The Trauma of Modernism: Between Existential Indeterminacy and Allegoresis

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This essay aims to analyze two hermeneutic strategies of the cultural absorption and transformation of traumatic experience, which seem to be pivotal for the European and American literatures of the nineteenth and the twentieth centuries. This is the search for an ultimate ontological ground for the transcendence of the traumatic, on the one hand, and the acknowledgement of the insuperable semantic indeterminacy of human existence, on the other. These strategies are analyzed with reference to the explicitly posttraumatic literature of European Modernism and the poetry of Gerard Manley Hopkins, in particular. With an eye on this general goal, the first section of this essay addresses a number of theoretical problems that are related to the study of the hermeneutics of trauma in literature. It suggests that this hermeneutics can be more accurately understood in terms of historically variable “cultural dominants” and their combination in the hermeneutics used by specific texts or individual writers. The second section of the essay turns to the problems of the study of Modernism in relation to the problem of trauma and suggests that the epistemological framework of the “rapture in the episteme” can be usefully employed for the conceptualization of traumatic experiences that underlie the advent of literary Modernism. The third section focuses on the biography and poetics of the first European Modernist, Gerard Manley Hopkins, while underscoring their traumatic components. The forth section analyzes the main hermeneutic strategies used by Hopkins for the purposes of the representation and conceptualization of existential experiences. Drawing upon this analysis, the next and the longest section of this paper examines Hopkins’s “dark sonnets,” which articulate suffering and pain, question their meaning and meaninglessness. It is through this analysis of Hopkins’s late poetry that the two opposed hermeneutic strategies, which this essay aims to foreground and understand, as well as a unique relation between them in Hopkins’s works, become especially palpable. The concluding section returns to a more general discussion of Modernism in literature; it stresses the uniqueness of the hermeneutics of trauma in Hopkins, on the one hand, and the existence of a shared hermeneutic repertoire for dealing with the traumatic, on the other.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationInterdisciplinary Handbook of Trauma and Culture
EditorsYochai Ataria, David Gurevitz, Haviva Pedaya, Yuval Neria
PublisherSpringer International Publishing AG
Number of pages19
ISBN (Print)978-3-319-29404-9
StatePublished - 2016


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