Guest Lecture with Dr. Laura Kromják

Fantasies of Witnessing: Rhetorics of Trauma and Re-Inventing Identities in Aleksandar Hemon’s Love and Obstacles

“My soul soliloquizes often […] once you start inventing and soliloquizing, it is terribly hard to quit.”

(Love and Obstacles 45; 155)

Dori Laub reminds us that “the survivors did not only need to survive so that they could tell their story; they also needed to tell their story in order to survive” (1992: 78). The rhetoric of trauma inhabits dual significations as trauma itself comprises a unique human experience that overwhelms the individual and resists as well as requires narrative representation. All eight stories set against the backdrop of the 1992-1995 Bosnian war in Aleksandar Hemon’s Love and Obstacles (2009) can therefore be seen as novel examples for how the inability to convey trauma that is painful for words can be re-structured and re-organized by creative rhetorical resources.

As a first step, it will be explored how for Hemon trauma not only marks a crisis of representation, but it also generates a narrative possibility to make the unspeakable available to reflection. By elucidating the increasingly porous border between the factuality and the fictionality of the way in which trauma is remembered, his stories bear witness to new fantasies of a progressive and proactive life post-trauma. Hemon’s fictions reveal that traumatic events tend to be overlooked in terms of being subject to fundamental aporia, imagination, and “frozen,” static and anti-narrative elements, with the constant risk of all their attendant pain and horror oversimplified.

In a second step, it will be analyzed how for Hemon conventional epistemologies falter and the new modalities of self-enunciation are tied to the post-war and subsequent exile context. While Hemon destabilizes notions of identity by exposing the decentering of the subject, the reflective capacity central to his rhetorical strategy underscores narrative possibility and creative transformations of the self. In Hemon’s Love and Obstacles, the experience of post-traumatic loss calls for a performative rhetoric that enables and creates new liberating embodiments and self-expressions.

 

Dr. Laura Kromják is an Assistant Professor in the Department of International Relations and European Studies, ELTE Faculty of Social Sciences at Eötvös Loránd University in Budapest, Hungary. She earned her PhD in English and American Studies from the University of Graz, Austria, 2017. Her dissertation Witnesses to Balkan Killing Fields: Identity, Trauma, and Remembrance in Anglophone Testimonies of Bosnian Americans explored identity, memory politics and witness testimonies of Bosnian-Herzegovinian refugees in the United States. She is a Western Balkan area specialist and her fields of interest include reconciliation, diaspora politics, post-conflict economic reconstruction and EU enlargement. Her recent research has focused on economic relations between Hungary and Bosnia and Herzegovina and intergenerational trauma among refugee communities. Her recent works include Remembrance and Forgiveness: Global and Interdisciplinary Perspectives on Genocide and Mass Violence (Routledge, 2021) and Bosnia and Herzegovina’s Economic Prospects and Historical Background (Financial and Economic Review, 2021). She has held fellowships at the Saint Louis University, U.S.A. and at the University of Bayreuth, Germany. Alongside her scholarly pursuits, she has served as a European Representative to the Center for Bosnian Studies at the Fontbonne University, U.S.A.