Literature in Practice: The Poetics of Transgenerational Trauma



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Far from simply being an upsetting memory of an event located in the past, trauma involves a complex psychic operation that challenges the notion of a distinct psychic past or present. --Meera Alexander ...always the story of a wound that cries out, that addresses us in the attempt to tell us of a reality or truth not otherwise available. ¬--Cary Caruth How does writing and reading connect us to events that we did not experience directly ourselves, but that we have inherited and are marked by nonetheless? What haunts our present, what ancestors do we feel burdened or impressed by? In this class we will engage critically with Meena Alexander's notion of the poetics of transgenerational trauma ("the transmission of trauma across generations and its literary testimony") and connected theories, such as Marianne Hirsch's post memory ("being connected to the past not by recall but by imaginative investment, projection, and creation"), and Jane Wong's poetics of haunting. We will look at literature that contends with familial histories, narratives of war and diaspora, collaborations with the dead, and writing as a space of collective and personal memory making. Together, we will consider what it means to be, what Jacques Lacan neologized as, the parlêtre--the speaking being, the body gripped by language. Part of this engagement will include embodied practices such as dream work, deep listening, and somatic writing practices.

Credit Evaluation: Active participation in book discussions and peer review. Students are also expected to produce a portfolio of original writings that integrates feedback and revision suggestions. Note: This class is rooted in the study of literature and will contextualize trauma primarily through the analysis and composition of prose and poetry.

Learning Outcomes: -students will read widely across trauma theory and literatures that explore transgenerational trauma. -students will be able to identify characteristics of the genre. -students will work with critical terminology pertinent to trauma theory in literature and engage those concepts in discussions of texts and their own writing. -students will produce their own family histories and research wider historical contexts of their family lineage. -students will produce a portfolio of original writings that engage transgenerational themes. -students will be able to critically discern aesthetic processes that contribute to the translation of trauma into art and writing.


Fall 2021
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