“Crisis of Knowledge: Trauma in Sorrows of an American.” Zones of Focused Ambiguity in Siri Hustvedt’s Works: Interdisciplinary Essays. Edited by J.Hartmann, C. Marks, et.al. Berlin: Walter De Gruyter, 2016.
The pathology of trauma pervades Siri Hustvedt’s texts in general, and this is most notable in her post-9/11 novel, Sorrows of an American. The repercussions of trauma in Hustvedt’s text not only offer psychological insights, but emphasize questions related to the possibility of knowledge in the aftermath of shock and collapse. Modes of knowing beyond the rational dynamically interact with the scientific truth claims of clinical knowledge on which Hustvedt’s characters rely in equal measure. More than a pathology of memory alone, the crisis of trauma unsettles notions of knowledge and truth. Therefore, Sorrows of an American approaches trauma from an epistemological perspective, in which the overwhelming affectivity of trauma, and the highly synesthetic and corporeal forms of perception this engenders, increasingly destabilize the certainties of clinical diagnosis or empirical factuality. In my contribution to this volume, I will define this literary epistemology of trauma in terms of the material metaphors which pattern this text. In suffusing the corporeality of trauma with the flexibility of imaginative textuality, these metaphors establish a conceptual network in the novel. They open up trajectories towards defining a specifically literary culture of knowledge that is not without rationality, but extends beyond it and combines materiality, cognition and affect in flexible figurative constellation. Thus, I foreground the epistemological impact of trauma which tends to be overlooked in the focus on gender, identity, or memory which characterize trauma studies.