Primo Levi : traumatic memory, language and working through / by Simon Shagrin
Includes bibliographical references (p. 230-237)
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Electronic version from ProQuest
The process of forming a narrative about traumatic events bears some similarity to the psychoanalytic concept of “working through.” Primo Levi was a Holocaust survivor who was able to create multiple narrative accounts of his traumatic experiences. The current study applied psychoanalytic theory to a close reading of selections from Levi's literary texts in a qualitative analysis. Primo Levi's multiple trauma narratives, in addition to his fiction, poetry and essays, were examined in order to determine whether forming narratives, in which the trauma is represented directly or in fragments, can successfully “work through” the trauma. Fragments of Levi's traumatic experience were identified and traced throughout his trauma narratives and later writing in order to demonstrate the nonlinear and repetitive way trauma gains representation in narrative.The study found that though Levi's trauma narratives showed signs of evolution, and his position in relation to the traumatic events became more active, emotionally responsive and reflective, there was no sign of resolution to the trauma. The study concluded that “working through” is a concept that does not apply to the process of repair from trauma, which has no endpoint.The findings suggest that the traditional notion of the trauma narrative, an explicit description of the traumatic events in a single narrative, is itself a defensive construction that does not contain the full personal meaning or emotional response to the trauma. A new model of trauma narratives is put forth, based on Greenberg's (1998) conception of trauma manifesting in echoes that repeat without end throughout multiple narratives. The ability to vary the symbolic expression of trauma fragments over time, and to convey the emotional experience to the reader of the narrative is all that can be achieved in the narration of trauma. Clinicians working with trauma survivors should not focus on the creation of a single narrative, but trace the appearance and evolution of trauma fragments to discern the idiosyncratic meaning and impact of the trauma on the patient. Clinicians should focus on being a witness to the patient's trauma.
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