Literature and Culture

Anna Menyhért

Being Silent: Trauma and Gender in 20th Century and Contemporary Hungarian Literature

During the last 10 years I have been working in two fields of research. From the aspects of trauma theory and gender studies I have analyzed trauma narratives, 20th century and contemporary literature, as well as the hidden female tradition in Hungarian literature. I have studied the mechanism of literary canons that resulted in the elision of women writers in Hungarian literature, and the workings of private and collective traumas from psychological cultural points of view. The two fields have become connected to each other step by step: at first I noticed that the genres neglected most by classical literary canons (memoirs, autobiographies, diaries, letters, testimonies) often belong both to the field of trauma texts and to the female literary tradition. Secondly, both trauma texts and women’s literature compel readers and critics to invent and test new interpreting techniques, as they are usually more personal, digressive, and fragmented than average texts. Thirdly, trauma texts are connected to women’s literature on a different level by the element of silence: it is in a way traumatic how female writers have been silenced by literary canon formation techniques throughout the last century.

I would like to investigate how contemporary Hungarian literature reacts to the questions of trauma and gender. Hungarian society lags behind in working through the collective traumas of the 20th century. Many times it is woman’s writings that try to break the silence about taboo subjects, but they become forgotten. On the other hand I think that Hungarian society – and especially writers – slowly begin to go through a kind of gender awakening. They are coming to the realization that our society usually ignores the ways in which gender determines everyday life, politics, power relations, concept of history and literature. This process is traumatic, because it forces people to admit that they had been supporting a highly genderblind society by remaining ignorant, negligent, or silent about these issues. Some well known woman writers publicly deny the possibility of a gendered understanding of literature, whereas in their works they talk about traumatic events related to womanhood. Recent studies about traumatized oppressors prove that the process of admitting is a difficult one for both sides. I will focus on the modes of perceiving and strategies of coping with trauma and gender in contemporary literature.

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