Volume 24, Issue 1/2, Fall 2018
Anjuli I. Gunaratne
“Writing Traumatic Time”
The Tragic Art and Thought of Sylvia Wynter
This essay reads Sylvia Wynter’s only novel The Hills of Hebron (1962) as a modern tragedy, one that both challenges and builds upon Raymond Williams’s concept of modern tragedy. The essay’s main argument is that tragedy, as a literary form, and the tragic, as a philosophical concept, are fundamental to Wynter’s project of creating forms of counterpoieses. Engaging Wynter’s interlocution with tragedy is crucial for comprehending how she is able to transform loss into a condition of possibility, primarily for the writing of what she calls “traumatic time.” Instead of only blocking mental representation, traumatic loss in Wynter becomes the first gesture of a philosophical activity that makes presentable that which has been lost or abandoned to a state of ruin, an argument that Walter Benjamin, another writer in dark times, had earlier made in The Origin of German Tragic Drama. Occupying the temporality of the tragic, Wynter has always made the re-assumption of the past—“slave, slave masters and all,” as she says—central to her project of critiquing and dismantling the “descriptive statement” of Man as the only permissible version of the Human. In my reading of The Hills of Hebron, I show how the novel utilizes the aesthetic, particularly the medium of theatricality, as the grounds for a theoretical framework that makes, in a manner redolent of Antigone, “the wretched of the earth” presentable not as “symbolic death” but rather as allegories of resistance.