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Literary Criticism Books & Reading

The Language of Trauma

War and Technology in Hoffmann, Freud, and Kafka

by (author) John Zilcosky

Publisher
University of Toronto Press
Initial publish date
Jun 2021
Category
Books & Reading, German, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), European Studies, History
  • eBook

    ISBN
    9781487509415
    Publish Date
    Jun 2021
    List Price
    $29.95
  • Paperback / softback

    ISBN
    9781487509422
    Publish Date
    Jun 2021
    List Price
    $29.95
  • Hardback

    ISBN
    9781487509392
    Publish Date
    Jun 2021
    List Price
    $70.00

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Description

From the Napoleonic Wars to the invention of the railway to the shell shock of World War I, writers tried to give voice to the suffering that war and industrial technology had wrought all around them. Yet they, like the doctors who treated these victims, repeatedly ran up against the incapacity of language to describe such anguish; those who suffered trauma, those who tried to heal it, and those who represented it were all unable to find the appropriate words. In The Language of Trauma, John Zilcosky uncovers the reactions of three major central European writers – E.T.A. Hoffmann, Sigmund Freud, and Franz Kafka – to the birth of modern trauma in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

 

Zilcosky makes the case that Hoffmann, Freud, and Kafka managed to find the language of trauma precisely by not attempting to name the trauma conclusively and instead allowing their writing to mimic the experience itself. Just as the victims’ symptoms seemed not to correspond to a physical cause, the writers’ words did not connect directly to the objects of the world. While doctors attempted to overcome this indeterminacy, these writers embraced and investigated it; they sought a language that described language’s tragic limits and that, in so doing, exemplified the wider literary and philosophical crisis of their time. Zilcosky boldly argues that this linguistic scepticism emerged together with the medical inability to name the experience of trauma. He thereby places trauma where it belongs: at the heart of both medicine’s diagnostic predicament and modern literature’s most daring experiments.

About the author

John Zilcosky is Professor of German and Comparative Literature at the University of Toronto, and editor of Writing Travel: The Poetics and Politics of the Modern Journey also published by the University of Toronto Press.

John Zilcosky's profile page

Other titles by John Zilcosky