How can trauma be written, or read about, when much of the impact of traumatic events is so overwhelming as to debilitate functional emotional, cognitive, and physical responses? Vickroy considers the formal, thematic, and ethical factors at stake in literature that explores trauma, including cultural ideas about identity, relationality, and intentionality. She focuses on Marguerite Duras, Toni Morrison, Edwidge Danticat, Dorothy Allison, and Pat Barker, among others. Steering away from psychoanalysis towards sociocultural and political causes of and responses to trauma makes this a more interesting work in my view, but often leads to a simplification of how trauma is aestheticised. Similarly, her contention that such literature encourages critical engagement and engages readers’ empathy in a way that is socially reparative is very optimistic. My main problem with this book was none of it felt particularly new and, in fact, much of it felt retrogressive, especially the discussion of the mother/child bond without much critique of such essentialist assumptions.
How has the southern plantation evolved after slavery? Why the enduring obsession with, even nostalgia for, the physical space of the antebellum South and its Georgian mansions, places where terrible violence and exploitation occurred? This book combines literary analysis, historical research and first-person ethnography to track a genealogy of the conversion of human beings into capital in the US South. Adams posits that consumer capitalism has continued well beyond abolition and the Civil War, in tourism, souvenirs, incarceration and rodeos. She traces Storyville brothels, narratives of turn-of-the-century new Orleans, plantation tours, Bette Davis films, Elvis memorials, Willa Cather’s fiction, lynching, and the annual prison rodeo at Louisiana State Penitentiary in Angola. Here is a disturbing portrait of the way the slave past, its violent equation of people as property, haunts all American culture. This is a sociological and cultural take on trauma that packs a much bigger punch than a psychoanalytic one. It asks us to question our tourism practices, visiting sites that have been reconstructed in an attempt to elide the violence embedded in their foundations. In this book, slavery’s physical and psychic violence is always alive within scenes and landscapes of nostalgia.