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The Trauma Novel

Contemporary Symbolic Depictions of Collective Disaster


Ronald Granofsky

This study attempts to make sense of a group of novels that deal in a symbolic way with contemporary forms of collective disaster (the prospect of nuclear war, the Holocaust, environmental destruction). It shows similarities among British, American, Canadian and other novels never before grouped together and argues that they constitute a distinct sub-genre of fiction: the trauma novel. In so doing, the book sets forth an original theory about how literary symbolism functions as part of a cultural response to collective trauma.


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CHAPTER ONE: Dealing with "It": The Categorical Challenge of the Trauma Novel: (Carter, Lessing, Hoban, Vonnegut, Amis) 21


Chapter One Dealing with "It": The Categorical Challenge of the Trauma Novel If trauma is understood as a painful experience which defies assimi- lation, it seems reasonable that its fictional depiction should take the form of a challenge to the categories of understanding which we use to assimilate new experiences. The most important of these categories in fiction are time, space, causality, and number. It is not so much that these categories are inoperative in trauma literature; it is that what is being symbolized through their interdependence is the disorienting effect of trauma to an entire system of categorizing thought, by extension, our model of the world. As a temporal art, literature can depict the plastic notion of space only on literature's own terms, discounting the unconventional spatial techniques of Tristram Shandy or the fold-outs in certain children's books (which seldom, alas, retain their spatial integrity for very long). Though in daily life, time is normally described in terms of space-we speak of a "long" or "short" periods of time-the opposite is usually true in the temporal art of fiction: space is represented by temporally-dependent conventions. The interrelation of time and space is made inevitable by the very nature of the literary experience according to Mikhail Bakhtin, who coins the term "chronotope" to designate "the intrinsic connected- ness of temporal and spatial relationships that are artistically expressed in literature," borrowing the idea, he says, from Einstein's Theory of Relativity and making of it "a formally constitutive category of literature" (84)...

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