- The Splintered Glass: Facets of Trauma in the Post-Colony and Beyond ed. by Dolores Herrero, Sonia Baelo-Allué
The subject of this collection of essays is personal and collective trauma and “the blurring of the two terms in postcolonial narrative in English” (ix). The analyses are engaging and thought-provoking especially when they point to the correlation between the representation of individual trauma in literature and the power of literature to express collective traumas, whether cultural or ethnic. The theoretical background is trauma theories; the literary material consists of works that deal with the traumatic past and the responsibility of memory.
The studies are part of the cultural memory field that describes biological, medial, and social processes that relate the past to the present, a field where the implications of these processes in the cultural and social spheres are examined. An important part of cultural memory is constituted by representations of the traumatic past in various media, with literature offering images of individual and collective memory in narrative form. Holocaust literature and memories of the two world wars usually offer the main material for trauma research; second in terms of the attention received are colonial and post-colonial memories. The present volume offers a possibility of a further development of the theoretical basis of trauma studies through working with a variety of related concepts: the theory of representation, the referentiality of the traumatic memory, the theory of subjectivity, the importance of witnessing and the relation with the aggressor, pathologies of dissociation, the ethics and politics of trauma, the mimetic and the anti-mimetic theory of trauma and the sovereignty vs. autonomy of the subject. It also dwells on the importance of the inter- and intra-subjective processes through which meanings take shape.
The eleven papers of the volume are grouped into three parts. Part I, “From Official History to Individual and Collective Trauma,” deals with the representations of personal and collective/official trauma in literary texts. Part II, “Women [End Page 183] and Cultural/Colonial Trauma,” addresses the experience of women while maintaining the distinction between the private and the public spheres. And in the last part, “The Australian Apology and Trauma of Unbelonging,” we are introduced to the specific complex of Australian issues, such as the “stolen generation,” the Aboriginal genocide, and immigration. The wide diversity of backgrounds, education, and cultural affiliations of the contributors is a major strength of the book.
A point common to all of the essays is that the act of recovery of the traumatic past takes place in relation to a witness. This reflects the dialogic nature of testimony and the mediating role of literature, a locus where the testimony of trauma becomes possible. The writing space is transformed into a comfort zone where the human inter-relationship becomes possible again by virtue of the “empathic listeners or readers to work through trauma” (144).
A well-researched and well-argued introduction offers a conceptual map, reviewing the dominant theories and main lines of criticism in trauma studies and articulating the textual and cross-cultural approach of the volume. It draws on a range of literary works in order to describe the implications of individual trauma for collective identity. Colonial trauma emerges as a collective experience; the psychological and sociological definitions of trauma shed light on both the personal and the collective-cultural domains: “When dealing with postcolonial trauma fiction, it stands to reason that theoretical abstractions should be combined with facts, the psychological with the cultural, in an interdisciplinary approach” (xiv).
Some of the contributors offer very detailed analyses of texts as they deal with a variety of subjects, such as migration, violence, exile, genocide, segregation, loss, intergenerational transmission of trauma, psychic splitting and physical humiliation. The main challenge for each contributor is maintaining a “balanced equation between the individual and the collective dimensions of cultural trauma” (xx).
The first essay addresses the memories of the traumatic Haitian past and the effects of trauma on both the individual and the community via a...