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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 FOUR: Generic Considerations: Postmodernism and the Trauma Novel: (Coetzee, Pynchon) 151


Chapter Four Generic Considerations: Postmodernism and the Trauma Novel The foregoing interpretation of The White Hotel suggests that the work is best read as a symbolic novel of consciousness rather than as an example of a postmodern novel portraying the multivalent contemporary state of mind that, as Hutcheon puts it, "disturbs and disperses the notion of the individual, coherent subject ... " (166). In my view, Thomas does not subscribe to the postmodern view of the self as an illusory construct. What he does with the literary concept of identity is to add to the modernist depiction of private and unique experience the idea of a collective source for identity formation. The White Hotel engages in the paradox that individuality is at least in part produced by a collective sense of being which may be a refuge when the differentiated sense of self is under severe attack. It is precisely the symbolic nature of this profoundly humanistic text not its supposed postmodernism, I would argue, that allows it to suggest the triumph of the individual human spirit in the face of collective annihilation. The postmodern label that has been attached to many of the texts I have dealt with here is inadequate at best. The trauma novel's view of subjectivity, in fact, is much closer to the modernist postulation of the importance of the integrity of the self in a disintegrating world than it is to the postmodern perspective. The modernist need for mending and the attempt to recover wholeness survives in...

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