I find that the novels do not depict the effects of trauma in a way that conforms to the “traditional” conceptualization of trauma as a punctual event which cannot be integrated in memory and therefore also resist representation in language and a coherent narrative.
Irene Hareide of the Faculty of Humanities and Education at the University of Agder has submitted his thesis entitled "Painful, violent, insidious. Theoretical perspectives on trauma and trauma literature, and literary analyses of Herbjørg Wassmo’s House with the blind glass windows, Per Petterson’s In the wake and Brit Bildøen’s Seven days in August".
Søreide has followed the PhD programme at the Faculty of Humanities and Education at the University of Agder, with Spesialistation in Literature Studies.
Trauma and literature
Literary trauma studies examine how literature deals with different aspects of trauma and is characterized by a theoretical and thematical orientation towards trauma as a complex phenomenon and concept. Researchers within the field have a shared focus on questions of how various traumatic experiences, individual and collective, challenge language and how literature depict traumatic events and the effects of trauma. The field is developing rapidly and it is characterized by theoretical tensions, allowing a number of potential theoretical positions.
Thus, this thesis follows a dual path. In the theoretical section, I discuss and define the concept of trauma, and questions regarding the relationship between trauma, language and literature, and I reflect on how cultural context influences how trauma is understood and interpreted. This theoretical discussion concludes in favour of an adoption of a flexible definition of trauma, to include a multitude of aesthetic forms, and to take the cultural context into consideration when analysing trauma literature. This argument forms the theoretical foundation for my reading of trauma literature, which I have used in the second section of the thesis, where I analyse three contemporary Norwegian novels; Herbjørg Wassmo’s House with the blind glass windows, Per Petterson’s In the wake and Brit Bildøen’s Seven days in August.
The main focus of my literary analyses is on the literary depiction of the different traumas, both individual and collective, and on how collective traumas – the German occupation of Norway (in Wassmo’s novel), the arson fire on board the ship Scandinavian Star (in Petterson’s novel) and the terror attack on Oslo and Utøya (in Bildøen’s novel) – impact the individual and the collective. In addition, I have analyzed how the novels create literary configurations of these collective traumatic events of the past.
I find that the novels do not depict the effects of trauma in a way that conforms to the “traditional” conceptualization of trauma as a punctual event which cannot be integrated in memory and therefore also resist representation in language and a coherent narrative. In these novels, trauma is rather depicted as a complex matter of subject, where the collective trauma sets off reactions and has implications for both individuals and society, and is also intertwined with other traumas, in different manners in the three novels. Figurative language is a stylistic device shared by all three novels, especially in the repetition of motifs, as well as different forms of narrative fragmentation.
When it comes to the literary configurations of collective trauma, I find that the novels are characterized by different modes of remembering. All three novels are predominated by an experiental mode of remembering that makes it possible for the reader to come close to the individual experiences of the collective trauma. The novels give voice to social groups that are directly affected by a collective trauma, and the novels reflect on what kind of experiences it is possible to speak about, and in this way, they challenge the dominant cultural narratives about these collective traumas.
Despite that trauma is a disputed concept, it also is a concept that enables descriptions of pain that is not visible as physical wounds, but still leaves its mark on individuals and societies. Therefore, I argue in favour of the further use and theoretical exploration of this concept, and my hope is that this thesis will contribute to such discussions. Literature, like the three novels analyzed in this thesis, can challenge our conceptual understanding of trauma based on different theories, and challenge dominant narratives of traumatic events such as a war, a catastrophe, or a terror attack in the past.
The trial lecture and the public defence will take place in Campus Kristiansand and online via the Zoom conferencing app - find more information here.
The trial lecture: 10:00 hours, Thursdag 2 March.
Public defence: 12:00 hours, Thursday 2 March.
Title of thesis (translated): "Painful, violent, insidious. Theoretical perspectives on trauma and trauma literature, and literary analyses of Herbjørg Wassmo’s House with the blind glass windows, Per Petterson’s In the wake and Brit Bildøen’s Seven days in August".
About the candidate: Irene Hareide (born 1980 in Stavanger, raised in Ulsteinvik), has a bachelor´s degree in languages with Nordic as main field of study, and a master´s degree in Nordic Languages and Literature. The title of her MA thesis is “She follows a blue and lonely path” Nature as impression and expression in Cora Sandel´s Alberta trilogy.
First opponent: Professor Joachim Schiedermair, LMU München
Second opponent: Professor Jakob Lothe, University of Oslo
Head of assessment committee: Associate professor Siri Hempel Lindøe, Department of Nordic and Media Studies, UiA.
Chair of disputation: Professor Gunhild Kvåle, Department of Nordic and Media Studies, UiA.