Reference, Aesthetics, Cultural Effect: Crises of Representation in Recent American Trauma Narratives (WT)

Carolin Alice Hofmann (webpage)
American Studies Leipzig
Leipzig, Germany

The concept of trauma encompasses individual and collective experiences, serves as a cultural metaphor and a framework for historical interpretation, and marks an imaginary state in art and literature. Thus spanning fiction and nonfiction, these representations all share a sense of an intricate connection with the world, complications that are at the core of trauma: Due to its singular, excessive, and overwhelmingly literal nature, it defies sign systems and proper integration into memory. While the current scholarly discourse centers on the supposed 'unrepresentability' of trauma, questions of aesthetics and non-referentiality have received little attention. More specifically, their contribution to the way these trauma-related works engage and become meaningful for the audience needs to be formulated. Thus considering the social and aesthetic significance of trauma representation, this project explores the tension between narration, referentiality, and aesthetics, and seeks ways of conceptualizing the affective dimension of these texts and the experiences they engender in the individual and in culture.