Trauma as a Theory

For this blog post, I chose to focus on a text that came out of one of the scholarly articles that I originally referred to on my reading list. That article was “Speak, Trauma: Toward a Revised Understanding of Literary Trauma Theory” (2014) by Joshua Pederson, which uses trauma theory and psychoanalytic theory as a lens to understand how literature aids in the healing process of people who experience remarkable trauma in their lives. Pederson refers to Cathy Caruth many times in his argument, citing her as “an important first-wave trauma theorist” (Pederson 334) who contributes to the understanding of trauma theory and how trauma, as it is described, shapes history. Because of his references to her, I decided to look into her own texts, which proved to be relevant to my own interest with trauma theory.

For this post, I will be focusing on Caruth’s book Unclaimed Experience: Trauma, Narrative and History (1996), which, in essence, discusses the confusing experiences of trauma, the disparities in explaining trauma from the victim’s perspective, and the consequences of trauma – as it has become more relevant in society – that make it hard to document history based on straightforward experience and reference. Trauma essentially clouds history for those who experience it, causing a biased and sometimes inaccurate portrayal of history.

This book, published in 1996 – not long after her first book, titled Trauma: Explorations in Memory (1995) – is considered one of the first critiques of trauma as it was used in historical references, and Caruth was seen as a trauma theorist who helped to develop the language that surrounded this idea. Her work introduced fairly new ideas in the trauma theory field, which have still stayed relevant today. Her ideas from this book have been cited and referred to in numerous publications, anywhere from peer-reviewed articles and journals to books where chapters are dedicated to her theories – playing to her prestige and the importance and influence that her theories had on trauma theory as a whole. On the same note, Cambridge University hosted a colloquium surrounding her work in 2011, dedicated to discussing and applying her theories to modern day events. Jean Wyatt, another published author, explains that trauma theory “is dominated by the theoretical framework that she [Caruth] introduced” (Wyatt 31).

Caruth’s theories clearly had a lot of clout over the way trauma theory was viewed, and her work is still referred to today in regards to a plethora of historical events. Her theories have been applied to many historical events/groups of people who have experienced trauma – anything from WWII/Holocaust and Japanese internment survivors to Trinidad slaves and the “War on Terror” prisoners of war. Her theories are applicable to all of these traumatic events and the people who experienced these wide-ranging traumas, showing how well thought-out and important her works stand to be.

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