Saturday, March 15, 2014
Listening to the NPR program On the Media earlier today, I noticed that Things Fall Apart and Beloved were mentioned within a few words of one another. The context was a report on "trigger warnings"--notifications, most common in feminist blogs, before potentially disturbing material that the material contains such-and-such type of disturbing thing; for example, "Trigger Warning: This content deals with homophobia and hate crimes." The idea is to ensure that nobody suffers a traumatic memory upon reading the material, or making sure they avoid "trauma triggers." On the Media more or less always takes the stance that the media should be able to say anything worthwhile to as large an audience as possible, so they said that trauma triggers are unnecessary and counterproductive because they are intended to make people avoid material that might be outside their comfort zone (I definitely agree.) Two examples they gave were Things Fall Apart and Beloved: Things Fall Apart because of the racism and colonial violence it portrays, and Beloved because of all sorts of sexual violence, racism, physical and emotional abuse, and so on. Of course, there are no trigger warnings in these books, but the report said that the principle of trauma triggers seems to imply that works like these should be avoided by those who might find them unsettling, when in fact the entire purpose of them, and especially of Beloved, is to discomfit and disturb the reader. PTSD, memories, and in fact "trauma triggers" are all salient in some form in Beloved, so I think that it is interesting that some people think that some of the people to whom Beloved is in fact most relevant should avoid it for that very reason. I think the debate itself is even reflected in the book, with Sethe and Paul D often actively trying to forget their experiences, when in fact they cannot live worthwhile lives without accepting them. It seems like Toni Morrison and On the Media were both essentially saying that it is worth the risk of offending somebody or "triggering" the recall of a traumatic memory to ensure that we can freely talk about potentially disturbing things.