EN6009 Literature Review

Literature and IT Review

The relationship between trauma and its representation in literature has been increasingly studied in academia since the acknowledgment of PTSD in soldiers who survived the Vietnam war in the early eighties. The nineties saw the field of trauma studies in psychoanalysis adopted by theorists such as Cathy Caruth, Dominick LaCapra, Ruth Leys and many more. Using previously studied theories about trauma and PTSD, these theorists created an interdisciplinary approach by tackling subjects such as death, depression, rape, plantocracy and war to name a few. Approaching these studies in light of the work of Jacques Lacan, these writers saw the afformentiones subjects as a base for studying the personal and national, or individual and collective, traumas. Ireland in particular has a wealth of studies undertaken with regards to trauma’s relation to national identity and cultural memory. Researchers have also posed questions in terms of how to best represent trauma in fiction narratives, with various literary forms being suggested as the most appropriate. However, another important topic within the study of trauma in literature is the description and representation of trauma within magical realist texts. While some studies have approached the topic through abstract lenses such as Eugene Arva’s The Traumatic Imagination: Histories of Violence in Magical Realist Fiction, there are few publications revolving around the important connection between Magical Realism and its essential connection to trauma studies. It is thus important for the studies of this dissertation topic to gain a full understanding of the debates and theories that exist in relation to trauma and narrative theory in order to establish a foundation on which the argument for magical realism as a genre that innately represents trauma to be formed with regards to Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude.

Although polemically debated in many scholarly articles online, the work of Cathy Caruth in developing a thesis based on trauma theory is essential. Trauma: Explorations in Memory, edited by Caruth, is an anthology of works of critical analysis on trauma studies. Pieces included in the book are written by Harold Bloom, Shoshana Felman and Georges Baitaille. With the diverse collection of writers included, the book provides an essential grounding for the stud of trauma theory, with everyhing from poetry to HIV being discussed. Caruth herself focuses on the important connection between history and trauma studies. Caruth’s Unclaimed Experience: Trauma, Narrative, and History emphasizes the notion of ‘belatedness’ as being essential to the study of trauma in texts. Including a study on Alain Resnais’s and Marguerite Duras’s film, Hiroshima mon amour, the diverse literary texts undertaken in this study provide an interesting application of trauma studies and literature. Although foundational, it is important not to research some of the problems that may exist in Caruth’s arguments. Trauma: A Genealogy, written by Ruth Leys, critiques Caruth as generalizing and diluting the arguments involved in trauma studies.

Worlds of Hurt: Reading the Literatures of Trauma by Kali Tal is another important and enlightening  work in the field of trauma studies through its detailed analysis of both soldiers involved in the atrocities of war and individuals who have been subjected to sexual abuse. Tal argues that these individuals have to relate their traumatic experiences to a larger collective trauma. In order to read this text a competency in Freud is required and it is beneficial to read his “Remembering, Repeating and Working-Through”, “Mourning & Melancholia” and “Screen Memories”.

Anne Whitehead’s Memory provides a base on which to build knowledge on memory’s relationship with trauma. The book presents ideas on the nature of memory and ighlights key debates existing about memory, culture and history. The work also provides connections between the various literary representations of memory, from the Classics to present-day.

Jane Kilby’s Violence and the Cultural Politics of Trauma offers an exposition of the debates surrounding survivor testimony and ‘speaking out’ against violence. Although it provides an innovative feminist approach to sufferers of trauma’s experiences through case studies, for the purposes of studying magical realism it is slightly off-topic.

While not a book focussing on trauma studies, Latino Dreams: Transcultural Traffic and the U.S National Imaginary by Paul Allatson provides an enlightening number of analyses on the topics of Latino identity in the U.S.A, Creole national fantasy, cultural cannibalization, representations of ‘paradise’ and much more. It is beneficial in relation to the purpose of this dissertation through its discussions on whiteness, violence, plantocracy and the experiences of ‘the other’ attempting to achiece the American dream.

Dominick LaCapra’s work Writing History, Writing Trauma provides an in-depth analysis of trauma and the influence it holds within culture and communities. LaCapra explores the relationship between trauma and the historical past, highlighting the need for the deliniation between historical and transhistorical traumas. Representing the Holocaust: History, Theory, Trauma contains a collection of essays by LaCapra highlighting a psychoanalytic approach to trauma studies. The text is important for the purpose of this dissertation research in LaCapra’s analysis of both historiographical and interpersonal representations of trauma. He also places a focus on the “working through” of trauma as a goal for representing traumatic pasts such as the Holocaust.

Toward a Theory of Cultural Trauma by Jeffrey Alexander brings together five sociologists’ work  in an attempt to create a theoretical model for cultural traums in terms of sociology. Adopting a constructivist mindset in order to form this model, the book is important in its discussions of the existing debates on cultural and collective traumas in relation to the community and the individual.

Another essential text in developing a grounding in trauma theory is Tense Past: Cultural Essays in Trauma and Memory. Containing sections with academic essays in the fields of psychiatry and anthropology, this book highlights the the idea of memory as a sociocultural construction and its existence within a historical context. Important ideas relating to ideas of identity and personhood in relation to trauma and history are also discussed throughout the text.


Alexander, Jeffrey. “Towards a Theory of Cultural Trauma.” Cultural Trauma and Collective Identity. Ed. Alexander, et al. Berkeley: University California Press, 2004.

Allatson, Paul. Latino Dreams: Transcultural Traffic and the U.S. National Imaginary. New York: Rodopi Press, 2002.

Antze, Paul, and Michael Lambek, eds. Tense Past: Cultural Essays in Trauma and Memory. New York: Routledge, 1996.

Arva, Eugene. The Traumatic Imagination; Shock Chronotopes and Hyperreality in Magical Realist Writing. NY: Cambria Press, 2006.

Caruth, Cathy. Trauma: Explorations in Memory. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1995.

Caruth, Cathy. Unclaimed Experience: Trauma, Narrative, and History. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1996.

Freud, Sigmund, James Strachey, Anna Freud, and Angela Richards. The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud. London: Hogarth the Institute of Psychoanalysis, 1974.

Kilby, Jane. Violence and the Cultural Politics of Trauma. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2007.

LaCapra, Dominick. Representing the Holocaust: History, Theory, Trauma. NY: Cornell University Press, 1994.

LaCapra, Dominick. Writing History, Writing Trauma. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2001.

Leys, Ruth. Trauma: A Genealogy. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000.

Tal, Kali. Worlds of Hurt: Reading the Literatures of Trauma. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004.

Whitehead, Anne. Memory. London; New York: Routledge, 2009.