Figures of infanticide : traumatic modernity and the inaudible cry / by Aimee L. Pozorski.
“Figures of Infanticide: Traumatic Modernity and the Inaudible Cry” intervenes in the fields of modernism, American literature, Holocaust studies, and trauma theory by interpreting figures of murdered infants in twentieth-century discourse. These figures, I propose, illustrate a considerable ambivalence surrounding modernist literature and modernity, as well as emphasize the profound difficulty of representing child-murder in “realist” literatures of genocide. Further, my project suggests through trauma theory that we extend the boundaries of modernist American literature beyond the standard date of 1945. In particular, “Figures of Infanticide” reassesses the force of modernism in the careers of Sigmund Freud, Ernest Hemingway, Charles Reznikoff, Amy Clampitt, and Toni Morrison. Via such texts as Freud's “A Child is Being Beaten”, (1919), Hemingway's A Farewell to Arms (1929), Reznikoff s Holocaust (1975), Clampitt's “The Burning Child”, (1983), and Morrison's Beloved (1987), I demonstrate how literary figures uniquely depict infanticide in history but also draw on the figure of the infans—“without speech”—as something befalling language in order to emphasize both the incommunicability of these events and the sudden foreclosure of futurity in modern narrative forms. I use these authors as exemplary cases, noting that many 20th-century texts feature inexplicable scenes of the death of an infant. I interpret how such figures of infanticide inscribe the legacy of “traumatic modernity” comprising the traces of war, slavery, and genocide. My definition of traumatic modernity not only focuses on traumatic history but, equally important, on literary modernism itself, suggesting that this literary tradition, although anticipated, was traumatic in its own emergence. In so doing, this project's original archival research coupled with a rhetorical focus on such major figures in modern and contemporary literature suggest key revisions in the origins of modernism and pose new questions of literary valuation in the modernist tradition.
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