Violent Spectacles and Public Feelings


Trauma and Affect in The Gospel of Mark and The Thunder: Perfect Mind

In: Biblical Interpretation
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  • 1 Harvard Divinity School


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In both the Gospel of Mark and The Thunder: Perfect Mind, paradoxically powerful voices sound through broken bodies thrown into contact with other broken bodies and social outcasts. While Mark brings a (semi-)divine man into contact with the suffering, sick, and hungry multitudes as he journeys through Galilee and Judea on his way to eventual death at the hands of Roman authorities, Thunder’s (semi-)divine speaker contains these multitudes, inhabiting or being inhabited by them, speaking as many,Legion-like, with no particular narrative climax. Through gender dynamics that express and instigate feelings of vulnerability and humiliation, as well as claims to triumph and divine association, Mark’s Jesus and Thunder’sspeaker exemplify and confound social, gendered inflections of vulnerability, virility, and divinity. As texts composed in the midst of cultural upheaval and anticolonial anguish, Mark and Thunder function as trauma narratives that present pained and creative responses to violence and oppression. Following Ann Cvetkovich’s work on public feelings and affective archives, I treat Mark and Thunder as archives of feeling that enable or mark the vital traces of new practices and publics and gesture toward counterpublic responses to trauma.


  • 5

    Cvetkovich, An Archive of Feelings, p. 12, her emphasis.

  • 11

    Michael Warner, Publics and Counterpublics (New York: Zone Books, 2005), p. 14.

  • 12

    Michael Warner, Publics and Counterpublics (New York: Zone Books, 2005), pp. 12, 11.

  • 13

    Michael Warner, Publics and Counterpublics (New York: Zone Books, 2005), p. 14. For Warner, counterpublics are “defined by their tension with a larger public…. Discussion within such a public is understood to contravene the rules obtaining in the world at large, being structured by alternative dispositions or protocols, making different assumptions about what can be said or what goes without saying” (ibid., p. 56). A counterpublic “maintains at some level, conscious or not, an awareness of its subordinate status…. This subordinate status does not simply reflect identities formed elsewhere; participation in such a public is one of the ways by which its members identities are formed and transformed” (ibid., pp. 56–57).

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  • 14

    Michael Warner, Publics and Counterpublics (New York: Zone Books, 2005), p. 16. Warner describes how publics are “essentially intertextual, frameworks for understanding texts against an organized background of the circulation of other texts, all interwoven not just by citational references but by the incorporation of a reflexive circulatory field in the mode of address and consumption” (ibid., p. 14).

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  • 15

    Michael Warner, Publics and Counterpublics (New York: Zone Books, 2005), 15.

  • 16

    Lauren Berlant, “Intuitionists: History and the Affective Event,” American Literary History 20.4 (2008), pp. 845–60 (845).

  • 18

    Cvetkovich, An Archive of Feelings, p. 15.

  • 30

    Thurman, “Novel Men,” p. 223.

  • 36

    Berlant, “Intuitionists,” p. 846.

  • 41

    Taussig et al., The Thunder, pp. 29–30. Compare Bentley Layton’s reading of Thunder as primarily presenting paradoxes in “The Riddle of Thunder (NHC VI, 2): The Function of the Paradox in a Gnostic Text from Nag Hammadi,” in Charles W. Hedrick and Robert Hodgson, Jr. (eds.), Nag Hammadi, Gnosticism, and Early Christianity (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1986), pp. 37–54.

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  • 47

    Taussig et al., The Thunder, p. 31.

  • 52

    Taussig et al., The Thunder, pp. 62–63.

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