In the Shadow of Civil Wars: Performances of Cultural Memory

Elizabeth Geralyn Bonjean. "In the Shadow of Civil Wars: Performances of Cultural Memory." Diss. U of Washington, 2005.

This study looks at performances of cultural memory---both in the theatre and in daily life---within four separate nations in response to the physical, emotional, and ideological losses incurred during times of civil war and its aftermath. The first nation identified is Ancient Greece, as it is the foundational chapter outlining the politics and practices of public lament and their resonances in the plays of the classical period in the shadow of the Peloponnesian War. The remainder of this study analyzes the societal and performative parallels to Ancient Greece enacted in the late twentieth century and early twenty-first century in three contemporary nations---Ireland, South Africa, and Russia-Chechnya---where groups of people identify themselves as distinct communities , separate from others in customs, language, and ties to a spatial territory. Violent conflicts have arisen in these regions when a subordinate group has begun to fight for its autonomy, while a dominant group has sought to supplant the other's culture with its own through physical force and political coercion. This dissertation examines how these survivors use text, performance, and elements of traditional lament as ways of commemorating the bravery and suffering their culture has endured, while simultaneously attempting to re-inscribe their community identity into the larger cultural landscape.
Spectacles of violence, especially wars, exemplify tumultuous conditions in which the losses incurred by the community create fissures in the collective identity. Because spectacles of violence are of such a theatrical and confrontational nature, they capture the attention of the international media and subsequently create a worldwide audience. The concentrated public focus on the events chronicled in this study, riddled with brutality and loss, have made it possible to finally see the everyday realities of these war-torn communities---realities that had otherwise barely registered to the larger world, providing a window on to the ways a culture or a nation responds to collective loss. This dissertation aims to allow survivors of these wars to bear witness to their cultures as they perform the memory of their losses, moving beyond the spectacles of violence in order to present these memories to a world audience.

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Completed/published