Masters Thesis

Archiving trauma: navigating shame and trauma in Virginia Woolf’s The Waves and Cherríe Moraga’s Loving in the War Years

This paper examines the social nature of affect as it intersects with trauma. Affect is a feeling or emotion experienced subjectively. At the root of trauma theory, affect theory attempts to categorize affects and link them with their respective sources and reactions. Current studies of affect reveal trauma and shame as inescapable consequences of patriarchy’s affect/culture interaction. Trauma theorists have examined how trauma obscures memory and representation. Contemporary trauma theorists are now investigating how gender, sexuality, race and class complicate the posttraumatic. I argue that we must consider the social, political and cultural nexus of trauma to more effectively understand the posttraumatic. These cultural factors are situated within patriarchy’s hierarchal network of institutions, which inform affective experience. Feminist and trauma theorist Maria Root conceptualized a term called “insidious trauma,” which places trauma at the center of patriarchy’s unequal power distribution surrounding identity categories such as race, sexuality, gender and class. My analysis of the works of Virginia Woolf and Cherríe Moraga reveals that insidious trauma pervades oppressed minority subjectivities which stems from these ranked power relationships. Woolf observes how traumatizing systemic oppressions, such as sexism, imperialism and classism, collide with devastating traumatic events at the level of daily lived experience. Forging a connection between trauma and queer studies, Moraga consistently foregrounds her lesbian identity and sexual pleasure within a painful history of silence, abuse, racism and colonization. The literature of Virginia Woolf and Cherríe Moraga compels us to confront the traumatogenic nature of social oppression, especially that which is endemic to the structure of the heteropatriarchal family and racism, colonialism and classism. Since trauma resists linguistic representation, the language used to express it will always be figural; for this reason figurative language provides us with a means of representing the ineffable experience of trauma. Affect and queer theorist Ann Cvetkovich promotes expressing trauma through a process she calls trauma archiving. Trauma archiving is the process of articulating the specific nature of one’s trauma(s) and observing the associated affects and traumas that ensued after the traumatic experience(s). This activity provides an avenue for shifting one’s trauma composition and re-writing the subjective with intention. Virginia Woolf anticipates Cvetkovich’s conceptualization of trauma archiving by producing auto-biographical and experimental narratives. Cherríe Moraga’s process of trauma archiving takes form in her retelling of ancestral indigenous myth to reconfigure individual and collective Chicana lesbian traumas. Additionally, Moraga turns to her mythological cultural roots to create new communities. She conceptualizes a “xicanadyke” nationalism in calling for the creation of Queer Aztlán, an internal and physical nation-state based on accepting difference. By unearthing trauma as a form of resistance to Chicano gender and sexuality norms, Moraga reconfigures a valid sexual, multi-ethnic self as a critical component to fashioning new communities.