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.