (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1996), 27.

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