Enduring presence: trauma and haunting in visual culture

Lee-Von Kim

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

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Abstract

Enduring Presence: Trauma and Haunting in Visual Culture examines the representation of historical trauma in visual cultural productions from Australia, South Africa and the USA. My project is concerned with how the traumatic legacies of antebellum slavery, settler colonialisms and apartheid persist long after the traumatic events themselves, and how these lingering presences shape and inform present-day social relations. This thesis brings together texts and contexts that might more commonly be considered separately. In so doing, I seek to intervene in the existing discursive frameworks of trauma studies, visual studies and postcolonial theory, and to think anew how images – both still and moving – might facilitate an ethical engagement with the legacies of historical trauma.

While trauma studies has tended to focus on literary expressive forms, the burgeoning interest in visual representations of trauma demands, I would argue, a critical engagement that attends to specificities of the visual. What I propose here is a negotiation of a different kind of engagement with visual representations of trauma, one that takes its cue from the formal, structural and historical specificities of the representations themselves, rather than mapping existing interpretative frameworks onto these texts. By focusing my study on visual culture, I propose that the visual offers a way of rethinking the existing critical frameworks around representations of trauma. Drawing upon Jill Bennett’s theorising of “empathic vision,” I attend to what Bennett calls the “transactive” capacity of visual art, and argue for a renewed consideration of how the visual might facilitate an ethical witnessing of trauma. To this end, my thesis focuses on selected cultural productions by William Kentridge, Clara Law, Tracey Moffatt and Kara Walker that dramatise the ethical questions raised in spectatorial engagements with the visual.

Building upon the scholarship of Jacques Derrida and Avery Gordon, and working with a cultural studies methodology, I suggest that haunting offers a critical framework for negotiating an ethical engagement with visual representations of traumatic legacies. In its attentiveness to historical trauma’s “seething presence […] acting on and often meddling with taken-for-granted realities,” haunting “draws us affectively […] into the structure of feeling of a reality we come to experience, not as cold knowledge, but as a transformative recognition”(Gordon, Ghostly Matters, p. 8). This thesis proposes that haunting, figured as a mode of critical engagement, might enable an ethical witnessing of visual representations of historical trauma and their persistent legacies.
Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
Publication statusUnpublished - 2010

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Trauma
Haunting
Visual Culture
Visual Representation
Specificity
Cultural Production
Witnessing
South Africa
Expressive
Social Relations
Kara Walker
Apartheid
Cold
Slavery
William Kentridge
Methodology
Tracey Moffatt
Jacques Derrida
Visual Studies
Settler

Cite this

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title = "Enduring presence: trauma and haunting in visual culture",
abstract = "Enduring Presence: Trauma and Haunting in Visual Culture examines the representation of historical trauma in visual cultural productions from Australia, South Africa and the USA. My project is concerned with how the traumatic legacies of antebellum slavery, settler colonialisms and apartheid persist long after the traumatic events themselves, and how these lingering presences shape and inform present-day social relations. This thesis brings together texts and contexts that might more commonly be considered separately. In so doing, I seek to intervene in the existing discursive frameworks of trauma studies, visual studies and postcolonial theory, and to think anew how images – both still and moving – might facilitate an ethical engagement with the legacies of historical trauma. While trauma studies has tended to focus on literary expressive forms, the burgeoning interest in visual representations of trauma demands, I would argue, a critical engagement that attends to specificities of the visual. What I propose here is a negotiation of a different kind of engagement with visual representations of trauma, one that takes its cue from the formal, structural and historical specificities of the representations themselves, rather than mapping existing interpretative frameworks onto these texts. By focusing my study on visual culture, I propose that the visual offers a way of rethinking the existing critical frameworks around representations of trauma. Drawing upon Jill Bennett’s theorising of “empathic vision,” I attend to what Bennett calls the “transactive” capacity of visual art, and argue for a renewed consideration of how the visual might facilitate an ethical witnessing of trauma. To this end, my thesis focuses on selected cultural productions by William Kentridge, Clara Law, Tracey Moffatt and Kara Walker that dramatise the ethical questions raised in spectatorial engagements with the visual. Building upon the scholarship of Jacques Derrida and Avery Gordon, and working with a cultural studies methodology, I suggest that haunting offers a critical framework for negotiating an ethical engagement with visual representations of traumatic legacies. In its attentiveness to historical trauma’s “seething presence […] acting on and often meddling with taken-for-granted realities,” haunting “draws us affectively […] into the structure of feeling of a reality we come to experience, not as cold knowledge, but as a transformative recognition”(Gordon, Ghostly Matters, p. 8). This thesis proposes that haunting, figured as a mode of critical engagement, might enable an ethical witnessing of visual representations of historical trauma and their persistent legacies.",
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Kim, L-V 2010, 'Enduring presence: trauma and haunting in visual culture', Doctor of Philosophy.

Enduring presence: trauma and haunting in visual culture. / Kim, Lee-Von.

2010.

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

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AU - Kim, Lee-Von

PY - 2010

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N2 - Enduring Presence: Trauma and Haunting in Visual Culture examines the representation of historical trauma in visual cultural productions from Australia, South Africa and the USA. My project is concerned with how the traumatic legacies of antebellum slavery, settler colonialisms and apartheid persist long after the traumatic events themselves, and how these lingering presences shape and inform present-day social relations. This thesis brings together texts and contexts that might more commonly be considered separately. In so doing, I seek to intervene in the existing discursive frameworks of trauma studies, visual studies and postcolonial theory, and to think anew how images – both still and moving – might facilitate an ethical engagement with the legacies of historical trauma. While trauma studies has tended to focus on literary expressive forms, the burgeoning interest in visual representations of trauma demands, I would argue, a critical engagement that attends to specificities of the visual. What I propose here is a negotiation of a different kind of engagement with visual representations of trauma, one that takes its cue from the formal, structural and historical specificities of the representations themselves, rather than mapping existing interpretative frameworks onto these texts. By focusing my study on visual culture, I propose that the visual offers a way of rethinking the existing critical frameworks around representations of trauma. Drawing upon Jill Bennett’s theorising of “empathic vision,” I attend to what Bennett calls the “transactive” capacity of visual art, and argue for a renewed consideration of how the visual might facilitate an ethical witnessing of trauma. To this end, my thesis focuses on selected cultural productions by William Kentridge, Clara Law, Tracey Moffatt and Kara Walker that dramatise the ethical questions raised in spectatorial engagements with the visual. Building upon the scholarship of Jacques Derrida and Avery Gordon, and working with a cultural studies methodology, I suggest that haunting offers a critical framework for negotiating an ethical engagement with visual representations of traumatic legacies. In its attentiveness to historical trauma’s “seething presence […] acting on and often meddling with taken-for-granted realities,” haunting “draws us affectively […] into the structure of feeling of a reality we come to experience, not as cold knowledge, but as a transformative recognition”(Gordon, Ghostly Matters, p. 8). This thesis proposes that haunting, figured as a mode of critical engagement, might enable an ethical witnessing of visual representations of historical trauma and their persistent legacies.

AB - Enduring Presence: Trauma and Haunting in Visual Culture examines the representation of historical trauma in visual cultural productions from Australia, South Africa and the USA. My project is concerned with how the traumatic legacies of antebellum slavery, settler colonialisms and apartheid persist long after the traumatic events themselves, and how these lingering presences shape and inform present-day social relations. This thesis brings together texts and contexts that might more commonly be considered separately. In so doing, I seek to intervene in the existing discursive frameworks of trauma studies, visual studies and postcolonial theory, and to think anew how images – both still and moving – might facilitate an ethical engagement with the legacies of historical trauma. While trauma studies has tended to focus on literary expressive forms, the burgeoning interest in visual representations of trauma demands, I would argue, a critical engagement that attends to specificities of the visual. What I propose here is a negotiation of a different kind of engagement with visual representations of trauma, one that takes its cue from the formal, structural and historical specificities of the representations themselves, rather than mapping existing interpretative frameworks onto these texts. By focusing my study on visual culture, I propose that the visual offers a way of rethinking the existing critical frameworks around representations of trauma. Drawing upon Jill Bennett’s theorising of “empathic vision,” I attend to what Bennett calls the “transactive” capacity of visual art, and argue for a renewed consideration of how the visual might facilitate an ethical witnessing of trauma. To this end, my thesis focuses on selected cultural productions by William Kentridge, Clara Law, Tracey Moffatt and Kara Walker that dramatise the ethical questions raised in spectatorial engagements with the visual. Building upon the scholarship of Jacques Derrida and Avery Gordon, and working with a cultural studies methodology, I suggest that haunting offers a critical framework for negotiating an ethical engagement with visual representations of traumatic legacies. In its attentiveness to historical trauma’s “seething presence […] acting on and often meddling with taken-for-granted realities,” haunting “draws us affectively […] into the structure of feeling of a reality we come to experience, not as cold knowledge, but as a transformative recognition”(Gordon, Ghostly Matters, p. 8). This thesis proposes that haunting, figured as a mode of critical engagement, might enable an ethical witnessing of visual representations of historical trauma and their persistent legacies.

KW - Trauma studies

KW - Haunting

KW - Visual culture

KW - Postcolonialism

KW - William Kentridge

KW - Clara Law

KW - Tracey Moffatt

KW - Kara Walker

M3 - Doctoral Thesis

ER -