Trauma Translations. Stagings and Imaginations in Film and Theory

Imprinted by cultural and media studies, the research project explores the medial transfer between, first, cultural representations of the past, i.e. filmic trauma and violence histories, second, the changing trauma theory landscape, and third, memory politics and national identity constructions. The project focuses on feature films from a variety of national and representational contexts, as well as, different decades of the 20th and 21st century. The movies in question try to depict historical traumas with regard to content, narration, and aesthetics. They, e.g. deal with the First and Second World War, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the War in Iraq, and 9/11. It is worth noting that the aforementioned traumatic events always have already been codified within specific media forms. The notion of trauma refers to individual psyches and/or groups/communities in the aftermath of extremely violent and shocking events. It, in particular, looks at responses (echoes) of the inner self or the collective imaginary. Trauma causes a gap between the traumatizing event and memory processing. It severely interferes with direct and adequate forms of representation and communication. Trauma leads to a communicational and representational vacuum. However, this very specific form of absence creates a whole variety of dreams, images, symptoms, and specters embedded within a particular kind of time structure. The latter can be described in terms of latency, deferred action, and repetition. The most curious aspect about this fact is that the traumatic time structure resembles the specific timeline and narrative strategies of film on multiple levels. Films that deal with “trauma“ develop certain narrative techniques and aesthetics while attempting to translate psychological forms of injury, irritation, suffering, and pain (that can also affect the body in the form of e.g. conversion, performativity) into filmic language. The research project tries to decode and describe this specific filmic trauma language via the introduction of a variety of analytical terms borrowed from practical psychology, psychoanalysis, psychotraumatology, and trauma theories informed by cultural studies such as “memory loss“, “false memory,“ “intrusion,“ “crypta,“ “passing-on,“ “re-enactment,“ the “inversion of perpetrator and victim,“ “téléscopage,“ “traumatic growth,“ and “trigger“. It must, however, be mentioned that filmic trauma language and its narratives have, in turn, already been affected by the specific vocabulary of trauma theory. This trauma-centered analysis of selected movies will interpret traumatic structures and their representation/visualization via themes such as “translation,“ “dissociation,” “latency,“ “repetition,“ “staging,“ and “imagination“. These key points that structure the filmic representations will challenge and reconstitute conventional ways of addressing the notion of trauma primarily referring to historical topographies and national politics. In addition, film can be highlighted as an audio-visual medium that produces a surplus via specific ways of representing, analyzing, and interpreting “trauma”. This symbolic surplus can be illustrated by certain filmic means such as the “backstory wound,” “flashback“, cutback, or split screen. Further, this surplus can provide phantasmatic imaginaries of healing which function as ‘cultural patches’ (see E.M. Hunter’s notion of “healing scripts“). These filmic patches attempt to close unhealed, traumatic wounds on a cultural level. Furthermore, the research project “Trauma Translations” takes the reversal of this process into consideration as well, i.e. the re-translation of media-specific poetological representations of trauma from film into theory. On a more abstract level, the filmic trauma aesthetics, which will be explored, can provide challenging impulses for practical and theoretical trauma research and therapy, in particular, for the traditional field of trauma knowledge. Furthermore, the figurations of trauma, that are adapted into film, can be re-translated into the social body, especially with regard to their impact on specific forms of self-understanding, national historiography, and memory cultures.

Köhne, Julia Barbara PD PD Dr. (Details) (Historic Anthropology and Gender Studies)

DFG: Eigene Stelle (Sachbeihilfe)

Duration of project
Start date: 04/2014
End date: 06/2021

Research Areas
General and Comparative Literature and Cultural Studies

Last updated on 2023-25-04 at 06:30