‘Senseless speech’ and inaudibility in Conrad's ‘Amy Foster’: rethinking trauma and the unspeakable in fiction

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This essay revisits the significance of the trope of the unspeakable in representations of trauma in order to put pressure on traditional readings of the unspeakable in literary trauma theory. Taking Joseph Conrad’s short story, ‘Amy Foster’, as an illustrative example, I demonstrate how, in certain circumstances, trauma is not rendered unspeakable because reflection on it is impossible, but rather trauma is caused by the failure and/or frustration of speech itself. Furthermore, I draw upon Derrida’s Monolingualism of the Other; or, The Prosthesis of Origin, to parse out the implications of silence, language and the inaudible in texts, such as ‘Amy Foster’, that fail to conform to the usual expectations of the unspeakable in trauma literature. Narratives such as this challenge our standard paradigms in literary trauma theory. Building on Rancière’s critique of sublime aesthetics, in The Future of the Image, I argue that we need to broaden the categories by which we read the relationship between trauma and the unspeakable in literature, and in doing so be prepared to find trauma in unexpected places.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)879-895
JournalTextual Practice
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 19 Oct 2015

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