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Appears in Collections:Literature and Languages eTheses
Title: Reading Chernobyl: Psychoanalysis, Deconstruction, Literature
Authors: Lindsay, Stuart L
Supervisor(s): Townshend, Dale
Byron, Glennis
Keywords: Chernobyl
Trauma Theory
Screen Memories
Issue Date: 29-Sep-2014
Publisher: University of Stirling
Abstract: This thesis explores the psychological trauma of the survivors of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster, which occurred on April 26, 1986. I argue for the emergence from the disaster of three Chernobyl traumas, each of which will be analysed individually – one per chapter. In reading these three traumas of Chernobyl, the thesis draws upon and situates itself at the interface between two primary theoretical perspectives: Freudian psychoanalysis and the deconstructive approach of Jacques Derrida. The first Chernobyl trauma is engendered by the panicked local response to the consequences of the explosion at Chernobyl Reactor Four by the power plant’s staff, the fire fighters whose job it was to extinguish the initial blaze caused by the blast, the inhabitants of nearby towns and villages, and the soldiers involved in the region’s evacuation and radiation decontamination. Most of these people died from radiation poisoning in the days, weeks, months or years after the disaster’s occurrence. The first chapter explores the usefulness and limits of Freudian psychoanalytic readings of local survivors’ testimonies of the disaster, examining in relation to the Chernobyl event Freud’s practice of locating the authentic primal scene or originary traumatic witnessing experience in his subjects’ pasts, as exemplified by his Wolf Man analysis, detailed in his psychoanalytic study ‘On the History of an Infantile Neurosis’ (1918). The testimonies read through this Freudian psychoanalytic lens are constituted by Igor Kostin’s personal account of the disaster’s aftermath, detailed in his book Chernobyl: Confessions of a Reporter (2006), and by Svetlana Alexievich’s interviews with Chernobyl disaster survivors in her book Voices from Chernobyl: The Oral History of a Nuclear Disaster (2006). The second chapter argues that Freudian psychoanalysis only provides a provisional, ultimately fictional origin of Chernobyl trauma. Situating itself in relation to trauma studies, this thesis, progressing from its first to its second chapter, charts the geographical and temporal shift between these first and second traumas, from trauma-as-sudden-event to trauma-as-gradual-process. In the weeks following the initial Chernobyl explosion, which released into the atmosphere a radioactive cloud that blew in a north-westerly direction across Northern Ukraine, Belarus, Latvia, Estonia, Finland and Sweden, symptoms of radiation poisoning slowly emerged in the populations of the abovementioned countries. To analyse the psychological impact of confronting this gradual, international unfolding of trauma – the second trauma of Chernobyl – the second chapter of this thesis explores the critique of the global attempt to archivise, elegise and ultimately understand the Chernobyl disaster in Mario Petrucci’s elegies, compiled in his poetry collection Heavy Water: A Poem for Chernobyl (2006), the horror film Chernobyl Diaries (2012, dir. Bradley Parker), and Adam Roberts’ Science Fiction novel, Yellow Blue Tibia (2009). Analysing the deconstructive approach of Jacques Derrida in these texts – his notions of archive fever, impossible mourning and ethical mourning – this chapter argues that the attempt to interiorise, memorialise and mourn the survivors of the Chernobyl disaster is narcissistic, hubristic and violent in the extreme. It then proposes that Derrida’s notion of ethical mourning, outlined most clearly in his lecture ‘Mnemosyne’ (1984), enables us to situate our emotional sympathy for survivors – who, following Derrida’s lecture, are maintained as permanently exterior and inaccessible to us – in our very inability or failure to comprehend or locate the origin of their Chernobyl traumas. The third and final chapter analyses the third trauma of Chernobyl: the psychological and physiological effects of the disaster on second-generation inhabitants living near the Exclusion Zone erected around the evacuated, cordoned-off and still-radioactive Chernobyl region. These second-generation experiences of living near a sealed-away source of intense radiation are reconstructed in literature and videogaming: in Darragh McKeon’s novel All That Is Solid Melts Into Air (2014), Hamid Ismailov’s novel The Dead Lake (2014) and the videogame S.T.A.L.K.E.R: Shadow of Chernobyl (2007), developed by the company GSC Game World. The analysis of these texts is informed by Nicolas Abraham and Maria Torok’s psychoanalytic theory of the intergenerational phantom: the muteness of a generation’s history which returns to haunt the succeeding generations. This chapter will explore the psychological effects upon second-generation Chernobyl survivors, which result from these survivors’ incorporation or unconscious interiorisation of their parents’ psychologically repressed traumatic Chernobyl experiences, by analysing reconstructions of this process in the abovementioned texts. These parental experiences, echoing the Exclusion Zone as a denied physical space, have been interred in inaccessible psychic crypts. By way of conclusion, the thesis then offers an alternative theory of reading survivors’ Chernobyl trauma. Survivors’ restaging of their Chernobyl witnessing experiences as jokes enables them to cathartically, temporarily abreact their trauma through the laughter that these jokes engender.
Type: Thesis or Dissertation

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