academia & pathology

I didn’t take the “trauma theory” course this semester, which was probably a mistake. One thing that continually bothers me about academic discourse is how it denies, disseminates, and disavows violence against women. It seems like every week we read at least one book– and often it’s one book in each class— that in one scene/context or another depicts rape and/or domestic violence. But when we discuss the books we rarely talk about these things, or we talk about them with familiar literary models/tropes without commenting upon the fact that rape/domestic violence abounds in literature across genres, across geographical boundaries, across classes and races, across periods.

What is this compulsion with recording violence against women, and why do we shove it away or put it into neat categories which we can then discuss without discussing the real violence, real damage, real trauma of rape? It seems comparable, to me, to reading postmodern literature without discussing the Holocaust. There is real violence that affects real people— why aren’t we talking about that?

Everyone, I think, who’s in academia has some problem with how removed Academic discourse is from social relevance, action, politics, etc. At Buffalo a floating argument was that Academia was actually one of the most conservative realms of discourse there is because it provides all these ways of discussing “hot topics” without ever really actually discussing them or doing anything about them.

Cupcakes. Outside my house we have acquired a little owl. Hooot, he says.


About Jessica Smith
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8 Responses to academia & pathology

  1. Steven Fama says:

    Do you know what kind of owl? It is always magical to see an owl. I have only ever seen one once. Robert Duncan has a great poem about owls (burrowing owls). Lamantia has a great one too, called “The Owl,” with a line that repeats that goes, “With his eye magnetic to the moon.”

    Your point about how academia is removed from reality re sexual assault and domestic violence raises two ideas to my mind. First, academia’s filter is not limited to the kind of assaults and violence you describe, but extends to all violence, including war.

    Second, academia — or at least a graduate program in literature — has little inherent concern for “real people” or “real violence.” Maybe academic fields such as sociology, psychology, or even criminology focus more on what “really” happens. But literature concerns writings about something, not the something itself. And school is about learning about something, not the something itself.
    The something itself, in a literature context, is not irrelevant, but it is not the paramount thing.

    But you have identified one of the major frustrations that can arise in academia. Still, teachers and students and schooling are extremely important.

  2. sandrasimonds says:

    I agree. You just need to read Pamela to see this.

  3. Jessica Smith says:

    sandra, i haven’t read Pamela but I’ve heard that I should. In my early modern class this week we read Charlotte Mew’s short story “The White NIght” (I’ll upload and link to it); we’ve also read Tess and Evelina… ok that’s as far back into the semester as I remember. In the pre-Pamela RenPro class, every book we’ve read has a rape scene. It gets to be kind of sickening after awhile!

    steve, i agree that schooling is important, but i think it is possible for academic study of literature to bridge the gap b/t the artifice it studies and reality. maybe i’m just being naive.

  4. Jessica Smith says:

    i meant my late victorian class– obviously, i am paying a lot of attention 🙂 i think this is ex showalter’s anth. daughters of decadence. here is the story.

  5. sandrasimonds says:

    Cool. Evelina is an amazing book.

  6. shanna says:

    I LOVE OWLS. They are my favorite favorite favorite.

    So you’re not coming to NYC over TGiving then? I can’t say I blame you. The traffic would have been really annoying. (I *am* making a turkey though, and my sis is coming over.)

  7. Jessica Smith says:

    Shanna, Mark and Ken think I should stay here and work on my, um, schoolwork. I might come up sometime over winter break, though, if Eric’s patience with me doesn’t wear out. 🙂

  8. jeannine says:

    Jessica – I’m with you here. I actually wrote a poem that sort of critiques the experience of talking about rape in the academic environment. Anyway, glad I found your blog – good reading!

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