Traumatic Possessions: The Body and Memory in African American Women's Writing and Performance

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University of Virginia Press, Dec 10, 2009 - Literary Criticism - 144 pages

Studies of traumatic stress have explored the challenges to memory as a result of extreme experience, particularly in relation to the ways in which trauma resonates within the survivor’s body and the difficulties survivors face when trying to incorporate their experience into meaningful narratives. Jennifer Griffiths examines the attempts of several African American writers and playwrights to explore ruptures in memory after a traumatic experience and to develop creative strategies for understanding the inscription of trauma on the body in a racialized cultural context.

In the literary and performance texts examined here, Griffiths shows how the self is reconstituted through testimony—through the attempt to put into language and public statement the struggle of survivors to negotiate the limits placed on their bodies and to speak controversial truths. Dessa in her jail cell, Venus in the courtroom, Sally on the auction block, Ursa in her own family history, and Rodney King in the video frame—each character in these texts by Sherley Anne Williams, Suzan-Lori Parks, Robbie McCauley, Gayl Jones, and Anna Deavere Smith gives voice not only to the limits of language in representing traumatic experience but also to the necessity of testimony as the public enactment of memory and bodily witness.

In focusing specifically and exclusively on the relation of trauma to race and on the influence of racism on the creation and reception of narrative testimony, this book distinguishes itself from previous studies of the literatures of trauma.

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About the author (2009)

Jennifer L. Griffiths is Assistant Professor of English at the New York Institute of Technology, Manhattan Campus.

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