Worlds of Hurt: Reading the Literatures of Trauma, by Kali Tal

An early version of this manuscript appeared as Bearing Witness: The Literature of Trauma, an American Studies dissertation, Yale University, 1991. A substantially revised version was published as Worlds of Hurt: Reading the Literatures of Trauma (Cambridge University Press, 1996). This is a third revision; in addition to a number of corrections and supplements to the text, it contains a new chapter on ethnocentric bias in the now popular field of trauma studies. Only this new chapter can be reproduced for classroom use. For print copies of all other chapters, please go through your normal copyright release program, or purchase the original edition from the Cambridge University Press edition. Feel free to email me with questions or comments.


  • Acknowledgements
  • Chapter One: Worlds of Hurt
  • Chapter Two: A Form of Witness: The Holocaust and North American Memory
  • Chapter Three: Remembering Difference; Working Against Eurocentric Bias in Contemporary Scholarship on Trauma and Memory
  • Chapter Four: Between the Lines: Reading the Vietnam War
  • Chapter Five: The Farmer of Dreams: The Writings of W.D. Ehrhart
  • Chapter Six: There Was No Plot And I Discovered It By Mistake: Trauma, Community and the Revisionary Process
  • Chapter Seven: We Didn’t Know What Would Happen: Opening the Discourse on Sexual Abuse
  • Chapter Eight: This Is About Power On Every Level: Three Incest Survivor Narratives
  • This Is Not A Conclusion

“This audacious and brilliant book is designed to make us feel, among
other things, very uncomfortable. No area of human experience is too painful or
sacrosanct to be explored by Kali Tal, and she refuses to allow us to rest
with easy answers to complex problems. Tal’s exploration of each of the three arenas
of trauma she has chosen would constitute a strikingly original and valuable
contribution to our understanding, so having all three is a treasure. But
Worlds of Hurt is even more than the sum of its parts, which Tal
interrelates to construct a many-dimensional kaleidoscope of meaning.” — H. Bruce Franklin, author of MIA: Mythmaking in America.

“Tal’s brilliant idea is that survivors of trauma create a literature of hurt that contributes to the dominant culture’s self-understanding…. Throughout she demonstrates methodological strength in informative and enlightening close textual analyses.” — Q. Grigg, Hamline University, in Choice (November ’96).

Kali Tal makes us aware that personal narratives about about
traumatic experiences — whether they come from Holocaust survivors or troubled
Vietnam veterans or victims of incest and other forms of sexual assault —
threaten the larger society because they reveal power relationships and social
contradictions. Worlds of Hurt makes important contributions to our
understanding of cultural politics.” — James William Gibson, author of The Perfect War (1986) and Warrior Dreams (1994).

“Tal’s argument about the existence of a separate literature of
trauma that crosses generic boundaries is convincing, provocative, and timely.
Her readings of narratives of war, genocide, and incest will be of value to
anyone interested in the relationships between violence, experience, and
culture.” — Susan Jeffords, author of The Remasculinization of


  • “A Lifetime of Anger and Pain”: Kali Tal and the Literatures of Trauma, David J. DeRose, Postmodern Culture (7:1) January 1997
  • “Editor’s Choice: War, Literaturea and the Arts,” Maggie Jaffe, War, Literature & the Arts (8:2) Fall/Winter 1996.
  • “”Worlds of Hurt: Review,” Tony Williams, MFS: Modern Fiction Studies, 44:4 (Winter 1998).