During our November 2003, Colloquium evening, we explored the interwoven themes of "Violence, Trauma, and the Body" with BC Professor Amy Boesky's keyote address on bodily trauma in Milton's Sampson Agonistes. Below, you will find a brief abstract of the papers presented that evening by Doctoral Candidate Trevor Dodman and M.A. student Valerie Manos. Please contact us about obtaining a complete copy of one of these texts.
"John Brown's Tortured Body: Theorizing Pain and Trauma In His Slave Narrative" by Trevor Dodman
Phrases such as "it is difficult ot imagine," "if your eyes could see through mine," and "I do not think that any pen could describe," fill the pages of John Brown's 1855 slave narrative, Slave Life in Georgia. They are the words of an individual who experienced terrible pain, often suffered the indignities and brutalities of torture, and must find ways to live inside the same skin that was repeatedly whipped, burned, sold, and much more. They are the words of a suvivor who needs to relate his unimaginable histories and yet finds himself constrained by the frustrating inadequacy of language to convey those histories. The difficult task of living through destructive experiences, and living with horrific memories, often becomes a complex matter of living with a painful and traumatic past in the midst of a painful and traumatice present. My analysis of Brown's text in the context of Elaine Scarry's The Body In Pain and Cathy Caruth's Unclaimed Experience suggests that the slave narrative functions as a forum both in and through which the former slave tries mightily to accommodate and understand the pain and trauma of his or her own slave experiences. Brown's text testifies to his compulsion to articulate his suffering, past and continued, to find words that can bring before us the horrors he has seen and continues to see. His efforts therefore provide us with an opportunity to think not only about the textualizing of pain and trauma, but also about our own relationship to slavery's legacies.
"No Power on Earth should Stop Her: The Fear of Female Articulation in David Copperfield by Valerie Manos
David describes her scar as a "seam...a dull, lead-coloured streak" that "twitches and throbs" (Dickens 275, 278, 401). Cut down her mouth and chin, Rosa Dartle's scar is a strong and prominent vaginal image. Rosa's body, a site of sexual violence acted upon her by James Steerforth, the man she loves, physically represents her violent initiation into the sexual world. In addition to being the sole body so prominently marked by violence, Rosa is also the only female in the narrative who tells her own story of a painful past. Though she is a minor character, Rosa bears the weight of much responsibility in Charles Dickens' David Copperfield, an autobiographical narrative chronicling the youth and early adulthood of David as he overcomes financial and personal hardships to eventually lead a happy middle class life.