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Traumatic memory, mourning and V.S. Naipaul

Transaction Publishers


Some years ago I began an essay on diaspora with the sentence: "All diasporas are unhappy but every diaspora is unhappy in its own way" ("(B)ordering Naipaul" 189). Re-reading the sentence I realize that something is missing from the almost lapidary sytax. In my enthusiasm for the balanced, intertextually resonant line I failed to connect the source of the unhappiness to the psychology of trauma. In doing so now I do not wish to declare that diasporic conditions are invariably traumatized, although with reference to the archetypal Jewish diaspora this case indeed maybe made. My concern, somewhat narrowly, is with establishing connections between diasporic memory and the aesthetic, and to ask the question whether memory in as much as it surfaces in the aesthetic, is a consequence of traumatic recall. Further, whether there is something in language itself that bears traces of trauma and in the end makes the original trauma itself unpresentable to consciousness. In this paper I will examine the history of Indian ('coolie') indenture as a history of trauma and tehn examine V.S. Naipaul's writings as instatiations of works conditioned by traumatic recall. To do this well we need to take a leaf out of new historicism to begin with by negotiating the use of social energy (energia) between the historical and the aesthetic. In other words, we need to explore the relay between historical and the literary and be conscious of the flows of social energy between them. We need to consider, as the epigraph from Steven Greenblatt makes clear, their interactions and be aware of the porous nature of their boundaries. This is not to say that each can function as the other (quite specific generic conventions mark off their boundaries); rather in bringing them together, as part of a critical hermeneutics, we produce a larger cultural text that is attuned to the creative consequences of that exchange. To do this well, the primacy of scholarship cannot be understated, the principle of exhausting archives cannot be overvalued.

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