Posttraumatic stress disorder in contemporary Colombian literature




Flynn, Michael Anthony

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This is a study of three contemporary Colombian novels using combat trauma theory as an interpretive model. Following the method of psychological literary criticism that psychiatrist Jonathan Shay used in his books Achilles in Vietnam: Combat Trauma and the Undoing of Character (1994) and Odysseus in America: Combat Trauma and the Trials of Homecoming (2002) to analyze the characters Achilles and Odysseus, I propose to analyze characters in Fernando Vallejo’s La virgen de los sicarios ‘Our Lady of the Assassins’ (1994), Darío Jaramillo Agudelo’s Cartas cruzadas ‘Crossed Letters’ (1995), and Juan Gabriel Vásquez El ruido de las cosas al caer ‘The Sound of Things Falling’ (2011) to extend Shay's theories of combat trauma to a broad cultural context. While Colombia has not been engaged in a conventional, state-to-state war, it has been at a constant level of large-scale internal violence for over fifty years, perpetrated by a complex mix of paramilitaries, guerillas, narcotraffickers, and state-sponsored organizations: Colombia has consistently ranked among the top countries in the world for rates of homicide and displaced peoples. Shay’s model allows me to argue this kind of radically epistemologically and phenomenologically destabilizing environment in which non-combatants as well as combatants live under the constant threat of violence as producing severe psychological trauma. These texts have an additional cultural-psychological function. Shay identifies as an effective coping strategy the victims' act of integrating the traumatic memory into a coherent narrative, in order to both regain authority over their consciousness and to give social testimony to the injustice of the traumatic event. I will show how the characters in the texts I analyze make themselves psychologically whole in direct relation to the success with which they can narrate the story of their own trauma: those who fail do so in large part because the discourses available to them are inadequate to articulate the profundity of the trauma; those who succeed do so because they have found a form and structure that allows them to construct a coherent narrative of Self that incorporates the traumatic memory of the nation's failure.



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