Title

Trauma Theory and Nigerian Civil War Literature: Speaking “Something That Was Never in Words” in Chris Abani’s Song for Night

Department

English

Document Type

Article

Publication Source

Journal of Postcolonial Writing. Volume 49, Issue 4, Pages 445-457.

Publication Date

2013

Abstract

The application of trauma theory to postcolonial literature has provoked anxiety from critics concerned about its capacity to impose Eurocentric interpretations. This article evaluates the use of trauma as a paradigm for interpreting Nigerian civil war literature, examining the concept in relation to Chris Abani’s 2007 child-soldier narrative Song for Night. This novel’s formal qualities – temporal disjunction, repetition and communicative ambivalence – signify an intertextual engagement with trauma theory, reflecting the concept’s emergence as a generic framework mediating representations of history in various contexts. Far from effacing historicized detail as some claim, Abani’s engagement with trauma generates an allegory of the war’s significance in post-conflict Nigeria. Song for Night expresses the desire for a border-crossing perspective that would reconcile former antagonisms, while pointing to the obstacles that preclude this. Above all, the fractured subjectivity of the traumatized victim-perpetrator protagonist emerges as an emblem of the conflict’s refusal to be relegated to the completed past.

Keywords

postcolonial literature, trauma, Nigerian literature, Chris Abani, child-soldier narratives, temporality

DOI

10.1080/17449855.2013.804000

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