Storytelling & Trauma
An Inclusive Interdisciplinary Project
Saturday 6th October – Sunday 7th October 2018
Conference Abstracts and Papers
Responding to Traumarchy: A Mutual Empowerment Model for Family Violence and Sexual Assault Workers
In the context of response work to gender based crimes (specifically Family Violence and Sexual Assault) there is a strong body of evidence that validates survivor story telling as a means to give agency to a victim-survivor’s voice. While the voice of the storyteller is critical, less importance is placed on the impact of story-telling on the listener. This paper explores the role of Family Violence and Sexual Assault workers as perpetually being professional listeners, witnessing stories of violence and trauma. It argues for a process by which workers move from ‘passive listeners’ often left ‘holding’ the trauma, to taking responsive action as way to mitigate the likelihood of vicarious trauma. This process can be understood as a mutual empowerment model.
The foundational principle of this model acknowledges that the dynamics of family violence and sexual assault are power and coercive control, at the centre of which is an ‘annihilation of self’. This individual experience of gender-based inequality and abuse of power is mirrored and reinforced by systems of patriarchy and institutional violence, which some theorists have termed ‘traumarchy’. This paper posits that the role of witness requires a conscious two step approach; reflective validation and micro actions of systemic activism. Both processes must be consciously undertaken to awaken in the listener a sense of their own agency, therefore mitigating the possibility of traumatisation through a felt sense of powerlessness. Mutual empowerment occurs through the process of reflective validation as an action of trauma recovery for the storyteller and an act of agency for the listener. Micro actions of systemic activism are conscious actions the worker takes to advance a larger systems response to disrupt the causes of gender based violence and trauma, while taking practical steps, where possible, to change the individual circumstances of the storyteller.
From Trench to Bench and Back: The Revisiting of Trauma in the Personal and Professional Story of a Psychologist
Reviewing the core truisms of trauma and moral resilience through personal and professional lenses, makes it possible to sequence their impact along a timeline starting well before the time of the traumatic event. In this case, the author’s family history as a second generation of the Holocaust, through war and POW experiences, followed by a long period of adjustment and coping with its consequences, to their present day expressions. It is through a lifelong inquiry and quest for growth as a researcher, psychotherapist, teacher and an active member in various human rights groups, that a life story is constructed.
The combined personal and professional narratives start with the author’s own personal trauma as a veteran and prisoner of war some 40 years ago. In this presentation I will suggest the use of the self as an agent of meaning making for oneself and others, and the interfacing of personal experience and professional knowledge.
Resilience is measured by the capacity to read meaning into post-traumatic life. The reciprocal contribution of personal narratives and professional knowledge may serve as a powerful engine in promoting both personal equanimity and professional potency for the benefit of self and others.
The Place of Memory within Trauma: The Perception of Positive Experiences as Narrated by Holocaust Concentration Camp Survivors
Bar Ilan University, Ramat Gan, Israel
trauma, resilience, Holocaust, narratives, memory, survivors, interviewing, testimony
The central theme of this paper examines the crucial role memory plays in the face of severe, long term trauma. Specifically, the focus will be on what I label the subjective perception of memory as recalled and narrated by survivors 50-60 years after the trauma. This was the subject of my doctoral research: “Positive Experiences Within a Severely Traumatic Framework as Perceived and Narrated by Holocaust Concentration Camp Survivors”.
I personally interviewed 56 survivors for the research. The emphasis was on survivors’ narratives of perceived positive experiences within the horror of daily life in the camps. Until this research, the question of remembering positive experiences in such a traumatic framework had not been asked, and although the survivors had participated in testimony-giving interviews previously, the stories of positive experience had not been recalled. These positive subjective experiences were often buried deep within the memory of the torture, starvation and dehumanization.
A prime factor enabling the survivors to confront this question was the manner in which the interviews were conducted. I adopted the tenets of PCA (People Centered Approach) as developed by the late Carl Rogers, together with 40 years’ experience as a clinical psychologist working with trauma victims. More than 50% of those interviewed were able to recall, state out loud and then narrate, for the first time in over half a century, subjective positive experiences. For many that memory was “liberating” and a testament to the human spirit. They urged me to tell their stories which led to the publishing of my book: “After Auschwitz, the Unasked Question”.
Additional findings of this study included testing the interviewees on the optimism and pessimism scale. And surprisingly the majority of those who were able to narrate a positive experience tested as being pessimistic and not optimistic by nature.
Bella: Sex Trafficking and Global desaparecidos
graphic novel, human trafficking, sexual exploitation, trauma, prostitution, child abuse
Human trafficking, which affects 2.5 million women and children every year[i], is reflected in the graphic novel Beya: Le viste la cara a Dios/Bella. You Saw God’s Face (Digital Format 2011 and Eterna Cadencia, 2013) by the Argentinean writer and journalist Gabriela Cabezón Cámara (1968- ) and the illustrator Iñaki Echeverría (1974- ). The goal of my presentation is to analyze the mechanisms used in the text (colloquial tone, a poetic rhythm that resembles rap music, the image of the Virgin Mary and, superheroes) to present a deranged and fragmented world of a young girl kidnapped and submerged into the underworld of prostitution. The use of these narratological mechanisms along with the format of the work (graphic novel) seems to aim to capture the attention, not only of general readers but of young people, about one of the hottest, yet most ignored, topics worldwide of human trafficking and its consequences for the young kidnapped person. This systematic violation of human rights and the trauma of the main protagonist of the graphic novel embodies the discussion around the impunity of those in power (governments, politicians, security forces, multinational corporations, religious institutions, just to name few). Without this impunity, the numbers of these disappeared people wouldn’t consistently increase globally. The reality is that despite the effort of numberless organizations, the sanction of new laws and policies around the world on this subject, the number of disappearance increases.
Eco-Voices of Children in War-Torn Environment
Fatma Mohamed Zoghlof
Faculty of women Ain Shams University
Children’s Right, Memoirs, Children’s Literature, War, Trauma, Testimonial Literature, Toxic Discourse, Environment, Marginalization, UN Convention For the Rights of the Child
This paper aims to shed light on children’s literature (written by children themselves) from the perspective of children’s rights especially after the issuing of the United Nation Convention on the Rights of the Child. The Convention brought to the fore a group in society that has for a long time been invisible and discriminated against on the base of age. The paper tries to tackle the gap in the implementation of these rights and encouraging the shift from Geneva scene to the grassroots where children’s rights have to be realized in actual context. The debate on children’s rights has become a technical debate on the most effective and efficient way to implement children’s rights. Although there are several rights secured to the child by international conventions yet most of these rights are not secured to the children in war zones, there is a gap between what is stated and what is applied. How far are such rights applied and ensured to all the children worldwide especially in the context of war and armed conflicts? Therefore, this paper will focus on the marginalized voice of the unheard child by studying war memoirs written by children and will try to bridge such gap by exploring the applicability of the rights of children in cases of wars and political tension. In addition to trying to bridge the gap in the critical theories dealing with children’s rights by extending the scope of toxic discourse theory to include war as it is considered a threat to both the environment and humans.
The Elaboration of Developmental Trauma via Reciprocal Storytelling: The Case of Bruce
Jerrold R. Brandell
Wayne State University
Therapeutic storytelling; developmental trauma; family secrets; reciprocal storytelling technique
The use of allegories, fables, parables, myths, and legends in the intergenerational transmission of important values and moral precepts has been traced to virtually every culture since the beginning of recorded history, thus underscoring the effectiveness of storytelling as a mode of communication with the young. Imaginative stories, through which children are able to narrate their lives, are intensely personal and often filled with high drama; they are rich with dynamic meaning, important themes and conflicts, and efforts at resolution and adaptation. Like the dreams that are Freud’s “royal road to the unconscious,” the make-believe stories of children offer the listener an unsurpassed opportunity to enter a domain of childhood usually off-limits to grown-ups. The case I will present illustrates the basic technique of imaginative storytelling. It is from the psychotherapy of a 14-year-old boy who had suffered developmental traumata, and whose intrafamilial adoption had remained a closely guarded family secret at the insistence of his adoptive parents.
Enacting the Language Arts as a Portal to Trauma Safe Schools: Reading and Writing For, With and By Teachers and Students
State University of New York: Empire State College
Children throughout the world experience trauma that is unimaginable even to teachers who work with them every day. In the 2011 report by the US Department of Health and Human Services, 3.4 million referrals of child abuse were reported. Of the substantiated reports, 75 % of children suffered from neglect, 15% suffered physical abuse, and 9% of the children, as reported, experienced sexual abuse. (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2012). Although striking, the statistics do not include school shootings, an epidemic plaguing elementary and secondary education in the United States.
The students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida experienced the once unimaginable, a school shooting that killed students and teachers and traumatized survivors. The survivors drew on song, performance, poetry and prose to tell their # Never again story to the world. It is this power of language, specifically poetry, picture books, drama and literature, that the authors of this proposal draw on to work with schools in the process of establishing learning communities where constitutes tell their own stories and listen to stories from within and beyond the school community.
The Art of Talking with Ghosts
Independent Artist and Academic
Indigenous, settler, colonialism, mourning, place, art, ghosts, haunting, ethics, Australia
Landscapes are constructed as much by history, politics and the subjective lens of the persons viewing them, as by geophysics. The Australian landscape is not innocent; rather it bears the traces of historic violence and is itself an embodiment of trauma. Contemporary settler-colonial Australia is a country haunted by the ghosts of its violent frontier history. The massacre sites that scar the country are psychic ‘hotspots’ of trauma. The ways in which these places of historic violence are marked, or not, their stories remembered or elided and how settlers respond to the ghosts of those as yet unable to rest, will prove to be the measure of settler Australia’s capacity for an ethical response to the ghosts that haunt it.
When Jacques Derrida writes in Specters of Marx (2006), of learning to live with ghosts, he states that to do so is to act in the name of justice, guided by the principle of responsibility towards those ghosts. This attentiveness to justice and responsibility to the other is the essence of Derrida’s concept of ‘hauntology’. Part of this responsibility to the other is to bear witness to the singularity of each life lost and it is through the act of mourning that one can do this.
Those in mourning often despair that they are ‘lost for words’ to express their trauma or grief. Because visual art does not require words as an intermediary, but goes directly to the sensory experience, it has an advantage over spoken or written mediums when it comes to the task of mourning. Artworks informed by place-based thinking and which reconfigure Freud’s melancholia as a creative force, offer a way to respond to the ghosts haunting settler Australia. They do this by opening a space of ethical encounter for meaningful dialogue between settler and Indigenous Australians.
Trauma- resisted and reflected
Indraprastha College for Women, University of Delhi
Storytelling has been an age old therapeutic practice to alleviate anger, fear, jealousy, suspicion and a lot more. This measure of unburdening the self helps build comraderie and stirs positive energy to tackle social discrimination and disrepute. This paper deals with reflections of trauma and dealings with it in the unspoken form of visual art and in the oral tradition of songs. The specific region of my study includes women’s stories from Northern regions of the eastern state of Bihar and tribal stories from the neighbouring state of Jharkhand in India. When the artist paints agony and suffering on the canvas, it more often than not, arises from deeply felt personal emotions. Scenes of social rejection based on color and caste in the Indian context have raided community art. Women’s narratives in illiterate expressions are powerful voices to subvert authority and establish identity. Songs and poems that bear no authorial stamp lend themselves to an analysis of content and context, to enable formation of new alternative literatures. Unknown faces and people gifted with the capacity of expression have time and indulged in Oral renditions but with allegorical references to the experiences of oppression and expulsion. This subversive act has helped unearth silent histories and unravel stories of forgotten heroes.
Fractured Stories, Troubled Mourning
death, parent, music, conflicting narratives, grief, broken mourning, sorrow, resentment, acceptance
Even if the relationship with a parent has been ‘difficult’, nothing truly prepares you for the fallout when it comes. The unexpected numbness. The surprise of grief. Cloying guilt and suffocating remorse. The unwelcome soul-aching rawness of naked emotions exploding from nowhere, drenching every thought, every feeling and every shred of who you are. The emptiness creeps up on you; the silence is complete. Life becomes fractured and the narratives you tell are experimental, incomplete and often conflicting. Mourning is broken as you switch between stories and their plots. Yet you know, with an unspeakable certainty, deep down at the very core of your life where things matter most, that nothing will be or will feel the same again.
How to Tell The Story: Trauma and Crisis Of Narrativization in Film
Kadir Has University
This paper examines the role of film as a vehicle for opening up negotiations about traumatic pasts and desire to turn traumatic events into history, particularly in relation to the representation of the Armenian Genocide in two films Ararat (Atom Egoyan, 2002) and The Cut (Fatih Akın, 2014). Ararat has triggered much controversy both in Turkey and abroad not only because of its subject matter, but also, and perhaps more significantly, of the complexity of its formal structure. This is because the film does not assimilate the Armenian genocide into a straightforward narrative, as it breaks linear chronology, deploys a fragmented and reflexive structure, a complex temporality that constantly jumps backward and forward in time and preludes a ‘mastery’ over time. In addition to its complex formal structure, rather than ‘directly’ representing the event, in other words desiring to turn this traumatic moment into a conventional narrative, Ararat explores its representations in arts, cinema, books, and memoirs, where stories about the genocide are being told and retold and the trauma of this catastrophe is being transmitted.
Like Ararat, The Cut has trigged debates both in Turkey and abroad, not only because it is the first mainstream film about the genocide made by a German – Turkish filmmaker and released in 24 theatres in Turkey, but also, similar to Ararat, of the form it deploys. Set in 1915 The Cut is an epic film that traces the journey of Nazareth, an Armenian blacksmith from Mardin. Nazareth survives the genocide, but finds out that everyone in his family died, apart from his daughters. The film follows Nazareth in his journey to find his daughters in Syria, Lebanon, Cuba and the United States, which lasts almost a decade. The film deploys linear narration, and tells its story with a beginning, middle and an end. And because of this formal structure, critics have labelled the film as a failing attempt, particularly in the comparisons they made between The Cut and Ararat. This is because, unlike Ararat, the film does not address to the questions of representability, the mimetic crises and (im)possibility of turning trauma into a straightforward narrative, questions that are at the heart of the theoretical discussions about representations of traumatic events.
In this respect, rather than analyzing The Cut as a failing attempt by comparing its formal structure to Egoyan’s Ararat, this paper focuses on the questions both films bring to the fore about the desire to represent the Armenian Genocide, a catastrophe that has been denied in Turkey to this day, by fixing it on film. By analysing the formal structures of both Ararat and The Cut this paper argues that faced with denial, The Cut brings about a will to history and aims to turn trauma into narrative in a conventional sense, so that it can be given meaning and assimilated into a historical narrative. And at the heart of the content and form of Ararat is an exploration of denial and this desire to represent the genocide, including Ararat itself as a long-waited filmic representation of this catastrophe.
(Re)Disappeared: Testimonial Mural Art in Argentina
testimonial art, Argentine dictatorship, trauma, testimony, human rights, disappeared/desaparecidos, murals
“We make sense of ourselves and our lives, individually and collectively, by telling stories. Basic work in social psychology supports this idea: some key studies on altruism, for instance, argue that our choices about whether or not to help in certain circumstances are dependent upon a ‘self-concept’ we develop based on the stories we have learned to tell ourselves to explain our sometimes arbitrary past actions. … This means that when considering basic issues about the ‘self’ that are fundamental to the work of human rights and humanitarianism—sympathy, community building and activism, trauma and recovery (to name a few)—we need to be highly sensitive to the structure of narrative and the role of storytelling” (James Dawes, “Human Rights in Literary Studies”)
This paper will seek to explore the appearance and disappearance of a testimonial mural art exhibit at the ex-clandestine detention and torture centre ESMA. It will depart from a discussion of the historical and literary genre of testimonial writing as em/bodying trauma and memory in the fictional and non-fictional forms of expression. Scholars have claimed that, from the outset, testimony in Latin America has been a crucial means of bearing witness to human rights violations. The art pieces exhibited in 2015 on ESMA’s fence perimeter will be examined as products and reminders of a counter-history or counter-narrative that allows survivors to bear witness to human rights violations and political oppression of the military dictatorship. The (dis)appearance of these murals memorialized a dark period of Argentine history by communicating the traumatic experience as both as a personal narrative but also as a collective redressing that maintains a close dialogue with the ideas of human rights, social justice and how pain, suffering and torture are inscribed onto the body and mind.
Trauma and the Early Magical Realists
Magical realism, postcolonial, trauma literature, Carpentier, Asturias, Rulfo, Arguedas, Latin American literature
The ability of narrative magical realism to convey the ineffability of trauma has gained critical attention in literary studies in the last decade. Magical realism offers a way to express the impossibility of traumatic experience by removing the confines of mundane realism that mute the experience for the reader. Dissociation and other psychological disturbances that are symptomatic of PTSD are vividly depicted in magical realist texts and the shifting focalisation in magical realism forces the reader into the world view of the traumatized. The connection between magical realism and trauma can be traced to the earliest proponents of the mode in Latin America in the 1940s and 1950s, but little attention has so far been given to how these authors conflate trauma with magic without the psychological understanding of trauma that emerged in later decades. This study examines the key magical realist texts of Alejo Carpentier, Miguel Ángel Asturias, Juan Rulfo and José María Arguedas. Through close reading of their key magical realist texts it analyses how magical moments interact with trauma caused by colonial and neocolonial abuse of power. In these early magical realist tales, trauma is experienced on a communal rather than individual scale; magic erupts into the narrative at times of extreme trauma and offers a mode of escape or resistance to the victims of oppression, rewriting a traumatic real-world history. Rather than being an escapist strategy, a retelling of history that allows the impermissibility of magic but precludes and negates traumatic experience helps to shift traumatic memory to narrative memory. Through a deeper analysis of these earliest magical realist texts in relation to traumatic storytelling, this study furthers the understanding of the therapeutic relationship between narrative magical realism and trauma.
Stories of Chalk and Cheese by Migrants and Refugees: What Happens When the ‘Poem’ is Forced to Rhyme?
Elizabeth Pilar Challinor
University of Minho
Asylum seeking, International protection, Mobility, Awareness raising, Emotions, Empathy, Freedom, Ethics, Performance, Local Integration.
When the “migrant team”, composed of representatives of local institutions in a northern Portuguese town, planned its activities within the ambit of the local council’s funded programme for the integration of migrants, to mark the United Nation’s International Days for Tolerance and for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, categories of people were produced which simultaneously suspended and accentuated difference. Grouped together under the shared experience of “mobility”, asylum seekers, economic migrants and EU nationals gave public presentations of their personal testimonies of mobility in the classrooms of local schools with the aim of raising the pupils’ awareness of different kinds of forced and voluntary mobility. Speakers included a young man from Catalan, a retired Italian, a Brazilian couple who had migrated for economic reasons and two Pakistani asylum seekers. The discussions were characterized by an incongruous blending of triviality, humour and emotional trauma: asylum seekers cried at one table, loud cheerful laughter emerged from another whilst photographs were taken for the record.
Through a discussion of how symbolic violence may be unintentionally perpetrated in initiatives aimed at intercultural dialogue, the paper presents the asylum seekers’ reactions and explores the fragile frontiers between choosing to be silent, being silenced, giving voice and forcibly taking voice, superficial recognition and empathetic listening. By addressing the question of what stories can be told, in which contexts, to whom and for what purposes, the paper questions whether, and if so, how the public presentation of traumatic stories for educational purposes holds the potential for giving voice, fomenting hospitality and precipitating change. It argues that the ethical issues raised are inseparable from a discussion of the conceptual and organizational framework of the public storytelling of trauma.
Remapping an Indigenous Presence in Louise Erdrich’s The Round House
The basic argument of this study is that the Native American novelist; Louise Erdrich represents the landscape in The Round House in such a way as to explore how memory links the present to the past, the living to the dead, and roots to the surface. Taken that her novel The Round House is set in a reservation in America, Erdrich’s landscape is depicted like historical strata in which the memory of violence keeps the stratum of the present in continuous connection with that of the past. Moreover, the memory of violence links the individual trauma of Joe’s mother with collective traumas of displacement and injustice. Erdrich’s landscape is layered; underneath the ground, Erdrich depicts growing roots, and the graves of many victims while on the surface, readers encounter roaming spirits and, most importantly, two rooted landmarks: the round house and the lynching tree. This paper aims to analyse memorial sites such as the round house and the lynching tree and how they preserve memories of famine, violation, inadequacy of the American Federal law, and a long history of exploiting and consuming Mother Earth.
Given that Erdrich’s representation of landscape, as this paper argues, takes the form of a cumulative cultural construction that lays bare the vestiges of the Ojibwe’s suffering, displacement and fight for sovereignty, Joe’s mobility across the reservation to achieve justice and to avenge his raped mother brings forward the different layers of history and trauma. Taking into consideration Joe’s coming of age story in the late 1980s, Joe’s restless movement across the landscape seems to revolve around his quest for belonging and justice, and how he can anchor and locate himself in a world haunted by memories of violence.
Postmemory Storytelling: Cultural Ethos and Individual Trauma in Jayanta Mahapatra’s Relationship
Rijuta Komal Das
Ravenshaw University, The English and Foreign Languages University
Postmemory, Collective memory, Traumatic recall, storytelling, identity, acts of transmission, inheritance
“Once again one must sit back and bury the face in this earth of the forbidding myth”
Post-memory can be defined as the relationship between the current generation to the events that precede their birth. The theory of post-memory seeks to study the rupture, trauma and transmission that occur during inter-generational acts of transfer of experience that define a culture’s consciousness.
The narrative of the poem “Relationship” revolves around such a singular historical event – the Kalinga War [the war where King Ashoka conquered the territory of then Odisha leading to one of the bloodiest wars in Indian history] – which defines the collective memory of Odia culture and history of which Jayanta Mahapatra is a part of. Mahapatra establishes a spatial uncertainty in the poem through which he explores the trauma inflicted by an uneasy relation to history.
“not taking lives seriously
for our lives are only of the seeds of dreams,
forgetting the cruelties of ruthless emperors who carved peaceful edicts
on blood red rocks,
forgetting our groans and cries”
These lines embody Mahapatra’s vision of shared collective trauma of a culture in connection to the war which is now become mythical in memory. Mahapatra uses the figures of the ‘mother’ and the ‘father’ to include an alternative perspective to the historical events of Kalinga War. In doing so he questions his inheritance and his place in the world.
The paper will seek to explore the embodied living connection between the author and the historical events he narrates in the poem. Through post-memory and narrative theories, the paper will investigate this particular memory of catastrophe and storytelling as a means of preservation while simultaneously becoming an act of traumatic recall. Finally, it will look into the idea of individual identity and traumatic generational past.
“I must live through that experience all over again”: Leonora Carrington’s Narrative of Trauma in Literature and Visual Art
University of Glasgow
illness, memoir, painting, feminism, Surrealism, mental hospital, working through trauma
In this paper, I will analyse the ways in which Surrealist artist Leonora Carrington narrates her ‘voyage into madness’ (Warner 1989: 16) by using different artistic means: specifically, storytelling, autobiography and painting. After having lost the first manuscript of her memoir of illness, Down Below (1944), in which she describes her mental breakdown and the consequent hospitalisation in a mental asylum in Franco’s Spain, Carrington re-dictated it, orally, to her Surrealist friends, the doctor Pierre Mabille and his wife Jeanne Megnen. Creating a unique relationship of trust with her listeners, Carrington ‘…gives an exceptionally clear and detailed account of the experience of going insane’ (Warner 1989: 16). I will show how, in describing the asylum, Carrington finds a way to re-live and, consequently, understand and process her traumatic experience. In order to fully re-enact the events narrated, Carrington also draws a map of the hospital and creates a painting with the same title of the memoir, Down Below. The memoir, the map and the painting all contain a coded representation of the asylum and are used by the author to gather and interpret the symbols that she found disseminated through her journey. The process of putting these pieces together, like the pieces of a puzzle, is central to Carrington’s ‘working-through’ her trauma (LaCapra 2014: xxiii). In the same way, the map is useful to visually trace her way back to the ‘real world’ (Carrington 2017: 3), while the painting helps her to ‘extract from [her]self all the personages who were inhabiting [her]’ (Carrington 2017: 56). I argue that the different means used by Carrington to narrate her traumatic experience are all equally essential in transforming her abuse into empowerment.