Reflections on Music and Trauma in Ariel Dorfman’s Death and the Maiden
What does music scholarship bring to the trauma studies table? Maria Cizmic takes stock of the complex intersections between music and trauma through a consideration of music in Ariel Dorfman’s play Death and the Maiden and Cathy Caruth’s analysis of the play. Dorfman’s play presents a complex exploration of truth and epistemology in the wake of Pinochet’s regime in Chile, centering its drama around Schubert’s D minor String Quartet, “Der Tod und das Mädchen.” The influential trauma studies scholar Cathy Caruth argues that the string quartet in the play works as a symbol of the paradoxes regarding language, truth, and epistemology that open up between survivors, perpetrators, and the law. By looking to the rich history of “Death and the Maiden”—as paintings, poetry, song, string quartet, theater, and film—Cizmic argues that music’s ability to organize relationships between texts, objects, people, and ideologies is a crucial framework for understanding how music intersects with traumatic experiences.
Maria Cizmic is the author of Performing Pain: Music and Trauma in Eastern Europe (Oxford University Press). In this work, Cizmic looks to trauma studies in order to analyze the ways in which music composition, embodied performance, and music in film can be understood to represent trauma. By focusing on late-20th century composers in Eastern Europe, Cizmic argues that this generation of composers participated in a broader late socialist culture focused on historical and cultural memory. Her areas of research and teaching also include 20th-century American experimental and popular music; film music; disability studies; embodied performance, technology, and mediation. She has published in Twentieth-Century Music, American Music, Music and the Moving Image, and numerous edited collections. Maria Cizmic is currently Associate Professor in the Humanities and Cultural Studies Department at the University of South Florida.