Is academic parlance at all capable of saying something meaningful about pain?

Out of the BlueWe began the week, with a post about Kristiaan Versluys’s interview with American Fiction Notes and now end it with his piece on the Washington Post book blog The Short Stack.

Versluys, who is the author of Out of the Blue: September 11 and the Novel , and is also Belgian commented on what special challenges, if any, his nationality or non-Americanness posed in writing the book and teaching a class on the subject at Columbia University. Versluys writes of a class he taught in 2008, “Implicitly [the students] were questioning my right to talk about an event that belonged to them in a way it did not belong to me. I have never taught a more difficult course. I have never profited more from a course taught at Columbia either.”

Versluys also addressed how academics struggle with dealing with such events in their writing:

Is academic parlance at all (no matter how purged from the worst excesses of jargon-mongering and obfuscation) capable of saying something meaningful about pain? Necessarily—given the nature of the task I imposed upon myself—I deal with 9/11 as a semiotic event—something that takes place in language, a form of discourse.

Yet during the four years I worked on the book, I kept telling myself: the towers really did come down; people really died; to this very day, husbands and wives, parents and children have to live with an irreparable loss. I can only hope that, in spite of physical, mental and intellectual distance, somehow my study resonates with this attempt to see trauma in its full human dimensions.

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