“[D]oes the ethical charge of trauma theory indeed derive from this impossible ethical moment which takes place in reading, or is trauma theory spirited out of its critical predicament by an ethical temptation to pragmatically appropriate the literary?”
To begin with, let’s apply some concrete definitions to this phrase. This section of the article is referring to the ability of texts dealing with trauma to involve themselves with the pain of a traumatic event without succumbing to it. Does a trauma narrative succeed in this in the actual reading of the narrative, or does it deal with it afterwards, through a literary analysis of its content?
I’m in the during-the-reading camp. The most useful expression of trauma in narrative, I believe, is the one we feel as we read: the immersion in the events and the aftermath, and the consideration of how each characters deals with their burdens. I think Kind One deals very directly with trauma, although, ironically, the traumatic events in the novel don’t occur presently in the text, but are obliquely referred to as remnants: scars or memories, pig stickers and chain links.
This distance from the actual events themselves gives the reader a space to cushion the blow of the grisliness of the trauma. But the consideration of the trauma is all there in the text; it hangs over the reader as the book progresses, with a heaviness that only increases with every reference to “how it was back then” or “what was to come next”. We know things get real bad, real fast. This foreshadowing technique and then sideways report of actual events (when did Cleome get her scar, exactly?) gives the terror a sort of filter; it’s less harsh than it would be with direct report.
I don’t think Hunt intended us to consider the horrific violence of the text in terms of examining it deeply for embedded meaning; I think we’re supposed to accept that terrible things happened to the characters, as similar things probably did in reality during the Civil War era. The removed-ness of the reports gives us a sense that so much time has passed, and the characters piece together their memories of their abuse in a way that reflects just how long it has been since it occurred.
But that’s the point of a scar, right? It’s a memory, a trace of past pain. I sort of look at the whole novel as a blunt depiction of a scar– of Ginny’s pain, of Cleome and Zinnia’s, and of women in general who are trapped in a system where rich white men feel entitled to play God.