Trauma and Literature: Derrida, 9/11 and Hart's the Reconstructionist

By Olivier, Bert | Journal of Literary Studies, March 2008 | Go to article overview

Trauma and Literature: Derrida, 9/11 and Hart's the Reconstructionist


Olivier, Bert, Journal of Literary Studies


Summary

Is "trauma" a viable category in literary theory? That is, could "trauma" be articulated in such a way that, in addition to its acknowledged diagnostic and therapeutic function in psychology and psychoanalysis, it may be shown to have a distinct hermeneutic function where literary fiction is concerned--regarding the generation of the narrative thread, for example? This article investigates these questions in the light of the meaning of "trauma", largely in relation to the event of September 11, as formulated by Jacques Derrida. The affinity of Derrida's conceptualisation with that of Lacanian psychoanalysis is noted, and with that in mind, the narrative complications of Josephine Hart's The Reconstructionist (2002) are examined with a view to demonstrating the theoretical, heuristic and hermeneutic value of "trauma" at an intratextual level.

Opsomming

Is "trauma" 'n lewensvatbare kategorie vir literere teorie? Met ander woorde, kan aangetoon word dat "trauma" 'n duidelike hermeneutiese funksie bet met betrekking tot literere fiksie--byvoorbeeld sover dit narratiewe ontwikkeling aangaan--bo en behalwe die erkende diagnostiese en terapeutiese funksie wat dit in psigologie en psigoanalise het? Hierdie artikel ondersoek genoemde vrae in die lig van die betekenis van "trauma", grootliks met betrekking tot die gebeurtenis van 11 September, soos deur Jacques Derrida geformuleer. Die ooreenkoms tussen Derrida se konseptualisering en die van Lacaniaanse psigoanalise word aangetoon, en die narratiewe komplikasies van Josephine Hart se The Reconstructionist (2002) word ondersoek ten einde die teoretiese, heuristiese en hermeneutiese waarde van "trauma" op 'n intratekstuele vlak te demonstreer.

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Jack Harrington, a psychiatrist, has an uncommonly beautiful, but evidently unhappy, sister, Kate. From time to time she requires of him to help her, lest she "sink", or "fall". Sometimes this assistance assumes the form of a ritual, initially resisted by him when she sets it in motion, where they dance together in a quasi-formal manner, naked, with their clothes neatly folded on a chair, to music that only they can hear. And always, always, Jack has to be alert to the minutest signal that Kate is about to disintegrate. As the story unfurls its various layers, one realises that, lurking somewhere in their shared memories, but with more lethal gravity for her than for him, there is some unspeakable thing, some trauma, which has ruptured the psychic canopy of their lives, for her perhaps in an irreparable way. Nevertheless, when the need arises, he "repairs", or "reconstructs", it as best he can with the means at his disposal, which are, largely, linguistic--Freud's "talking cure"--in conjunction with other symbolic, signifying acts.

Jack is divorced, as is Kate, but marriage has been proposed to her by a very wealthy member of the London upper class and a civilised, intelligent and understanding man into the bargain, someone who just might be able, at last, to give her the symbolic protection she so desperately needs, and that Jack has always provided in her life. But then he is compelled to return to the family house (aptly named Malamore) in Ireland where he and Kate grew up together, and in retrospect the terrible circumstances of the traumatic event that interrupted their childhood re-emerge piece by piece. The question then obtrudes itself irresistibly, namely, what should be done about the house to ensure Kate's psychic survival. When the reader of the tale that I have briefly reconstructed here, finally discovers (near the end of the narrative) what this "event" was, it is fully evident, for the first time, why Jack is, or has had to be, the eponymous "reconstructionist" of the narrative. It also drives home to the reader that the narrative of Josephine Hart's novel, The Reconstructionist (2002), crucially revolves around, or turns on, a specific trauma. To put it differently, "trauma" turns out to be the central literary, intratextual, narratological category in terms of which the narrative thread spins itself out in this novel. …

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