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Greenberg, J. (1998). The Echo of Trauma and the Trauma of Echo. Am. Imago, 55(3):319-347.

(1998). American Imago, 55(3):319-347

The Echo of Trauma and the Trauma of Echo

Judith Greenberg

“For the former victims, the Holocaust is a wound that cannot heal. This is the ailing subtext of their testimonies, wailing beneath the convalescent murmur of their surface lives. We have little trouble listening to that surface murmur. When the subtext of their story echoes for us too as a communal wound, then we will have begun to hear their legacy of unheroic memory and grasp the meaning for our time of a diminished self.”

—Lawrence Langer, Holocaust Testimonies

Recent attention to the witnessing, representing, and narrating of traumatic events has fostered dialogue among various academic and professional disciplines. The intersections of psychoanalysis, history, sociology, and literary criticism around the issue of trauma enable deeper understandings of both the condition of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and how trauma gets represented.1 In this context of increasing exploration of “trauma studies” by literary critics in particular, I suggest a reconsideration of a trope which can offer insight for both literary and psychoanalytic thinking: the figure of Echo. While the notorious fate of Narcissus, the character from book three of Ovid's Metamorphoses, holds undeniable significance for both literary and psychoanalytic theory, his counterpart in that tale remains less familiar. I propose that Ovid's rendition of Echo—as well as other depictions of her myth and the actual physical phenomenon of an acoustical echo itself—share structural similarities with PTSD. Echo's is a story of separation from one's very body due to grief and the persistence of belated and fragmentary resonances in the aftermath of the disembodiment.

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