- The Mind's Eye: Image and Memory in Writing about Trauma
Interdisciplinary scholarship on trauma has accelerated since the events of September 11, 2001. A field of inquiry that in the 1990s appeared to integrate the theoretical work of psychoanalysis and deconstruction and to reinvigorate the social credibility of identity politics (Kilby 217–19), trauma studies has moved even farther away from medicine and psychiatry during the past half decade. Since 2001, trauma is thought to be our shared condition; consequently, in addition to courses that address the traumatic effects of specific historical occurrences, professors across disciplines have designed courses that examine the characteristics of our collective traumatized state. They have also written books and articles on trauma, and formed professional organizations that host conferences and produce documents outlining best practices. Some of this work retains medical or psychiatric grounding; however, some does not. For example, pedagogical scholarship on writing and trauma, loosely connected to expressivist composition pedagogy from the 1960s, veers so far away from clinical understanding of trauma that pivotal studies correlating writing and healing from trauma actively exclude participants diagnosed with post-traumatic stress syndrome (PTSD), or limit discussion of results to data derived from participants without a PTSD diagnosis. Consequently, these studies make claims about the power of writing to heal trauma that employ an overly general, pedestrian notion of trauma as a wide variety of difficult emotional experiences, a large number of which everyone goes through without developing trauma symptoms, derived from work with a clinically non-traumatized population of participants.
Marian Mesrobian MacCurdy's The Mind's Eye: Image and Memory in Writing about Traumafits into this category of scholarship. In her 2001 review of Writing and Healing: Toward an Informed Practice, a collection of essays that MacCurdy edited with Charles M. Anderson, Laura R. Micciche notes that the editors "conceive writing as an instrument of healing, one that can be taught by university writing teachers." Micciche, who has published a number of articles on the rhetoric of emotion, appreciates Anderson and MacCurdy's effort to "engage in a double move to launch a long overdue study of pathos in composition studies and to (re)insert the concept of agency into discussions [End Page 269]about student writing." According to Micciche, the editors argue for an informed practice of writing pedagogy to accomplish these goals that takes into account students' decisions to write essays about trauma whether they are assigned such topics or not. Since students do write about upsetting events in their lives, Anderson and MacCurdy insist that writing teachers need to develop skills for responding to the trauma appearing in students' work. 1Micciche agrees, concluding that Anderson and MacCurdy's collection "make(s) a strong case for reexamining some of the theoretical positions that fail to consider the affective dimensions of learning and teaching," and encouraging "educators who wish to explore the emotional contexts that shape the work we do in our classrooms and in our professional lives" to read their book.
MacCurdy's newest book, The Mind's Eye: Image and Memory in Writing about Trauma, continues exploring the concerns she and Anderson raise in Writing and Healing. However, this text spends more time critiquing "relations between personal writing and the academy" and offering pedagogical advice, two of the weaknesses Micciche identifies in Writing and Healing. MacCurdy does so, though, by relying heavily on the work of Jeffrey Berman, whose essay with Jonathan Schiff in Writing and Healing, Micciche points out, is "among the most troubling in the volume," because it "raises some serious questions about the ethics of making student disclosure the primary content," and it "lack[s] . . . sustained discussion about the teacher's role in such a classroom." MacCurdy turns to Berman for much of the pedagogical justification in The Mind's Eye; consequently, her additions—especially her interpretations of students' healing through writing for her class—take on the challenge Micciche poses not by reducing, as MacCurdy might intend, but by...