With bright teal and orange socks and a pair of battered black Converses, it’s hard to imagine Dr. Aimee Pozorski as anything other than an optimist. Despite that, she still seems surprised when dozens of people fill the Philbrick conference room at Central Connecticut State University for her Ex Libris presentation “Literary Narcissism: Milton’s Eve, Sylvia Plath, and Me.” When the chairs are all taken, people begin to line the walls around the room. Breathlessly, Pozorski flutters around the podium in a panicked search for extra copies of her handouts. Pushing her hair away from her face, she pulls piles of papers out of her bag, but there still aren’t enough copies for everyone in the room.
Ex Libris, which is put on by the Sigma Tau Delta English honors society, is Latin for “from the book.” It invites various English professors from Central to participate in literary discussion. The event allows the faculty to discuss their recent research and work while also opening the topics up for discussion with students. There are multiple Ex Libris presentations throughout the semester, but none have garnered such a large audience. It is not only students that fill the Philbrick room, there’s alumni, English professors, staff members, and friends.
Pozorski is surprised, but happy to see all the people in the room, a fact that is made clear by the bright eyes and toothy smile on her face as she looks over everyone. She thanks people by name for coming to the event. It is not the topic of the discussion that has brought so many people to the crowded conference room; it is Aimee Pozorski herself.
Pozorski is not what you expect from a typical professor. With wavy blond locks, long flowing skirts, and bright pattern scarves, she doesn’t look like she should be in a classroom. Though, Pozorski is the quintessential English major-turned-professor. The topic of her presentation, “Literary Narcissism: Milton’s Eve, Sylvia Plath, and Me,” is all about finding herself in literature through various phases in her life.
As an undergraduate, Pozorski admits to being the only one in her Milton class who defended Eve in Paradise Lost. Pozorski saw herself in Eve, a woman trying to understand herself. Born to young parents, Pozorski’s father left when she was a child. She explains how she sees herself in Sylvia Plath’s violent, confessional-style poem, “Daddy.” Pozorski uses these characters when she needs them, like when she had to make the decision to leave her long-term boyfriend so she could properly pursue her education.
Pozorski’s novel, Falling After 9/11, traces the reception of Richard Drew’s The Falling Man photograph, which is the picture of a man jumping to his death out of the World Trade Center building on September 11th, 2001. Looking at post-9/11 literature, Pozorski highlights our need to discuss the events of the day and how inadequately we depict it. Trauma theory asks questions on how to process events such as 9/11 or the Holocaust. Often times, the answer to that question is that we can’t. The “failure” to properly depict a trauma is just as relevant as the trauma itself, according to Pozorski.
Pozorski holds a PhD in English with a certificate in psychoanalytic studies from Emory University, where she specialized in trauma theory in literature. Trauma theory is the study of events that are too hard to comprehend all at once, and how we deal with the repercussions of such events. Pozorski has expertise in contemporary literature, poetry, and trauma theory. Her latest books, Roth and Trauma: The Problem of History in the Later Works (1995-2010) and Falling After 9/11: Crisis in American Art and Literature, both deal deeply with trauma theory in literature. All of Pozorski’s scholarly pursuits explore the darkness and failings of American society in times of crisis. Or, as Pozorski describes it, her interests “lie in failure.”
Aimee Pozorski’s interest in the trauma of life stem from her experiences growing up. Candidly, Pozorski tells the Ex Libris audience that without her father around, she often found herself playing the role of parent in the household, a role that impacted the rest of her life. In studying how literature deals with trauma, she is able to understand herself and society better, an understanding that she shares with the students she teaches.
Pozorski’s office sits at the end of the hallway of DiLoretto Hall. Most of the English faculty have offices in this hallway. From the setup, there’s nothing to really distinguish one office from another, except for Aimee Pozorski’s. It’s not any specific decoration. It is the line of students that seems to perpetually exist outside of it. While in a meeting with one student, another waits in the hallway. A third shows up to drop off books in the donation box by her door.
The inside is controlled chaos. Rows of Philip Roth novels and theory books line the shelves of her book cases. Papers are scattered around the desk. Her planner, which sits open by her computer, has more meetings than seems physically possible. Various pen colors fill up the entire page of each week. Despite it all, she focuses on the students in front of her, a fact that is obvious from the setup. Pozorski’s chair faces away from her desk, flipped around to face the room. With it, she sits diagonally across from her students, without her desk blocking the conversation. A meeting with Pozorski feels more like a discussion over coffee than a sit down with a professor.
Pozorski’s hands move endlessly, writing notes, tugging at her shirt sleeves, pushing her hair back. She stutters and stammers while she talks, starting a sentence two or three times before she can get it out completely, but it is not nervousness−it is a constant state of excitement. She has so many ideas that she wants to discuss, each one seems to jump in front of another to get out first. She smiles the entire time, eager to engage with her students. It’s difficult to merge the bright and smiling professor with the dark and dreary field she studies.
People will say that trauma theory is a defeatist way of seeing life, but not for Pozorski. She will tell you, with a wide smile on her face, that there is a use for those failures. Studying them gives us a better understanding of how society processes an event like 9/11, even if the answer is that we don’t. For a woman with a traumatic childhood, who stutters and stammers, trauma theory helps to direct her attention to problem areas so she can better understand herself. Pozorski makes improvements out of the failures of life.
In the Philbrick conference room, Pozorski stands at a podium and calls herself a narcissist for seeing herself in literary characters and trauma theory. It is the least narcissist thing she could have done, because, despite what she says, Aimee Pozorski isn’t in this conference room for herself. In a room filled with her colleagues, Pozorski bares her life experiences for everyone to see. She does it to set a precedent for the students in the room. She’s telling them that it is okay to use literature to find yourself, and that sometimes you may not know how to process things, but that’s okay because that’s part of life.
Pozorski’s interests may “lie in failures,” but her multicolored planner, the line of students outside her office, and her orange and teal socks show how optimistic she is for herself, her students, and the future.