Do Witness: Don't: A Woman's Word and Trauma as Pedagogy

Julie Rak


This paper considers the implications of teaching narratives about trauma in a university
setting. As researchers begin to teach narratives which are part of what is beginning to be
called “trauma studies,” it is necessary to think about how to teach narratives about atrocity.
I argue that narratives like Elly Danica’s Don’t: A Woman’s Word do not portray trauma in a
confessional mode, but seek to enact secondary trauma within readers or viewers as part of
an individual or social transformation. This enacting produces a specific type of silence. In
this silence, the readers or viewers are called into being as witnesses in very special ways.
The pedagogical challenge which teachers of testimonial narratives of trauma face is twofold.
First, there is the challenge of silence as a necessary part of the response to trauma, and
second, there is the ethical challenge of bearing witness to trauma in a classroom situation. I
consider work by Dori Laub on trauma witnessing and challenge assumptions by Shoshana
Felman about teaching to a crisis in order to see how students can become witnesses.

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