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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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Notes 1. My thanks to my colleague David Clark for pointing out this similarity to me. 2. Erving Goffman's concept of frame-breaking, which Betsy Draine applies to this novel, is similar to my idea of an assault on categorization, and I am indebted to it. Goffman too relates the idea of framing to our assimilation of new information about the world around us. Neither Goffman nor Draine, however, suggests the fundamental connection to trauma that I am making nor the symbolic significance of the wall in Lessing's novel. 3. Throughout Memoirs, Lessing uses the word "accommodate" to mean what I reserve for the word "assimilate." 4. As in Hoban's work as well, Amis, at least in "Thinkability," suggests an Oedipal colouring to his portrayal of collective trauma: "I argue with my father about nuclear weapons. In this debate, we are all arguing with our fathers. They emplaced or maintained the status quo. They got it hugely wrong. They failed to see the nature of what they were dealing with-the nature of the weapons-and now they are trapped in the new reality, trapped in the great mistake. Perhaps there will be no hope until they are gone" (11). The Oedipal perspective is not terribly important in Time's Arrow, however. Perhaps the obvious death wish toward his father, couched interestingly in collective terms in the above statement, is evidence merely of an understandable Bloomian anxiety of influence on the part of Kingsley Amis's son. 5. Branscomb cites page 2 of Francis Woodman's...

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