Idealistic Studies

Volume 42, Issue 2/3, Summer/Fall 2012

MaryCatherine McDonald
Pages 247-263

Trauma, Embodiment, and Narrative

We do not always survive trauma. Elie Wiesel said of Primo Levi, a holocaust survivor who committed suicide at age sixty-seven, “[he] died at Auschwitz forty years earlier.” Though Levi physically survived the holocaust, psychically he did not. And yet, there are countless stories of incredible triumph over trauma. What makes survival possible? What seems to separate those who recover from those who do not—at least in part—is the capacity and opportunity for adaptation. Adaptation is the phenomenon whereby the subject is able to make use of one or more coping mechanisms in order to adjust to traumatic disruption. In this paper I argue that narrative is an especially useful tool for adapting to trauma because it addresses that which is so disruptive about trauma: the inability to process the traumatic event.