LITRA Lecture: Eugene Arva

LITRA Lecture: Eugene Arva

Event date: Wednesday 8 May 2013, 5.30 p.m. – 6.30 p.m.
Location: Faculty of Arts and Philosophy, Blandijnberg 2, Large English Studies Meeting Room (third floor)

“The Missing Link: Trauma, Imagination, and Magic” given by Dr. Eugene Arva (independent scholar)

“If there is a nexus between trauma, imagination, and magic, it comes about fleetingly in both the creative process and the reading experience, in the author’s and the reader’s minds. Trauma usually triggers the chain reaction that runs from a psychological condition (traumatization), through a psychic function (imagination), to an artistic image (fictional shock chronotope). Consequently, I propose the term ‘traumatic imagination,’ which in itself already conflates a psychological condition and its putative artistic remedy, as a critical category that I find indispensable in the analysis of literary texts struggling to represent limit events from different historical periods and a variety of geo-cultural locations, that is, from extreme time-spaces or shock chronotopes. The artistic medium by which the traumatic imagination realizes the fictional image has been known, for more than half a century now, as magical realism. Through magical realist writing, the traumatic imagination transfers to narrative memory events that have been precluded from narrativization by trauma. This postmodernist writing mode does not copy reality (in the tradition of mimetic representation) but reconstructs it by reshuffling all of its familiar elements. The magic in magical realism – flagrantly unreal images produced by the imagination – can help integrate events from seemingly impossible (originally unimaginable) experiences into more or less coherent realities within the literary text. Magic is the indispensable element by which the traumatic imagination re-arranges and re-presents reality when mimetic reality-testing hits the wall of an unassimilated, and inassimilable, event.

Unlike the products of imagination, pain can hardly be expressed in language. Therefore, if we can assume that imagination can compensate for the objectlessness of pain, it follows that magical realism succeeds in simulating pain because this versatile writing mode is uncannily well-suited to turn a felt reality into images. The traumatic imagination thus translates an unspeakable state (pain) into a readable image: it is the process by which shock chronotopes become artistic chronotopes. As I will show, literary scenes of massacres, executions, or prison abuses tend to reveal the power of the realistic detail when imbued with the understated suggestiveness of the magical realist language.”

Eugene L. Arva is an independent scholar living in Germany. Prior to this, he taught for twelve years in the Department of English of the University of Miami. His research focuses on magical realism, trauma theory, postcolonial studies, postmodernism, reality representation theories, and film philosophy. His most recent work, The Traumatic Imagination: Histories of Violence in Magical Realist Fiction (Cambria Press, 2011), expands the trauma-theory-based analysis of magical realism, and proposes the concept of “traumatic imagination” as an analytical tool to be applied to literary texts struggling to represent the unpresentable and to reconstruct extreme events whose forgetting has proven just as unbearable as their remembering. His previous publications include essays on James Joyce, Caribbean magical realism, the Holocaust, the ideological spectacle of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, and filmic narratives such as Schindler’s ListThe Truman ShowNatural Born Killers, andThe Matrix. He is a member of the American Society for Aesthetics, the Society for the Philosophic Study of Contemporary Visual Arts, and the International James Joyce Foundation.