The future of trauma theory - Edited by Gert Buelens, Sam Durrant and Robert Eaglestone 2008
Politics and subjectivity
Science fiction and the trauma paradigm
How do you cope with tomorrow when (a) it may not be like the real tomorrow but (b) it’s arrived when you weren’t ready for it?
John Brunner, The Shockwave Rider (228)
In 1970, the American journalist Alvin Toffler published Future Shock, which became a bestseller and helped define an era. The book, mixing political commentary and summaries of psychological research, was a response to the violence and unrest of the 1960s. It argued that the social turmoil and a divided American polity that had produced assassinations, student demos, hippy dropouts, and conservative counter-reactions were all the products of an unprecedented ’accelerative thrust’ in technology in advanced capitalist countries (11). Toffler pointed to the exponential expansion of cities, the increasing speed and complexity of transport and communication systems, and guessed that just-emerging computer automation would be likely to produce even greater revolutionary changes in the immediate future. Without a plan, he prophesied, humans were ’doomed to a massive adaptational breakdown’ (11). In later chapters, using the latest psychological studies, Toffler came to define future shock as ’the distress, both physical and psychological, that arrives from an overload of the human organism’s physical adaptive systems and its decision-making processes … Its symptoms … range all the way from anxiety, hostility to helpful authority, and seemingly senseless violence, to physical illness, depression and apathy’ (297).
For biological authority, Toffler cited many studies that analyse the detrimental effects of persistently raised levels of catecholamines such as adrenaline on the nervous and endocrinal systems. Readers today might note that this is not — as yet — framed in the language of ’trauma’. Hans Selye’s metaphor of stress on these systems, first theorized in the 1950s, is certainly used by Toffler, although often in quotation marks, as if the term ’stress’ has not quite finished its journey from specialist to everyday language. Since the 1980s, however, many theories of trauma have used similar studies to formulate the neuroendrocrinological basis of post-traumatic stress (see Young). What people remember about Toffler is the snappy phrase ’future shock’ that grasps the headlong forward tilt of advanced capitalist modernity in its accelerated cycles of novelty and obsolescence, tripping on the heels of its own futurity. But one of the blindnesses of Toffler’s Future Shock was its failure to predict how the psychological language of ’adaptational breakdown’ or ’environmental overstimulation’ would be almost entirely replaced by the pervasive discourse of trauma.
Toffler was writing before the advent of post-traumatic stress in 1980, yet he might still have noted that it had long been established that notions of psychological trauma had been inextricably bound up with the emergence of modern technologies. Notions of disruptive psychological sequelae following a shock event were first formulated by medical specialists in relation to train accidents in the 1860s. ’Railway spine’, as it was called, was ’the first attempt to explain industrial traumata’ (Schivelbusch 168), a theory that rested controversially on the cusp of physiological and psychological explanations. Soon enough, Victorian medics spoke about the mental and physical depredations of modern urban life, prompting the emergence of terms like neurasthenia (sometimes called ’Londonism’) in the writings and treatments of mid-century doctors like Silas Weir Mitchell. Moral and physical degeneration, a catastrophic slide down the evolutionary scale within one or two generations, was often explicitly associated with the nervous overstimulation of urban life. ’Even the little shocks of railway travelling … the perpetual noises, the various sights in the streets of a large town, or suspense pending the sequel of progressing events, the constant expectation of the newspaper, of the postman, of visitors, cost our brains wear and tear’, the conservative commentator Max Nordau wrote in 1895 (39). Walter Benjamin explicitly borrowed the language of ’traumatic shock’ from Freud to portray the modern city as a series of ’shocks and collisions’ (155, 171). If the railway was the first ’machine ensemble’ into which men were passively inserted and subject to the traumatic consequences of systems failure, the technologies of ’total war’ after 1914 engineered a whole new set of trauma subjects, the shell shocked or NYDNs (not yet diagnosed — nervous). The inclusion of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in the official diagnostic manual of the American Psychiatric Association in 1980 was partly the result of psychiatric advocacy on behalf of Vietnam war veterans. The increasing use of technological prostheses through which contemporary warfare is executed has not diminished the amount of casualties from PTSD. Indeed, it has fostered new areas of cusp controversy between competing physical or psychic origins, such as Gulf War syndrome. And as the wired-in, webbed and networked computerized present of the third industrial revolution transforms subjectivity, narratives of the potential traumatic impact of these technologies on the meanings of the ’human’ multiply, often simply repeating terms that Toffler had himself borrowed (see, for instance, Carr).
Trauma studies — this vast set of inter-related fields that emerged in the 1990s — has not been much concerned with the future. It inevitably begins with what it is that returns from the past or which remains so insistently in the present, such that unprocessed trauma might be figured as that which puts pressure on the very possibility of a future. As an emergent scholarly formation, though, trauma studies has reached a point where it is beginning to reflect on its future directions. In the recent collection The Future of Memory, however, there is a suspicion about both technological prosthetics of memory and neuroscientific explanations if they threaten to ’assume a master status’ above psychodynamic and cultural conceptions (Crownshaw et al. xi). The future here seems very much like a refinement of the arguments of the past in the discourse of cultural memory, even retrenching somewhat against the perceived growing authority of neurological science.
Meanwhile there is, of course, a whole cultural genre that deals in the futures that technological and scientific advance might bring, and which has had fascinating things to say about subjects under the stress of ’future shock.’ Science fiction (SF) is the written and visual culture of technologically saturated societies, often reflecting on nothing less than the collision of technology and subjectivity (Luckhurst 2005). Yet SF has barely featured in the literary wing of trauma studies, probably because, as I’ve argued elsewhere (Luckhurst 2008), there have been prescriptive tendencies around what is considered to be an appropriate aesthetics for the representation of trauma. In short, trauma aesthetics has tended to favour Modernist tactics of foregrounded difficult and disrupted representation and form to convey trauma, and therefore been suspicious of the investment in narrative pleasure often equated with mass cultural forms like SF.
This essay is the briefest of sketches about how we might bring into conjuncture trauma studies and SF. This will move from merely incorporating SF into the purview of trauma studies to suggest that the most challenging contemporary science fictions, precisely because they dismantle any recognizable human subject in challenging ways, intimate that we might need a rethinking of trauma itself even now, as imagined futures outgrow the psychodynamic frameworks that dominate conceptions of cultural trauma.
>NEW HARDWARE DETECTED
The relatively short history of academic criticism of SF has been dominated by Darko Suvin’s crisp definition that it works through the principal device of ’cognitive estrangement’ (61). SF offers an imaginative world different (estranged) in greater or lesser degree from the empirical world of the writer or reader/viewer, but it is different in a way that obeys rational causation or scientific law (it is estranged cognitively). An SF future is thus one that is meant to extrapolate consistently from tendencies within its current empirical environment. Whatever the limits of this definition (and they are manifold and much debated), Suvin at least established that SF could have serious ambitions because it was principally an allegorical form, made of fictions that could offer sustained social and political commentary on the cultures of their production in ways that more culturally sanctioned modes of representation perhaps sometimes could not.
One might argue that the emergence of generic scientific romances in the late nineteenth century (the term ’science fiction’ was only coined in 1926) was the very consequence of a technological revolution in the electronic telecommunications that so often formed its subject. As Friedrich Kittler has observed of the era 1880—1920, ’in the founding age of technological media the terror of their novelty was so overwhelming that literature registered it more acutely’ (xl). One of the pioneers of the scientific romance, H. G. Wells, undertook training in science education under T. H. Huxley at the Normal School of Science before beginning to write. His fictions of the 1890s registered the traumatic impacts of evolutionary thought and rapid technological advance, consistently toppling the imperious position of complacent Victorian man. In his early books, before his turn to technocratic utopias, enlightened science always slides inexorably towards Gothic horror, as in the cannibalistic Morlocks of The Time Machine, the animal—human splices of The Island of Dr Moreau or the efficient exterminations by our merciless biological superiors in War of the Worlds. Indeed, Wells contributed to a burgeoning popular genre of near future catastrophism, invasion and apocalyptic end that has surfaced and resurfaced at distinct historical junctures, as in the rash of contemporary ecological disasters and zombie apocalypses. Fictions of future shock on such a cataclysmic scale allegorize the felt traumas of dis-possession, the techno-cultural recasting of the boundaries of body and self under the relentless acceleration of neo-liberal economics (see Williams; Žižek). Contemporary horror in particular, as is often noted, is held together by the syntax of trauma (see, for instance, Lowenstein).
But it isn’t always necessary to stretch this far for allegorical readings. As in so many areas of cultural life, the psychology of trauma can become a means to decrypt and translate recalcitrant forms of popular culture as displaced traumatic expressions. So, for instance, the difficult, avant-garde SF of J. G. Ballard was for a long time pushed to the margins of extreme fiction. His most provocative experimental work, The Atrocity Exhibition, made up of diverse textual interventions in the late 1960s that pushed at the limits of libel and obscenity, was set in a dystopian near future and concerned the dissolution of the self under relentless technological innovation and media bombardment. The protagonist is so effectively future shocked by intensifications of technological mediation that he is simply dispersed into global telecom networks, what Marshall McLuhan was already calling ’the extensions of man’. Similarly, Ballard’s Crash explored a perverse rerouting of sexual desire into the matrix of motorway systems, cars, and violent collision, thus projecting an intensified alternate present marked by the techno-cultural inversion of traumatic pain for pleasure. The novel and later film of Crash were routinely condemned, but also, equally routinely, incorporated into burgeoning trauma theory (see Barker et al. for the former and Adams for the latter).
Yet Ballard’s uncomfortable technological fantasies have been further retranslated as symptoms of a far more explicable traumatic experience with the appearance of Ballard’s fictionalized autobiography, Empire of the Sun, written in a highly stylized but recognisably Realist mode. Knowledge that Ballard had witnessed, as a child, the fall of Shanghai to the Japanese in the Second World War and been interned in a civilian prisoner-of-war camp for a number of years began to ’explain’ his extreme SF. His visions of entropic collapse, the death of affect and the ecstatic embrace of a post-human future published in SF magazines from the 1950s were retrospectively recast as compulsive reiterations of unprocessed wartime trauma, complete with obsessively repeated plots and tropes (see, for instance, Crosthwaite). The delayed decoding of this extremity — Ballard was thirty years into his career when Empire of the Sun appeared — only confirmed the logic of belatedness associated with the difficulty of narrating trauma. Another example of SF as translated trauma was the career of Kurt Vonnegut, typically held to hinge on Slaughterhouse 5, the author’s fanciful time-travel novel that explodes the possibility of living in sequential time because the protagonist Billy Pilgrim, like Vonnegut himself, is a post-traumatic survivor of the fire-bombing of Dresden in February 1945 when tens of thousands of civilians were killed. So it goes. In another less convincing example, the compelling explanatory power of the trauma paradigm has even prompted one critic to propose, very controversially, that key aspects of the SF of Philip K. Dick, one of the most important post-war SF writers in America, could be largely explained through episodes of childhood sexual abuse that resulted in Dick’s undiagnosed multiple personality disorder as an adult. Gregg Rickman’s thesis appeared at the height of the ’recovered memory’ movement in the early 1990s that claimed to retrieve buried and amnesiac traumatic memories (and just before multiple personality disorder was removed from the American Psychiatric Association’s manual over problematic diagnostic inflation in 1994). In this contested reading, Dick’s extraordinary oeuvre became an unlikely retrospective exemplification of America’s trauma culture (see Rickman).
Whilst these accounts have a certain explanatory force, the more radical approach might be to recognize that if SF focuses on the technological transformation of subjectivity itself, this forces a reconsideration not only of how trauma might be represented and narrativized, but also, potentially, of the very notion of trauma itself. It becomes problematic to translate SF into pre-existent trauma models, because if future shock sets about reconfiguring selfhood and the boundaries of the human, would models of trauma also not have to change?
SF writing is sometimes rather artificially divided between ’hard’ and ’soft’ modes. Hard SF is supposed to be driven by the physical sciences, concerned with ideas rather than character, and very anxious to present extrapolated futures within a rhetoric of scientific rigour (see Slusser and Rabkin). Soft SF in contrast is more focused on the human sciences, on social and political impacts, and tracking the profound subjective responses to technological change. Ballard, Vonnegut and Dick are archetypal soft SF writers, more or less hostile to science where it is conducted within the framework of the military-industrial complex. Their familiarity with the language of psychological depredation might suggest that it is soft SF that is most likely to provide source material for these transformations of trauma. But as we sift through SF works, it seems to be hard SF that offers the most radical rethinking of trauma in the imagining of post-human futures. Let’s start, however, with two classics of future shock.
John Brunner’s The Shockwave Rider, first published in 1975, was an explicit extrapolation of the cultural consequences of future shock outlined in Alvin Toffler’s book. Characters refer to Toffler’s Law, held to state that ’the future arrives too soon, and in the wrong order’ (268). The Shockwave Rider is remembered principally for inventing the notion of the computer worm (those self-replicating programmes that eat up bandwidth and cause systems crashes) some years before hackers unleashed the real thing when computers became routinely networked together. Yet the novel is actually focused on exploring a culture that has undergone catastrophic collapse as a result of future shock. This disaster hits in 2010, when ’Beetling forward at full pelt split society. Some did their utmost to head the other way. A great many more decided to go sideways. And some simply dug their heels in and stayed put. The resultant cracks were unpredictable’ (128). For those who cannot cope, there are anti-technology enclaves (’paid-avoidance areas’), or companies like Anti-Trauma Inc. that promise to reconstitute shattered selves. ’Hearing Aid’ provides emergency telephonic therapy, a counterforce to a government that engages in total surveillance. The protagonist, Nicholas Haflinger, however, has been able to ride the shockwave and become a free and subversive agent, precisely because of a traumatic childhood in a secret government institution. He becomes a ’plug-in’ personality, able to switch personae by faking computer records and erasing past histories of his selves with electronic tapeworms. He has experienced ’overload’ in several personalities, an ’extremely traumatizing’ experience (104), but has acquired extraordinary adaptive abilities to cycle through alternative selves. He relives these lives in full in ’fleshback’ (a brilliant coinage), forced to confess once captured by intelligence operatives using coercive ’stimulus-response evaluation’ techniques. After his escape, Haflinger engineers the release of all secret information, ending these dystopian controls, in another striking anticipation of the hacker imperative that ’all information wants to be free’.
As Fredric Jameson has argued, SF futures are limited by the horizon of their present: it is impossible to imagine the complete alterity of the future. Brunner’s riposte to Tofflerian over-stimulation is strongly marked by narratives of authentic and unalienated enclaves, typical of the rhetoric of liberation in the 1970s. The psychological horizons of The Shockwave Rider are still Freudian rhythms of sublimation and desublimation. But what non-Realist possibilities of the SF genre allow Brunner to do is to embed in the radically disjunctive character of Haflinger, and in the shocking jumps and jolts of the narrative that force readers into their own readerly experience of discontinuity, a palpable sense of how technology might begin to change notions of subjectivity and therefore, necessarily, of trauma.
This sort of thing is also aimed at, with a little more aesthetic grace, in William Gibson’s Pattern Recognition. Gibson’s Neuromancer fleshed out the virtual worlds of his coinage ’cyberspace’ in the 1980s and owed a fair bit to Brunner’s trail-blazing fiction. Yet, nearly twenty years later, Pattern Recognition is barely science-fictional at all, not least because, as one character explains,
we have no future. Not in the sense that our grandparents had a future, or thought they did. Fully imagined cultural futures were the luxury of another day, one in which ’now’ was of some greater duration. For us, of course, things can change so abruptly, so violently, so profoundly, that futures like our grandparents’ have insufficient ’now’ to stand on. We have no future because our present is too volatile.
This makes Pattern Recognition an ’ambivalent alternate present’ (Easterbrook 499), an exercise in what Gibson calls ’speculative presentism’, and Jameson reads this sense of time compression as futures now captured and traded on the markets of late capitalism. It means that the book over determines this heightened present with multiple traumatic layers. The protagonist Cayce consistently experiences disorienting soul lag as she jets across the globe from one abstract space to another. But modernity is also marked traumatically on her body: she is valued by marketeers and branding gurus because she is somatically allergic to offensive branding (accidental exposure to the Tommy Hilfiger logo causes instant vomiting in one memorable scene). This may or may not be linked to the obliquely introduced information that her father disappeared in New York on 11 September 2001, although she is initially unclear whether he was caught up in the attack on the World Trade Center. Belatedly, then, the book appears to emerge as a post-9/11 work (Gibson was halfway through the writing in September 2001, so it was literally a belated intrusion into the novel).
Yet the novel morphs again when Cayce is employed to hunt for the origin of an enigmatic, guerrilla filmic text known simply as ’the footage’ that is being released in tiny fragments on the internet. Her employers want to know if it is a brilliant piece of stealth marketing or a work of art ambitiously seeking for a fugitive place outside commoditized cultural production. It transpires that the footage has been created by a young Russian woman left with major wounds after a terrorist attack has left her brain damaged, and is her only means of communication with the outside world. The way the film is encoded is shaped around the shrapnel fragment of the Claymore mine that killed her parents that has been left buried in her skull. The footage is nothing less than ’the wound, speaking wordlessly in the dark’ (305). In a sense, it is impossible to think of a narrative that more literally conceives of trauma as the intrusive wounding of a consciousness. Gibson, as he often does, organizes his SF plot around the ambivalent prospect of the possibility of a surviving avant-garde practice, which in this case seems distinctly aligned to a modernist aesthetic of trauma. This attests to Gibson’s own very ambiguous relation to SF history, whose crude optimistic futurism he rejected in his early short story, ’The Gernsback Continuum’. Even so, he is still far more interested than mainstream literary fiction in the ways in which technology and subjectivity are necessary in an ongoing dynamic of transformation.
What, though, if we were on the cusp of a technological transformation so profound that subjectivity, as conceived by psychodynamic models, were effectively to disappear? What would ’trauma’ mean then? For that, we have to turn to contemporary hard SF.
>VIRUS SCAN RECOMMENDED
In Greg Egan’s short story, ’Reasons to be Cheerful’, the first-person narrator recalls a childhood of growing, ecstatic bliss. It soon becomes clear that this is a neurological side-effect of a brain tumour that causes him to over-produce endorphins. An experimental treatment involves inserting a genetically engineered virus into his cerebrospinal fluid designed to kill infected cells. Unfortunately, it interferes catastrophically with the uptake of endorphins, and he collapses into a profound and immovable depression, segments of his brain withering away from lack of use. Two decades later, another experimental treatment inserts a nanotech polymer foam into the dead regions of his brain, its neuronal connections composed from the imprinted matrix of thousands of other brains. It is meant to allow him to determine his own neuronal pathways and thus retain his sense of self; instead, he is supplied with so many options, so many routes and pathways to desire or happiness or pleasure that he ends up having arbitrarily to choose, leaving him in a permanent existential state of utter inauthenticity.
Egan’s story is hard SF because it extrapolates from contemporary medical investigations in neurological brain science and portrays the psychodynamic sense of self as epiphenomenal rather than central. Importantly, though, the story is about unforeseen consequences of experimental methods. This is not a confident, deterministic fantasy that control of the body can master and control subjective states. Hardcore technological futurists like Ray Kurzweil often resort to metaphors of self as ’software’ that can be uploaded or file-copied and thus be rescued from the feeble ’hardware’ constraints of what is contemptuously dismissed as human ’meatspace’. This is a dream of immortality by the reduction of the human to informational bits, the vision of the human rendered as ’the inhuman’ condemned by the philosopher Jean-Francois Lyotard. Egan’s story resists that fantasy, but is perhaps best read in context with a more sophisticated set of cultural encounters with the neurocognitive sciences that resist reductionism. After Antonio Damasio’s accessible introductions to these more dynamic accounts, critics have begun to explore more dynamic interactions between culture and neurology (see Salisbury and Shail).
Yet some of the strange corners of hard SF have fully embraced technological literalism and the idea of trauma as a programming glitch that can be de-bugged to restore machine efficiency. In 1950, one of the key magazines that published extrapolative, allegedly scientifically rigorous, hard SF, Astounding Science Fiction, published a non-fiction research article by one of their writers of space operas, L. Ron Hubbard, which was called ’Dianetics: A New Science of the Mind’. The article, endorsed by the legendary hard SF editor John W. Campbell, was premised on the view that ’the human mind was a problem in engineering’ (47) but that it was a computer riddled with ’aberrative circuits’ that produced irrational behaviour from neurotic compulsions to full-scale psychosis, suicide and even nuclear mass-death (54). Hubbard envisaged the mind as scored — literally ’like the wax indentations on a record’ (78) — with what he called ’engrams’, the traces of trauma that produced errant programmes. Dianetics was a science and also a discipline of mental hygiene intended to ’clear’ the brain of engrams, and potentially unlock the infinite possibility of the human brain. ’Clears’, in effect, realize the superpowers of the SF heroes of the pulp magazines. In the push-button optimism of the 1950s, Hubbard’s resultant book, Dianetics, sold a million copies; within a few short years, for tax purposes, Dianetics became the considerably weirder Church of Scientology, which still controversially trains people in de-bugging their traumatic engrams and self-overcoming.
Elements of this hard SF dream are still alive: old-school Futurians have become modern-day Extropians and Transhumanists. The argument now is that we are on the threshold of a technological Singularity, a notion popularized by Vernor Vinge in 1993 as the moment when technological advance reaches a point of transformation that makes it ’an exponential runaway beyond the hope of control’ (Vinge). This is usually seen as the point when machines reach a level of intelligence able to produce other machines, outside of human agency (the idea of the dystopian film Terminator). Vinge placed this somewhere between 2005 and 2030. Since the Singularity is always a proleptic prospect, vanishing ahead of us as we move forward, Kurzweil has since suggested 2040. For utopians, the Singularity transcends the trauma of being embodied; for the rest of us, the Singularity might be intrinsically traumatic because it dethrones human control. But since the Singularity must also reconfigure notions of subjectivity, can ’trauma’ be relevant at all?
The novel that rigorously works out the genuine oddness of a post-Singularity world is Charles Stross’s Accelerando, which came out in 2005. Set just a little into the future, it follows the experience of the ’constant burn of future shock’ (8) until the Singularity actually occurs, after which the post-human future accelerates past any notion of traumatic subjectivity, or so it appears. In the first part, Manfred Macx is a techno-geek who ’lived on the bleeding edge of strangeness, fifteen minutes into everyone else’s future’ (5). He is moving faster than most in a ’world of the terminally future-shocked’, humans who will shortly be left behind or traded by intelligent AI corporations (64). He is a post-national, post-capitalist, post-punk, postmodern but (just) pre-Singularity trader with a ’thalamic-limbic shunt interface’ that plugs his brain directly into whatever it is that is morphing out of the internet. In a parody of memory studies, Manfred at one point loses his cool shades, a prosthetic device that contains much of his enhanced memory storage. He awakes with no idea who he is, feeling ’blunt. And slow. Even obsolete’ (103): ’Is this what consciousness used to be like?’ (93) he complains. Later, to avoid such risks, Manfred distributes his consciousness into a flock of enhanced seagulls for a few years.
Manfed’s daughter, Amber, the next generation created out of DNA storage in a fit of neurotic pique by her ostensible mother, grows up ’with neural implants that feel as natural to her as lungs or fingers. Half her wetware is running outside her skull on an array of processor nodes hooked into her brain by quantum-entangled communication channels’ (122). She lives through virtual avatars and becomes, in a proper sense, post-human. Her son, Sirhan, has inevitably accelerated well beyond any human conception. With Sirhan, Stross, in an information-dense, hi-tech prose that carries its own future shocks, pursues the logical outcomes of post-human subjectivity. He has such immense processing power available to him that he is able to model every lived human life, and every forking possibility in those lives. Growing up, he ’lives a dozen lives, discarding identities like old clothes’ (310). He ’had lived through loads of alternate childhoods in simulation’ (410). In this model, the fixations of traumatic childhood become meaningless. These pasts can be monetized (as Steve Shaviro observes, Stross’s future is always and forever hyper-capitalist), and Sirhan seeks shareholders for raising enough memory to ’archive the combined sensory bandwidth and memories of the entire population of twentieth-century Earth’ (311—12). This is the ’history futures market’ (314) where trauma has all the fixity of traded informational bits.
Weirdly, however, by the fourth generation (which is so post-human it can’t really be conceived of in biological generations), Manni, a sort of remixed Manfred, gets into retro stylings, embodying himself in human form again, and choosing to live in a perfect simulacrum of the 108th floor of New York’s World Trade Center on 11 September 2001, moments before the impact of the planes. Rather oddly, in this utterly future-shocked post-Singularity conception, ’the fall of the Two Towers that shattered the myth of Western exceptionalism’ remains the event that ’paved the way for the world he was born into’ (411). Right at the end of this wild, overloaded imaginary trajectory, we circle back to a classical conception of the punctual traumatic event. This only goes to prove, perhaps, Jameson’s insistence that the (traumatic) horizon of the present cannot escape into any genuine place of alterity.
Hard SF fictions about the neurology of trauma are, needless to say, future fictions bounded by the limits on the imagination of today. They explore a side of the multiform discourse of trauma that cultural and literary studies have been uncertain or even censorious about addressing. But since so much of the medicalization of trauma has pushed beyond the comfortable formulae of psychodynamic theories of trauma, these visions challenge us to address the rapid development of new scientific understandings that are likely to reconceptualize notions of trauma in the very near future.
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