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Witnessing from a distance. Images and Trauma in Anglophone Literature about the Bosnian War

Literature plays an important role in the process of witnessing, mediating violence across cultural and geographic borders, and in understanding traumatic experiences.

Dina Abazovic

PhD Candidate

Dina Abazovic will defend the thesis Witnessing from a distance. Images and Trauma in Anglophone Literature about the Bosnian War 15 February 2024.

Summary of the thesis

This thesis explores how media reports of war atrocities are developed into the literary field. My main research question is: 

What can verbal representations of images of war in literary texts teach us about witnessing by distance?  

To investigate this, the thesis brings together trauma theory, media images of violence, witnessing, and ekphrasis, and closely analyzes three literary texts related to the Bosnian war in the 1990s. The three texts under scrutiny belong to three different genres: Sarah Kane’s play Blasted (1995), Adrian Oktenberg’s poem “In the morning” from The Bosnia Elegies (1997), and Joe Sacco’s documentary graphic novel Safe Area Goražde (2000). 

All of these works are written as reactions to the media reports and images from the war; they are originally English-language responses to a distant conflict, and the authors of the texts are neither survivors nor descendants of survivors of the Bosnian war. However, their texts demonstrate a high degree of social engagement and solidarity from afar. They thematize war trauma, including descriptions and narratives about terrorizing images.  

My hypothesis is that witnessing by distance takes place through ekphrasis – “a literary response to a visual image or visual images” (Brosch 2018). Originally a rhetorical term, ekphrasis originates from the Greek ekphrazein (ek – out, phrazein – to speak) and means to describe. Here ekphrasis can be seen as an act of memory, and a vehicle for creating a literary testimony.  

One of my aims is to understand the relationship between media images and the literature of witness. 

Literature plays an important role in the process of witnessing, mediating violence across cultural and geographic borders, and in understanding traumatic experiences. Through verbal representations of visual images of the Bosnian war, the literary texts by Kane, Oktenberg, and Sacco, bear witness by distance.  

More information about time and place for the doctoral defense.