CFP: Postcolonial Text – Special Issue: Situating Postcolonial Trauma Studies. Saadi Nikro (Guest Editor)

Postcolonial Text is an open access, fully online journal, internationally peer-reviewed and accessible to a global audience. A quarterly journal, it is affiliated with the Open Humanities Press (OHP). The editors seek submissions for a special issue on postcolonial trauma studies.

Abstracts or else queries should be sent to Saadi Nikro: by March 15, 2013. 

In recent years trauma studies have been taken up by critics engaging postcolonial cultural production, or else cultural production in postcolonial contexts. The very term postcolonial trauma studies has come to gain some consistency as either a specific field of research or a range of conceptual applications across fields of research.

In staking out the terrain of postcolonial trauma studies, there has been a tendency to produce a non-relational clash of civilizations scenario that pits a notion of the west against the rest, the former marked by an apparent concentration on the individual that is unsuitable to the equally apparent collective experience of trauma in non-western societies.

This logic is framed by and informs a compulsive, though debilitating binary opposition between the West and the Rest, symptomatically expressed by the negative valorization of the work of Cathy Caruth (Trauma: Explorations in Memory, 1995; Unclaimed Experience; Trauma, Narrative, and History, 1996) , often positioned as “the ur-texts” of contemporary trauma studies, or else an equally symptomatic neglect of the work of, for example, Kai Erikson (A New Species of Trouble, 1994).

The work of Franz Fanon has come to be positioned as providing a non-Western approach to trauma studies. And yet considering how Fanon’s work moves across and between Caribbean, European and North African contexts, to what extent does it make sense to maintain a unique sense of trauma studies as non-Western, which serves to assert a unique West? Towards questioning the methodological and ethical value of this dichotomy, we can note Ella Shohat’s “situational” or “relational” approach to Fanon, which in part she describes as posing “questions about Fanon’s choices of where, when, and in relation to what and whom he opens up or closes down his analogies and comparisons” (Taboo Memories, Diasporic Voices. Duke University Press, 2006, 251). More directly situating trauma within a relational approach, Michael Rothberg has recently argued that as a category “trauma often functions as the object of a competitive struggle, a form of cultural capital that bestows moral privileges” (Multidirectional Memory: Remembering the Holocaust in the Age of Decolonization. Stanford University Press, 2009, 87).

We can also note how significant Toni Morrison’s novel Beloved (1987) has been for the study of postcolonial trauma literature. The novel, produced in the very heart of “the West”, wonderfully corrupts any neat model of “individual” and “collective”, and can be read to question a decontextualised distinction between an event-based model of trauma and its belated reverberation or else circumstantial situation as a modality of social exchange. These three inter-related, though not equivalent registers or themes have been pointedly addressed, for example, in two recent publications on South Africa, both from the publisher Rodopi: Ewald Mengel, Michela Borzaga and Karin Orantes (eds) Trauma, Memory, and Narrative in South Africa: Interviews, 2010; and Ewald Mengel and Michela Borzaga (eds) Trauma, Memory, and Narrative in the Contemporary South African Novel, 2012.

Papers are invited to develop a more relational, comparative approach to postcolonial trauma studies, to better take account of physical and imaginary flows and movements across and between geographies, historiographies and related conceptual registers. Some of the following questions/themes can be addressed:

  • What is the potential of trauma studies to further a more relational compass of postcolonial studies?
  • To what extent can cultural production engaging experiences and articulations of trauma in both settler and postcolony geographies extend the scope of the postcolonial?
  • How does and can postcolonial trauma studies adapt an ethical register for research on gendered, ethnicised and racialised relationships between personal and public trauma (rather than, or in tension to, individual and collective)?
  • How can postcolonial trauma studies maintain a tension between an event-based model and a belated model towards situating testimony, witnessing and responsibility, as both discursive and social modalities of exchange.
  • How does a circumstantial scope of trauma as ongoing, pressing situation foreground the temporalizing limits of event-based and belated models?
  • To what extent can postcolonial trauma studies take into account more layered and inter-textual relationships between history and memory?

In focusing on one or more of these themes (as well as relevant others), papers may address literature, film, autobiography and memoir, theatre and performance, curatorial and exhibition practices, as well as other practices of cultural and media production emphasising a more documentary register.

Abstracts or else queries should be sent to Saadi Nikro: by March 15, 2013. Essays should be submitted to Postcolonial Text by August 30, 2013, by logging into and following the prompts.

Dr.Norman Saadi Nikro

Research Fellow

Zentrum Moderner Orient, Berlin

Categories: Calls for & opportunities


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