Reporting from the Edge of Reality: Writing as Phantom Limb in Goretti Kyomuhendo's Fiction
Armstrong, Andrew H., Journal of International Women's Studies
Traumatism as an opening to the future of the wound is the promise of a text.
Helene Cixous, Stigmata
Literary criticism [...] has a crucial role to play in furthering our understanding of how traumatic experience can be put into words and what kind of status such a narrative might have.
Kathryn Robson, Writing Wounds: The Inscription of Trauma in Post1968 French Women's Life-Writing
In this paper I have explored the ways in which Ugandan writer Goretti Kyomuhendo writes of the effects of extreme violence in the African Great Lakes Region on female subjectivities by thematizing the dynamics of oppression and submission in postcolonial Africa. I have paid particular attention to the ways that Kyomuhendo's fiction focalizeds the narrators'/protagonists' acts of telling by foregrounding the imperiled female within the dangerous masculine spaces of the socially dislocated and displaced societies. The two texts I have focused on narrate extreme violence from the perspectives of displaced female protagonists, highlighting the notion of displaced subjectivity by foregrounding the female body as abject and marked--a thing to be violently 'written' on and as a site of amputation and disablement. Kyomuhendo's fiction here can be read as writing against another 'disablement'--in this case that of the female voice, silenced as a result of masculinist violence. I have argued moreover, that the writing here, the acts of narration, functions as a phantom limb enabling a 'bearing of witness' to the traumas of their protagonists.
Keywords: trauma, narrative, extreme violence, masculinist violence, phantom limb.
In Goretti Kyomuhendo's novel Secrets No More (1999), and the short story "Do You Remember?" (2003), the narrators perform acts of telling that focus on the narrativization of the effects of extreme violence on the female body as a result of the Rwandan genocide (the simusiga) (1) and social turbulence in the Great Lakes Region of Africa. The texts dramatize and thematize ways of viewing the dynamics of oppression and submission in postcolonial Africa as this affects the lives of women in particular by foregrounding imperiled female bodies within dangerous masculine spaces. In showing how literary criticism may play a crucial role in helping our understanding of extreme violence and traumatic experiences, I have paid particular attention in this paper to the ways that Kyomuhendo writes, in what may be termed 'literary language', intimate bodily violence against women and the resultant trauma and attempts at recovery. By linking narratives of suffering and displacement by their female protagonists, to wider socio-historical concerns, often linking story and testimony, the narrators perform the task of creating a phantom limb that enables a 'bearing of witness' to the traumas of their protagonists. By so doing, the narrators negate silence as a perpetrator/accomplice of pain and opt instead to speak through the wounds of traumatic memory/recall, giving force to the realization that survival is often in the act of speaking/writing. The two texts therefore focalize extreme violence from the perspectives of displaced female protagonists, highlighting the notion of displaced subjectivity by focusing on the female body as abject and marked--a thing to be violently 'written' on and as a site of amputation and disablement. The two stories told, in the language of Helene Cixous, "share the trace of a wound" and are "caused by a blow [...] the transfiguration of a spilling of blood" (Stigmata XI). In fact, as Kathryn Robson has shown in her discussion of trauma in post1968 French women life-writing: "Narratives of trauma [...] emerge from the wound, from between injury and healing, a time when the effects of trauma remain as powerful and as insistent as ever" (28). Kyomuhendo's fiction, as a narrative of trauma, emerges from the "wounds" of her female protagonists, and may be read as an attempt to "transfigure" such a spilling of blood in cases of extreme violence. …