Sorry to have been away so long – last year flew by with both the launch of the book, presentations on my research at the Ohio State University “Conflict, Disaster, Trauma and the Autobiographical: Healing stories for individuals and communities“ and two talks at the International Auto/biographical Association (Europe) conference at the Universidad Complutense de Madrid “Beyond ‘Do No Harm’: Women, Peace and Security: The Language of Human Rights” and, with Siobhan Campbell, “Writing-based interventions and Knowledge Communities: Building Communities of Practice through Life Story Telling ” https://eventos.ucm.es/26045/section/15175/iaba-conference-2019.-knowing-the-self_-autobiographical-narratives-and-the-history-of-knowledge.html
For fun, at the Crickhowell Literary Festival in October, https://cricklitfest.co.uk/ I continued my yearly lecture series offering my iconoclastic take on classic literature written by women. Previous Talks at the Festival have included “Don’t be Afraid of Virginia Woolf” in 2016; “Wuthering Heights: We need to talk about Heathcliff” and this year’s talk was entitled “Jane Eyre- so many questions.” I have been invited back next year to talk about Jane Austen, and am playing around with the title “Jane Austen hated everyone.” One day, I hope to pull these general readership talks together into a book.
I first began to research the complex relationship between literature and suffering as I studied towards my PhD. Reading the letters, diaries and journals of both Katherine Mansfield and Virginia Woolf, I was struck by how each of them had, like me, lost a brother. Now many decades later, I have been asked to edit and introduce a new anthology of Katherine Mansfield’s stories for Macmillan, and I am absolutely thrilled. I will be writing more on this delightful task in a future blog, but in the meantime I am awaiting the publication of two chapters in edited collections that supplement the work in The Art and Science of Trauma and The Autobiographical: Negotiated Truths (https://www.palgrave.com/gb/book/9783030061050). The first of these to appear will be my chapter “ Speaking Trauma and History: The Collective Voice of Testimonial Literature “ in Andrew Hammond’s edited collection The Palgrave Handbook of Cold War (Spring 2020) https://www.palgrave.com/gb/book/9783030389727#aboutBookand the second a chapter on “Testimony” in the forthcoming Routledge Companion to Literature and Trauma, edited by Colin Davis, Hanna Meretoja (Spring 2020) https://www.palgrave.com/gb/book/9783030389727#aboutBook
Drawing on the most recent findings in the fields of clinical, behavioral and evolutionary psychology, neuroscience, transcultural psychiatry, “alternative therapy,” and her personal experiences, Jensen provides a jargon-free overview of key developments in the treatment of traumatic disorders. Highlighting the emergence of new psycho-pharmaceuticals designed to target and interfere with pathological neural processes, to new age and holistic approaches aimed at “supporting well-being,” to technologically-enhanced interventions using Virtual Reality visors, brain-activated telecommunications and the like, Jensen compares the evidence base for these interventions and considers their potential future value in the PTSD treatment. Finally, Jensen explores the implications and the therapeutic efficacy of life narratives methodologies of various kinds for treating PTSD, including those that endeavour to make the neural circuitry of the brain “speak out. ” These life-telling interventions, Jensen concludes, can enable sufferers to interpret the processes of their traumatized brains and produce a new, resilient mind-story.
Chapter 6. Annihilation and Integration in Collective Posttraumatic Monuments, Testimonies and Literary Texts
Jensen offers a unique comparison of collaborative memory projects: contemporary expressions of public suffering (such as the Monument Against Fascism in Hamburg, Germany) and collective literary and testimonial representations of group or generational traumatic history (like those generated by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa). Such forms of witness arise, Jensen demonstrates, from identifiable biological and psychological conditions in posttraumatic communities, which elicit specific cognitive affects. Examining memorial projects such as the Vietnam Veterans’ Memorial and the National Memorial for Peace and Justice, alongside collective testimonies from survivors of the Rwandan genocide, the Holocaust, the repression of indigenous peoples in Guatemala among others, Jensen highlights the ways that each these memorial projects, whether verbal or material create interactive, aesthetically interesting, interrogative and performative spaces in which stories can be shared through a rhetorically-distanced witness that enables the development of collective traumatic identity while simultaneously supporting traumatized communities.
Chapter 5. Speaking In and Speaking Out: Posttraumatic Poetry and Autography
Jensen analyses the complex strategies used to communicate posttraumatic autobiographical experience through the limiting frames of autography and poetry. Outlining the latest neuroscientific understandings of the relations between mental illness and the creative drive, Jensen demonstrates how both poetry and autography have arisen alongside traumatic historical contexts: while poetry traditionally communicated the horrors of war and imprisonment, autography has been used to tell stories of genocide, rape, incest, anorexia, and pedophilia. Jensen argues that often in posttraumatic autobiographical works in these strict forms a remembered, intrusive scene of violent incursion upon the mind and body is “spoken out” verbally or visually in a manner similar to ekphrástic poetic renderings of a painting or sculpture. Drawing attention to this form of ekphrásis as the business of posttraumatic poetry and autography, Jensen concludes that in both forms, metaphor is used to reread powerful images and provide a rhetorical bridge between affective realms.
Chapter 4. What it is like: Fiction, Fear and Narratives of Feeling in Posttraumatic Autobiographical Novels
Jensen provides a unique comparison of serial autobiographical fictions written by Virginia Woolf, Vladimir Nabokov, Jack Kerouac and Julia Alvarez, reflecting on their use of both reality and the imagination in posttraumatic life-story telling. Focussing on the repetition of key autobiographical moments in their novels, Jensen, provides an analysis of the often conflicting viewpoints on those events presented by numerous narrating “bodies” in each of these texts: this point-of-view narrative strategy, Jensen argues, may be linked to the limbic phenomenon called “Event memory” in which a scene is constructed in memory from a particular point of view. By similarly constructing a figurative witness who plausibly evokes the qualia of “what it was like” through a public incarnation of private suffering, these texts can be understood as counter narratives in which imaginative narration redresses old wounds, proposing an alternative story about subjectivity in the aftermath of trauma: narratives of feeling.
Chapter 3. Time, Body, Memory: The Staged Moment in Posttraumatic Letters, Journals, Essays and Memoirs
Jensen offers a detailed examination of the temporal narrative swerves that appear in much autobiographical literary non-fiction composed in the aftermath of traumatic experience: memoirs, letters, diaries and essays. Uniquely in the case of post-traumatic stress disorder, one can not only recall a past event but also re-experience it fully in both mind and body. Flashbacks bring the past viscerally into the present. Drawing on the latest neuroscientific findings on the interactions of “time cells” and memory in posttraumatic brains, Jensen demonstrates how an analysis of non-fiction works by Vladimir Nabokov, JG Ballard, Virginia Woolf, Jack Kerouac and Julia Alvarez alongside these scientific findings adds to and complicates our understanding of the temporal narrative dynamics through which painful experience can be negotiated in the aftermath of trauma. Moreover, it will posit one possible origin for each writer’s emblematic representations of a complex trope: the body in time.
Chapter 2. “Valuing the Witness: Typologies of Testimony”
Jensen provides a detailed analysis of the category of the witness in the context of trauma, via testimony composed in response to disaster, terrorism and genocide. Drawing on testimonial case studies from witnesses to the Holocaust, the Anfal, the Armenian and Rwandan genocides, the Challenger disaster and the terror attacks at Brussels Airport, Jensen identifies a series of dialectical frames that influence how private witnessing becomes public speech: Memory Effects, Dialogue Effects, and the effects of Procurement for Specific Audiences. Uniquely, Jensen maps the complex interactions of these interdisciplinary frames (psychological, biological, historical, political and cultural) illustrating how these inform what witnesses say and how they are heard. Valuing the Witness concludes that the witness statement in the context of post-conflict survivor testimony, is always also a palimpsest: a layering of cause and effect under pressure from external social/historical challenges as well as idiosyncratic life experiences and powerful bodily sensations.