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university of toronto quarterly, volume 73, number 2, spring 2004 ATO QUAYSON Symbolization Compulsion: Testing a Psychoanalytical Category on Postcolonial African Literature In Calibrations: Reading for the Social (2003) I elaborated the concept of symbolization compulsions as a way of describing what I perceived as a repeated feature in literary texts detailing traumatic states.1 This is how I provisionally defined it: >Symbolization compulsion is the drive towards an insistent metaphorical register even when this register does not help to develop the action, define character or spectacle, or create atmosphere. It seems to be symbolization for its own sake, but in fact is a sign of a latent problem.= I drew upon a largely Freudian psychoanalytic framework, elaborating the concept from a conflation of his insights on trauma and the uncanny in >Moses and Monotheism,= >Beyond the Pleasure Principle,= and his 1919 essay on the uncanny. I sought to bring together Freudian concepts, namely his idea of the repetition compulsion that was attendant upon the recall of traumatic events, the latency that resided in the memory of such states, and, from the perspective of the uncanny, the fear of dismemberment that for him is central to an understanding of the uncanny. However, counter to Freud=s tracing of the uncanny to the affective economy of childhood, I suggested that the uncanny might be properly thought of as the conversion of the inchoate perception of systemic disorder into a negative affect. In the face of persistent physical or social violence brought on either by acute political chaos or the general collapse of the social order, there is an internalization of these perceived disorders in terms of either guilt, an inexplicable terror, or a general sense of disquiet that does not seem to have a clear source. I also sought to show that with regard to the difficulty that Freud speaks of about the precise recalling of details of traumatic events, there was room to think of such difficulties in terms of the destabilization of the referential locus of the traumatic event. For me this raised supplementary questions about how a fraught traumatic history might be discussed in the present. The rest of the chapter was devoted to explicating some of these insights with respect to certain literary representations of trauma in African literature. For this I turned to Yvonne 1 I have been pursuing this particular line of inquiry for a long time and it appears to be an unending work-in-progress. An earlier version of my reflections on the matter appeared in the Cambridge Quarterly 30:2 (2001), 191B214; it is to the more extended version in Calibrations that I want to append these additional reflections. See ch 4 of that work. symbolization compulsion 755 university of toronto quarterly, volume 73, number 2, spring 2004 Vera=s Without a Name, Dambudzo Marechera=s The House of Hunger, and Antjie Krog=s Country of My Skull. I then moved on to explore how some of these insights might be applicable to a discussion of South Africa=s process of truth and reconciliation. It seems to me now that the concept of symbolization compulsions requires some further elaboration. As a concept that has taken a long time in gestation, it seems to have acquired its own expansive logic and rhythm within my wider intellectual concerns. Calibrations as a whole attempted to transfer insights from the literary aesthetic domain towards an understanding of the social, and in the wider context of the unfolding argument of the book, the chapter on symbolization compulsions did not seem to require special justification. Once considered on its own terms, and in the light of postcolonialism, however, the justification for using a psychoanalytical model is no longer self-evident. Even though the definition of symbolization compulsion I adduced was adequate to the task at hand, I feel now that there are several subcategories of symbolization compulsion to be discerned in literary writing and that that might be relevant for wider discussions regarding the relationship between postcolonialism and trauma. At any rate, by choosing texts that clearly portrayed mentally disturbed states, I automatically made my term self-illustrative. How, we must now ask, would we be able to...


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