Affect, body, place
History and culture
Trauma theory in the world
Ananya Jahanara Kabir
The beautiful Laila of freedom is shining in her beauty
The Talib is half-drunk for her, approaching like Majnun
Sadullah Sa’eed Zabuli, ’A Time is Coming’
These lines from a poem written by a member of the Taliban c. 1990 have now been made available to the world at large through its inclusion in a controversial edited and translated anthology (Linschoten and Kuehn 69—70). Embedded in a series of apocalyptical images, the poem’s culminating reference survives diminution through translation by drawing on a trope beloved throughout the Islamicate world: the unrequited love of Laila and Majnun. Further troped through the moth’s self-destructive passion for the flame, and replicated in other pairs of doomed lovers, this story is ubiquitous in a cultural zone that stretches from the former Ottoman lands to the eastern-most reaches of the Mughal Empire. To be culturally and affectively knowledgeable in this zone is to appreciate a mythopoesis of love that ends in self-annihilation, and is nevertheless exquisite and to be aspired for; to appreciate that anti-teleology can surpass all desires for a ’happy ending’ (Kabir 2003); and to be captivated by the layering of one forbidden pleasure (wine) with another (the beloved). The full shock value of these lines then goes beyond any superficial unease with an aesthetic approach to an ideological outfit reviled by the liberal world (Nair); it is to realize that the incandescent, intoxicated power of this image, with its roots deep in an Islamicate affective genealogy, has been diverted from its usual realm of Sufi and Sufi-inspired poetics to express the feelings of an individual whose overt political affiliations would seem remote from that more benign face of the ’Muslim world’.
This rupture of expectations traces multiple traumas of the decolonized world caught up in the Cold War and its repercussions. The challenge to those of us interested in the ’future of trauma theory’ is to find ways of analyzing these traumas that acknowledge the myriad modes of consolation, memorializing and reconciliation which are deployed by traumatized subjects who may never have heard of Sigmund Freud, psychoanalysis and, indeed, ’trauma theory’. Can we make the shining Laila and the half-drunk Majnun not merely the objects but also the tools of our analysis? The present essay suggests some directions for moving forward with this agenda. These suggestions arise from my own work, of over a decade, on the Partition of India in 1947 as a traumatic event, and in the first section of the essay, I retrace that journey and the learning curve it represents. In subsequent sections, I offer examples of cultural production under the sign of trauma, from different parts of the world: south-east Asia, southern Africa, and, via a return to this poem by Zabuli, the borderlands between Afghanistan and Pakistan. The overall aim is to pinpoint limitations in our current toolkit for the analysis of trauma—limitations that have largely to do with the evident cultural gaps and geographic disconnect between the contexts in which trauma theory has arisen, and the contexts of specific traumatic events that continue to unfold across the world. Yet as the theory’s drive is to generate connections and paradigms that must work in, and despite, different contexts, the essay will attempt to recuperate existing theoretical premises within a global framework: an effort that we may even think of as ’provincializing’ the ’Europe’ (Chakrabarty) within the heart of trauma theory.
Several years ago, the editors of an influential collection of essays on the relationship between memory and trauma contended that ’comparisons with non-European societies are vital in order to reveal the outlines of cultural tropes and social forms that can serve to conceal or highlight memories and legitimate specific versions of the past’ (Antze and Lambek xiv). Formulating my own methods for analyzing collective trauma in non-European contexts, I had found invaluable that admission of the then-existent lacuna in trauma studies: a widening of focus to include traumatic events outside the Euro-American framework, and an evolution of methodology appropriate to their analysis. Having begun to explore the memorial repercussions of the Indian Partition of 1947, my search for hermeneutic tools had led me to the significant scholarship on trauma that centred on the experience of the Holocaust as a ’limit-event’ (LaCapra). Indeed, the first article I wrote on the Partition’s memorial complications borrowed heavily from the critical language and assumptions of that literature, most notably the concepts of ’unrepresentability’ (Haidu) and the consequent fracturing of language (Kabir 2002). Nevertheless, in subsequent examinations of Partition’s traumatic legacies, I found myself struggling with what we may term (cautiously) a ’Holocaust-centric’ apparatus grounded in a Euro-American experiential space. Part of the problem was this apparatus’s very indispensability: analysis has to start from somewhere, and it cannot ignore the presence of an existing, sophisticated set of theoretical approaches. In my intellectual travels with the Partition of India, I continue to grapple with this duality. The book I am now writing is titled Partition’s Post-Amnesias, in a simultaneous acknowledgement of, and distancing from, Marianne Hirsch’s influential concept of ’postmemory’: an approach to the transgenerational memorialization of trauma articulated through her engagement with Art Spiegelman’s celebrated graphic novel, Maus (Hirsch; Spiegelman).
The privileging of Euro-American experiences of collective trauma, particularly those centred on the Second World War, was not, however, the main hurdle that I encountered while dealing with traumatic experiences in non-European spaces. A more persistent problem was the concomitant privileging of certain interpretative structures devolving around narrative. As I noted in the same article where I cited Antze and Lambek: ’Like the Holocaust, partition was a void that ultimately remains beyond the capacities of narrative to replenish … [h]owever, one senses that mourning on a collective level has to embark through radical, non-narrative works of the imagination that foreground that void’s untranslatability into narrative’ (Kabir 2005: 190). Ironically, perhaps, this coda came at the end of an analysis devoted to women’s novels on the Partition. In my search for theoretical models that would help illuminate a large-scale traumatic event such as the Partition of India and its continuing memorial repercussions, I was constantly confronted by the ubiquity of the narrative mode, and, initially, I replicated this emphasis in my own choice of primary material. I took on board the axiom that ’telling the story’ was necessary to heal the traumatized subject and/or society—a direct inheritance from the Freudian emphasis on ’the talking cure’. Freud’s distinction between a harmful melancholia that arises when the psyche is trapped in a loop of repetitions, and a healthy mourning which moves through progressive stages in order to bring about closure, affirms itself by emphasizing the need to talk (Freud; for further developments see, for instance, Bal et al.; Caruth). With the emphasis on closure, the structures of narrative converge on to those of mourning in a mutual validation of the ’best’ response to trauma. Telling the story sutures the psychic wounds caused by the traumatic event, which manifest themselves in aporias and ’latencies’ in memorial recall (Caruth).
The form and structure of narrative genres such as the novel and the film make them ideal vehicles for articulating Freudian-derived responses to traumatic events. This compatibility was the reason why I and other scholars interested in studying the Partition as a traumatic event (e.g. Daiya; Kumar) initially privileged their analysis over that of genres that resist incorporation within theoretical approaches to trauma reliant on the apotheosis of narrative-driven closure. For me, however, it became impossible to ignore lyric poetry and song, particularly expressions for lost, pre-traumatic pasts articulated through vernacular mythopoeses (see also Nijhawan), which repeatedly erupt through the surface of modern and modernist genres. These fragmented, iterated lamentations, unassimilated into the teleology of narrative, and, in fact, culturally sanctioned in popular film through the device of interruptive song and dance, are not aberrations, but intrinsic to South Asian memory work in the face of trauma: or so I came to argue in an examination of ’song’ vs. ’story’ in Anita Desai’s novel Clear Light of Day, which striates its modernist formalism with the affective resources of vernacular lyric (Kabir 2006). This argument is consolidated by Kumkum Sangari’s recent analysis of the post-Partition trajectory of ’viraha’ or ’longing caused by separation’, an affective complex arising from medieval Sufi and Bhakti cults which expresses, through song, the same anti-teleology of separation and unrequited love conveyed in the Laila—Majnun story (Sangari). Throughout the 1950s, such songs were inserted into films, where they sat tangential to the narratives. The makers and consumers of these film songs responded to the trauma of Partition by participating in a revived version of ’viraha’. Their deterritorialized transmission through radio to Pakistani listeners further created a cross-border community of subjects alive to coded lamentations folded into the heart of modern, post-Partition entertainment.
Sangari’s work exemplifies a new trend in south Asian studies: sensitivity to multiple and contradictory messages that are the modern nation’s compromised legacy. The resources for these contradictions lie in the formation of affect clusters around diverse language and image-worlds through competing print cultures in late colonial South Asia (Jain; Jalal; Orsini; Mir). The splintered yet reticulated vernacular (’bazaar’) and Anglophone modernities which result, offer a genealogy for post-Partition cultural production that manipulates different expressive registers to cope with the traumatic emergence of the nation. In this context film, with its simultaneity of soundtrack, narration, cinematography, and, in the South Asian context, song and dance, continues to be a rich vein to mine, but the most innovative work on Partition has moved away from ’Bollywood’ to examine film industries of territorially partitioned regions, such as Bengal (Sarkar), or linguistic traditions that were the epicentre of contestations over identity, such as Urdu (Mufti). This shift in critical scrutiny has necessitated a renewed focus on, rather than mere ’defense of the fragment’ (Pandey), with self-consciously marginal, interruptive and peripheralized genres such as the short story, film song and regional film commanding centre-stage. Sangari’s work on ’viraha’ as well as Nukhbah Langah’s exploration of ’moonjh’ (longing) in contemporary Siraiki poetry of Pakistan (Langah 186—230) exemplifies scholarly recuperations of a vernacular affective vocabulary, aligned to ’our poetry and the Sufi gnosis’ (Naqvi xxxi). These ’lyric iterations’ exist alongside and seep into the Anglophone realms of the novel, juridical and constitutional discourse, and official pedagogy. The challenge then is to explicate the lyric dimension within narrative and juridical structures which converge with trauma theory’s emphasis on witnessing and testimony, despite any discomfort caused by the roots of this emphasis in ’Judaic texts’ and ’Western traditions’.
The Bodhi tree
I have argued elsewhere that the transformative capacities of non-narrative, even non-linguistic reparation, may be the best way out of the silence versus testimony binary (Kabir 2009). The future of trauma theory cannot lie in a rejection of structures which make available a common currency for reckoning, accountability and reconciliation; wherever their roots may lie, they are now part of global modernity thanks to the spread of European social structures and norms through colonializing processes (even in nations never colonized, such as Japan and Thailand). The subsequent processes of interpellation created uneven modernities (Dube), but the expectations of the modern subject have become universal (Benhabib): access to liberal education, a passport, justice delivered through courts of law, the penal system for those adjudicated as transgressors. The theorist of trauma has to recognize the dialogic co-existence of these expectations, which, indeed, have often failed to be realized after the first flush of decolonization, and a range of affective domains with pre-colonial genealogies that persist in the postcolonial world as vernacular remainders. As Bhaskar Sarkar notes, ’Partition marks a moment of rupture, a historical realization of the structural lack endemic to all bourgeois formations’ (Sarkar 7). Trauma theory must explicate the meta-trauma of modernity’s ruptures. But it is insufficient to insist that it should decouple the analysis of specific collective traumas from its established heuristic dependence on narrative, witnessing and testimony and speaking out. For these regulatory and expressive structures are arguably also endemic to bourgeois formations. Thus this dependence must be analyzed—indeed, ’provincialized’ (Chakrabarty)—by attending to the local play of disenchantments and re-enchantments through which the traumatized subject attempts to re-member its relationship to pre-traumatic anterior states—personal and collective—and utopian futures. A specific example of post-traumatic cultural production will substantiate these suggestions.
Phnom Penh’s Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum is a sombre yet popular tourist destination. Not unlike the former concentration camps dotted across Central Europe, this place of torture and detention now memorializes the horrors of the Khmer Rouge regime that systematically brutalized Cambodia during the period 1975—1979, when the communist dictator Pol Pot was in power (Williams). A former school building that was converted into a prison for thousands of people before they were dispatched to the regime’s ’Killing Fields’ (see the film of that name, directed by Roland Joffé), the museum today showcases material traces, descriptive signposting in Khmer and English that clarify the function of its different rooms during the Khmer Rouge, and tour guides whose family members had been detained here. Tuol Sleng demonstrates how universal a phenomenon memorialization through the museum has become. As an institution, it now invites native and international visitors to respond to the Pol Pot era as an abiding collective trauma for the Cambodian nation and for the modern world. Indeed, the museum appears to be a classic site of memory in Pierre Nora’s sense: a space ’dedicated to preserving an incommunicable experience that would [otherwise] disappear along with those who shared it’ (22). Nora distinguished between ’dominant and dominated’ sites of memory where the former, ’spectacular and triumphant’, are ’generally imposed from above’ and the latter are ’places of refuge, sanctuaries of spontaneous devotion and silent pilgrimage, where one finds the living heart of memory’; he also differentiated ’memory’, that ’attaches itself to sites’ from ’history’, that ’attaches itself to events’ (22—3). These binaries have been blurred by scholars revising Nora’s original formulation (Huyssen 96—7; Rothberg et al.). Nevertheless, Tuol Sleng reminds us how Eurocentric paradigms, even in revisionist forms, prove inadequate for explicating trauma and its memorialization outside European spaces.
As in Cambodian society at large, the museum’s source of consolation is Buddhism. Indeed, the Cambodian Buddhist altar added to the schoolyard defies the modernist separation of ’pilgrimage’ from the secular spaces of nationalist commemoration and pedagogy. Even the capitalist move of situating a café opposite the museum for the harrowed visitor’s recuperation-through-consumption is confounded by the tree-fringed café’s very name, ’Bodhi’: the tree under which Siddhartha Gautama, alienated from worldly life, sat and meditated his way to enlightenment and transformation into the Buddha. The museum and its surroundings neither replicate nor repudiate European modes of memorializing trauma, but suggest the confluence of divergent forms of memorialization-as-healing. The modern framework of the museum contains the overwhelming pain that Tuol Sleng, as a monument to the Khmer Rouge’s cruelty, still evokes. This framework is fractured but irradiated by the Bodhi tree as a ’Buddhist site of memory’ that folds a specific philosophy of detachment (Brazier) into the museum’s management of trauma through the circuit of witnessing and testimony. Another aspect of Tuol Sleng challenges even more acutely Eurocentric analyses of trauma: the social realist-style paintings mounted on the walls of the rooms through which the visitor walks. The paintings depict the modes of torture that took place in these rooms by picking up physical details that the rooms preserve, and peopling the scene around them with painted images of victims and torturers ’in the act’. The scrupulous replication of the rooms’ details on the picture plane creates an uncanny continuity through recognition; the viewer is pulled thereby into a participatory mode both ’pedagogic’ and ’performative’ (Bhabha 139—170). The striking brown-and-white chequered tiles of the floor on which we stand reappear on the paintings, forging a common ground between representation and reality.
Prompted by the scenes in the painting, viewers compulsively interact with the objects retained in the rooms to bring to life processes of torture. For instance, visitors plunge their hands in a now-empty barrel in mimicry of a painted scene, placed before the ’real’ barrel, which shows it containing hot oil into which a soldier forces a prisoner’s hand. However, these paintings are not the only representational mode in Tuol Sleng: ID photos of prisoners are blown up into monumental grids of faces recalling the photograph’s indexical function; while the retention of objects in rooms draws on the iconic potential of metonymic association. Yet the supplementary nature of the paintings pulls objects and photographs into a set of viewerly responses at odds with the behaviour one might expect in such a museum. How do we assess this invitation to memorialize the Khmer Rouge through mimicry and repetition? The question emerges as particularly salient given that, as I have noted above, such aspects of post-traumatic behaviour are relegated to ’melancholia’ rather than ’mourning’ in Freud-derived trauma studies. Tuol Sleng thus asks us to widen these now-classic discourses on trauma, reconciliation and healing. It demonstrates the need to break out of the twin grip of juridical and narratocentric frameworks for thinking theoretically and affectively about trauma, without, however, jettisoning them completely. Into that frame, it inserts the possibility of alternative modes of collective response to trauma: the spiritual resources of Buddhism as well as what I have called ’lyric iterations’, which mirror symptoms of a melancholia unacceptable to the Freudian casebook. The museological, the meditative and the iterative co-exist, pointing to new ways in which we may study culturally-specific mechanisms through which trauma is survived and surmounted.
The kudurista’s body
May 2012: evening in Luanda, Angola. Under the open skies at the downtown Elinga Teatro, a session of kuduro, the Angolan electronic music-dance complex, is in full swing. Its aficionados, ’kuduristas’, take over the mike and the floor. Mostly male, in their late teens and early twenties, they are dressed flamboyantly and eclectically, accessorized with exaggeratedly pointed shoes, extravagant hairstyles, often partially or fully bleached, and pop-coloured spectacle frames. Their furious live rapping in Portuguese-meets-Kimbundu cuts against kuduro’s explosive rhythmic mix of Angolan, Caribbean and global electronic beats. The vocal energy is matched by spectacular dancing. The young boys who leap on and off the stage with breakneck speed demonstrate moves from
at least three areas: a) popping and locking, break-dance, headspins and power moves from hip hop b) traditional Angolan and carnival dance movements c) graphic theatrical movements such as crawling on the ground as if in a battle, dancing on the thighs as if the legs were amputated, dancing with legs turned inwards as if on crutches, dancing on crutches with missing limbs or mimicking media images of ’starved Africans’.
(Alisch and Siegert 2011)
The dancing is aggressive rather than sexual. This is no courtship ritual, but the male body showing off its kinetic power through egotism that verges on the homoerotic, in spontaneous competitions between individual dancers. It is also hardly the male ’body beautiful’: gangly, awkward, maimed, contortionist, stretching kinaesthetic norms to snapping point. The kudurista’s dance is fiercely competitive, incredibly swift, and breathtakingly unpredictable. The demands of ’global ghetto-tech’ (Brown) and its computerized music programmes may subject polyrhythmic texture to a 4/4 rhythmic grid (Butler); but the dancing body, playing freely with syncopated contrasts, constantly mocks this temporality. Thus does kinetic virtuosity dodge the ’time of history’ (Coetzee 146).
Cranes, looming up from a building site directly opposite the Elinga Teatro, and a tall modernist office block transverse to the cranes, frame the kuduristas. The Elinga, a slightly decrepit colonial-era building, painted a charming strawberry pink with red accents, is marked for demolition; the cranes threaten the present and the office block points to the future. But the kuduristas’ bodies populate and distend the precarious moment of the ’now’. This is postcolonial, post-civil war Luanda. After the ravages of five hundred years of Portuguese colonialism, a brutal struggle for independence and a twenty-seven year long civil war which was also one of the Cold War’s major proxy arenas, Angola has entered the global economy through its oil and diamonds. Luanda, its capital city, shows all the signs of a nation impatient to move on: frantic and excessive construction, ruthless demolition of colonial-era buildings and complex contestations over the control of public culture, particularly its manifestation in music and dance forms. As Marissa Moorman has comprehensively demonstrated (Moorman 2008), collective expression through popular music and dance was central to the transition from colonial to postcolonial Angola; furthermore, as she (Moorman under review) and others (Alisch and Siegert 2012) argue, this centrality continues in the contemporary moment through kuduro. That kuduro is an epicentre of competing claims to Angolan cultural capital was clearly revealed at a conference on kuduro in Luanda, of which the Elinga kuduro session was a closing party.1 Members of the political elite claimed kuduro for the nation; kuduristas, denizens of the city’s least privileged zones, resisted appropriation through dexterous language play, outrageous style statements, and names that drew on the two sources of power in contemporary Angola—oil and political status (e.g. Príncipe Ouro Negro, ’Prince Black Gold’; and Presidente Gasolina, ’President Gasoline’).
There is a connection between kuduro’s subversive power and Angola’s traumatized past. But what is it? How do we map the ’anatomy of kuduro’ (Moorman 2008) on to collective trauma? For a start, trauma theory would have to re-engage the psychosomatics of the body in dance, in conjunction with the material conditions out of which it arises and in which it moves. These conditions, including the weight of history, are drawn into dialogic combat with the kudurista’s body. In a contribution to a volume (Bischoff and Van der Peer) that will broaden trauma studies by examining art and trauma in Africa, Alisch and Siegert assert that ’kuduro dancing responds to the emotional legacies of brutal wars in Angola, and potentially effects change … recall[ing] violent events while sustaining a contemporary form of dealing with turbulent urban living in Luanda’ (2012: 50). The spectacular displays of masculinity and swagger are all the more poignant for the economic marginalization of the typical kudurista. Does the ’anatomy of kuduro’ reveal a balancing act between exhilaration and melancholia, or does kuduro’s hyper-energetic kinesis render redundant theoretical paradigms of melancholia and mourning? The ’bodily-performative practices’ of kuduro challenges conceptions of traumatized societies through somatic remembering in ’the heroic mode than in the self-definition of a traumatized victim’ (52, 58). Indeed, despite ’the Angolan neologism desconseguir (to not succeed; to be unable to do), which seemed to so neatly sum up much of life in the civil war torn Angola of the 1980s and 1990s, kudurista body politics ’emphasizes the doing, not the un-, or at the very least, the dialogic relation of the two, as the song “Colo Diskoló” by Presidente Gasolina and Príncipe Ouro Negro exhorts: “the dance sticks and unsticks. Let’s stick and unstick’” (Moorman under review).
The kudurista’s exuberant re-making of the fractured collective self cannot be extrapolated, as some commentators have idealistically suggested, into utopian electronic dance floors situated in a global anywhere (Brown). Its recuperative potential must be emplaced within its own frames of dialogue and reference: it is a vigorous riposte to acoustic plaints for a pastoral Angola performed in the more overtly nostalgic couple dances such as the revived semba and its music, exemplified in the work of Paulo Flores (Moorman 2008: 190—2). Yet even Flores’s oeuvre complicates easy interpretation as ’the work of mourning’ (whether deemed ’successful’ or not). In his song ’Boda’, for instance, syntactic ambiguities surround images of stalled plenitude, which, in turn, contrast with the upbeat rhythm and the song’s function as the accompaniment to two people dancing in partner-hold. Angola’s different music-dance complexes thus invite interpretation as composite kinetoscapes. Formed through the interplay of trauma, modernity and the will to survive through creative kinetic pleasures, they demand equally creative and agile theoretical moves that can recognize the necessary simultaneity of suffering and joy. The dynamic suspension of antinomies animates the kinetoscape from the micro-level of the kudurista’s play with stasis and elasticity to the macro-level contrast between Angolan couple dances and kuduro’s solo shows of masculine virtuosity. To extract the full valence of these contrasts, we would need to execute a final move: to the wider Black Atlantic world of which Angola is a part, whose kinetic histories are shaped by the same contrasts in the relationship between dance, music and trauma (Kabir 2013a). This story is only partially told by Paul Gilroy, who used jazz and hiphop to theorize the Black Atlantic’s syncopated rhythms as a response to modernity’s ’double consciousness’, but, ironically, left both Africa and the dancing body out of his analytical frame (Gilroy; Zeleza).
If Phnom Penh’s Tuol Sleng Museum solicits from its visitors a meditative and mimetic response towards the Khmer Rouge, Luanda’s kuduristas reclaim the Angolan body through kinetic exhilaration. In the Cambodian case, it is Buddhism, and in the Angolan, a Black Atlantic kinetic repertoire, but both exist in complex relationship to the deep structural interventions of European colonization, as the means to re-root the traumatized subjectivity in place. A similar vector drives the poem with which I started, ’A Time is Coming.’ Its apocalyptic images and esoteric signs, that demand effortful interpretation, tap into the mystic and charismatic space shared by Shia Islam and Sufism (which, paradoxically, is here invoked by the staunchly Sunni Taliban; see Devji); it recalls Karbala as the archetypal battleground flamboyantly and histrionically commemorated annually during Muharram (Hyder). The poem signals this trans-local space through Iraq’s Euphrates River, but simultaneously honours local geography through the River Amu; it pays homage to the Maiwand Valley, scene of the Anglo-Afghan War of 1860, and Maiwand’s Afghan heroine, Malalai, as well as the trans-local myth of Laila-Majnun. All three cases I have cited draw on wider affect-worlds within which the space of trauma is located and which provide the traumatized subjectivity with the resources for reconstituting the self, even if the result is to continue ’grooving on broken’. These affect-worlds are epidermal and haptic (Naficy). They can hark back to pre-modern routes of cultural transfer—such as the trans-Asiatic Silk Route or the Indian Ocean trade routes, through which religions, ideas and goods passed in equal measure before the onset of European expansionism; but they can also, like the Black Atlantic, be created through the displacements and deracination that European expansionism set into motion.
Analysis of cultural production arising out of spaces of collective trauma should be attentive to the presence of affect-worlds deployed by the cultural producers concerned. Cues to interpretation of these affect-worlds with a view to understanding better the work of trauma must be taken from corresponding ’rules of the game’—the premium placed on kinetic contrast in Black Atlantic rhythm cultures, for instance, or the anti-teleology of separation and unrequited love constantly cited all across the Islamicate world, or, indeed, the askesis of bodily meditation (Alter) and detachment promoted within Buddhism. Such emphases should not merely be noted, but woven into the texture of analysis through close reading that gets both into the grain of the cultural text under scrutiny and reads against it. Secondly, these affect-worlds are more often than not invoked through processes of embodiment. The body, therefore, must be returned to the centre-stage of analysis; the original meaning of ’trauma’—a bodily wound (Caruth 3—4)—must be revived in our considerations of how people cope with traumatic histories, even when those histories operate through transgenerational (post)memorialization (Hirsch). This is the message of Derek Walcott’s poetics of the persistent yet ’radiant’ wound that marks the ankle of his postcolonial Caribbean fisherman Philoctete, one of the characters in his epic Omeros (Walcott; see also Ramazani). The body, however, does not exist in a vacuum: its return to the space of trauma is an act of reclamation. The ways in which the work of trauma embeds the body in place, as well as the processes which have displaced it, demand attention. In this context, the detritus of the Cold War—’dreamworld’ followed by ’catastrophe’ (Buck-Morss; see also Center)—points to a new arena for a non-Eurocentric trauma theory, as my examples drawn from Afghanistan, Cambodia and Angola confirm.
A useful model here would be Michael Rothberg’s ’multidirectional memory’ (Rothberg; Rothberg et al.), which calls for the recognition of co-existing, overlapping but non-competitive modes of memorializing events that were experienced as traumatic for different identity-groups. This broadening out of trauma studies cannot, however, do away with its foundational dependence on the structures and articulations of the Freudian unconscious, which was both contingent in its eventual triumph over other possible analytical models, such as the Jungian one, and firmly a part of the early twentieth-century Zeitgeist. Part of the modern condition is psychoanalytical determinism, which in turn is perhaps part of the larger trauma of the modern condition. Modernity’s handmaiden has been the development of a theory of the unconscious, and modernity being a global phenomenon, the unconscious can hardly be done away with within attempted nativist re-appropriations of trauma theory. This continued dependence on Freudian vocabulary is evident in our inability to move away from that vocabulary even when attempting a severance: the most radical we can get is to call for recognition of ’critical melancholia’ (Khanna), or melancholia as a positive force—rather than abandon the word altogether. Far more productive, then, is to develop a non-Eurocentric trauma theory that can revivify existing paradigms for explicating the work of trauma, by returning to consideration an interconnected emphasis on affect, body and place. As I have suggested in this chapter, affect-worlds lead us, time and again, to the traumatized subject using the resources of the body to re-embed itself in place. In the words of Michael Ondaatje, closing his own exploration of the traumas of the Sri Lankan civil war in his novel Anil’s Ghost, it is time to come alive to ’this sweet touch from the world’ (Ondaatje 307).
1 The First Kuduro International Conference, Associaçao Cultural e Recreativa Chá de Caxinde, Luanda, Angola, 23—25 May, 2012. I am grateful to Stephanie Alisch and Agnela Barros Wilper for making possible my attendance at this conference and its associated events, which form the basis of this section of the essay.
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