115th Annual Conference - Honolulu, Hawaii
Friday, November 10 - Sunday, November 12, 2017

Locating the Dislocated: Traumatic Mapping and the Search for Self in Amy Kurzweil's Flying Couch

Megan Reynolds, University of Oregon

This essay examines Amy Kurzweil’s graphic memoir Flying Couch and the intergenerational transmission of trauma. Kurzweil depicts the conflation and the separation between generations after the Holocaust. She uses maps to ground her story locationally and temporally, but she also “maps” her own journey for a sense of self as both a Jewish woman and a granddaughter of a Holocaust survivor.     


My project seeks to expand current research on the intergeneration transmission of trauma with particular emphasis paid to the third generation of Holocaust survivors. Current scholarship by Victoria Aarons, Alan L. Berger, and Monica Osborne, among others, has demonstrated that the intergenerational transmission of trauma indeed occurs and continues to affect descendants of trauma survivors. Those who inherit familial trauma struggle to understand a trauma that both is and is not theirs. While current research examines how trauma is passed transgenerationally in more traditional narrative forms like novels and memoirs, I will analyze the aesthetization of the trauma that occurs in a graphic novel. Because trauma is so often thought of as unspeakable, the visual aspect inherent in graphic novels makes this medium particularly suitable to sharing traumatic memories and their inheritance.  Specifically, I will discuss Amy Kurzweil’s autobiographical graphic novel The Flying Couch and the ways in which she chooses to portray her intergenerational trauma. The graphic novel form allows Kurzweil to depict her inherited trauma in a uniquely visual way which helps to separate her grandmother’s story from her own while also indicating the degree to which these traumas converge. It also allows her to map, both physically and emotionally, her familial history and her own search for identity. To explore how Kurzweil visually depicts both her attempts to understand her own inherited trauma and her grandmother’s firsthand experiences with it, I will analyze Kurzweil’s decision to forgo panels and her use of maps throughout the narrative. In rejecting the use of panels to visually represent her narrative, Kurzweil reflects the confusion and fragmentation that accompanies the intergenerational transmission of trauma as well as the confused overlap between her grandmother’s trauma and her own. Her inclusion of various maps grounds her narrative in both location and time, meaning that these maps attempt to combat the fragmentation that so often plagues descendants of trauma survivors. This use of maps also reflects Kurzweil’s own journey to discover her sense of identity as not only a descendant of a Holocaust survivor but also her own identity as a Jewish woman. I argue that Kurzweil’s ending implies that the inheritance of trauma need not continue to overwhelm further generations. Her graphic novel, therefore, depicts her own struggle to differentiate and claim her own identity from that of her familial trauma. This does not mean that she overcomes this inherited trauma but that she learns to both accept it as a part of her identity as well as reject it as foundational to her sense of self. In fact, her ending suggests that she still struggles with her familial trauma but that she has learned to control its power over her. The Flying Couch, therefore, furthers our understanding about how generations suffering from inherited trauma can learn to both accept and live with that trauma without falling prey to its grasp. This graphic memoir builds on the work of other second and third generation cartoonists who illustrate their trauma.