The ethics of silence : reading the lover's discourse in contemporary trauma narratives
Goh, Pei Hua
Date of Issue2017
School of Humanities and Social Sciences
In Testimony, Felman and Laub contend that a historical and collective trauma like the Holocaust cannot be represented, and cannot be understood, because it lacks a frame of reference. Indeed, a frame of reference for such a traumatic experience does not, and cannot, exist in the first place. Similarly, Caruth’s trauma framework postulates the incomprehensibility of trauma and its “affront to understanding” (154) which underlines the impossibility of articulating trauma. Therefore, although the need to speak is, for trauma victims, itself pivotal to survival, there is a dilemma: “To speak is impossible, and not to speak is impossible” (160). She therefore proposes a “transmission of the gap” (156) where writing has to “write against itself” (39) in conveying the very impossibility of representation. Caruth endorses the power of literature as the only suitable medium of representation in conveying historical impossibility and suffering, while not betraying the horrors of historical trauma like the Holocaust. Felman and Laub agree that the inability of representing the Holocaust, the impossibility of fixing an absolute meaning and claiming full understanding, lies in a “historical failure of imagination” (108). According to Felman and Laub, it is precisely this failure which paradoxically calls for the need for an “imaginative medium” (108) like literature, which allows room for indirect representation and limitless interpretation rather than a claim to absolute truth. This is even more significant for third generation Holocaust writers like Krauss, for whom the Holocaust itself has already become “an increasingly mediated cultural memory” (Krignen 5). Therefore, literature is a particularly suitable medium for engaging with an unspeakable and inaccessible subject matter that cannot be directly approached. The inability to articulate trauma lies in the nature of trauma as a “temporal delay” (10), where trauma is not understood at the time itself, but only after the traumatic event in question has already passed. In this sense, Caruth asserts that trauma is a “repeated suffering of the event”, a suffering which accompanies the “impossibility of knowing that first constituted it” (10). Caruth further postulates that trauma can only exist as lived experience, because it cannot be understood at the moment of occurrence itself, but is rather repeatedly lived through; indeed, survival itself can be a kind of trauma: “it is not only the moment of the event, but of the passing out of it that is traumatic; that survival itself, in other words, can be a crisis” (9). According to Caruth’s trauma framework, there appears to be no way out of trauma as long as there is an inability to speak of trauma.
Final Year Project (FYP)
Nanyang Technological University