“What is There to Say?”: Witnessing and Anxiety in Karen Connelly’s Burmese Trilogy


Between 2000 and 2010 Karen Connelly wrote three books about the Burmese political unrest of the mid-1990s, a time when Connelly herself was living and travelling on the Thai-Burma border: The Border Surrounds Us (2000), a collection of lyric travel poems; The Lizard Cage (2005), a novel set inside a Burmese prison; and Burmese Lessons: A Love Story (2010), a memoir charting Connelly’s affective relationship to Burma and its people. Theorizing these books as Connelly’s “Burmese Trilogy,” this essay explores the affordances and limitations of different genres for bearing witness to the suffering of distant others, and the anxieties that accompany any attempt to ethically represent a culture that is not one’s own. It argues that the Burmese Trilogy emphasizes these anxieties, inviting a rereading of literature of witness in terms of mediation, circulation, and the ethics of bearing witness.

This article ““What is There to Say?”: Witnessing and Anxiety in Karen Connelly’s Burmese Trilogy” originally appeared in Recursive Time. Spec. issue of Canadian Literature 222 (Autumn 2014): 13-29.

Please note that works on the Canadian Literature website may not be the final versions as they appear in the journal, as additional editing may take place between the web and print versions. If you are quoting reviews, articles, and/or poems from the Canadian Literature website, please indicate the date of access.