Annie Rogers: Alphabets of the Night

Trauma is a letter written in vanishing ink on the body, a character of the alphabet that seems to stand alone as it emerges into view.

Trauma is a letter written in vanishing ink on the body, a character of the alphabet that seems to stand alone as it emerges into view. Trauma is a letter that collects other letters and finally becomes a message to be read, to be known by the sufferer and by her witness.

"A Shining Affliction" by Annie Rogers is a courageous, lucid, wrenching account of the analytic experience of the therapist and the young boy she works with. Put this book at the top of your list. 

She describes her new book:

"I'm crafting a poetics of trauma in girls' and young women's lives through metaphors of memory, voice, and body. I follow both what is said and what is unsaid in girls' conversations and play, in dreams, in reenactments, in their writing and drawing. Rather than conceptualizing trauma as a cluster of symptoms, I consider trauma as a poetic process. I draw on fifteen years of research and clinical work with girls and young women to create a psychology of trauma, attending to conscious and unconscious processes of the mind and body that can be understood in the same way that we interpret poems.

What I know as a researcher and as a clinician I also know as a poet: Trauma follows a psychological logic that is associative, layered, nonlinear, and highly metaphoric. Trauma, understood in this way, protects girls from unbearable experiences and also contains creative possibilities for transformation over time, particularly in adolescence and young adulthood.

Virginia Woolf alludes to those states of mind--idleness and dreams--that are most conducive to poetry, as well as unconscious processes that reveal truths we might not otherwise discern. Jorie Graham B '83 [Boylston Professor of Rhetoric and Oratory] refers to a stillness that is almost photographic in its clarity, but in this stillness she sees the tiniest movement and understands "there is a hiss and a dream only the fast eye knows."

As a clinician, I was initially interested in girls who were chronically sexually abused in childhood and developed various forms of dissociation that replaced direct knowing and direct speech. Their symptoms have been carefully documented and described in the literature on post-traumatic conditions (for example, by Judith Herman '64, MD '68 in her 1981 and 1992 books). This work, especially the research of the past two decades, has been invaluable. Yet, when I read the clinical literature, I see traumatized girls and young women experiencing an array of symptomatic responses, including withdrawal, numbing, dissociation, hypervigilance, nightmares, states of terror, intrusive memories, and depression.

Developmental accounts depict these girls as negative in their conceptions of self, relationships, and the future, a picture that is surprisingly stable over time. Typically, clinical studies do not attend to girls' resistance and courage, their desire, or their capacity for relentless joy. And the clinical descriptions of symptoms usually do not take into account the impress of the culture in shaping girls' responses to sexual abuse."

For the rest of the article in the Radcliffe Quarterly (2001) see

- don