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Feeling the Fleshed Body

The Aftermath of Childhood Rape

Brenda Downing

In 1971, on two separate occasions, Brenda Downing was raped. She was in her final year of primary school. In the immediate aftermath, the shame she harboured, coupled with a failed disclosure the same year, meant she did not risk talking of her experience again until almost thirty years later and did not begin to address the trauma, held frozen in her body, for a further ten years.
In this book, she not only explores her long-term somatic response to the trauma of rape, but also examines the bodily responses of nine other women raped in childhood. Using a combination of somatic inquiry, writing and performance-making, her pioneering reflexive and embodied methodology reveals the raped body as agentic and subversive, with the capacity to express trauma through symptoms not always readily recognized or understood. Her findings have significant implications for the care and treatment of rape victims, for further research into the multiple impacts of sexual trauma, and for materialist knowledge-making practices.


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Chapter Eleven: Coming to knowing through performance-making-as-inquiry


Chapter Eleven Coming to knowing through performance-making-as-inquiry Performing self in front of an audience is, I would argue, the most ‘foreign, scary, (seemingly) uninhabitable, but necessary’ kind of performance because self is, perhaps, the most difficult text to embody. — Tami Spry1 She lies helpless and fragmented, limbs leaden with story, forced ever further into herself by the viscous shame that suffocates and disables her. Fleshed lips cling to each other, tongue recoils from the sharp taste of the narrative of her body. Within the impotent portal of her mouth, her story sits, an impenetrable oral hymen. — Brenda Downing, 2012 I brought into my doctoral research, a keen desire not only to write of the somatic aftermath of childhood rape but also an intense desire for a more multidimensional somatic and aesthetic engagement with the work of this research. I felt a written thesis, woven with the threads of embodied and poetic language, along with the addition of a performance component, as a companion piece to the thesis, could, in combination, satisfy this desire. With the addition of a performance modality, I was convinced I could lift the words off the thesis page in order to, literally, bring the information to life. Through performance I knew I could give the bones of the written language of sexual trauma a heartbeat, a pulse, give them breath. I believed 1 From: Spry, Tami (2011). Body, Paper, Stage: Writing and Performing Autoethnography (171). 258 Chapter Eleven a performance held the potential to drape flesh...

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