SOAS University of London

Centre for Cultural, Literary and Postcolonial Studies (CCLPS)

Un-othering ‘trauma’ through Arabic fiction: A case study in re-defining the terms of critical thought


Date: 9 March 2018Time: 3:15 PM

Finishes: 6 March 2018Time: 5:00 PM

Venue: Russell Square: College Buildings Room: 4429

Type of Event: Seminar

Speaker: Dr Nora Parr | OWRI/AHRC Post-doctoral Fellow
Creative Multilingualism, School of Languages, Cultures, & Linguistics (SLCL) and CCLPS

When ‘trauma’ is defined as ‘out of time’ or ‘other’ (LaCapra, 2001) to a perceived norm it invisibly limits the scope of the term to exclude contexts where atrocious violence is not only myriad but every-day. Looking at two distinctly different types of trauma narratives written in Arabic, Under the Midmorning Sun by Ibrahim Nasrallah (2002) and B as in Beirut (1997, trans 2008) by Iman Humaydan, the paper gives short readings that disrupt two pillars of trauma theory. First: that the time of trauma is in some way ‘other’ to the everyday, and second: that that this time is ‘unspeakable’ (Wittgenstein, 1922/2015) except through the development of techniques like ‘eloquent silence’ (Ephratt, 2008; Schmitz, 1994). Nasrallah’s extraordinary rendering of the everyday violence that precipitated and comprised the Second Intifada in Palestine (told through the triangle of a corrupt theatre director, an aspiring playwright, and his freedom fighter-muse), and Humaydan’s accounts of personal and domestic violence (that unfold simultaneous to Lebanon’s Civil War) stymie existing these existing frames. Close readings and structural analysis reveal the limitations of a conceptual frame that assumes trauma is in the past, and that the events of trauma cannot become part of the quotidian.

In concluding that, rather than ‘other’ or unspeakable in these texts violence is narrated in all of its ineloquence, this analysis zooms out to consider the impact and implications of two such different ways of understanding ‘trauma.’ What does this mean for our use of terms embedded in critical theory? How might we go about ‘translating’ these words and recognizing the contexts that they emerge from, in order to ask the right questions of contexts they are often ‘applied’ to.