The traumatic imagination: Shock chronotopes and hyperreality in magical realist writing
Date of Award
Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)
First Committee Member
Patrick A. McCarthy, Committee Chair
The dissertation posits the idea that magical realism, as a mode of writing and not as a canonical genre limited to a certain geography, culture, or literary trend, has become one of the most effective, albeit controversial, media to re-present extreme events since its beginnings in the 1930s. Viewed in the larger context of postmodernist fiction, magical realist writing foregrounds and at the same time transgresses the traditional borders between reality and imagination by rearranging the ontological levels within the literary text. Magical realist language has demonstrated its versatility by affecting literary productions belonging to various cultural spaces and representing different historical periods.Events characterized by extreme violence and/or extended states of fear and anxiety tend to resist rationalization and interpretation in a narrative form because of their powerful and lasting traumatic impact. Establishing a nexus between magical realist writing (viewed as a postmodern literary phenomenon) and trauma (understood as an often invisible cultural dominant) requires an interdisciplinary conceptual tool. Therefore, I propose the term "traumatic imagination" to designate a type of artistic consciousness that enables author/narrator and reader to act out, or even to work through, trauma by means of magical storytelling. I argue that the traumatic imagination is responsible for the production of many literary texts that struggle to re-present the unpresentable and, ultimately, to reconstruct events whose absence has proved just as unbearable as their remembering. The traumatic imagination is the essential consciousness of survival to which the human psyche resorts when confronted with the impossibility of remembering extreme events and with the compulsive repetition of images of violence and loss.The argument makes use of the conceptual tools of trauma theory, psychoanalysis, postcolonial theory, postmodernist theory, and sociological and cultural studies. The first chapter focuses on the uncanny reality of shock chronotopes, violent time-spaces whose elusiveness usually hides some kind of extreme event and, implicitly, a certain type of trauma. I discuss the shock chronotopes, as unstable time-spaces, in relation to the uncanniness of traumatic experiences, and thus attempt to establish a homology between the concept of the uncanny and the psychic mechanism of trauma. The second chapter transfers matters of witnessing, working through and/or acting out trauma to postmodernist representations of reality, and eventually, to magical realist writing. The following chapters apply the concept of traumatic imagination to specific literary works constructed around each of these three chronotopes: slavery (in Jean Rhys's Wide Sargasso Sea, Alejo Carpentier's The Kingdom of This World, and Maryse Conde's I, Tituba, Black Witch of Salem...); colonialism (in Salman Rushdie's Midnight's Children and Gabriel Garcia Marquez's One Hundred Years of Solitude); and the Holocaust (in Joseph Skibell's A Blessing on the Moon and Bernard Malamud's The Fixer). The traumatic imagination transforms traumatic memories into narrative memories and integrates them into an artistic shock chronotope. As an artistic expression of the traumatic imagination, magical realism writes the silence that trauma keeps reverting to, and converts it into history.
Literature, Comparative; Literature, American; Literature, English
Arva, Eugene L., "The traumatic imagination: Shock chronotopes and hyperreality in magical realist writing" (2006). Dissertations from ProQuest. 2476.