Representing trauma : the image of atrocity in the cultural discourse of European modernity
In this thesis, I examine the complexities involved in the representation of trauma in both aesthetic and ideological configurations in the relationship between the generic experience of modernity and particular historical events of atrocity. This relationship continues from the discourse of social and moral degradation and the rise of modem psychiatry, to the idea of artistic and literary creation. The discourse of trauma has become intrinsically linked to the aesthetic in the configuration of the experience of modernity that points not only to the problematisation of the self but also the crisis of representation. Starting from the discourse of trauma surrounding the experience of the First World War, the thesis examines the language of technology and mechanisation as a means for overcoming the traumatic experience of the war in the work of Ernst Jünger and other writers and artists across the political spectrum during the Weimar period. I also investigate the aesthetic configurations of `depersonalisation' and `impersonality' as they are figured in the texts and images of the European Avant-garde particularly, the Neue Sachlichkeit, and the thematic origins of the image of trauma since the early modem period. I also examine the pathological rhetoric of disintegration and decay in the discourse of war trauma in the work of Louis-Ferdinand Celine. The thesis proposes that there is a reactionary tendency in the image of disintegration, decay and fragmentation in particular avantgarde movements such as the Neue Sachlichkeit, Expressionism and Surrealism. I conclude that the representation of trauma is intrinsic to diverse political and aesthetic positions articulated through rhetorical strategies in the discourse of scientific rationalism, technological progress, the medical sciences and the modernist aesthetic of fragmentation and disfiguration. In the final part of the thesis, I investigate these aesthetic and ideological themes in the contemporary discourse of trauma surrounding the representation of the Holocaust, particularly the construction of the `Holocaust museum' and its artefacts through examining the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington D. C. and the Jewish Museum in Berlin.