Chapter 7 ‘Pinned limb to limb by a ton of rocks’: Annihilation in the Face of Captivity and Torture in Alan Cumyn’s Man of Bone

In: Topography of Trauma: Fissures, Disruptions and Transfigurations
Author: Danielle Schaub

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Abstract

Alan Cumyn’s Man of Bone offers a powerful example of the traumatic impact that captivity and torture can afford on a human being. The novel narrates the nine-month-long period during which Bill Burridge, a Canadian diplomat, endures captivity and torture after a guerrilla faction kidnaps him on the imaginary South Pacific Island of Santa Irene. Hooded for most of the narration until his release, Burridge gives way to a wide range of responses, his narrative evoking the terror of uncertainty and life threat in its disjunctive presentation, hallucination, dream realm and stylistic fragmentation. Language narrows in on small details recorded in elliptical sentences, whose choppy structures convey suffocation and awe; to keep such devastating feelings at bay and distract his mind, the protagonist turns to repetitive patterns and flashbacks. Even when freed, Burridge persists with his fixation on details, dissociative flashbacks and exploitation of water imagery to convey the sense of distressed immersion, making it hard for the readers to determine the boundary between the real and the imaginary. His narrative keeps echoing his inability to disentangle himself from the obsessive thoughts that drive him outside himself and cause him to relive the experience in confused divided consciousness. The discussion of trauma from captivity and torture will call on psychoanalytical theories of Michael Balint, Wilfred R. Bion, Frances Tustin and Judith Mitrani.

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