Hesford, Wendy. “Reading Rape Stories: Material Rhetoric and the Trauma of Representation.” College English 62.2 (Nov 1999): 192-221.



Hesford is responding to the documentary Rape Stories and the tension between the material and fantastical elements of the narrative presented in the film. Both aspects of the narrative appeal to the “realness” of the testimony, which raises questions about the representation of trauma in this context–the appeals to “realness” are meant to subvert rape scripts but can the narrative be represented outside of rape scripts? Hesford argues that we are not beholden only to cultural scripts nor is agency outside of culture; we need to think of agency as “embodied negotiations and material enactments of cultural scripts and ideologies.” We need to understand rape as a power struggle that is both material and discursive. Hesford brings together an analysis of the film and the narrative it presents with Sharon Marcus’ work on rape scripts, Teresa DeLauretis’ work on violence, and psychoanalytic perspectives on trauma.


Hesford makes the point that the representation of trauma (particularly the way in which the material and psychological aspects of trauma intermingle) asks us to reevaluate the rigid line we draw between material and pyschological critiques and instead encourages us to think about how the two are intertwined.

Key Quotes:

“Material rhetoric enables us to understand how survivor’s self-representations of rape involve a process of negotiation with prevailing cultural rape scripts and practices. It is precisely because of the risk of producing yet another promise or claim of liberation articulated solely as a cultural politics of representation that I want to urge feminist rhetoricians and scholars interested in representations of violence and trauma to retain a materialist edge, while not dismissing the centrality of language and representation in struggles for power. More particularly, material rhetoric is critical for articulating the systemic nature of violence against women and for finding the gaps through which agency can be gained.” (197)