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Fragmented Experience: Toward a Poetics of Trauma and Melancholia

Sun, December 16, 10:00 to 11:30am, Seaport Hotel & World Trade Center, Skyline Room

Session Submission Type: Panel Session


The three presentations in this panel explore the ways in which Jewish authors have dealt with the disruption of subjective life and the fragmentation of experience occasioned by traumatic historical events. These traumatic events subsequently reemerge in literary and testimonial accounts not only as external stimuli that exert a decisive influence on the individual’s life, but also as a form of poetics, a set of governing poetic principles. Such poetics is at work in the ambiguous status of the living dead in the writings of M. Y. Berdichevsky as a case study of Hebrew revival literature; in the destruction of the capacity for figural representation in Jean Améry’s account of Nazi torture; and in the temporal discontinuities that inform David Grossman’s novels on second-generation Holocaust survivors and on the mother of an Israeli soldier deployed into combat.

The emergence of trauma and melancholia as literary phenomena, rather than strictly as psychological phenomena, opens a vista of critical questions with which the panelists will deal in their respective papers: Can trauma and melancholia be given an adequate literary representation, or do they necessarily imply the failure of the figurative capacity? What is the relation between individual trauma and collective trauma, and between trauma and history? Can trauma be transmitted in order to serve as a source for Jewish identity? And, finally, can trauma and melancholia be mastered or worked through, if not conceptually, then at least aesthetically or poetically, by means of literature? By critically engaging with such questions, the panel aims at outlining the contours of a poetics of trauma and melancholia in Jewish literature and determining its role in, and relevance to modern Jewish culture.

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