the trauma question

Trauma is a piercing or breach of a border that puts inside and outside into a strange communication. Trauma violently opens passageways between systems that were once discrete, making unforeseen connections that distress or confound.



The work of Cathy Caruth…turns on the device of aporia, or unresolvable paradox.



…trauma was an inherently ‘paradoxical experience’. An event might be considered traumatic to the extent that it overwhelmed the psychic defences and normal processes of registering memory traces. Trauma is somehow seared directly into the psyche, almost like a piece of shrapnel, and is not subject to the distortions of subjective memory: it is a ‘symptom of history’…Yet precisely because of this unusual memory registration, it may be that what is most traumatic is that which does not appear in conscious memory. ‘traumatic experience’, as caruth formulates it, ‘suggests a certain paradox: that the most direct seeing of a violent event may occur as an absolute inability to know it.’…Paradoxes intensify around this critical instant of a defining yet unknowable memory lodged in the mind: under the sign of trauma, ‘a history can be grasped only in the very inaccessibility of its occurrence’, ‘its truth is bound up with its crisis of truth. A further Freudian paradox is the strange temporality of traumatic memory: an event can only be understood as traumatic after the fact, through the symptoms and flashbacks and delayed attempts at understanding that these signs of disturbance produce. The ‘peculiar, temporal structure,  the belatedness of trauma’ is another aporia: ‘since the traumatic event is not experienced as it occurs, it is fully evident only in connection in another place, and with another time’. For Caruth, trauma is therefore a crisis of representation, of history and truth, and of narrative time. Repeatedly, there is the claim that psychoanalysis and literature are peculiarly privileged forms of writing that can attend to these perplexing paradoxes of trauma.


roger luckhurst, the trauma question, routledge 2008.