Intervening in Trauma: Bodies, Violence, and Interpretive Possibilities in Vyvyane Loh’s Breaking the Tongue

Sally McWilliams, Montclair State University
Vol. 28, No. 1 (Spring 2009), 141-163

This essay examines the literary representation of the overlap between event and insidious traumas in Vyvyane Loh’s Breaking the Tongue, while gesturing towards the larger implications that such linkages create for the politics of reading diasporic Chinese women’s literature. It argues that Breaking the Tongue refines and resituates the array of affective and objective responses to traumatic situations by using three specific narrative techniques: nonlinear narrative structure; shifting points of view; and cross-linguistic testifying as technologies of memory. These techniques disrupt any superficial rendering of physical suffering and deconstruct our positions of safety when reading about traumatic experiences. This analysis demonstrates how Loh’s novel produces a powerful feminist intervention into the politics of trauma, its representations, and the production of cultural memory and identity. We are positioned within the language and bodies of trauma to better understand the potential for survival where there is lack, the possibility of healing where there is violence, and the creative energy for change where there is destruction.

Mary Wollstonecraft Sojourner Truth Margaret Atwood Abigail Adams Amy Tan H.D. Simone de Beauvoir Zora Neale Hurston Frances Burney Virginia Woolf

"The white saxifrage with the indented leafe is moste commended for the breakinge of the Stone."

— Turner, Herbal, III, 68 [1568]