In 1992, Psychoanalyst Dori Laub defined trauma as the “tyranny of the past” (Laub 1992b, 79), working alongside Shoshona Felman and Cathy Caruth to describe trauma as a pathology of memory, history and time. Their neo-Freudian approach is interested in how traumatic memories return to haunt the patient, seemingly breaking through the linear progression of time and engulfing the traumatized self in a past that stretches to engulf the future. The tyranny of the past, therefore, implies a future that cannot arrive. I propose to explore trauma from the other side of the temporal spectrum, asking whether trauma is not, in fact, a pathology of history, a crisis of remembering the past, but instead a crisis of imagining the future.
Cyborg bodies and the constellational temporalities of science fiction reconstruct trauma’s time. The shift from silence (Cathy Caruth) towards multidirectionality (Michael Rothberg) in trauma studies has signaled a departure from the “tyranny of the past” (Shoshona Felman). Yet it is the experimental temporalities of contemporary science fiction narratives which explicitly interrogate trauma’s futurity. When they envision non-linear temporalities, they open trauma to dialogue and exchange rather engulfing memory in return and repression.
Specifically, the constellational temporality of William Gibson’s The Peripheral offers a model to rethink the relation between forgotten pasts, abused presents, and precluded futures. Set in a near-future where Fredric Jameson’s violent undercurrents of late capitalism have turned trauma systemic, Gibson explores how vulnerability can become the basis for less precarious futures. His idea that the past risks being colonized by various futurities offers a succinct metaphor for current memory culture. The cyborg bodies, though, resist this logic of mastery. As dispersed selves who do not recognize the myth of a lost wholeness, they are empowered by the opportunities for dialogue in rhizomatic temporal spaces, navigating the contact points between diverging and converging past, present and future linearities. Against the idea of colonization, they interweave their co-dependencies and patterns of implication. Thus enriched with future thoughts, the cyborg body develops an ethics akin to Donna Haraway’s “response-ability.” They offer a vision of a less precarious future beyond the seeming inevitability of a sci-fi apocalypse.
On March 29, 2019, I presented this paper at the “Memories of the Future” conference organised by the Centre for the Study of Cultural Memory, School of Advanced Study, University of London