'Un Imaginable Boundaries': Performativity, Theology, and the Study of Trauma
Craig, Eleanor Catherine
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AbstractThis dissertation locates versions of the Fall and original sin at the center of ostensibly secular theories of trauma and extreme violence. The first chapter reviews genealogies of trauma and Christian theological writings that engage with clinical and literary trauma studies. The central chapters read Judith Herman’s Trauma and Recovery, Cathy Caruth’s Unclaimed Experience, and Giorgio Agamben’s Homo Sacer for the ways that fallenness orients social and political ethics. They examine each work within the respective thinker’s corpus and within their surrounding scholarly contexts.
Juxtaposing these appearances of the Fall demonstrates that it operates variously across different projects and methods. The Fall may result in the universalization of trauma, or in a failure to recognize that trauma occurs. It tends across these divergent outcomes to posit implicit definitions of the human that are raced and gendered. The fact that this phenomenon is unacknowledged in the theories themselves subverts the concerns for justice that animate these texts. The performative work of theory is emphasized in order to clarify its underacknowledged participation and activity, to demonstrate that theory cannot function in a solely descriptive mode.
In the closing chapter, I propose that the Fall within theories and theologies of trauma and extremity performs tacit aesthetic education. It trains those who engage with these texts to regard harmed persons as fallen in a way that suggests them to be lacking, diminished in their humanity, and either needing or lost to personal and social redemption. I follow a thread of aesthetic thought that winds from Caruth on Paul de Man into Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak’s reformulation or ‘sabotage’ of Friedrich Schiller’s notion of aesthetic education. Reading Bhanu Kapil’s experimental work Ban en Banlieue, I reflect on the modes of complicity involved in creatively representing trauma. Kapil’s book contains self-consciousness about the action involved in writing that I strive to adopt in theoretical discourse.
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