Haunting poetry: trauma, otherness and textuality in Michael Cunningham’s Specimen Days

Olu Jenzen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Reflecting on the otherness of trauma and its vexed relationship to representation, this article considers some aspects of the writing of trauma in Michael Cunningham’s 2005 novel Specimen Days; a text that offers a particularly powerful literary imaging of culture’s disavowals that return to haunt. The article focuses on how the text conveys the workings of trauma structurally and stylistically through repetition, paratactic syntax and the use of multiple narrator voices, also considering the novel’s distinctly self-reflexive discussion of the ethical implications of fictional representations of trauma. The question of the reader’s relation to aesthetic representations of trauma and to the wider debates concerning ethical responses to trauma that the novel seems to question are also discussed. The article argues that Cunningham offers an innovative writing of trauma that foregrounds the traumas of everyday violence, social injustice and oppression, whilst also making links to the types of cultural trauma that typically achieve more public recognition. In doing so, the article suggests, his novel opens up for new responses to trauma that require a rethinking of our relationship to otherness and the other, challenging the dominant responses to public trauma that are imbued by and dependent on injurious discourses of othering.
Original languageEnglish
JournalOtherness: Essays and Studies
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1 Oct 2010


  • trauma
  • alterity
  • cultural and political ‘othering’
  • the uncanny
  • ethics
  • Michael Cunningham
  • contemporary literature
  • the writing of trauma
  • the politics of form


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