Morta ingaggio il traumatologico versoa contenere queste parole: scrivile sullamia perduta tomba: "essa non scrive, muoreappollaiata sul cestino di cose indigesteincerte le sue manie."—Amelia Rosselli, "Forse morirò, forse ti lascerò queste . . ." in Serie ospedaliera
Dead I engage the traumatic lineto house these words: write them onmy unmarked grave: "this one can't write, she diesroosting on the basket of undigested thingsher manias unclear."—Amelia Rosselli, "Maybe I'll die, maybe I'll leave you these . . ." in Hospital Series
The pressing ethical and critical questions surrounding the relationship between language and traumatic experience that trauma studies have contributed to unravel are now as relevant as ever. As the articles included in this special issue of the Journal of Literature and Trauma Studies demonstrate, the all-encompassing definition of trauma as an experience "built into the basic constitution of human existence"1 proves impractical when it comes to account for the complexity of individual and collective experiences of trauma. The singularity of [End Page 127] testimony as a unique act of transmission that has an irreversible impact on the addressee (individual and collective) to the object of testimony raises fundamental questions about the plausibility of any critical or theoretical analysis applied to trauma and demands for further elaboration. Roger Luckhurst's definition of trauma as "an exemplary conceptual knot . . . one of those distinctive hybrid assemblages . . . that . . . tangle up questions of science, law, technology, capitalism, politics, medicine and risk" helpfully summarizes the complexity of the issue and points at the necessity to explore alternative interpretive pathways.2 If one subscribes to Lockhurst's intricate definition of trauma as a workable hypothesis, questions based on gender analysis ought to be regarded as an essential part of the assemblage.3 Yet, if one asks to what extent and why the gender question is relevant for discussing the concept of trauma, the answer is not so clear-cut.
Over the past few years, theoretical models heavily indebted to psychoanalytic theories (Freudian and Lacanian) of trauma have been put to the test against past and recent catastrophes and compared with other interpretive models,4 while scholars in the field of literary trauma studies have applied "new paradigm[s] that achieve a starkly different destination."5 Shoshana Felman's and Cathy Caruth's pioneering work on the act of witnessing, testimony, and the nature of traumatic experience6 has been followed by new scholarship that has identified "a critical need to address the gender specificity of trauma, not least because women are increasingly making use of aesthetic tools to voice their traumatic versions of history."7 Further investigations into the notions of testimony, memory, and the concept of postmemory have broadened the scope of analysis of individual and collective responses to traumatic experiences so as to include economic, cultural, and social factors.8 In their work on postmemory, Marianne Hirsch and Leo Spitzer have called for a more intense scrutiny on the "act of transfer" of memory from female survivors to future generations and have explored ways in which "the work of postmemory might constitute a platform of activist and interventionist cultural and political engagement, a form of repair and redress, inspired by feminism and other movements for social change."9
In many ways, the proliferation of diverse approaches to trauma and its impact on human life are revealing of the history or, in Lockhurst's words, [End Page 128] the "genealogy"10 of a concept "filled with contradictory theories and contentious debates,"11 which cannot be quickly dismissed. Inscribed in it is the notion of "belated uncertainty," which according to Caruth hinders the possibility of experiencing history in full. The subject is turned into a witness of the impossibility of knowing the origin and the essence of its own condition, a destiny that, for Caruth, is in itself symptomatic of the problems attached to psychoanalysis as a discipline concerned with origins, and in particular with the origins of trauma.12 For the event to be "experienced" at all as traumatic, the subject must embark on a (therapeutic) journey where personal and historical "truths" merge into one narrative of belatedness and dislocation. Caruth characterizes this experience...