Innumerable forgettings: Bearing witness to disaster in Douglass and Morrison
Bampton, Tina M.
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"Innumerable Forgettings: Bearing Witness to Disaster in Douglass and Morrison," is a study of memory, history, forgetting, and the act of bearing witness to traumatic experience. Frederick Douglass's personal narrative to illustrates the ways that memory works to produce, perform, and create a document that, though it cannot replicate the Disaster, can still remain true to it. Toni Morrison's novel Beloved is a text which troubles the boundaries set up by language and memory, and challenges the idea that death ends our responsibility to history and the past. I will discuss the Disaster, capital "D," as a phenomenon along the lines outlined and theorized by philosophers such as Heidegger, Levinas, and Blanchot, and finite disasters, little "d," which presuppose the infinity of Otherness and the Disaster. Every disaster we experience only points to the larger infinite Disaster which always already eludes us. Further, this work explores the role of writing in relationship to trauma, disaster, and pain. Is it possible to capture the essence of any experience, especially a disastrous one which concurrently erases as it creates? Perhaps the story of one's existence can never be narrated and is instead composed of gaps, caesuras, and innumerable forgettings; and perhaps memories are truest when we look outside of the document or a narrative language altogether in order to read the marks that experience leaves on the body, in art, and in nature.