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 May 2018Time: 3:15 PM

Finishes: 9 May 2018Time: 5:00 PM

Venue: Russell Square: College Buildings Room: 4429

Type of Event: 0

Speaker: Dr Nora Parr

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’