The Writing-Machine as Method
: Telling Traumatic Sensation Through "Harriet"

  • Freya M Johnson

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy (PhD)


In this dissertation I turn to writing as a method for exploring trauma as a progression of sensations, the complexity of which I argue cannot be comprehensively understood through either clinical response or theoretical models. These models, I argue, have the effect of shaping trauma by delineating what comes to count as a traumatic event, and how such events should be felt and responded to. What I put forward is a piece of work that approaches traumatic sensation in a way that is sensitive to its nuances. I focus specifically on sexual trauma, identifying sexual violence survivors as frequently having to align with the ‘shape’ of trauma in cultural, clinical, and juridical registers in order to appear to be presenting traumatic responses that are anticipated as ‘normal’. The novel hook of this dissertation is that it moves between fiction and theory to provide an experimental plane for discussion. Drawing on Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari’s concept of the ‘writing-machine’ I compose the narrative – Harriet – in which I foreground the capacity of fiction to directly affect the way that trauma is perceived and thought about. The protagonist of Harriet follows the unpredictable and often unexpected sensations of her own sexual trauma, drawing attention to the idea that trauma is impossible to universally characterise. Taking further insight from Ann Cvetkovich, Sara Ahmed, Lauren Berlant, and Henri Bergson, I complement the narrative with conversations that are separated into ‘plateaus’. These plateaus move consecutively to critique existing clinical and theoretical trauma literature, provide feminist considerations for writing as a method, and – turning more closely to Deleuze – problematise the event of trauma. The overarching imperative of this dissertation is to provide relief from the ‘shape’ of trauma, so that all of its iterations and manifestations can be felt through on one’s own terms.
Date of Award12 May 2020
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Bristol
SupervisorJoe Gerlach (Supervisor) & Maria Fannin (Supervisor)


  • sexual violence
  • trauma
  • gender
  • affect

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