Speaking the Unspeakable: Engaging Nefas in Lucan and Rwanda 1994

  • Mark Allen Thorne Brigham Young University
Keywords: Lucan, epic, nefas, trauma literature, civil war, narrator, genocide, Rwanda, Boris Boubacar Diop, Fergal Keane


Lucan’s Bellum Civile can be read as an epic that functions in the mode of trauma literature, i.e. a work that explicitly seeks to represent a horror that defies its very representation. Toward this end, this article applies the lens of modern trauma studies to a comparative reading of Lucan set alongside selections from two literary representations of the Rwanda genocide of 1994. By reading these ancient and modern texts alongside each other, we can gain greater insight into some of the shared rhetorical and narrative strategies that these writers from such different time periods have employed. In the face of lingering trauma, these ancient and modern strategies on one hand emphasize speechlessness (nefas and the threat of silence) and yet on the other hand engage the audience and invite them into the space of trauma through the senses of sight, sound, and emotion. The Roman poet Lucan, like his modern counterparts, seeks to guide his readers into a haunting encounter with the deeper traumatic reality of these conflicts such that they can no longer be unwitnessed or ignored.


Bibliography is in the Word document.