Probing the wound: Re-membering the traumatic landscape of Caribbean literary histories

Date of Award




Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)



First Committee Member

Sandra Pouchet Paquet - Committee Chair


The works of literature produced by Caribbean writers such as Edwidge Danticat, Wilson Harris, and Elizabeth Nunez reveal a strong preoccupation with psychic fragmentation, violence, and present day remnants of the past. The literature appears as a partial, sometimes fragmented articulation of a cultural wound. To probe these wounds indicates a detailed investigation of the injury: the nature and scope of the trauma; the method of its inscription; the individual, national, and "historio-mythic" implications of the damage; and the possibility of healing.Psychoanalytic theory, particularly trauma theory, provides useful tools with which to unpack some of the meaning behind the metaphors that emerge from Caribbean literature. The challenge from within a Caribbean context is to construct a culturally relevant version of psychoanalytic literary theory which draws sustenance from native traditions and survival strategies. An examination of Caribbean trauma in literature can be thought of as aided and moulded by traditional Western notions of psychoanalysis, but the reverse is also true---a Caribbean sensibility can offer alternate versions to current trends in psychoanalytic theories in literature.This dissertation reveals linkages between the haunting repetitions of a traumatic event, an inability to fully claim the history of such an experience, and the notion of a postmodern, repeating Caribbean signalled by uncanny texts, paradoxical disruptions, and impossible histories.Healing the traumas of history may not be either desirable or possible for reasons relating to witness morality. Although Caribbean notions of recovery from trauma may offer new avenues and possibilities, the idea of testimony is equally important. Testimony implies the process of bearing witness to an event even if, as is typical in the case of traumatic experiences, the act of witnessing is impossibly limited by gaps and voids in knowledge and memory. Even if some wounds cannot heal, it is equally important not to hide the wound as a marker of shame.


Literature, Caribbean

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