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A Posthumous Shock

Rethinking the ways we perceive trauma in the past and present

Will Self, author of Umbrella, How the Dead Live, and a new memoir, Will, discusses his provocative argument that trauma—in literary, historical, and cultural criticism—is wildly overused and misapplied. Rather than it being a phenomenon that has persisted throughout human history, Self contends that it is a product of modernity; while past injustices and injurious experience (war, slavery, abuse) may seem to have produced trauma-like symptoms, we have no way of judging whether they resemble trauma as we now conceive of it. Harper’s Magazine web editor Violet Lucca talks through the finer points of Self’s thesis.

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October 2018

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