Thursday, June 5, 2014

I'm Back

Every once in a while, I open this blog, reminisce about my graduate school days, and then go back to my daily routine. This routine, unfortunately, rarely involves theoretical conversations in relation to a text I’m reading or a project with which I am working. Rare, too, is the opportunity to write about such topics. Though I have too often blamed “life” for my lack of recent creativity, I will now declare my own fault in this and remedy it. This is when my self-discipline skills must shine; I will read theory at least a couple times a week and try to post a response weekly. This is my declaration – fingers crossed that I keep it.

Friday, October 8, 2010


Saturday, October 2, 2010

Inheriting the Pain but not the Experience

The question of the legitimacy of fictional representation of history is a complicated one. Some people argue that fictional representations allow us to enter into the experiences of individuals better than historical texts or memoirs. Others, on the other hand, believe that such representation is problematic, at the very least, and that any text other than the original witnessing is illegitimate. The question we should be asking, however, is not whether or not fictional representation can be “legitimate” or accurate, but whether or not the intent of the text to inform, describe, and move the readers is successful. If the purpose behind a historical statistic or factual-based iteration is to provoke pathos by shocking the readers, then one could say this is only partially successful. Where historical facts, especially those concerned with tragedy and death, inform and educate readers, they do not necessarily invoke emotions as well as fictional stories or poetic descriptions do. The objective in telling and retelling tragic memories, such as the Holocaust for instance, is not only to educate audiences about the facts, but also to educate them about more abstract notions such as human nature or conceptual ideas of love, hate, death, life. The backbone of all this, of course, is memory.

Remembering an event is not the same as living it, so retelling a past event is problematic. Regardless of the genre in which the retelling occurs, there is undeniably something lost in the translation. Let’s consider the Holocaust. Even when we read about survivors' experiences, we can never get the whole story. This is true even in testimony, which is possibly the closest we get to “authentic” literature. This is a result of a number of things. Firstly, let’s consider the fact that many survivors chose to remain silent immediately after their horrific experiences. Many of them repressed their traumatic experiences somewhere in their unconscious, choosing instead to live normal lives. In “After the Holocaust,” Aharon Appelfeld claims that “the wish to forget” was very strong among survivors (89). The gap in the time it takes to tell the story is significant since this further interrupts the ability to tell it precisely. Ignoring for a moment the fact that language itself is merely a representation and cannot express absolute reality, time itself becomes a way in which reality is disrupted. It is also important to consider how the psychological and physical traumas affect the ability to recap actual events since“even the original experiences are mediated by hunger, fear, and physical and psychological abuse beyond our imagination” (Schwarz 11).

Memory, then, is not very reliable. The only means of keeping memory “alive,” so to speak, is to repeat it either orally or in written form. After all, “memory relies upon narrative to shape inchoate form” (Schwarz 11). This becomes even more significant when the producers of these narratives are removed from the actual events by time. In other words, those born after the Holocaust, who did not experience the atrocities first-hand, rely on narration, namely fictional narration, to tell the story. The post-Holocaust generation inherits the pain but not the experience and so they must explore history through the imagination. Ellen S. Fine argues that this generation is “confronted with a difficult task: to imagine an event they have not lived through, and to reconstitute and integrate it into their writing – to create a story out of History” (Fine 41). Unlike survivors who try to keep the memory alive by their retelling of personal experiences, those who did not endure the brutality themselves can only “evoke the absence of memory” and this is precisely what fictional writing allows (Fine 46). “As the historical period of the Shoah recedes, imaginative literature will help keep those events alive;” thus, poetry, art, and fiction created by artists removed from the Holocaust by time must express their own stories through the imagination. This becomes an important medium for understanding.

Peter Balakian explains the importance of this type of writing in his book Black Dog of Fate. Before I discuss his ideas, it is important to note that he is a third-generation Armenian-American and the grandson of a survivor of the Armenian Genocide of 1915. Balakian grew up without any knowledge of the dark history surrounding his family. Much of his understanding came from reading poetry or other “fictional” writings about the Genocide. He suggests that these representations and references help those who are far removed from the past events orient the tragic history within their own lives. He writes, “The journey into history, into the Armenian Genocide, was for me inseparable from poetry. Poetry was part of the journey and the excavation” (146). Here, we see the incredible power of fictional writing in relation to knowledge and understanding. It is in these productions, however mitigated they may be, which allow the readers an opportunity and a medium in which to connect and understand despite the distance in time or difference in culture.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

(Final Paper) Literary Trauma: The Unifying Force for the Armenian Diaspora

Andzhela Keshishyan

Dr. Steven Wexler

English 638

May 8, 2010

Literary Trauma: The Unifying Force for the Armenian Diaspora

The representation of trauma in literature has prompted a great deal of attention and an increasingly wide range of study and scholarship. “To be traumatized,” scholar Cathy Caruth asserts, “is precisely to be possessed by an image or event” (4). Trauma can range from witnessing a violent act or being a victim of one. In terms of mass trauma, the Holocaust continues to be a pervasive area of research. The Armenian Genocide of 1915, however, is much less studied. It has “been dubbed the first modern genocide,” yet the research surrounding this horrific moment in history only expanded when interest began to grow in Near Eastern Studies in the past few decades (Bloxham 94). Taking the historical context into consideration, the literary representation of this catastrophic event is significant to the theory of trauma. It is crucial to note that explicit references to the Genocide have become more frequent in Armenian-American literature in the past two decades. Most of the survivors presented in Armenian-American texts, such as the main character in Nancy Kricorian’s Zabelle, are numb to their past. They have repressed their tragic memories somewhere in the unconscious; however, since the effects of the genocide harbor great psychological consequences, their repression is only temporary and eventually returns to haunt their dreams. Freud has termed this delayed effect of a trauma, “latency.”

In Trauma: Explorations in Memory, Cathy Caruth explains, “in the term ‘latency,’ the period during which the effects of the experience are not apparent, Freud seems to describe the trauma as the successive movement from an event to its repression to its return” (7). Many Genocide survivors illustrate the theory of “latency” in their reaction and response to their past. In her novel, Nancy Kricorian depicts such a character. Zabelle is very young when the Genocide takes place. Though she is one of the few lucky ones who survived due to personal strength and strings of good luck, she was nonetheless exposed to a great deal of physical and emotional trauma. She witnessed the deaths of many family members, including her mother, who slowly died of starvation in front of the young girl’s eyes. Years later, Zabelle’s marriage is arranged to an older Armenian man in America, where she begins a new and very different life. Living under the same roof in an unfamiliar country with her jealous mother-in-law and new husband, Zabelle faces many obstacles as an Armenian woman in a patriarchal culture. Nonetheless, she bravely assumes the role and raises 3 children. Her past does not interfere with her everyday life, and “the effects of the experience are not apparent” (Caruth 8). It is only in her old age that Zabelle’s repressed tragedy unfolds as she hears voices from her past and imagines the Turks coming to harm her. Thus, Zabelle embodies Freud’s analysis of the belated effects of a trauma.

Zabelle is one of many Armenian-American works centered around the themes of loss, memory, and identity. In writing this novel, Kricorian shares more than just the story of one person. The narrative of Zabelle’s experiences transcends the individual realm and acts as a unifying force for the Armenian diaspora spread throughout the world. In many ways, Zabelle is a “trauma novel,” which “refers to a work of fiction that conveys profound loss or intense fear on individual or collective levels (Balaev). In this paper, I will argue that the representation of trauma in Armenian-American literature, such as Kricorian’s portrayal of the Genocide’s enduring psychological impact on Zabelle, serves to coalesce the Armenian Diaspora’s sense of national identity. Therefore, literary depictions of this particular trauma, which has yet to be acknowledged as a Genocide by its perpetrators, serves a greater purpose for a dispersed population. Since the producers, artists, and authors who reference the Genocide are decades removed from the survivors of the tribulation, they have the necessary detachment to explore their ancestors’ past. Because the later generations began to voice their hitherto silent history, I argue that they also exemplify, by extension, Freud’s theory of latency. Almost a century later, the memories of the past are only becoming more frequent. Thus, as Caruth explains, “the traumatized […] carry an impossible history within them, or they become themselves the symptoms of a history that they cannot entirely possess” (Caruth 5). To adequately impress upon readers the importance of this history to the current Armenian diaspora, it is necessary to give a brief background of the events that splintered the Armenian nation and its people almost a century ago.

Like the Jewish population was targeted in the Holocaust, the Armenians faced mass slaughters, deportations, and exterminations by the Turkish government in the Ottoman Empire in 1915. Under the cover of World War One, the Ottomans systematically expunged thousands and thousands of Armenians from their ancestral lands “as the world watched almost in silence” (Kurkchiyan and Herzig 7). Approximately 1.5 million Armenians were slaughtered within a few months. This horrific moment left an indelible mark on Armenian history and consciousness and laid the foundations for the radical shift that the Armenian national identity was to undergo during the twentieth century. Many survivors immigrated to foreign lands where they began new lives and, eventually, assimilated into these host cultures. In their struggles to fit into their new surroundings, to raise healthy children, and to maintain somewhat of their Armenianness, many of these survivors did not speak of their tragic past and often repressed it completely in their unconscious. However, witnessing and experiencing such unthinkable horrors left a dark shadow in their hearts, and haunted them for the rest of their lives, even in their dreams. In one of the first personal accounts of the Genocide, Arshaluys (Aurora) Mardiganian, a young girl who miraculously survived through countless brutal acts, says, “When I see [the Turks and Kurds who raped and tortured young girls] in my dreams now I scream, so even though I am safe in America, my nights are not peaceful” (Slide 125).

Kricorian’s novel begins with a description of the massacre’s belated effects on the now elderly, Zabelle, who has repressed the horrors she witnessed as a child throughout her entire adult life. These memories have not disappeared, but, in her old age, begin to resurface in the form of nightmares. At night, “long shadows and disembodied voices, speaking Armenian and Turkish, circled Zabelle’s bed. She heard fragments of long-forgotten songs. The faces of her mother, father, brother, grandparents, aunts and uncles come swimming up at her like fish surfacing from the bottom of a pond” (Kricorian 6). For most of her life, Zabelle has kept these memories to herself, hiding them in order to live a normal life, but “despite the human capacity to survive and adapt, traumatic experiences can alter people’s psychological, biological, and social equilibrium…” (van der Kolk and McFarlane 488). Zabelle seems to be suffering from posttraumatic syndrome, which “is the result of a failure of time to heal all wounds” (491). Since time cannot mitigate such deeply embedded torment, repression is replaced by latency, and a response to the event eventually materializes.

Zabelle, along with many other genocide survivors, does not speak about her past even with her close family members. She says, “That was how it was with us. We never spoke about those times, but they were like rotting animals behind the walls of our home” (Kricorian 223-4). This theme of “silent survivor” runs through various other works by Armenian-American authors. In David Kherdian’s novel, The Road from Home, for instance, the main character, another genocide survivor, claims, “we never talked about the massacres. It was as if we had forgotten about our past troubles, but often they would resurface in different ways” (130). The narrator admits that although they did not explicitly discuss their tragic experiences, they were nonetheless a part of their lives.

These repressed memories often manifest in the form of traumatic dreams. Such dreams, however, differ from most of Freud’s dream analyses, which usually focus on repressed desires. While studying his patients, “Freud realized that the unconscious often expresses itself in the form of dreams, since at night, during sleep, the vigilance of the repressive ego in regard to unconscious desire is stilled” (Rivkin and Ryan 390). Cathy Caruth explains that “the returning traumatic dream startles Freud because it cannot be understood in terms of any wish or unconscious meaning, but is, purely and inexplicably, the literal return of the event against the will of the one it inhabits” (5). In their article, “The Black Hole of Trauma,” Bessel A. van der Kolk and Alexander C. McFarlane state that “many survivors seem to be able to transcend their trauma temporarily and harness their pain in acts of sublimated creation; for example, the writers and Holocaust survivors Jerzy Kosinski and Primo Levi seem to have done this, only to succumb to the despair of their memories in the end” (487). Hence, repression is temporary since, as the aforementioned statement illustrates, survivors ultimately submit to their grief, despite any efforts to do otherwise.

In his memoir, Black Dog of Fate, Peter Balakian comes to see his “grandmother’s numbed response to the Armenian Genocide as a necessary way of survival” (Balakian 299). Theorist Michelle Balaev reminds us, however, that “the ‘unspeakability’ of trauma claimed by so many literary critics today can be understood less as an epistemological conundrum or neurobiological fact, but more as an outcome of cultural values and ideologies.” This observation applies to the Armenian culture since the “silent survivor” is such a common phenomenon in post-genocide communities, and so frequently depicted in contemporary Armenian-American “trauma novels.” In another novel by Nancy Kricorian, Dreams of Bread and Fire, the main character, Ani, explains that the genocide was a “forbidden topic” in her house, and goes on to say that she always “had the idea that [talking about it] would kill [her] grandmother” (146-7). Even though the massacres had never been explained to Ani, she “knew from bits of conversation she wasn’t supposed to have heard between her mother and grandfather and occasional vague references from her grandmother that in the old country the Turks had murdered lots of Armenians and forced even more to leave their homes. But no one was supposed to talk about the Deportations, especially not in front of [Ani’s] Grandma” (148).

Since survivors suppressed their pain rather than vocalize the memories they were tormented by, contemporary trauma novels serve as a medium in which their children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren can finally foreground their nation’s traumatic past. Such novels also provide survivors’ descendents, especially those whose families fled from Ottoman Armenia, a chance to explore their ethnic origins and current “hyphenated” identities. Most third and fourth generation Diasporan Armenians learned about their past through the references to the Genocide in various cultural productions, such as literature. Third-generation Armenian-American author and poet, Peter Balakian, suggests that such references help those who are far removed from the events of 1915 orient Armenia's tragic history within their own lives today. He writes, “The journey into history, into the Armenian Genocide, was for me inseparable from poetry. Poetry was part of the journey and the excavation” (146). In “Trends in Literary Trauma Theory,” Michelle Balaev writes, “A central claim of contemporary literary trauma theory asserts that trauma creates a speechless fright that divides or destroys identity. This serves as the basis for a larger argument that suggests identity is formed by the intergenerational transmission of trauma.” Balaev argues that when stories of one generation are transmitted to another through various texts, private trauma may become “transhistorical trauma” and thus “define contemporary individual identity, as well as racial or cultural identity.” Transhistorical trauma makes the relationship between an individual and the group parallel, and “indicates that a massive trauma experienced by a group in the historical past can be experienced by an individual living centuries later who shares a similar attribute of the historical group, such as sharing the same race, religion, nationality, or gender due to the timeless, repetitious, and infectious characteristics of traumatic experience and memory” (Balaev). As such, genocide survivors’ painful experiences that are presented in works by Kricorian and other Armenian-American authors transcend the personal realm of these individuals and become a shared experience. Today, many Armenian-Americans use artistic mediums to learn about the trauma experienced by the genocide victims and, as a result, experience the history themselves.

There are many factors that contribute to the continued references and subsequent themes of loss, grief, sorrow, and trauma in Armenian-American literature. One of the most significant of these is the Turkish Government’s continued denial that a Genocide ever took place. Gerard Libaridian writes, “The Genocide, its exploitation, and its denial by Turkey paralyzed the collective psyche of the Armenian people” (2). The paralyzing horrors that most victims faced rendered them incapable of speaking about their experiences. Instead, they stored their memories deep within themselves, making it invisible to the external world. Consequently, their repression silenced the collective community for years. Still, the effects of the trauma did not disappear. Inevitably, the victims’ descendents, after learning more about their history, felt the unique responsibility to revive a lost segment of their national past. In Children of Armenia, Michael Bobelian writes, “having inherited a sound economic and communal foundation from the survivors who spent their lives rebuilding, [the younger generation] had the luxury to mount a political campaign. The experience of the Genocide manifested differently in these younger generations” (139). Repression was one of the most frequent psychological defenses used to unconsciously conceal the indelible pain that such death and devastation inflicted on victims; however, their offspring, who did not witness the horrors firsthand, “had the necessary detachment to re-awaken this forgotten episode of history (139). Thus, “the psychological scars of the genocide endured” in subsequent generations (139). Since the effects of the trauma are manifested and exhibited after a long period of silence, this, too, is a form of latency.

Most grandchildren of survivors, upon learning about their history in various forms of discourse, somehow felt as if they themselves experienced the horrors. In “The Response of Women to Crisis: From Mourning to Personal Identity,” Shaké Topalian writes that the “children and grandchildren of survivors have carried [their] parents’ unprocessed projection of trauma” (48). Consequently, most of them express their reactions to the event in multiple ways and different forms. For some, like Nancy Kricorian, this occurs in the act of writing a novel based on her cultural and historical past, using the Armenian Genocide as a symbol for a diasporic community. Kricorian, like many of her fellow Armenian-American novelists, plays a role in the unconscious unification of a fragmented identity. As Balaev states, “The author who situates traumatic experience in relation to a particular place indicates that trauma is understood as a culturally specific event, in which its meaning remains contingent on factors such as a historically specific moment.” The Armenian Genocide has indeed “become a collective symbol and reorganizes the discourse pertinent to Armenian collective identity” (Shirinian 20).

Since “the story of the Genocide has now become deeply entrenched in Armenian collective memory,” it is undeniably a cohesive force in the lives of many diasporans (Miller 161). Because they are “divided by geography and assimilation, Armenians [rely] upon their common tragic past” to bring them together (Bobelian 232). This remembrance of the genocide stands as a unifying theme of continued identification with the Armenian nation among the diaspora. In his essay titled “Denial and Free Speech: The Case of the Armenian Genocide,” Henry C. Theriault maintains, “Certainly, Armenian identity depends on much more than the genocide and its continuing aftermath, but the genocide is […] a central part of modern Armenian history and as such an essential part of contemporary Armenian identity” (247). References to the Genocide in literature and other mediums of expression stand "as a monument to the Armenian aspiration of revived nationhood” as they link history to various forms of public discourse (Peroomian 177). This places “the Armenian Genocide within the ongoing saga of a living people” to try to reconcile the tragedy and “ensure national survival and evolution” (177-8).

Novels like Nancy Kricorian’s Zabelle, function to unify a scattered people by referencing their common past, even if this may not be the authors’ primary intent. In telling Zabelle’s story of repression and eventual confrontation with tragedy, Kricorian highlights the belated effects of a trauma. Furthermore, the fact that she has written Zabelle decades after the actual event, while giving voice to the victims after years of silence, also validates the notion of latency in the Armenian-American diasporic community. Cathy Caruth insists that “the historical power of the trauma is […] that it is only in and through its inherent forgetting that it is first experienced at all. And it is this inherent latency of the event that paradoxically explains the peculiar, temporal structure, the belatedness of historical experience. [If] the traumatic event is not experienced as it occurs, [then] it is fully evident only in connection with another place, and in another time” (8). Thus, repression, in trauma, is replaced by latency. For the current Armenian Diaspora, the contemporary responses to a historical tragedy stand a monument for the figurative unification of a fragmented people.

Works Cited

Balaev, Michelle. “Trends in Literary Trauma Theory.” Mosaic 41.2 (June 2008): 149-66. ProQuest. Web. 12 February 2010.

Balakian, Peter. Black Dog of Fate. New York: Basic Books, 2009. Print.

Bloxham, Donald. “Determinants of the Armenian Genocide.” Looking Backward, Moving Forward. Ed. Richard G. Hovannisian. New Jersey: Transaction Publishers, 2003. 23-50.Print.

Bobelian, Michael. Children of Armenia: A Forgotten Genocide and the Century-Long Struggle for Justice. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2009. Print.

Caruth, Cathy. Trauma: Explorations in Memory. Maryland: John Hopkins University Press, 1995. Print.

Kherdian, David. The Road from Home. New York: Beech Tree Books, 1979. Print.

Kricorian, Nancy. Dreams of Bread and Fire. New York: Grove Press, 2003. Print.

---. Zabelle. New York: HarperCollins, 1998. Print.

Kurkchiyan, Marina and Edmund Herzig, eds. “Introduction: Armenia and the Armenians.” The Armenians A Handbook (Caucasus World. Peoples of the Caucasus). New York: Routledge Curzon, 2005: 1-22. Print.

Libaridian, Gerard J. Armenia at the Crossroads: Democracy and Nationhood in the Post-Soviet Era. Massachusetts: Blue Crane Books, 1991. Print.

Miller, Donald E., and Lorna Touryan Miller. Survivors: An Oral History of the Armenian Genocide. Berkely: University of California Press, 1993. Print.

Peroomian, Rubina. “New Directions in Literary Responses to the Armenian Genocide.”
Looking Backward, Moving Forward. Ed. Richard G. Hovannisian. New Jersey: Transaction Publishers, 2003. 157-180. Print.

Rivkin, Julie and Michael Ryan. Introduction. Literary Theory: An Anthology. 2nd ed. Ed. Julie Rivkin and Michael Ryan. Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing, 2004. 389-97. Print.

Shirinian, Lorne. Armenian-North American Literature: A Critical Introduction Genocide, Diaspora, and Symbols. New York: The Edwin Mellen Press, 1990. Print.

Slide, Anthony, ed. Ravished Armenia and the Story of Aurora Mardiganian. Maryland:Scarecrow Press, Inc, 1997. Print.

Theriault, Henry C. “Denial and Free Speech: The Case of the Armenian Genocide.” Looking Backward, Moving Forward. Ed. Richard G. Hovannisian. New Jersey: Transaction Publishers, 2003. 231-62. Print.

Topalian, Shaké. “The Response of Women to Crisis: From Collective Mourning to Personal Identity.” Voices of Armenian Women. Ed. Barbara Mergeuria and Joy Renjilian-Burgy.Belmont, Massachusetts: AIWA Press, 2000. 37-48. Print.

van der Kolk, Bessel A. and Alexander C. McFarlane. “The Black Hole of Trauma.” Literary Theory: An Anthology. 2nd ed. Ed. Julie Rivkin and Michael Ryan. Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing, 2004. 487-505. Print.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

The Elephant Man/The Elegant Man

"I am not an animal! I am a human being!" -- John Merrick

On Wednesday night I watched The Elephant Man for the first time. I wasn’t sure what to expect – the title indicated it somewhat, and I wasn’t looking forward to watching a film about a man suffering from elephantiasis. Nonetheless, being the studious and nerdy student that I am, I found the film online, and pressed “play,” kind of annoyed at the whole thing. But, within the first 10 minutes, I found myself completely taken by the story…I think I may have used about 2 boxes of tissue paper. In retrospect, I think my initial reaction of not wanting to see a film about a man with elephantiasis is ironically fitting with its theme of people making judgments and assumptions. In other words, this was a good reminder not to judge a book by its cover.

Now that a day has passed and I have stopped weeping like a 5-year-old, I think I can begin to associate some theories to this amazing film. There is much to discuss: identity, the interpretation of dreams, Bakhtin’s “carnival,” the mirror stage, capitalism…where does one begin?!

Since there is an incredibly large pool of potential ideas to explore, I will mainly focus on Mikhail Bakhtin’s “Carnival” in relation to the film. “Carnival is the people’s second life, organized on the basis of laughter,” but what about when this laughter is at the expense of another human being? (Bakhtin 686). John Merrick, born Joseph Carey Merrick, tells the story of a young man suffering from a medical condition which completely deformed his physical appearance. He is covered with disfiguring tumors all over his body, including his head. Because of this “abnormal” appearance, Merrick spent his life being mocked, ridiculed, and laughed at. As if this isn’t enough humiliation, he was also displayed as a “freak” in the circus, where people paid money just to point and laugh at Merrick’s pain. Bakhtin writes, “laugher degrades and materializes…To degrade is to bury, to sow, and to kill simultaneously”(688).

But laugher isn’t the only response Merrick receives. Upon seeing him for the first time, many people scream in horror. This adds to the innumerable degradation Merrick faces because of his incurable fate. Each look of disgust and every sound of inhumane laugher kills Merrick’s soul. This type of humiliation “digs a bodily grave,” (688).

Works Cited:
Bakhtin, Mikhail. "Rabelais and His World." Literary Theory: An Anthology. 2nd ed. Ed. Julie Rivkin and Michael Ryan. Malden: Blackwell Publishing, 2004. 686-92. Print.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Final Paper -- The Start (DRAFT!)

In her novel Zabelle, Nancy Kricorian depicts a character who represses her tragic past. Zabelle is very young when the Armenian Genocide takes place; she witnesses the deaths of members of her family, even seeing her mother slowly die of starvation in front of her eyes. Zabelle represents the few lucky ones who were able to survive because of personal strength and strings of good luck. Years later, Zabelle’s marriage is arranged to an older Armenian man in America, where she begins a new and very different life. Living under the same roof in a new country with her jealous mother-in-law and new husband, Zabelle faces many obstacles as an Armenian woman in a patriarchal culture. Nonetheless, she bravely assumes the role and raises 3 children. At times, her tragic past comes back to haunt her in her sleep, but it is not talked about. It does not interfere with everyday life, and “the effects of the experience are not apparent” (Caruth 8). It is only in her old age that Zabelle’s repressed tragedy unfolds as she hears voices from her past and imagines the Turks coming to harm her. Thus, Zabelle embodies Freud’s analysis of belated effects of a trauma, which he terms “latency.”

Zabelle is one of many Armenian-American works centered around the theme of loss, memory, and identity. In writing this novel, Nancy Kricorian shares more than just the story of Zabelle, for her story transcends the individual experience and acts as a unifying force for the Armenian diaspora spread throughout the world. In many ways, Zabelle is a “trauma novel,” which “refers to a work of fiction that conveys profound loss or intense fear on individual or collective levels (Balaev). In this paper, I will argue that the representation of trauma in Armenian-American literature, such as the Genocide in Nancy Kricorian’s Zabelle, serves to coalesce the Armenian diaspora’s sense of national identity. Therefore, this particular trauma, which has yet to be acknowledged as such by its perpetrators, serves a greater purpose for a dispersed population. Literary trauma, then, becomes a medium in which the Armenian community’s collective tragedy stands as a beacon to their national identity.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

The First thing you have to learn is how to be quiet

“Even now China wraps double binds around my feet” (Kingston 48).

It is no coincidence that the first line of The Woman Warrior reads, “You must not tell anyone” (3). With this, the theme of female silencing arises. The narrator’s mother tells her that she must not tell anyone the story of her aunt, who had an illegitimate baby and was disowned by the family as a result. “…it is as if she had never been born,” her mother tells her (3). Her mother continues, “Now that you have started to menstruate, what happened to her could happen to you. Don’t humiliate us.” You wouldn’t like to be forgotten as if you had never been born” (5). The story of the aunt, then, is used as a warning. It is a warning for many things: not to have sex, not to humiliate the family, and perhaps most importantly, to obey the unwritten rules written for women in Chinese culture.

One of these rules is to obey (men) and stay quiet. Silence is a major theme in the book, and the narrator is taught that it is an important part of being a Chinese girl. She realizes that the demand to keep her aunt’s story quiet is not just for the sake of her family’s reputation, but, she says, there is more to this silence” they want me to participate in their punishment. And I have” (16).
The punishment has been growing up haunted by this story – this story has trapped her, keeping her boxed in the restrictions placed upon her by her culture. She admits, “My aunt haunts me – her ghost drawn to me because now, after fifty years of neglect, I alone devote pages of paper to her” (16). Even as an adult, she cannot escape the binding of her culture. It is a part of her, keeping her enclosed in specific expectations.

Works Cited:
Kingston, Maxine Hong. The Woman Warrior. New York: Vintage International, 1976. Print.