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Trauma

Authored Book
Lucy Bond and Stef Craps
New Critical Idiom. Under contract with Routledge.
Publication year: 2018

An introductory guide to the concept of trauma as it is used in literary and cultural studies for Routledge’s New Critical Idiom series.

The Rising Tide of Climate Change Fiction

Edited Volume
Stef Craps and Rick Crownshaw, eds.
Spec. issue of Studies in the Novel 50.1 (2018). [forthcoming]
Publication year: 2018

Call for Papers: The Rising Tide of Climate Change Fiction

Studies in the Novel is currently seeking submissions for a special issue on “The Rising Tide of Climate Change Fiction,” guest-edited by Stef Craps (Ghent University) and Rick Crownshaw (Goldsmiths, University of London), which will be published in spring 2018 as part of the journal’s 50th anniversary volume.

Often described as emergent, climate change fiction constitutes a by now well-established set of literary texts that has attracted the attention of both academic and non-academic communities of readers. Prominent examples include Ian McEwan’s Solar, Margaret Atwood’s MaddAddam trilogy, Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, Barbara Kingsolver’s Flight Behavior, and Nathaniel Rich’s Odds against Tomorrow. The cultural place of this kind of writing has been confirmed by the recent publication of Adam Trexler’s survey Anthropocene Fictions: The Novel in a Time of Climate Change, amidst a growing body of literary-critical work (such as Adeline Johns-Putra’s), and the increasing acceptance into the mainstream of the “cli-fi” label. A typical facet of much climate change fiction is its imagination of a catastrophic future world in which climatological devastation, unfolding but often imperceptible and ignored in our times, is made tangible and inescapable. Other works steer clear of the prevalent post-apocalyptic or dystopian mode: set in the present, they explore the political, ethical, and psychological dimensions and ramifications of climate change at the current moment.

In addition to the rise of fiction grappling with the representational and existential challenges thrown up by a warming planet, the last few years have seen the publication of a significant amount of sophisticated humanities scholarship theorizing climate change and its cultural framings and impacts. Questions of scale have been key, from the planetary imagination of environmental crisis (Ursula Heise), over the conception of climate change as a form of slow violence (Rob Nixon) or a hyperobject massively distributed in time and space (Timothy Morton), to the derangement of temporal and spatial scales by which climate change can be mapped and represented (Timothy Clark). These scalar recalibrations have been prompted by the ascendancy in the academy of the notion of the Anthropocene. Even if the inception date of the new geological epoch defined by the actions of humans is subject to debate (Simon Lewis and Mark Maslin), the conceptualization of humanity’s geological agency has afforded ways to chart the history of our species before and beyond globalized industrial capitalism and its effects on the climate (Dipesh Chakrabarty). Moreover, it has created an awareness of the need to think beyond the humanist enclosures of critical theory (Tom Cohen) and to acknowledge the interconnectedness of the human and the non-human (Jane Bennett; Stacy Alaimo). Meanwhile, postcolonial, feminist, and queer theorists have reminded us of the disparities in agency, vulnerability, and impact among the world’s people in the “age of humans” (Nicholas Mirzoeff; Elizabeth DeLoughrey; Claire Colebrook).

This rich body of theoretical work provides numerous opportunities for developing new approaches to fictions of climate change. We invite paper submissions that engage topics such as the following:

  • literary strategies for overcoming the imaginative difficulties posed by the vast scale and complexity of the climate crisis
  • conceptualizations of the Anthropocene and how they inform the theory and practice of the literature of climate change
  • the relation between climate change fiction and new directions in ecocriticism (especially queer, postcolonial, new materialist, and memory and trauma studies)
  • the cultural representation of specific fossil fuels and energy systems in the context of climate change
  • representations of the relationship between economic and environmental crises
  • the relation between climate change fiction and literary and cultural responses to other “traumas” of modernity, ranging from genocide to the nuclear threat and the discovery of geological time in the early nineteenth century
  • widening the canon of climate change fiction: non-Western and minority literature, non-Anglophone literature, literary production prior to the late twentieth century, cultural forms of representation other than the novel, experimental narrative fiction, “high” vs. “low” literature, speculative realism

Submissions should be sent in Microsoft Word format, devoid of personally identifiable information. Manuscripts should be 8,000-10,000 words in length, inclusive of endnotes and works-cited list, have standard formatting (1” margins, double-spaced throughout, etc.), and conform to the latest edition of the MLA Style Manual. Endnotes should be as brief and as limited in number as possible. Illustrations may accompany articles; high-resolution digital files (JPEGs preferred) must be provided upon article acceptance. All copyright permissions must be obtained by the author prior to publication.

Questions and submissions should be sent to studiesinthenovel@unt.edu.

The deadline for submissions is February 10, 2017.

Samuel Beckett, Eindspel

Book Chapter
Stef Craps
Great Plays. Ed. Koen De Temmerman, Alexander Roose, and Julie Van Pelt. Ghent: Academia Press, 2018. [forthcoming]
Publication year: 2018

Memory Studies and the Anthropocene: A Roundtable

Journal Article
Stef Craps, Rick Crownshaw, Jennifer Wenzel, Rosanne Kennedy, Claire Colebrook, and Vin Nardizzi
Memory Studies 11.4 (2018). [forthcoming]
Publication year: 2018

The essays gathered here are slightly revised versions of the position papers presented as part of the roundtable on “Memory Studies and the Anthropocene” at the MLA Convention in Philadelphia in January 2017. What sparked this roundtable is the increasing currency of the Anthropocene, on the one hand, and the observation that the field of memory studies has lately begun to grapple with its implications in earnest, on the other. The participants, all of them leading scholars in the fields of memory studies and/or the environmental humanities, had been asked to respond to the following questions: “What are the implications of the notion of the Anthropocene for memory studies? How, if at all, does the awareness of living in a new geological epoch defined by the actions of human beings affect the objects of memory, the scales of remembrance, and the field’s humanist underpinnings?”

Introduction: The Rising Tide of Climate Change Fiction

Journal Article
Stef Craps and Rick Crownshaw
The Rising Tide of Climate Change Fiction. Ed. Stef Craps and Rick Crownshaw. Spec. issue of Studies in the Novel 50.1 (2018). [forthcoming]
Publication year: 2018

Contemporary Fiction vs. the Challenge of Imagining the Timescale of Climate Change

Journal Article
Mahlu Mertens and Stef Craps
The Rising Tide of Climate Change Fiction. Ed. Stef Craps and Rick Crownshaw. Spec. issue of Studies in the Novel 50.1 (2018). [forthcoming]
Publication year: 2018

Fiction writers who try to do justice to the vast temporal and spatial scales and the enormous complexity of climate change are faced with the problem that the phenomenon exceeds human perception and that it is not dramatic in the traditional sense. In this article we explore the formal challenges that arise when fiction takes on the temporality of climate change by examining three very different novels that seek to capture the geological timescale. We analyze Richard McGuire’s time-bending graphic novel Here (2014), Dale Pendell’s fictional future history The Great Bay (2010), and Jeanette Winterson’s cautionary science-fiction tale The Stone Gods (2007) through the lens of Barbara Adam’s concept of the timescape, Rob Nixon’s idea of slow violence, and Timothy Clark’s notion of destructive doubles to see what kinds of literary innovations and translations the timescale of climate change has provoked. In doing so, we ponder Clark’s question, posed in his recent book Ecocriticism on the Edge: The Anthropocene as a Threshold Concept (2015), whether humans are constitutionally incapable of imagining the Anthropocene—the new geological epoch defined by the action of humans of which climate change is the most salient manifestation—or whether authors can adequately depict and convey it by disrupting conventional modes of representation. We conclude that while each of the three novels ultimately falls short in this regard, collectively they do chart possible pathways for successful literary treatment of the most pressing ecological threat of our time.

Roundtable: Moving Memory

Journal Article
Stef Craps, Astrid Erll, Paula McFetridge, Ann Rigney, and Dominic Thorpe
Moving Memory: The Dynamics of the Past in Irish Culture. Ed. Emilie Pine. Spec. issue of Irish University Review 47.1 (2017). 165-96.
Publication year: 2017

This roundtable brings together a group of academics and artists working throughout Europe to discuss the question of memory in theoretical and artistic contexts at a historical moment highly preoccupied with acts of commemoration and moving memory.

Convened by Charlotte McIvor and Emilie Pine
Participants: Stef Craps, Ghent University;
Astrid Erll, Goethe-University Frankfurt am Main;
Paula McFetridge, Kabosh Productions;
Ann Rigney, Utrecht University;
Dominic Thorpe, artist

On Not Closing the Loop: Empathy, Ethics, and Transcultural Witnessing

Book Chapter
Stef Craps
The Postcolonial World. Ed. Jyotsna G. Singh and David D. Kim. Abingdon: Routledge, 2017. 53-67.
Publication year: 2017

That an empathic response to testimonies can lead to altruism is a key assumption of much cultural research on trauma and witnessing, which prides itself on its ethical commitment. Most trauma theorists also agree that empathy is to be distinguished from forms of affective involvement that do not recognize and respect the otherness of the other, and which are variously referred to as sympathy, projective identification, incorporation, or crude empathy. While this caveat against imperialism and appropriation is meant to prevent empathy from turning into a closed-loop process, canonical trauma theory itself has been plagued by Eurocentrism from its inception, as it tends not to adequately address the sufferings of members of non-Western or minority groups. In this essay, I will discuss the challenges that transcultural witnessing poses for empathic understanding and ethical thinking, using both theoretical and literary texts as examples, and focusing specifically on Dave Eggers’s novel What Is the What. Published by McSweeney’s in 2006, What Is the What, subtitled The Autobiography of Valentino Achak Deng, is a collaborative first-person testimony that tells the story of a refugee from the second Sudanese civil war. I argue that in this book Eggers manages both to stay true to the continuing cultural demand for empathy with distant others and to defuse or counter the prevailing scepticism about the morality of empathic identification that tends to find such efforts hopelessly wanting. What Is the What does not resolve all the moral ambiguities surrounding transcultural witnessing, but it is unafraid to confront them and refuses to be paralysed by them. The novel harnesses feeling in the face of suffering while continually reminding the reader that Deng’s experiences are not his or hers to inhabit. Rather than solidifying an already existing community, it calls a community of otherwise distant and disconnected people into being for the purposes of alleviating suffering.

Memory Unbound: Tracing the Dynamics of Memory Studies

Edited Volume
Lucy Bond, Stef Craps, and Pieter Vermeulen, eds.
New York: Berghahn, 2017. ISBN: 978-1-78533-300-2. 293 pp.
Publication year: 2017

What unites much of the most exciting research going on in the field of memory studies today is a tendency to regard memory not as fixed but as fluid, not as static but as dynamic, not as bound but as unbound. Memory is increasingly being studied as something that does not stay put but circulates, migrates, travels; it is more and more being conceptualized as a process, as work that is continually in progress, rather than as a reified object. Memory Unbound is the first book to systematically explore the four most important dimensions of the mobility of memory: its transcultural, transgenerational, transmedial, and transdisciplinary drift. While these dimensions have been treated separately to a greater or lesser extent in a number of publications, this collection considers them comprehensively and in an integrated manner. Bringing together many of the leading scholars of memory with emerging voices in the field, Memory Unbound transforms our current knowledge of the movements of memory across cultures, generations, media, and disciplines and sets an ambitious agenda for the future of memory studies.

With an introduction by Lucy Bond, Stef Craps, and Pieter Vermeulen and chapters by Aleida Assmann, Rick Crownshaw, Astrid Erll, Marianne Hirsch and Leo Spitzer, Brian Johnsrud, Rosanne Kennedy, Amanda Lagerkvist, Max Silverman, Joyce van de Bildt, José van Dijck, Frauke Wiegand, and Jessica K. Young.

Memory Unbound is exemplary of the research and writing of the “third wave” of memory studies. It heralds a new departure in keeping with the transforming effects of new technologies of communication, and conveys the energy and excitement attending the precipitous emergence and rapid development of this new realm of scholarship.
Patrick Hutton, University of Vermont

This is a great book – provocative, timely, and thoughtful. It proposes a future for memory research that finds a place for new investigators to embed their ideas.
Joanne Garde-Hansen, University of Warwick

Introduction: Memory on the Move

Book Chapter
Lucy Bond, Stef Craps, and Pieter Vermeulen
Memory Unbound: Tracing the Dynamics of Memory Studies. Ed. Lucy Bond, Stef Craps, and Pieter Vermeulen. New York: Berghahn, 2017. 1-26.
Publication year: 2017

This introductory essay situates the four sections of the book in ongoing discussions on the methods, ethics, and politics of memory studies. Starting from the observation that memory is increasingly being studied as a dynamic process rather than a static product, it identifies the four main dimensions of mnemonic mobility in a globalized and digitalized world: transcultural, transgenerational, transmedial, and transdisciplinary. Underlining that these four dimensions cannot be studied in isolation from each other, it contends that attention to the interrelations between them is indispensable for the study of memory today. The essay shows how all twelve chapters in the book contribute to the project of capturing the dynamics of memory.   

Climate Change and the Art of Anticipatory Memory

Journal Article
Stef Craps
Memory after Humanism. Ed. Susanne C. Knittel and Kári Driscoll. Spec. issue of Parallax 23.4 (2017). [forthcoming]
Publication year: 2017

This essay explores a narrative device familiar from sci-fi and dystopian fiction that is commonly used in literary and cultural responses to climate change, and which is particularly suggestive for thinking through the implications of the Anthropocene for memory and the field of memory studies. Works as generically diverse as Franny Armstrong’s film The Age of Stupid (2009), Naomi Oreskes and Erik M. Conway’s fictional future history The Collapse of Western Civilization: A View from the Future (2014), George Turner’s novel The Sea and Summer (1987), and Jan Zalasiewicz’s popular science book The Earth after Us (2008) all feature a historian, archivist, or geologist who looks back on our present moment from a distant vantage point in a dystopian, (almost) post-human future irrevocably marked by climate change. These works can thus be seen to respond to the challenge of the Anthropocene—an era that requires the future anterior tense for its very conceptualization— to consider human and inhuman scales in relation to one another. The preoccupation with anticipated memory and preliminary or proleptic mourning evident in fictional future histories of climate change, which subvert the customary parameters of memory in terms of both scale and directionality, resonates with recent calls for memory studies to become more future-oriented instead of merely backward-looking. Scholars typically seek to make memory studies relevant to the present and the future by forging more robust links between memory and transitional justice or human rights discourses. Climate fiction of the future-history variety—which mourns future losses proleptically in order for these losses not to come to pass in the first place—presents another promising avenue for further research in the same spirit.

The Grey Zone

General-Audience Article
Stef Craps
Encylopédie critique du témoignage et de la mémoire. Ed. Philippe Mesnard. 21 Aug. 2016.
Publication year: 2016

Humanitarianism, Testimony, and the White Savior Industrial Complex: What Is the What versus Kony 2012

Journal Article
Sean Bex and Stef Craps
Cultural Critique 92 (Winter 2016): 32-56.
Publication year: 2016

This article compares Dave Eggers’s What Is the What and Invisible Children’s Kony 2012, two recent and much-debated instances of human rights advocacy that mobilize subaltern testimonies. They do so in mutually illuminating ways, as they interact quite differently with the neocolonial discourses that come into play as Western activists and audiences engage with the disenfranchised voices of the Global South. We argue that Kony 2012 appropriates the subaltern’s voice and subsequently reaffirms colonial power relations by evoking a strong sense of the charitable West sympathetically giving to the perpetually inferior and destitute South. Eggers’s use of testimony, by contrast, is collaborative rather than appropriative, and is therefore able to challenge through both its form and its content many of the detrimental neocolonial assumptions and hierarchies that abound in Invisible Children’s campaign.

The One. Essay on Roger Federer

General-Audience Article
Stef Craps
De adelaar van Benidorm: Over bijnamen in de sport. Ed. Arne De Winde, Oliver Ibsen, Steffy Merlevede, and Pieter Verstraeten. Antwerp: Houtekiet, 2015. 27-29.
Publication year: 2015

Playing with Trauma: Interreactivity, Empathy, and Complicity in The Walking Dead Video Game

Journal Article
Toby Smethurst and Stef Craps
Games and Culture: A Journal of Interactive Media 10.3 (2015): 269-90.
Publication year: 2015

Just as books and films about traumatic events have become part of Western popular culture, so the theme of trauma and its accompanying tropes have been seeping into video games over the last two decades. In spite of the discernible trauma trend within video games, however, and the potential they exhibit for representing trauma in new ways, they have received very little critical notice from trauma theorists. In this article, we argue that a trauma-theoretical study of games has much to offer our understanding of the ways that trauma can be represented, in addition to giving game studies scholars further insight into how games manage to elicit such strong emotions and difficult ethical quandaries in players. We demonstrate this by performing a close reading of one recent and much-discussed game, The Walking Dead: Season One, analyzing how it incorporates psychological trauma in terms of inter(re)activity, empathy, and complicity.

Decolonizing Trauma Studies Round-Table Discussion

Journal Article
Stef Craps, Bryan Cheyette, Alan Gibbs, Sonya Andermahr, and Larissa Allwork
Decolonizing Trauma Studies: Trauma and Postcolonialism. Ed. Sonya Andermahr. Spec. issue of Humanities 4.4 (2015): 905-23. Rpt. in Decolonizing Trauma Studies: Trauma and Postcolonialism. Ed. Sonya Andermahr. Basel: MDPI, 2016. 189-207.
Publication year: 2015

This round-table, which featured literary critics Professor Stef Craps, Professor Bryan Cheyette and Dr. Alan Gibbs, was recorded as part of the “Decolonizing Trauma Studies” symposium organized by Dr. Sonya Andermahr and Dr. Larissa Allwork at The School of The Arts, The University of Northampton (15 May 2015). Convened a week after the University of Zaragoza’s “Memory Frictions” conference, where Cheyette, Gibbs, Andermahr and Allwork gave papers, the Northampton symposium and round-table was sponsored by The School of The Arts to coincide with Andermahr’s guest editorship of this special issue of Humanities. Craps, Cheyette and Gibbs addressed five questions during the round-table. Namely, does trauma studies suffer from a form of psychological universalism? Do you see any signs that trauma studies is becoming more decolonized? What are the challenges of a decolonized trauma studies for disciplinary thinking? How does a decolonized trauma studies relate to pedagogical ethics? Finally, where do you see the future of the field? While this edited transcript retains a certain informality of style, it offers a significant contribution to knowledge by capturing a unique exchange between three key thinkers in contemporary trauma studies, providing a timely analysis of the impact of postcolonial theory on trauma studies, the state of the field and its future possibilities. Issues addressed include the problematic scholarly tendency to universalize a western model of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD); the question of the centrality of the Holocaust in trauma studies and the implications of this for the study of atrocities globally; the vexed issues posed by the representation of perpetrators; as well as how the basic tenets of western cultural trauma theory, until recently so often characterized by a Caruth-inspired focus on belatedness and afterwardness, are being rethought, both in response to developments in the US and in answer to the challenge to ‘decolonize’ trauma studies.

An Interview with Dave Eggers and Mimi Lok

Journal Article
Sean Bex and Stef Craps
Contemporary Literature 56.4 (2015): 544-67.
Publication year: 2015

On 18 March 2015 we had the rare opportunity to interview the celebrated American author Dave Eggers and Mimi Lok, co-founder with Eggers of the socially engaged oral history non-profit Voice of Witness, in front of a student audience at the Vooruit cultural center in Ghent, Belgium. The occasion for their visit was Eggers’s being awarded the 2015 Amnesty International Chair at Ghent University in recognition of his human rights work. The interview aimed to give the audience an overall sense of the various creative and charitable projects in which Eggers and Lok are involved and which have earned them widespread acclaim. This published version of it is an edited and condensed transcript. The interview consists of two parts. The first part deals with Eggers’s literary work, homing in on The Circle in particular. The second part focuses on Voice of Witness and on how this project relates to Eggers’s work as a writer.

"In ruil voor zogenaamde vrijheid en gratis spullen laten we toe dat we worden bespied": Interview met Dave Eggers en Mimi Lok

General-Audience Article
Sean Bex and Stef Craps
Knack.be 31 Oct. 2015.
Publication year: 2015

The Grey Zone

General-Audience Article
Stef Craps
Dictionnaire testimonial et mémoriel. Témoigner: Entre histoire et mémoire 118 (Sept. 2014): 202-03.
Publication year: 2014

Nachträglichkeit: A Freudian Perspective on Delayed Traumatic Reactions

Journal Article
Gregory Bistoen, Stijn Vanheule, and Stef Craps
Theory & Psychology 24.5 (2014): 668-87.
Publication year: 2014

The Freudian concept of Nachträglichkeit is central to the psychoanalytical understanding of trauma. However, it has not received much attention within the contemporary field of trauma studies. This paper attempts to reconstruct the logic inherent to this concept by examining Freud’s remarks on the case of Emma. Furthermore, it is argued that Nachträglichkeit offers an interesting perspective on both (a) the well-established yet controversial finding that traumatic reactions sometimes follow in the wake of non-Criterion A events (so-called minor stressors or life events) and (b) the often-neglected phenomenon of delayed-onset PTSD. These two phenomena will appear to be related in some instances. Nachträglichkeit clarifies one way in which traumatic encounters are mediated by subjective dimensions above and beyond the objective particularities of both the event and the person. It demonstrates that the subjective impact of an event is not given once and for all but is malleable by subsequent experiences.

Holocaust Memory and the Critique of Violence in Caryl Churchill’s Seven Jewish Children: A Play for Gaza

Book Chapter
Stef Craps
The Future of Testimony: Interdisciplinary Perspectives on Witnessing. Ed. Jane Kilby and Antony Rowland. Abingdon: Routledge, 2014. 179-92.
Publication year: 2014

This chapter explores the role of Holocaust memory in Caryl Churchill’s Seven Jewish Children, a short play written in response to Israel’s 2008-2009 attack on Gaza. Controversially, the play invokes the memory of the Nazi genocide of the European Jews to criticize Israeli violence against the Palestinians. To accuse Seven Jewish Children of anti-Semitism for allegedly equating Jews with Nazis, though, is to ignore the play’s complexity, multivocality, and indeterminacy. Seven Jewish Children does not deny the narrative of Jewish victimization but undermines the assumption that Jews have a monopoly on victimhood. The memory of Jewish suffering is mobilized in the service of a politics that seeks to diminish suffering universally.

Holocaust Literature: Comparative Perspectives

Book Chapter
Stef Craps
The Bloomsbury Companion to Holocaust Literature. Ed. Jenni Adams. London: Bloomsbury, 2014. 199-218.
Publication year: 2014

This chapter discusses attempts to theorize the interrelatedness of the Holocaust and other histories of victimization against the background of, firstly, the recent broadening of the focus of the field of memory studies from the national to the transnational level, and, secondly, efforts to bridge a disciplinary divide between Jewish and postcolonial studies preventing the Holocaust and histories of slavery and colonial domination from being considered in a common frame. In so doing, it highlights the pitfalls as well as the possibilities of bringing different atrocities into contact, a challenging and often controversial endeavour that holds both perils and promises. Next, it explores the ways in which the Native American writer Sherman Alexie negotiates various comparative perspectives on the Holocaust in “The Game between the Jews and the Indians Is Tied Going into the Bottom of the Ninth Inning” (1993), a sonnet-length poem that considers Jews and Native Americans as similarly oppressed ethnic minorities, and “Inside Dachau” (1996), a long, meditative poem that describes a Native American’s reflections on visiting the site of a former Nazi concentration camp.

Beyond Eurocentrism: Trauma Theory in the Global Age

Book Chapter
Stef Craps
The Future of Trauma Theory: Contemporary Literary and Cultural Criticism. Ed. Gert Buelens, Sam Durrant, and Robert Eaglestone. Abingdon: Routledge, 2014. 45-61. Rpt. and trans. (into Polish) in Antologia studiów nad traumą. Ed. Tomasz Łysak. Kraków: Universitas, 2015. 417-42.
Publication year: 2014

Despite a stated commitment to cross-cultural solidarity, trauma theory – an area of cultural investigation that emerged out of the “ethical turn” affecting the humanities in the 1990s – is marked by a Eurocentric, monocultural bias. In this chapter, I take issue with the tendency of the founding texts of the field to marginalize or ignore traumatic experiences of non-Western or minority groups, to take for granted the universal validity of definitions of trauma and recovery that have developed out of the history of Western modernity, and to favour or even prescribe a modernist aesthetic of fragmentation and aporia as uniquely suited to the task of bearing witness to trauma. I contend that the suffering engendered by colonialism and its aftermath needs to be acknowledged more fully, on its own terms, and in its own terms if trauma theory is to redeem its promise of cross-cultural ethical engagement. I illustrate this argument – developed at greater length in my book Postcolonial Witnessing: Trauma Out of Bounds (Palgrave Macmillan, 2013) – with a case study of a literary text that seems to me to call for a more inclusive, materialist, and politicized form of trauma theory. Published in 2010 to great critical acclaim, Aminatta Forna’s novel The Memory of Love examines how survivors of the Sierra Leone Civil War cope with the physical and psychological scars of those years. One of its protagonists is a British psychologist specializing in post-traumatic stress disorder who is volunteering with the stretched mental health services in Freetown in 2001, and who brings familiar Western ideas to the problems of the local population that he has been parachuted in to help solve. The novel is marked by a profound ambivalence about the applicability and viability of Western treatment methods in post-Civil War Sierra Leone. While there is a measure of closure for some characters, The Memory of Love – a fine example of literary realism – also awakens its readers to the chronic, ongoing suffering endured in silence by whole swathes of the population, in the face of which narrative therapy is an inadequate response. Thus, Forna’s novel can be seen to pose a challenge to trauma theory to remove its Eurocentric blinkers – a challenge, I argue, that the field would be well advised to embrace.

Badiou’s Theory of the Event and the Politics of Trauma Recovery

Journal Article
Gregory Bistoen, Stijn Vanheule, and Stef Craps
Theory & Psychology 24.6 (2014): 830-51.
Publication year: 2014

There exists a conceptual parallel between psychological accounts of psychic trauma on the one hand, and French philosopher Alain Badiou’s notion of the event on the other: both are defined by a relation of incommensurability or excessiveness with regard to the pre-existent context or system. Further development of this parallel, i.e., viewing trauma as an event in the Badiouian sense, enables us to pinpoint and clarify a logical fallacy at work in psychological theories of post-traumatic growth. By thinking of trauma recovery as a process of accommodating the preexistent mental schemata to the “new trauma-related information,” these theories risk taking as a given that which must first be constituted by the subject: the “content” (i.e., “information”) of the trauma. By emphasizing the necessity of the activity of the subject for the development of a new context that allows the event to be “read,” Badiou’s theory of the subject offers a way around the aforementioned logical fallacy. In so doing, it re-introduces the essential yet generally neglected political dimension of trauma recovery. This is illustrated through the example of the speak-outs of the 1970s women’s liberation movement.

Postcolonial Witnessing: Trauma Out of Bounds

Authored Book
Stef Craps
Houndmills: Palgrave Macmillan, 2013; paperback 2015. ISBN: 978-0-230-23007-1 (hb); 978-1-137-54319-6 (pb). 170 pp.
Publication year: 2013

Despite a stated commitment to cross-cultural solidarity, trauma theory – an area of cultural investigation that emerged out of the “ethical turn” affecting the humanities in the 1990s – is marked by a Eurocentric, monocultural bias. This book takes issue with the tendency of the founding texts of the field to marginalize or ignore traumatic experiences of non-Western or minority groups, and to take for granted the universal validity of definitions of trauma and recovery that have developed out of the history of Western modernity. Moreover, it questions the assumption that a modernist aesthetic of fragmentation and aporia is uniquely suited to the task of bearing witness to trauma, and criticizes the neglect of the connections between metropolitan and non-Western or minority traumas. Combining theoretical argument with literary case studies, Postcolonial Witnessing contends that the suffering engendered by colonialism needs to be acknowledged more fully, on its own terms, in its own terms, and in relation to traumatic First World histories if trauma theory is to redeem its promise of cross-cultural ethical engagement.

Shortlisted for the 2014 ESSE Book Award

One of Times Higher Education‘s Books of 2013

Endorsements and reviews:

In this beautifully and clearly written book, Stef Craps leads trauma theory away from its Eurocentric past and towards a decolonized future. Arguing that the traumas of non-Western populations should be acknowledged for their own sake and on their own terms, Postcolonial Witnessing demonstrates through its exemplary discussion of literary texts including the works of Anita Desai and Caryl Phillips how literary analysis can become a part of that process. Timely, provocative, and destined to be widely read, this book makes a path-breaking contribution to memory, trauma, and literary studies.
Susannah Radstone, University of East London

Bridging the gap between Jewish and postcolonial studies, Stef Craps’s new postcolonial reading of the work of Sindiwe Magona, David Dabydeen, Fred D’Aguiar, Caryl Phillips, and Anita Desai covers exciting new ground in trauma theory. Challenging the hegemonic framings of the dominant ‘trauma aesthetic,’ Craps broadens our understanding of traumatic experience by examining literary works that depict life under South African apartheid, the Middle Passage, the links between histories of black and Jewish suffering, and those between the Holocaust and colonialism. This is a fine study and a welcome addition to the field of trauma studies.
Victoria Burrows, University of Sydney

Rereading @stefcraps Postcolonial Witnessing — it’s intellectually sparkling and beautifully written, a superb example of quality critique.
John McLeod, University of Leeds

Stef Craps’ Postcolonial Witnessing: Trauma Out of Bounds is a brilliant and important book, a book that one hopes will initiate a new phase in postcolonial and trauma studies. In a highly theoretical area such as postcolonialism, the clarity and concreteness of Craps’ approach is extremely refreshing. What is inspiring about this study is how it addresses the importance of the textual rendering of the traumatic experience as well as the relevance of testimony and of the ethical responsibility of the audience, and pushes for a careful analysis of the “signifying” work of the literary text that is virtually unseen in postcolonial studies done today.
Simona Bertacco, Testimony between History and Memory (121 (Oct. 2015): 165-66)

Stef Craps’s Postcolonial Witnessing: Trauma Out of Bounds serves as a wonderful starting point for anyone interested in recent critical paths in trauma studies. Not only does it give a good overview and critique of foundational early work by such scholars as Cathy Caruth, Shoshana Felman, Dori Laub, Dominic LaCapra, and Geoffrey H. Hartman, but it also brings together the work of many recent scholars who, like the author of this monograph, have noted trauma studies’ exclusions of various groups and types of traumatic experiences. In covering this vast amount of critical territory and doing so with adept and cogent arguments, Postcolonial Witnessing proves itself a particularly useful and important introduction to the field for both students and other scholars seeking entry.
Veronica Austen, Canadian Review of Comparative Literature / Revue Canadienne de Littérature Comparée (42.3 (Sept. 2015): 334-37)

Craps makes a compelling case for the need to expand the current event-based model to ‘alternative conceptualizations of trauma’ proposed by postcolonial critiques, such as ‘insidious trauma,’ ‘continuous traumatic stress,’ ‘cumulative trauma,’ or ‘oppression-based trauma.’ . . . His skillful analysis of these texts is particularly relevant for scholars of literature, but Craps also weaves into his readings insights gained from the theoretical literature . . . Craps’ fine study . . .
Björn Krondorfer, theologie.geschichte (10 (2015))

. . . successful engagement with postcolonial theory and memory studies . . . There is an unquestionable sincerity of critical engagement with the very vast body of literature both critics discuss. They explain theoretical ideas with a clarity and conciseness that indicates their extensive knowledge of scholarship in the area. In the tradition of effective postcolonial critique, the authors also mention the literary and social implications of their work. For Craps this involves an ‘inclusive and culturally sensitive trauma theory’ that opens up the possibility of ‘a more just future’ . . . Scholars and students of contemporary postcolonial literature will find these books useful as maps of the fields of cross-cultural and memory studies.
Kanika Batra, Wasafiri (30.2 (Feb. 2015): 90-91)

Postcolonial Witnessing represents a major contribution to the field of trauma studies in that it calls for a conversation between the historically discrete, if not self-isolating, fields of trauma theory and postcolonial studies. . . . In conclusion, Stef Craps’ Postcolonial Witnessing: Trauma Out of Bounds is a text that has, without a doubt, pushed the field of trauma studies towards a more positive and critical direction of analysis and ethical engagement. Scholars of trauma and postcolonial theory alike have much to benefit from Craps’ book. With that said, this text proves equally beneficial to many other fields of study, such as political science, international relations, human rights, history, anthropology and sociology, to name a few. Another strength of Postcolonial Witnessing is that it has the potential to influence spheres of policy and practice beyond the realm of the academy. . . . A fundamental leap in the right direction, Postcolonial Witnessing opens a path for new, more generative theorizations of trauma.
Enmanuel Martínez, e-misférica (11.1 (2014))

Stef Craps’s Postcolonial Witnessing: Trauma Out of Bounds attempts to adapt the rather recent advances of trauma theory to postcolonial theory and despite its flaws, it is one of the more important texts on trauma theory in recent time. . . . overall it is a very strong look at trauma studies.
Henry James Morello, The Comparatist (38 (Oct. 2014): 345-47)

Stef Craps’ Postcolonial Witnessing: Trauma Out of Bounds is a timely and much needed corrective to the polarized debate – particularly in postcolonial studies – around the uses and abuses of trauma theory. . . . I strongly recommend Postcolonial Witnessing to anyone interested in future applications of trauma theory in various fields of study, especially postcolonial literature.
Fred Ribkoff, Postcolonial Text (9.1 (2014))

Stef Craps’s excellent study calls for the decolonizing of trauma theory and begins from the premise that its founding texts have failed to live up to the promise of cross-cultural ethical engagement. In a carefully argued thesis, he accuses trauma theory of Eurocentric bias in four crucial ways . . . Overall, this short book advances an eloquent plea to rethink trauma from a postcolonial perspective in order to listen to the suffering of Others beyond the western purview and, thereby, in Craps’s words, ‘remain faithful to the ethical foundation of the field’.
Sonya Andermahr, Journal of Postcolonial Writing (49.4 (2013): 494-96)

Despite the seriousness of the topic, the clarity and flow of Craps’s writing makes Postcolonial Witnessing a joy. . . . This is a book that engages with current debates in a lively and interesting way and is sure to be of interest to scholars of trauma, postcolonialism, cultural memory studies and related fields. Its clear structure and thorough consideration of foundational and recent literature, including an excellent index and bibliography, will also make it a useful text to those who are new to the topic. In fact, the book’s strong argument, clear structure and engaging prose make Postcolonial Witnessing an example of what an academic text should be.
Alison Atkinson-Phillips, Dialogues on Historical Justice and Memory (20 Nov. 2013)