Editor’s Note: These are notes and answers to question originally presented at a panel called “Excavating Trauma & Elevating Self-Care: A Cross-Genre Conversation on Convergence” at 2019’s &Now Festival at the University of Washington-Bothell.
BY SERENA CHOPRA
How does self care/reclamation figure into the writing of trauma and the publishing acceptance and rejection of trauma writing?
My response to rejection often incites a response of feeling embarrassed for my work and thus for my body, imagination and experiences—I struggle with internalizing my work and my identity as hyper, disoriented, illogical, exaggerated, overly sensitive and inaccurate. Even more, I struggle with the devaluing of these qualities in standard capital economies of use and worth. I often need to remind myself that these qualities are not ineffective or wrong, in fact they are often qualities that articulate the choreography and temporality of trauma. Because trauma is queer (meaning experientially oblique), our reclaimation of it thrives in the spatial freedom of the margins, rather than in the linear, precise, reductive and often prescriptive domain of dominant logic. Reclamation from within the margins involves engaging trauma writing with marginal forms, aesthetics, and imaginations that are, for myself, often hybrid and interdisciplinary in nature. In other words, queer content desires queer form. And so, reclamation from within the margins not only empowers queer (hyper, disoriented, illogical, exaggerated, overly sensative, inaccurate, oblique) composition of trauma but also empowers the margins to refuse external narratives of victimization that place capital expectations of legibility and healing on trauma.
Panelists will explore the desire for vulnerability and the process of self-editing as well as work that has influenced them
My desire for vulnerability is not a desire to make an exception of myself. My desire for vulnerability comes from accepting the exceptionality of my circumstances and the inability of those circumstances to be represented in popular, linear discourses of healing that work to make trauma legible to and within capital and other systems of oppression. For example, in Ban en Banlieue, Bhanu Kapil cites a conversation with disability culture activist, Petra Kruppers about personal narrative in which Kruppers stresses, “I am not interested in disclosure. I am interested in discharge,” (Kapil 9). In recognizing the importance of disclosure and discharge, I don’t completely resonate with Kruppers, but in many instances I do understand disclosure to be a function of the state, especially of the judicial state, that processes trauma through its identification and placement within existing taxonomies and narratives of trauma (which have no doubt been reduced to their identifiable and legible parts—who, what, where, when, why). On the other hand, the discharge of trauma cannot be reduced or easily traced; it seeps through and from the personal and social body unpredictably and unrecognizably. Trauma is a reactive choreography. It appears and is often ephemeral—it exists in traces on the skin, resonant gestures, sinking chests—and as such, its urgency is implicit but impossible, and vulnerability often seems like one’s ability to keep up with or engage the life force of the trauma.
In this way, self-editing represents, for me, the level of sensual and conceptual interaction I am personally willing and able to engage with the trauma. In other words, self-editing around trauma is a circumstance of the nervous system—in the immediate moment of composition, how ready am I, and in what was is my nervous system able, to dissect and accept the nervous system of the trauma, which haunts my actual, sensual nervous system like a thin, membranous film or an electric fog. Self-editing is a consequence of “what is sounding and also unsounded” between my nervous system and the nervous system of the trauma. In this way, self-editing is not always a conscious act. Rather, it is a reading response, a hermeneutical possibility—what have I thus far been able to register, interpret and sensually embody of the trauma? Trauma is a phenomenological revelation, it appears to the sensual body in unpredictable and paradoxical ways. The event of self-editing is why trauma takes years, even decades, to write through and is also why trauma and trauma writing is full of queer contradictions.
Serena Chopra has a PhD in Creative Writing from the University of Denver and an MFA from the University of Colorado at Boulder. She is the author of two full-length books of poems, This Human (Coconut 2013) and Ic (Horse Less Press 2017), as well as two chapbooks, Penumbra (Flying Guillotine Press 2012) and Livid Season (Free Poetry 2012). She is a Kundiman Fellow and a 2016-2017 Fulbright Scholar, for which she is composing hybrid writing informed by her research with queer women in Bangalore, India. She is a multidisciplinary artist, working as a professional dancer, theater/performance artist and visual artist. She is a co-founder and actor in the poet’s theater group, GASP and worked with Denver’s Splintered Light Theater on a full-length production of Ic, for which she composed the soundscore. She has an ongoing text/image collaboration, Memory is a Future Tense, with artist Lu Cong. Serena currently teaches in the MFA program at Naropa University’s Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics.