Bringing in Barthes and Trauma

As I wrestled with the first fifty pages of Matt Bell’s In The House, I struggled to figure out what it is that Matt Bell might be doing with his novel. Like Jenn, I wondered why Bell would use this world to pull his story from, and wondered what the hell the story was trying to accomplish. This un-clarity in the story’s purpose was only an exacerbation of the scene on page six when the narrator swallows the Fingerling. Why is this here? What does this do for the story? What is the story? The story, of two people inhabiting the stretch of Dirt between the Lake and the Woods where the narrator suggests some sort of mythicism exists, progresses with this couple’s inability to produce an offspring – the first attempt becoming the Fingerling. But again, what is this doing?

At this point in the reading, my only way of explaining this odd story is to liken Bell’s text to The Avian Gospels, not in subject matter, style, or form, but in the way that these texts’ stories interact with their own worlds to better explain the real world, the reader’s world. In our discussion of Barthes, we discussed that it he argues that it is impossible to accurately described something (thus why we have signifiers to do their best job of representing the signified). In my experience reading this novel, it appears that Bell is creating a world in which to represent trauma. As we read in Toreman’s account of trauma theory, and as discussed in the works of Cathy Caruth, the trauma of a traumatic event is not merely the trauma that has been experienced, but that the experience of the trauma was not realized until after the trauma, and the survivor’s inability to grasp that it survived this trauma creates the re-experiencing (in the mind) of the trauma, which becomes the trauma itself.

Here, my explanation of how this relates to In The House is very poorly put together, but it is my best attempt at understanding what it is that Bell is doing with his novel. In The House replicates the process of trauma by having the narrator, who encounters the trauma – not only as a survivor, but as a witness – who then eats his own aborted child. This cannibalism is not meant as a graphic unnecessity but as an explanation for the narrator’s later behavior. “[F]or even our bones had memories, and our memories bones” (Bell 26). This book uses the word “memory” often and I believe it is no coincidence given the traumatic undertones it contains; in this passage, the narrator explains the way that memories create something within us, and for this narrator, that something is the physical presence of the Fingerling. “[T]he fingerling begged my eyes open, watching and waiting and never allowing me to forget what we had seen” (Bell 31). In this, Bell uses language that is very much related to trauma theory.


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