Date of Award
Doctor of Philosophy
The dissertation argues that depictions of cultural trauma in literature are a natural progression from depictions of individual trauma by tracing the development of trauma studies from its roots in Freudian psychoanalysis to its current position as an interdisciplinary field of study. It accomplishes this by focusing on one symptom of Posttraumatic Stress Disorder, a tendency to perceive illusory patterns - patterns that do not really exist, such as conspiracy theories - in response to feelings of helplessness that stem from a traumatic event. This study contends that depictions of illusory pattern perceptions, while they may initially suggest a simple and definitive answer to healing from the traumatic event if the individual can fully grasp the pattern and get others to see it, actually demonstrate an extension of the trauma by forcing the individual to continuously relive it. Through the use of poetry, fiction, film, and graphic novels from three lingering national crises - a chapter each for the Kennedy assassination, the Vietnam War, and 9/11 - this study demonstrates that the perception of an illusory pattern is a simplistic attempt to deal with the ramifications of a traumatic event which must be dismissed in favor of embracing the complexities of the trauma in order to move beyond it. Finally, in the conclusion this study argues that depictions of memorials in literature can serve as a positive alternative to the destructive force of illusory pattern perception.
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