This summer, I will begin work on my Master’s research paper which focuses on the relationship between trauma theory, language, and bodily knowledge. In recent decades, literary trauma theorists have moved away from the original model of trauma as an unspeakable, unnamable, and untranslatable phenomenonin favor of a focus on how the memory of trauma is pluralistic, recognizing diversity of experience. I’d like to push it further, however, by questioning the centrality of language in understanding depictions of trauma. My work theorizes how forms of implicit understanding and bodily knowledge interact with traumatic memory. I argue that linguistic-based communication universalizes memory in a way that strips it of its affective power. Furthermore, the conditions of subjectivity—including gender, race, ethnicity, sexuality, and ability—in relation to the social and political positionality of the audience limit what is possible for a trauma survivor to articulate. To this end, my work includes research on theories of trauma, affect, and implicit knowing. My hope is that a deeper understanding of the ways that memory is felt and known in the body will lead to greater awareness of the effect of trauma on individuals’—and communities’—experiences of the world.
Similarly, my role as Research Assistant to Dr. Emilie Diouf is giving me the opportunity to further explore the functions of trauma survivors’ testimonies. Dr. Diouf is currently working on a book chapter that examines the stories of the survivors of the genocide against the Tutsis in Rwanda in 1994, exploring the way that memories and borders interact with methods of inclusion and exclusion. Using the research and statements collected by the Genocide Archive of Rwanda, the goal of this work is to investigate the complexities of traumatic memory—including the relationship of victims and perpetrators, the complicity and violence of other nations, the historical predictability of genocide, and role of race and gender. While my own work does not focus on the Rwandan context, the research I am performing for this project is invaluable for helping me to explore the role of remembrance and commemoration, as well as the effects of trauma on entire populations.
My third and final project for the summer is working on a co-authored paper with Prof. Josh Lederman. During the spring semester, I took his class, Classroom Pedagogy & the ‘New Mainstream’: Diversity, Equity & Inclusion. In this class, we discussed how the writing practices taught in mainstream educational settings often promote a white, middle class approach to language that ends up marginalizing students from other cultures and backgrounds. In light of this, we decided to focus our final projects on the English Language Arts Common Core Curriculum by locating standards that promote “Standard English,” or the academic style of writing and language. We pointed out how the language of public education is actually the work of White Language Supremacy—ignoring, and too often erasing, the culture and identity of many students of color. In our joint paper, while Josh focuses on proving the racism inherent in Standard or Formal English, I locate standards that have potential for micro-disruption in the classroom and offer interpretations of how to use them that are more racially and ethnically inclusive. Our goal with this paper is to point out how the educational system is failing, but also how it can be challenged from within.