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195 8 Life-Stories, Survivor Memory, and Trauma in the Irish Troubles The Case of Bloody Sunday GR A H A M DAWSON Since the 1994 paramilitary ceasefires, the Irish peace process has stimulated a flowering of practices of history-making, remembrance, and commemoration concerned with the legacy of the Troubles in “post-conflict” Northern Ireland.1 Much of this work has taken the form of oral-history and life-history narrative that enables personal reflection on the significance of violent conflict in the recent past and reassessment of its impact upon individuals, families, and local areas. Such memory-work has intersected with wider public debate over, and engagement with, the question of the victims of violence, including the formation of numbers of local victims’ support groups addressing the traumatic legacies of violence, and the recovery and representation on a pervasive scale of stories recalling those who lost their lives (Dawson 2007). In some cases, the local history of the Troubles has been written in terms of such recovery and remembrance, and life-story work has also been widely heralded as making an important contribution to mourning, peace-making, and reconciliation (Magowan and Patterson 2001, 76–103; Ardoyne Commemoration Project 2002; Gráinne Kelly 2005; Lundy and McGovern 2006). The opening up of spaces for reflection 1. This essay is based on a chapter, part of a larger study of Bloody Sunday, in my book Making Peace with the Past? Trauma, Memory and the Irish Troubles (2007). 196 Graham Dawson and remembrance involved not only widespread telling of personal stories of loss, trauma, and survival, but also a new public receptivity to such stories as representations of a collective experience (An Crann The Tree 2000; Smyth and Fay 2000). Influenced by the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission, the model of “healing through remembering” has become widely accepted (Healing Through Remembering 2009). While life-stories have flourished in these various practices of popular and grassroots memory-work in Northern Ireland, they have received little sustained critical attention. This lack may be related to the relative neglect of personal memory in Irish memory studies, significantly influenced over the last fifteen years by Maurice Halbwachs’s (1980) concept of “collective memory.” Halbwachs shifts attention away from the psychological memory of individuals to focus on the collective frameworks of remembrance established by social groups to formulate, preserve, and transmit common understandings about their significant past. While for Halbwachs such frameworks structure the personal remembering of individuals, in work on Ireland his emphasis on the collective dimensions of memory has predominated, in critical analyses concerned primarily with public forms of commemoration and remembrance (McBride 2001; Jarman 1997). My own work draws on the alternative paradigm of popular memory developed initially by the Popular Memory Group (1982) at the Birmingham Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies, and concerned with the politics of cultural representation, the historical construction of subjectivities , and the interrelation between personal and collective modes of memory . In the popular memory approach, life-stories give (mediated) access to individual subjectivity and enable investigation of the ways in which particular individuals make sense of their historical experience and “compose a past that they can live with” (Thomson 1994, 216). Personal memories are negotiated in relation both to the hegemonic and oppositional narratives of public memory, and to “the more privatized sense of the past which is generated within a lived culture” and circulates among particular social groups “in the course of everyday life” (Popular Memory Group 1982, 210–11), in narratives of “shared or common memory” (Ashplant, Dawson, and Roper 2004b, 18). A key concept in the theory of popular memory is that of composure , signifying a link between the composing or fashioning of narratives The Case of Bloody Sunday 197 on one hand, and efforts to secure a stable sense of self on the other (Dawson 1994, 22–23). This emphasis on subjectivity is extended into an investigation of the emotional and psychic implications of cultural narratives, and the question of trauma (Dawson 2007). The life-historians Selma Leydesdorff and colleagues have described traumatic memories as being “unusually vivid and unusually fragmented” (Leydesdorff et al. 2004, 4). Fragmentation manifests as gaps and silences in personal memory-narratives, understandable in psychoanalytical terms as corresponding to a fragmentation of the psyche, an effect of the defenses of the traumatized self as this self represses or disavows the knowledge of painful or disturbing feelings aroused by the traumatic event in order to survive. That which is split...


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