Title

Telemachus Mourns Still: Ocean Vuong, Ambiguous Loss, and Decolonizing Trauma Studies

Lead Author Major

Guiying (Angel) Zhong

Lead Author Status

Sophomore

Format

Oral Presentation

Faculty Mentor Name

Dr. Xiaojing Zhou

Faculty Mentor Department

English

Abstract/Artist Statement

An event-based model of trauma, which postulates that trauma arises “from a singular, extraordinary, catastrophic event,” has historically been the predominant framework for evaluating trauma in the fields of psychology and trauma studies, and continues to be highly prolific across disciplines. In 1999, researcher and family therapist Dr. Pauline Boss delineated extensively a novel theory for relational losses that cannot be traced back to a singular incident—losses that “do not come with a body.” Boss identified ambiguous losses as stemming from an incongruence between the psychological construct of family and one’s physical reality. This can manifest as a loved one who is psychologically present but physically absent, or a loved one who is psychologically absent but physically present. While Boss’ conceptualization of ambiguous loss marks a positive paradigm shift away from event-based models of trauma and loss, her theoretical framework is limited in its ability to adequately address the experiences of ethnic minorities, whose grief must be historicized and contextualized in order for sufficient lines of inquiry to be established. The diasporic poetry of contemporary Vietnamese-American writer Ocean Vuong highlights the shortcomings of ambiguous loss theory as it is presently and illustrates how the foci of trauma studies must be decolonized if Western aesthetics and notions of trauma are to be decentralized. Through careful analysis of selected works from Vuong’s 2016 collection of poems, Night Sky with Exit Wounds, I aim to elucidate the importance of incorporating the legacies of colonialism and imperialism into theories of trauma and loss and caution against the essentialization of a priori cultural differences in the study of non-Western traumas. Additionally, I propose that minority literature acts as a “mobile sepulchre” that resists the “violence of forgetting” by subverting conventional, Eurocentric conceptions of loss, grief, and mourning.

Location

University of the Pacific, 3601 Pacific Ave., Stockton, CA 95211

Start Date

24-4-2021 10:45 AM

End Date

24-4-2021 11:00 AM

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Apr 24th, 10:45 AM Apr 24th, 11:00 AM

Telemachus Mourns Still: Ocean Vuong, Ambiguous Loss, and Decolonizing Trauma Studies

University of the Pacific, 3601 Pacific Ave., Stockton, CA 95211

An event-based model of trauma, which postulates that trauma arises “from a singular, extraordinary, catastrophic event,” has historically been the predominant framework for evaluating trauma in the fields of psychology and trauma studies, and continues to be highly prolific across disciplines. In 1999, researcher and family therapist Dr. Pauline Boss delineated extensively a novel theory for relational losses that cannot be traced back to a singular incident—losses that “do not come with a body.” Boss identified ambiguous losses as stemming from an incongruence between the psychological construct of family and one’s physical reality. This can manifest as a loved one who is psychologically present but physically absent, or a loved one who is psychologically absent but physically present. While Boss’ conceptualization of ambiguous loss marks a positive paradigm shift away from event-based models of trauma and loss, her theoretical framework is limited in its ability to adequately address the experiences of ethnic minorities, whose grief must be historicized and contextualized in order for sufficient lines of inquiry to be established. The diasporic poetry of contemporary Vietnamese-American writer Ocean Vuong highlights the shortcomings of ambiguous loss theory as it is presently and illustrates how the foci of trauma studies must be decolonized if Western aesthetics and notions of trauma are to be decentralized. Through careful analysis of selected works from Vuong’s 2016 collection of poems, Night Sky with Exit Wounds, I aim to elucidate the importance of incorporating the legacies of colonialism and imperialism into theories of trauma and loss and caution against the essentialization of a priori cultural differences in the study of non-Western traumas. Additionally, I propose that minority literature acts as a “mobile sepulchre” that resists the “violence of forgetting” by subverting conventional, Eurocentric conceptions of loss, grief, and mourning.