After Aftershock: The Affect–Trauma Paradigm One Generation After 9/11
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© 2020 The Art Association of Australia and New Zealand, Inc
In the years following the powerfully emotive images of the events of 9/11 in the United States, theories concerning affect and trauma proliferated across the humanities. A complex and productive field of enquiry developed over the following two decades, which has flourished in art theory, visual culture, and the humanities at large into what we call the ‘affect–trauma paradigm’. This is now a dominant lens through which we understand the current images of war, political violence, and terror that play a central role in the mediation of world events. This article briefly traces the rise of the affect–trauma paradigm in art theory and areas of the broader humanities to historicise its development after 9/11 and to acknowledge its limitations. In particular, we consider the influence of Cathy Caruth’s ideas around trauma from the mid-1990s, which have heavily inflected the affect–trauma field in the humanities since 9/11. We find that the ‘Caruthian tradition in trauma studies’, as Griselda Pollock calls it, characteristically conflates ideas of personal trauma and cultural trauma, which proves to be problematic. This conflation in turn creates a conceptual impasse in post-9/11 art theory, in which considerations of contemporary art in term of affect and trauma become irreconcilable with the limits of the intersubjective transactions of art.
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