Trauma as [a narrative of] the sublime: the semiotics of silence
Chandler, Eléna-Maria Antonia
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Both traditional and contemporary approaches to psychic trauma begin with the basic assumption that trauma is a pathological disordering of the subject in response to “an event outside the range of human experience.” Such event-based approaches to trauma have failed to establish a unified understanding of the wide range of symptoms and experiences that accompany traumatic crisis. This study departs from these traditional assumptions, placing the range of existent discourse from fields such as psychology, ethics, social theory, cognitive science, and literary studies within the broader framework of semiotics and epistemology. This broader framework allows me to define the underlying problematic in trauma as the finitude of what can be expressed and understood by others, and the infinitude of human experience not bound by the structure of symbolic meaning. Beginning with this basic opposition, I develop a dynamic model of semiosis and subjectivity, in which the contrasting cognitive objectives of delimiting and expanding meaning can be understood as a productive differential that induces a current of experience, cognition, discourse, and identity. This dynamic model utilizes the anomalous symptoms and responses of traumatic crisis to expand existing models of subjectivity, since I argue that what we call “trauma” is actually an attenuation of sub-processes integral to the successful functioning of signification. The dynamic model of signification and subjectivity defined in this study provides a comprehensive explanation for what has seemed a widely scattered and unpredictable array of traumatic symptoms, situating physical, ethical, emotional and social “conflicts” within a single contiguous process. More importantly, it makes it feasible to talk about fields of study as disparate as psychology, cognitive science, social science using parallel models that are based upon the same principles. This will allow one field to contribute to another in a way that has not yet been possible, and has implications for the active treatment of traumatic crisis. Finally, the model developed here founds an overarching interpretive approach to trauma narrative that is textually based, and hence applicable to literatures from a different cultural and historical basis.