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Fictionalising Trauma

The Aesthetics of Marguerite Duras’s India Cycle

Sirkka Knuuttila

With Marguerite Duras being the most disputed French artist after World War II, symbolising trauma represents the most problematic crux of contemporary trauma research. This book brings together these troublesome issues by way of integrating Duras’s aesthetics and the challenge of working through major historical trauma. Starting from the concept of an embodied mind as developed in current social neuroscience, the study illuminates the stylistic devices of the famous India Cycle that arose from Duras’s relentless struggle with the trauma of French colonialism. It reveals how converting trauma into fiction can become a powerful emotional strategy for surviving traumatic events, which may provoke necessary changes in our cultural memory through collective sharing.


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Introduction 15


15 Introduction Écrire ce n’est pas raconter des histoires. C’est le contraire de raconter des his- toires. C’est raconter tout à la fois. C’est raconter une histoire et l’absence de cette histoire. C‘est raconter une histoire qui en passe par son absence.1 In her script for Alain Resnais’s film Hiroshima mon amour (1960), Marguerite Duras (1914−1996) famously writes: ‘Impossible de parler de HIROSHIMA. Tout ce qu’on peut faire c’est de parler de l’impossibilité de parler de HIROSHIMA.’ (H, 10; It is impossible to speak about Hiroshima. All one can do is to speak of the impossibility of speaking of Hiroshima). This catch-phrase hits squarely upon the sore point of a major traumatic experience: the persistent dilemma of its translation into narrative. With her early statement, Duras pioneers the post-war theoretical debate on the fictional narrativisation of historical catastrophes and overwhelming events. Remarkably, arising from amidst the post-war legacy of Holocaust testimonies, the fundamental collection of multidisciplinary trauma theories was published delayed only after the Vietnam War in the US (Cathy Caruth (ed.), Trauma: Explorations in Memory, 1995). There psychic trauma was understood as a temporally unlocatable phenomenon which lacks symbolisa- tion, an idea which became canonical in Western trauma research. The definition supposes that knowledge of trauma narrative is composed of two contradictory elements: the traumatic event registered unconsciously, and the memory of the event recurring compulsively. This duality produces a perpetual troping of the traumatic image in the bypassed or severely split psyche, which painfully strives after the...

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