- The Ecopoetics of ReparationSebald, Darrieussecq, and Barthes
This article explores the displacement of trauma to the ecopoetics of reparation. Drawing on theories of reparation and textual ecopoetics,1 I examine the ways in which a textual turn to nature—"une sensibilité écologique"2 that encompasses the atomic, cosmological, mineral, animal, and vegetal—serves a reparative function for the effects of trauma. With reference to W. G. Sebald's The Emigrants (2002), Marie Darrieussecq's Tom est mort (2007), and Roland Barthes's Journal de deuil (2009), I analyze reparation from trauma from different ecopoetic perspectives: Sebald's gardens, Darrieussecq's cosmos, and Barthes's animalia. The turn to the ecopoetic enables these writers to rethink trauma outside the co-ordinates of chronological time, the mortal (gendered) body, anthropocentrism, self and identity, and inside an ecopoetical discourse where identity and language is reformed and relearned, and critically where trauma is reframed in a reparative discourse of an "eco-parloir" underpinned by language, imagery, and cultural reference.3
Critics acknowledge that trauma cannot be represented as past but is perpetually reexperienced in a present.4 Intrinsic to this reexperience is the construction of trauma retroactively and the creation of distance from an event to realize its impact. I want to pursue another line of enquiry that addresses trauma in the context of reparation. Marianne Hirsch's recent [End Page 105] work on epimemory is a valuable exploration in this area.5 Positing epimemory as a counterpoint to historical and gendered accounts of trauma, Hirsch identifies the human epidermis as a space of projection to channel memory. Central to her argument is how a methodology of the skin can be transformative in dislodging the personalization of trauma and producing political and aesthetic strategies to repair the experience of trauma. This article sits within this broad reparative framework by investigating the role of ecopoetics on the experience of trauma. Drawing on Freud's concepts of "acting out" and "working through" trauma, Dominick LaCapra (2001) and Mireille Rosello (2010) equate the concept of "acting-out" situations of trauma with a tendency to relive the past. For Freud and LaCapra, this compulsive tendency to repeat trauma is destructive and self-destructive.6 Related to this tendency of "acting out" but also a countervailing force is the concept of "working through," where the tendency is to gain critical distance from a traumatic event. Distinguishing between these two concepts is problematic for LaCapra. He claims that the lines between identification with the other ("acting out") and transcendence of the other ("working through") are blurred.7 However, he acknowledges that neither concept points in the direction of a "redemptive" narrative where redemption is an overarching narrative that resolves the traumatized's experience. Mireille Rosello replaces redemption with reparation as an accommodation between "acting out" and "working through." She echoes LaCapra's argument that two narratives are not only at play but also interact. Interaction is therefore an opportunity for a new type of "breaking free."8 For Rosello the reparative is a dynamic process in which there is an attempt to work through the past without denying one's implication in it and without denying the after-effects of trauma. Set against this interactive and non-redemptive context, I read the reparative as a means of "imagining an alternative out of a seemingly doomed past."9 This approach to the reparative, as Rosello suggests, can be located within a new type of breaking free; not a breaking free fr om the trauma of the past (itself impossible as claimed by LaCapra and Rosello) but, as I claim, into the positive displacement of trauma to the reparative impact of nature.
Ecopoetics (distinct from the Anglo-Saxon variants of ecocriticisim) is primarily a French innovation that addresses how texts approach and write nature:10 "It emphasizes, through the etymology of the poiein, what [End Page 106] is literary." ("il met davantage l'accent, à travers l'étymologie du poiein, sur le fait littéraire.")11 More aesthetic than political, ecopoetics looks to how literary texts represent the historical continuum between the human and nonhuman world. In this respect, ecopoetics is a form of relationality between species...