You are on page 1of 22

PAC Postscript Patterson: The History of Trauma 1

The History of Trauma and the Trauma of History

in M. NourbeSe Philips Zong! and Natasha Tretheways Native Guard

Jeremy Patterson

Bob Jones University

Introduction: The Postcolonial Trauma of Voicing Colonial Tragedies

In this essay I analyze two contemporary poetic works, M. NourbeSe Philips Zong! and

Natasha Tretheways Native Guard. Both works relate maritime incidents in the

colonial Americas. Considering both from a tragic, postcolonial perspective, I argue that

NourbeSe Philip and Tretheway not only recount historical events that were severely

traumatic (or, worse, terminal) for many victims but also present those events as

traumatic to themselves as poets and contemporary observers. The recovery of colonial

traumas and tragedies is traumatic for the poets at least to the extent that their literary

style is directly influenced by the horror of what they recount. I will also attempt to show

that Philips and Tretheways approach to their material of colonial atrocities fits well in

the tragic postcolonial perspective that David Scott proposes in Conscripts of Modernity:

The Tragedy of Colonial Enlightenment. Scott juxtaposes tragedy as an alternative to an

earlier anticolonial Romanticism and vindicationism that Scott considers to be for a

different era. He does not criticize anticolonialism or even postcolonial triumphalism, as

those mentalities had their purpose in specific sociohistorical contexts, but he argues that

they are no longer relevant or viable postures given the general failure of postcolonial

societies to overcome some of the same injustices that characterized the colonial societies
PAC Postscript Patterson: The History of Trauma 2

that preceded them and from which they were born. His argument for a tragic perspective

of (colonial) modern history does not rest, however, on a hopeless fatalism. Rather,

drawing on the work of historian Hayden White and bringing C.L.R. Jamess The Black

Jacobins and Hannah Arendts On Revolution into dialogue, he defines tragedy as an

openness to contingency and uncertainty in human affairs. That is, as opposed to a

Romantic view of human progress and overcoming of injustice, Scott considers a tragic

perspective to accept negative outcomes that cannot be prevented even by the best

intentions and efforts. He believes this to be the best posture for explaining the challenges

of postcolonial societies:

My point [] is to suggest that where the anticolonial narrative is cast as an epic

Romance, as the great progressive story of an oppressed and victimized peoples

struggle from Bondage to Freedom, from Despair to Triumph under heroic

leadership, the tragic narrative is cast as a dramatic confrontation between

contingency and freedom, between human will and its conditioning limits. (Scott


As poets, Philip and Tretheway recover injustices from colonial history and injustices

that are very difficult to recover in any reliable way, at that and they do so less from

what Scott calls the anticolonial perspective of Romantic progress than from Scotts

tragic postcolonial perspective. Philip and Tretheway have different tones and emphases

in their work, but both implicitly accept the dramatic confrontation between contingency

and freedom, between, in their case, the inevitability of (post)colonial injustice and the

literary and personal necessity and ability to confront it. This tragic, or contingent,
PAC Postscript Patterson: The History of Trauma 3

perspective is particularly haunting in Zong! and Native Guard because the poets recount

historical traumas in a way that shows how they themselves have been at least

psychologically traumatized by the very incidents they are recounting.

Trauma studies and postcolonial studies have in the last decade experienced a

fruitful intersection of theoretical interest. Indeed, postcolonial trauma studies have

shown just how significant the portrayal and study of trauma is in literature. Trauma

studies do not have to be the domain of interest only of the medical sciences or of

Holocaust studies, though certainly physical trauma (that which comes from an event that

leaves a serious injury) is the most obvious kind of trauma. Cathy Caruth, however,

reminds us that trauma is not only physical but also psychological wounds, that is,

inflicted not upon the body but upon the mind (3). What I call the trauma of history in

this article is referring to a trauma a psychological wound from an event not directly

experienced or lived by the sufferer. Though such trauma could not compare in acuity to

that of the actual sufferer or survivor, it is nonetheless trauma. Even though scholarly

work attempts to maintain objectivity in dispassionate observation and theorizing, it is all

but impossible to avoid entering personally into the details of colonial horrors or

similarly unbelievable injustices in human history without being personally affected.

Certainly poets like Philip and Tretheway do not face the same generic strictures on

objectivity and impersonal analysis when writing poetry. Their trauma comes from the

trauma of history (as they relive colonial atrocities) but also from the experience of a sort

of literary trauma, not simply writers block but the personal and professional

psychological challenge of knowing how to do justice to the recounting of injustice.

PAC Postscript Patterson: The History of Trauma 4

In understanding trauma in literature, Irene Visser, a leading theorist of

postcolonial trauma studies, considers trauma to be at the center of the knot, the

interpretive knot of how to decipher trauma, what to do with it. Trauma, she argues, may

be envisaged as a void, [] as a kernel of the real of the literary, which resists and

confounds our interpretive efforts. How then can trauma be portrayed and interpreted?

In the literary domain, she states, interpretation is enabled by a richness of

representations. This richness is developed as writers like Philip and Tretheway take on

the heavy task of reliving and portraying colonial traumas, seeking to develop

connections and human bonds that have been broken by the failed memory of

(post)colonial societies. And for Visser, An important advantage to the relational

approach is that it poses a welcome and necessary alternative to the notion that trauma

theory is primarily a theory of stasis and melancholia. Thus, like David Scotts tragic

postcolonial perspective, Irene Vissers theory of postcolonial trauma in literature never

resigns itself to inert hopelessness. Both Scott and Visser remain realists in regard to the

horror of the past and the complexities of the present and future, but both also insist on a

dynamic wrestling with the issues of postcolonial or trauma studies or both. And

similarly, Philip and Tretheway, whether consciously adopting the most sophisticated of

postcolonial trauma theories or not, live the trauma of colonial maritime massacre and

abandonment through their poetry while also using their poetry as a means of recovery

and sense-making of their world.

The Trauma of Maritime Massacre in Zong!

PAC Postscript Patterson: The History of Trauma 5

In Zong!, M. NourbeSe Philip attempts to recount what happened in November and

December 1781 on the slave ship Zorg or Zong: the captain ordered his crew to murder

approximately 150 Africans by throwing them overboard and letting them drown. The

captain had made a navigational error and, not believing that there was enough water for

everyone, decided to jettison slaves in order to collect on the ships insurance, for slaves

who died of natural causes or upon arrival at a port would not be paid for by the

insurance company. The insurance company, however, refused to remit payment to the

ships owners back in England, and so the latter took the insurance company to court.

More atrocious perhaps than even the unthinkable action of throwing men, women, and

children to death by drowning was the response of the British justice system: initially, a

jury in England found that the insurance company was liable and determined that the

money should be paid to the ships owner. Later, however, in 1783, another trial was held

in which three judges overturned the initial ruling but less for reasons of humanity than

technicalities of British law. The judges, seeking to uphold the profitability of British sea

trade, determined that the insurers were not liable because the ship was not in poor

conditions as the owners had initially maintained but rather because the captain and crew

had simply made a serious navigational error. The chief judge, Lord Mansfield, wrote in

his decision, There is no evidence of the ship being foul and leaky (Philip 211). This

trial, known as Gregson v. Gilbert, provides the textual material and inspiration for

Philips Zong! As any legal text, the text of the decision is written in a sterile, matter-of-

fact style that nonetheless provides significant literary fodder for Philip because of the

nature of the subject matter. Thus, the law clerks can write straightforwardly, This was
PAC Postscript Patterson: The History of Trauma 6

an action on a policy of insurance, to recover the value of certain slaves thrown

overboard for want of water (210). The dispassionate tone may surprise twenty-first-

century readers, but again it is a legal text and from the colonial and slave era, explaining

how anyone could discuss throwing humans to death by drowning as if they were

comparable to inanimate cargo. The challenge that M. NourbeSe Philip sets for herself is

to develop tragic poetry from this text.

Figure 1 -- The Slave Ship by J.M.W. Turner (Public Domain)

Relying entirely on the words of the legal decision Gregson vs. Gilbert, Zong! tells the

story that Philip says cannot be told yet must be told or, a story that can only be told

by not telling (Philip 191). This literary methodology reveals Philips personal trauma
PAC Postscript Patterson: The History of Trauma 7

(born of both the history she has focused on and the literary need to recount it) because,

as a poet and story-teller, she must tell stories, but at the outset feels as though this story

cannot be told, at least not in any normal or adequate sense. That description of a story

that can only be told by not telling is thus more than a poetic turn of phrase. It

encapsulates, first of all, the very idea of trauma. Second, it directly inspires Philips

stylistic approach to her material. Zong! is no ordinary poem; of course, it is more than a

poem, a collection of poems attempting to describe the atrocity, but more than that it is

also a unique, experimental work of poetry that visually and textually is difficult and

disturbing to access. It represents the poets attempt to recover the trauma and make

sense out of a senseless massacre and this process introduces the trauma of history in an

intimate way.

Philip lays out three techniques that she uses to make the text of the legal decision

work for her poetically and personally as she retells the Zong massacre through the words

of the eighteenth-century attorneys, law clerks, and judges. Her first technique is to

white out and black out words (is there a difference?). Second, she says, I mutilate the

text as the fabric of African life and the lives of these men, women and children were

mutilated. Third and finally, she even goes so far as to say, I murder the text. What is

textual murder according to her? [I] literally cut it into pieces, castrating verbs,

suffocating adjectives, murdering nouns, throwing articles, prepositions, conjunctions

overboard, jettisoning adverbs (Philip 193). These techniques can be summarized as an

approach of textual violence, the poetic approach that Philip adopts as analogous to the

Zong massacre and the miscarriage of justice on the text of the legal decision itself. The
PAC Postscript Patterson: The History of Trauma 8

problem for readers of Zong! is that the text is literally mutilated, castrated, and murdered

to the point of near nonsensicalness. For discussion of the poem, it is very difficult to cite

the text in any meaningful or visually comprehensible way. Thus, what follows is a

discussion of the facsimile in Figure 2.

Figure 2 Facsimile of pages 90-91 of M. NourbeSe Philip's Zong!

Just as Philip says, her poetic text is visually mutilated. Beyond that, the disconnected,

floating words on the white pages call to mind the bodies of the murdered African men,

women, and children (and the women and children were the first to be drowned, of
PAC Postscript Patterson: The History of Trauma 9

course, since adult males were the most profitable slaves) drifting in the ocean. Philip

chooses to portray the Zong massacre in this way, and importantly she also displays how

she has internalized the trauma of the atrocity as a poet because she deliberately chose to

make her own poetic task difficult and her poetry difficult to access. The difficulty comes

from the limited supply of words available in the legal text and also from the historical

and stylistic necessity to chop them up while also forcing them to make some kind of

sense. Thus the first line on page 90 reads a trail of / lies / lead to my truth tame / the

rage dance / dance / i say act (90). The verse starts out making sense; it is

straightforward to say that a trail of lies leads to truth except that the syntax is first

rendered awkward by the plural form of the verb (lead), then is made more challenging

to the comprehension by the addition of the first-person possessive pronoun (my truth?

As opposed to truth more generally? What is the meaning?), and ultimately defies

understanding by the lack of punctuation and unclear syntax (lead to my truth tame or

is it, [] lead to my truth. Tame the rage?). The poet thus gives some clues as to her

overall meaning but most of what she gives away are feelings and emotions. And of

course, that is the whole point, because the drowned and floating bodies of innocent

women, children, and men equally defy understanding and explanation but provoke

floods of emotion.

Philip thus recovers, accepts, and personalizes the trauma of the victims or at

least the trauma of the slave survivors who would have observed the victims death. As

poetic narrator of the Zong massacre, she can say at the very end of her

Acknowledgements page at the beginning of Zong!, I thank the Ancestors for

PAC Postscript Patterson: The History of Trauma 10

bestowing the responsibility of this work on me (xii). The trauma that comes out of the

event is the physical and psychological suffering of any dehumanizing experience. Any

survivors or observers of the Zong massacre must have carried with them for life the

nightmare of seeing human beings simply drown other human beings for potential profit.

And NourbeSe Philip, as the poet-observer who re-imagines the event, cannot un-

remember it either.

The Trauma of Recovering the Memory of the Native Guard

Like M. NourbeSe Philip, Natasha Tretheway chooses as the guiding subject of her

collection Native Guard the racist, colonial tragedy of a maritime massacre. The time

period is different (though still in the colonial era), and the geographic and social

conditions are different (though still in the plantation- and slave-based Caribbean,

broadly speaking). The Louisiana Native Guard, an all-black regiment in the Union

Army, represented the most progressive of American ideals in that the goal of this Civil

War-era unit was not simply to liberate slaves, or to maintain the Union, but also to

integrate former slaves into society. The black soldiers of the Native Guard actually

fought for the Union. Yet even in the context of the Union Army, they did not experience

full acceptance, and several of the poems in Tretheways collection (which also covers

broader historical and contemporary issues of the American South) are best described as

meditations on the inequality that these men experienced. Tretheway memorializes the

worst of the experiences of the Native Guard in the books longest poem titled Native

Guard and divided into nine sections on the key events between November 1862 and the
PAC Postscript Patterson: The History of Trauma 11

year 1865. In her authors notes, Tretheway summarizes three of the unthinkable horrors

(two massacres and a desecration) that the Native Guard endured and that inspire her

poetry as she tries to recover their memory. In her notes on the section of Native Guard

titled April 1863, Tretheway recounts the following:

On April 9, 1863, 180 black men and their officers went onto the mainland to meet

Confederate troops near Pascagoula, Mississippi. After the skirmish, as the black

troops were retreating (having been outnumbered by the Confederates), white

Union troops on board the gunboat Jackson fired directly at them and not at

oncoming Confederates. Several black soldiers were killed or wounded. The

phrases [that Tretheway uses in her poem] an unfortunate incident and their names

shall deck the page of history are [] from Thank God My Regiment an African

One: The Civil War Diary of Colonel Nathan W. Daniels. (Tretheway 47)

Similarly, in 1865 Tretheway explains how on a different occasion the Confederates

disregarded individual attempts by the black troops to surrender, and an indiscriminate

slaughter followed in which Colonel Nathan Bedford Forrest purportedly ordered the

black troops shot down like dogs (Tretheway 47). Both massacres are unthinkable, the

first because white Union soldiers shot down their own men simply due to their being

black, and the second because even though they were enemies, the white Confederate

soldiers were shooting on surrendering, non-threatening enemies simply because they

were black. The disregard and disdain that the white soldiers of the Civil War displayed

towards black soldiers can only be summarized in racial terms and is summed up in the
PAC Postscript Patterson: The History of Trauma 12

section June 1863 of Native Guard, which comes from another incident that

Tretheway describes in the following way:

During the battle of Port Hudson in May 1863, General Nathaniel P. Banks

request a truce to locate the wounded Union soldiers and bury the dead. His

troops, however, ignored the area where the Native Guards had fought, leaving

those men unclaimed. When Colonel Shelby, a Confederate officer, asked

permission to bury the putrefying bodies in front of his lines, Banks refused,

saying that he had no dead in that area. (47)

This incident defies belief because it was actually a Confederate officer who wanted to

bury the dead black soldiers (even if only to be rid of the bodies) and it was a Union

officer who himself had failed to claim the bodies and then declared that they were not

even his men. This barbarism towards and dehumanization of the Louisiana Native Guard

can only be understood within the context of other racist actions of the colonial slave era

such as the drowning of the Africans on board the Zong.

Whereas Philip attacks the colonial past head on through textual violence and

incensed protestation, thus expressing a visceral trauma, Tretheway is much more

subdued, though no less condemning of the past, in her poetry. The trauma that she

expresses is also born out of disbelief but is a different stage of trauma from Philips or

more precisely, Tretheway is a different stage of trauma recovery. A traumatic event is

one that leaves a physical or psychological wound, initially overwhelming the human

subjects normal capacity to handle pain and disorientation. But traumatic events are also

ones which humans must attempt to recover from, and the stages of that recovery differ
PAC Postscript Patterson: The History of Trauma 13

between subjects. Terms such as grief, mourning, repression, loss, forgetting, and so on

express what we try to do to overcome and to move on from trauma. In the case of poets

like Philip and Tretheway, the literary process is part of that recovery from the

experience of historical trauma (that instance when they first studied and were shocked

by the atrocities that they recount). In Tretheways remembrance of the Louisiana Native

Guard, we encounter a mournful acceptance of the immutability of the past, a calm but

forever scarred contemplativeness. Even the titles of her poems express a different tone

and response to trauma from those of Philip. The latter adds the exclamation point to the

name of the slave ship Zong! as she indignantly emphasizes the ludicrous miscarriage

of justice in this extremely low point in colonial history. Tretheway, on the other hand,

uses subdued titles for her two poems about the Louisiana Native Guard: Native Guard

and Elegy for the Native Guard. The word elegy reminds us that the massacred and

desecrated soldiers of the Native Guard are dead and inaccessible; nothing can be done.

Only an elegy can be given (whereas the exclamation point of Zong! seems to indicate an

urgency and a current possibility for rectifying the past). Tretheways verse conveys the

same trauma of resignation and mourning. Even in the section April 1863 from Native

Guard, in which she directly recounts the killing of the black Union soldiers by white

comrades on board the Union gunboat, Tretheway does not betray a rage but rather

conveys a tragic acceptance of what happened:

When men die, we eat their share of hardtack

Trying not to recall their hollow sockets,

The worm-stitch of their cheeks. Today we buried

PAC Postscript Patterson: The History of Trauma 14

The last of our dead from Pascagoula,

And those who died retreating to our ship

White sailors in blue firing upon us

As if we were the enemy. Id thought

The fighting over, then watched a man fall

Beside me, knees-first as in prayer, then

Another, his arms outstretched as if borne

upon the cross. Smoke that rose from each gun

Seemed a soul departing. The colonel said:

An unfortunate incident; said:

Their names shall deck the page of history. (Tretheway 28)

The last words of the section are not the poets but rather those haunting and condemning

words of Colonel Nathan W. Daniels who could not bring himself to call the killing of

the black soldiers anything more than an unfortunate incident. And yet a similarly

unfortunate incident would surely have resulted in court martial and execution by

hanging or firing squad had the white Union soldiers killed other white Union soldiers

instead of black Union soldiers. Perhaps Colonel Daniels did feel some remorse over

what happened and some desire to honor the fallen men, and so he added, Their names

shall deck the page of history. Tretheway does not engage in any enraged condemnation

of the colonel or the killers, but simply allows the colonels words to condemn them all.

For despite the colonels desire and half-hearted elegy that the names of those massacred

black soldiers shall deck the pages of history, the poet calmly shows that this is simply
PAC Postscript Patterson: The History of Trauma 15

not the case. In Elegy for the Native Guards, Tretheway recounts a guided, modern-day

tourist visit to Gulfport, Mississippi: What we see / first is the fort, its roof of grass, a

lee / half reminder of the men who served there / a weathered monument to some of

the dead (44). The key words in this opening stanza of the poem are half reminder and

some. Certainly the fact that a dilapidated fort exists is proof that soldiers fought there,

and a weathered monument bears witness to them but only to some. In the next two

stanzas, the poet-tourist listens to a guide tell the history of the place and goes on to

specify just who these some soldiers are:

The Daughters of the Confederacy

has placed a plaque here, at the forts entrance

each Confederate soldiers name raised hard

in bronze; no names carved for the Native Guards

2nd Regiment, Union men, black phalanx.

What is monument to their legacy? (44)

Tretheway is not making an argument that the Daughters of the Confederacy are expected

to have given a monument to the Louisiana Native Guards (or even that they should have,

given that they are, after all, the Daughters of the Confederacy). She is simply stating

what she observes and asking an obvious question. The only possible answer is that there

is no monument except for now this poetic elegy of (post)colonial trauma.

In this poem, Tretheway does allow herself to make one more pointed observation,

not of direct condemnation but indirect and thus a condemnation nonetheless. After her
PAC Postscript Patterson: The History of Trauma 16

visit as a tourist to Gulfport and finding no monument, no memory, of the Louisiana

Native Guards, she ends the poem thus:

All the grave markers, all the crude headstones

water-lost. Now fish dart among their bones,

and we listen for what the waves intone.

Only the fort remains, near forty feet high,

round, unfinished, half open to the sky,

the elementswind, rainGods deliberate eye. (Tretheway 44)

Here, then, the poet does move beyond remembering the Native Guards to implying that

God has seen all history through the elements of the natural world. The evil wrought

against the Native Guards, then, has not gone unseen, not by God, even if they are

otherwise forgotten. This is the closest that Tretheway allows herself to move towards

condemnation. That is not a critique of Tretheway, as though her poetry were less

powerful or less righteous than Philips. Again, both poets are recounting tragic maritime

horrors of the colonial period, making those events their own trauma; and the poets are at

different stages of processing that trauma when and in the way they recount those events.

Tretheways overriding tone and emotion rest on a tragic acceptance of the past. In fact,

Tretheway explicitly recognizes her own subdued tone and lack of indignant

condemnation and even hints at some fault on her part for not protesting the past more.

In Southern History, for example, Tretheway recounts both her trauma and her

passivity when faced with the traditional narrative of history of the South and its slaves:

Before the war, they were happy, he said,

PAC Postscript Patterson: The History of Trauma 17

quoting our textbook. (This was senior-year

history class.) The slaves were clothed, fed,

and better off under a masters care.

I watched the words blur on the page. No one

raised a hand, disagreed. Not even me.

It was late; we still had Reconstruction

to cover before the test, andluckily

three hours of watching Gone with the Wind.

History, the teacher said, of the old South

a true account of how things were back then.

On screen a slave stood big as life: big mouth,

bucked eyes, our textbooks grinning proof

a lie my teacher guarded. Silent, so did I. (Tretheway 38)

The poet tells us that no one, including herself, raised a hand [or] disagreed with the

overtly biased account of slave history. Worse, perhaps, she even admits to guarding the

lie of the happy slave with her history teacher. Though both of these things seem to
PAC Postscript Patterson: The History of Trauma 18

weigh on the mind of the young Tretheway and on the older Tretheway-as-poet, clearly

the implied condemnation is not for a girl who chooses not to speak out against a male

teacher but rather for the latter and for all those in power who have maintained the lies

about Southern history and who have suppressed the memory of people like the

Louisiana Native Guard. Though only Native Guard and Elegy for the Native Guards

speak directly of the tragedies suffered by the Louisiana Native Guard in her collection

(Tretheway situates most of the other poems in Native Guard in contemporary Southern

American society), the past is always weighing on the present, as seen in Southern


Conclusion: The Tragic Impossibility of Full Articulation

Philip and Tretheway, like scores of writers before them, have sought to give voice to the

tragedy of colonialism, particularly the racism and slavery and dehumanization that

remain the largest permanent blights on its history. But these two poets also represent

something particularly tragic and postcolonial in their perspective, something that I have

tried to demonstrate as the dual trauma of historical trauma (encountering and processing

the trauma of others in history) and literary trauma (the attempt of two poets to portray

and articulate the horrors of the past). The literary component of Philips and

Tretheways trauma comes from the inability and even impossibility of full articulation.

This impossibility comes, in part, from the lack of evidence. Most evidence (and

most history) from the colonial period comes, understandably, from the colonizers rather

than the colonized. And so what sources tell us reliably about the victims of the Zong
PAC Postscript Patterson: The History of Trauma 19

massacre? Or as Tretheway points out in her meditation Elegy for the Native Guards,

what monument or testimony is there at all to speak of them, whether reliably or

unreliably? Tretheway shows how the issues of the colonial past continue to weigh on the

postcolonial present. And in poems like What Is Evidence, she also demonstrates that

what we really need is not just historical evidence or testimony to what happened but

rather, in order to achieve full articulation, we need to recover the unrecoverable bodies

and lives. What then, is, evidence? Tretheway responds:

Not the fleeting bruises shed cover

With makeup, a dark patch as if imprint

Of a scope shed pressed her eye too close to,

Looking for a way out, nor the quiver in the voice shed steady, leaning

Into a pot of bones on the stove. Not

The teeth she wore in place of her own, or

The official documentits seal

And smeared signaturefading already,

The edges wearing. Not the tiny marker

With its dates, her name, abstract as history.

Only the landscape of her bodysplintered

Clavicle, pierced temporalher thin bones

Settling a bit each day, the way all things do. (Tretheway 11)

Through this contemporary scene of domestic violence, Tretheway reminds us that the

body and life of the person are the evidence of human dignity and value. And if those
PAC Postscript Patterson: The History of Trauma 20

bodies and lives are gone and disappeared, full recovery and articulation are impossible.

This is nowhere more evident than in situations like the Zong massacre and the

mistreatment of black Union soldiers because the very objective was to erase traces of

those peoples existence and value. This realization traumatizes Philip and Tretheway as

they attempt to recount the atrocities of the past.

What then is the sense of the tragic for our postcolonial time? (Scott 220). David

Scott asks this question at the end of Conscripts of Modernity, and I argue that the poetry

of M. NourbeSe Philip and Natasha Tretheway answer it for us poetically just as Scott

does theoretically. This sense of the tragic of which all three writers speak to in their own

way is not a sense of hopelessness, despair, or helplessness. But it begins with an

embrace of the trauma that the past brings even to our own lives. And then it proceeds to

a constructively nuanced understanding that the present as well as the past is complex and

subject to forces beyond human control. The most difficult force to come to terms with,

perhaps in part because we forget its power, is the past. And as Scott also says, The

colonial past may never let go (220). And perhaps that is just the realization that the

postcolonial present needs, and the reason that the work of Philip and Tretheway is so

valuable. A tragic postcolonial perspective will keep the past on hand even while

addressing problems of the present: The sense of the tragic for our postcolonial time is

an [] awareness that our own struggle for alternative futures, beginning as they do with

the inheritance of what has gone before, has always to be tempered by our remembrance

of [the past] (Scott 221).

PAC Postscript Patterson: The History of Trauma 21

PAC Postscript Patterson: The History of Trauma 22

Works Cited

Caruth, Cathy. Unclaimed Experience: Trauma, Narrative, and History. Baltimore, MD:


Hopkins UP, 1996. Print.

Philip, Marlene N. Zong! Middletown, Conn.: Wesleyan UP, 2008. Print.

Scott, David. Conscripts of Modernity: The Tragedy of Colonial Enlightenment. Durham,


Duke UP, 2004. Print.

Trethewey, Natasha D. Native Guard. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2006. Print.

Visser, Irene. Entanglements of Trauma: Relationality and Toni Morrisons Home.

Postcolonial Text 9.2 (Fall 2014). Web.