Topics for

Topics for Discussion


Brison strongly believes that forming a narrative of one’s trauma helps victims recover. Her claim presupposes that a victim is aware of rape and is able to deliver one’s trauma in a verbal or written form. However, an ability to narrate is an inaccessible privilege for some trauma victims. For instance, among sexually abused children, some are too young or have intellectual disabilities. What can Brison or we suggest for those who cannot narrate? Is narrative the only medium for trauma therapy? Can we imagine other ways to recover from rape trauma?


Can rape be a metaphor in literature? Is it ethical to read rape as a metaphor? For example, in Tennessee Williams’s A Streetcar Named Desire, Blanche is raped by Stanley, her brother in law. The scene is frequently interpreted as the fall of the old South. This interpretation not only erases sexual violence but also justifies it. Are literary critics and readers responsible for ethical interpretation of rape?


Headnote - Brison

Relational Self

She supports the feminist account of the relational self, a self that is both autonomous and socially dependent, inextricably connected to others. Her argument is that the experience of a traumatic event undoes the self by shattering this connection between the self and the rest of humanity.


Recovery with Personal Narrative

She posits that constructing a self-narrative and sharing one’s story with an empathic other is the only way in which one can recover from a traumatic experience and she stresses the importance of the first-person writing style in philosophy and other academic works in allowing one to tell one’s story. For Brison, telling one’s story means taking control of one’s memories and integrating them into the reconstruction of the self that is able to exist again in relation to others. Her ethics is defined by the idea that we have a responsibility to be the empathic other and listen to the narratives of survivors, because the self can only be reconstructed with the help of these empathic others. 


Topics for Discussion - Brison

Brison makes a philosophical decision to gender rape by referring to rape survivors only as female and perpetrators of rape only as male, yet about 10% of rape victims in the U.S. are male, according to RAINN. Why does Brison choose not to acknowledge the occurrence of rape against men?


Does her emphasis on the factors that remove blame from her regarding her attack (the fact that she was wearing baggy jeans and was walking in broad daylight) alienate or result in a feeling of more blame of other sexual assault survivors who were wearing a different type of clothes or were out late at night when they were attacked?


Brison- Headnote

Susan Brison. Aftermath: Violence and the Remaking of a Self.



Brison, rape, and aftermath

Aftermath is Brison’s philosophical and ethical inquiry of her recovery from rape and attempted murder. She ultimately attempts to make sense of what happened and to re-establish control over her life. Brison opens Aftermath with a list of paradoxes she faced after rape: the fact that she was attacked without any reasons, others’ lack of empathy with rape victims, and her attempt to speak about the unspeakable experience.

Throughout the book, she retrieves her memory, describes what happened and how she felt, and examines several possible solutions to her paradoxes..


First-person narratives of trauma

Brison marks that the act of narrating is not merely repeating the past but is an active movement toward a future because, by narrating a traumatic event, a victim resists pervasive culture that neutralizes or naturalizes trauma. She emphasizes the importance of adopting the first-person in trauma narratives. She stresses the importance of using the first-person point of view 1) to uncover biases in philosophical discipline, 2) to understand others who are different from us, and 3) to expose our own biases. In contrast to universal intellectual reasoning, first-person narratives can address personal and, at the same time, philosophical issues. The first-person narrative is also ethical, according to Brison, because it does not reduce particular individuals into an impersonal group of rational beings.


Memory and body

Brison’s observation on body and memory is critical to rape victims. Rejecting Lockean dichotomy of body and mind, she explains that body and mind compose each other; thus, traumatic memories are tied to a victim’s body. She also tackles the view that a traumatized individual can preserve oneself by dissociating the bodily self from the real self. She does not believe that this dissociating is effective enough to help a victim recover because we are molecules and charged with body.


The following selection is from Susan Brison. Aftermath: Violence and the Remaking of a Self Princeton: Princeton UP, 2002. pages 37-67 (Ch.3 Outliving Oneself)