The Irrevocable Effects of Trauma on the Narrative in Georges Perec’s W, or, The Memory of Childhood and Latitude: A Novel

Laura Keneally (2011). The Irrevocable Effects of Trauma on the Narrative in Georges Perec’s W, or, The Memory of Childhood and Latitude: A Novel MPhil Thesis, School of English, Media Studies and Art History, The University of Queensland.

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Author Laura Keneally
Thesis Title The Irrevocable Effects of Trauma on the Narrative in Georges Perec’s W, or, The Memory of Childhood and Latitude: A Novel
School, Centre or Institute School of English, Media Studies and Art History
Institution The University of Queensland
Publication date 2011-05
Thesis type MPhil Thesis
Supervisor Dr Venero Armanno
Dr Tony Thwaites
Total pages 239
Total black and white pages 239
Subjects 19 Studies in Creative Arts and Writing
Abstract/Summary The thesis consists of the creative project and the critical essay. Latitude is a novel about childhood memory and trauma, and the human instinct for repetition. Set in present-day northern New South Wales, it tells the story of grieving photographer Anna and the enigmatic music producer and composer David Cain, whose meeting at a tragic accident takes place in the familiar landscape of Anna's childhood. From there an affair between Anna and David leads them to two characters, a young and beautiful singer, Kara, and Kara's boyfriend Tom, who reappear from David‟s past and lead Anna, ultimately, to a game that keeps increasing in its extremity. Anna, caught in a nightmare, struggles to understand David's destructive behaviour. The critical essay examines Georges Perec's W, or, The Memory of Childhood (W). W, a Holocaust narrative, is an exemplary trauma text that is a product of the author's extreme childhood trauma. Incomplete, with different narrative strands of fiction and childhood memory, it shows both the author's profound desire to write and a remarkable inability to speak. Through a close reading of W, the essay analyses Perec's strategic use of traumatic effects (such as narrative omissions, repetition, and uncanny objects) and engages with four main questions: why is it that traumatic memory cannot provide a linear view? In fiction, how can the author say so much about an extreme childhood trauma and yet say so little? How does W, at times become a ghost story in which haunting takes on material shapes? And how does the effect of estrangement, of not understanding, take place? The essay explores the relation between autobiography and fiction, searching for clues to the unspoken story underneath–not to compare the trauma of the Holocaust with the childhood trauma my fiction protagonist is dealing with, but to find structural signposts through which a reader might see a process of memory interpretation in instances of childhood trauma and catch glimpses of its effects on identity. This essay draws attention to the irrevocable effects of trauma on the narrative because these techniques are precisely where the force of the fictional trauma narrative resides. What this essay is interested in is the way Perec synthesises many of the common aims of the fictional trauma narrative by emphasising absence as a distinguishing characteristic of trauma, demonstrating that, more than anything else, trauma is a matter of emptiness, far more obscure than the writing of a crash. The impact of a crash can propel the narrative's form, but in the strange way of trauma one of its most compelling aspects is that its effects can be triggered by very different and far less obvious reasons than originally supposed. Exploration of the irrevocable effects of trauma is central to the methodology of this thesis, both creatively and critically. Once David's ambiguity threatened to be directly described, a surprising inner logic grew: the narrative of the novel required an oblique strategy not unlike Perec's. When Anna and David arrive at an impasse, the only direction is a breaking apart. Chronological order is lost, resorting to a going backwards and forwards, before the narrative is separated by a journey to an island. Everything that exists between Anna and David in the real world disappears. Because the book is interrupted and taken outside of the world to an unknown island it also embraces Cathy Caruth's idea that the story of the accident resists comprehension, and the repeated return to the accident constitutes much of what it means to experience trauma belatedly, directing the victim to an unrecognisable location. An unspoken story or underlying absence is built into the text. When Anna takes the first photograph of David at the site of the accident she cannot shake the sensation that there is something she should have seen. When she looks at the photograph later she tells herself it is a mistake. Like so many stories of trauma, there is an underlying story that is impossible to tell because it is beyond words. The extremity Anna is drawn to falls outside language; it also means she is caught by David. The novel is an attempt to stage an extra-textual truth and create a suspicion that something terrible has happened to Anna, and her memory is disturbed. In that light, the absence at the centre of the novel represents trauma as an impassable distance imposed on the mind. David and Anna are likewise devoted to the construction of lost narratives: David works on an album that will never be made. And in a similar manner, Anna works through an irretrievable story of her childhood, her mother, her father, and indeed the truth about David that she imagines to be lost in her camera. The unsayable, the unknowable, the unspoken presence of an other is crucial to a convincing portrayal of a protagonist dealing with the effects of trauma. It is not a question of completion because traumatised memory directs and redirects the mind to an unresolvable break, forcing an impassable distance between what is known and unknown. The truth is suspended, providing a window to another untold story whose consequences dictate, in the fictional world of the novel, the characters' fates.
Keyword Fiction, autobiography, trauma, narrative, memory, identity, irrevocable effects, Georges Perec, W, or, The Memory of Childhood

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Created: Mon, 19 Sep 2011, 15:28:58 EST by Miss Laura Keneally on behalf of Library - Information Access Service