The last decades of the twentieth century witnessed the unprecedented rise in genres of life writing, narratives published primarily in the West (1) but circulated widely around the globe. This "memoir boom" has certainly occurred in English-speaking countries, from Australia to Jamaica, from England to South Africa, and in European countries, especially France and Germany. (2) However, there has been a relative boom in personal narratives coming from elsewhere in the world as well. In many global locations, in post-Maoist China and Latin America, in North Africa and the Philippines, in Northern and Eastern Europe, life narratives have been told, transcribed, published, and translated, gaining both local and international audiences.
This rise in the popularity of published life narratives has taken place in the midst of global transformations, both cataclysmic and gradual, that have occurred in the decades since the end of World War II: a succession of wars of prolonged and short duration; repeated instances of mass genocide in Cambodia, Rwanda, Bosnia, and elsewhere; violent and nonviolent decolonization movements in South America and Africa; the intensification and dissipation of the Cold War in Europe; mass migrations of peoples; and the speed of change and the fragmentation of contemporary life. These geopolitical and temporal transformations form not so much a backdrop, but rather a fractured web of intersecting geographic, historical, and cultural contingencies out of which personal narratives have emerged and within which they are produced, received, and circulated. These global transformations have spurred developments in the field of human rights as well, developments that demand, for their recognition in the international community, multiple forms of remembrance of and witnessing to abuse.
To situate the contemporary interest in life narratives in the field of human rights, it is necessary to recall briefly the origins of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in the contentious and passionate debates of the mid-twentieth century. At the end of World War II, the incontrovertible evidence of the violence unleashed in the Japanese and German war efforts and of Nazi mass killings created an international climate of moral indignation. As this moral indignation attached itself to the modernist values and principles of the victors, the international community renewed its commitment to a "United Nations" of peoples dedicated to the pursuit of peace and the protection of human rights. In relatively swift succession came the signing of the Charter of the United Nations in 1945, the Nuremberg and Tokyo war crimes trials in 1945--46 and 1946--48 respectively, and the ratification by the United Nations of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948. The Nuremberg trials in particular issued a call to the world community to remember crimes against humanity. As an expression of ideals, the Universal Declaration became the point of origin binding an international community together in service to a more just future.
Debates about, refinements of, and votes on the Universal Declaration and its accompanying Covenants--one on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and a second on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR)--took place in the two decades following 1948 through movements of decolonization and Cold War politics. Whether violent or relatively peaceful, movements of national liberation from colonial rule, founded on the right to the self-determination of peoples laid out in the ICCPR, involved complex negotiations, by states, communities, and individuals, of the psychological, political, economic, and cultural legacies of a colonial past that had to be remembered, made, and remade for the sake of national futures. For its part, the Cold War effectively remapped the globe through spheres of influence that displaced earlier spheres of colonialism. Cold War politics also sparked contentious debates within the United Nations about the nature of rights, particularly the relative priority of "negative" rights that protect individuals from the state and "positive" rights that pertain to aspirational goals and an enabling standard of living that might extend human dignity and freedom for everyone.
In the aftermath of the processes of decolonization movements and Cold War realpolitik, over sixty human rights treaties, declarations, and Conventions have come into effect to address specific rights. For the last fifty years, differences in philosophical perspectives related to negative, positive, and group rights, as well as disagreements about appropriate interventions and modes of redress, have been rehearsed in local, national, and international venues. Campaigns have ensued. Conventions and Declarations have taken shape after heated negotiations. The reach of rights discourse has extended beyond the institutional settings of the United Nations and the official bodies of nation-states responding to rights initiatives to formal NGO networks and informal meshworks of advocacy--the dense and nonhierarchical flows of connections among groups and peoples working on behalf of human rights that transcend national boundaries (Harcourt). Within these global information flows, the very meaning of a human right, and the foundational assumptions supporting it, have been challenged, critiqued, and redefined. At the heart of these debates, voices of dissent have prompted ongoing critiques of human rights discourse, frameworks, and mechanisms for implementation.
RIGHTS AND STORIES
By the last decades of the century, the modernist language of rights had become a lingua franca for extending--sometimes explicitly, sometimes implicitly--the reach of human rights norms, not everywhere, but across an increasingly broad swath of the globe. Post-World War II struggles for national self-determination and equality for women, indigenous peoples, and minorities within nation-states led to the rise of local and transnational political movements and affiliations--movements for Black and Chicano civil rights, women's rights, gay rights, workers' rights, refugee rights, disability rights, and indigenous rights among them--all of which have created new contexts and motivations for pursuing personal protections under international law. In each instance, personal storytelling motivated the rights movement. These collective movements have gained momentum and clarified agendas for action through attachment to the goals of the Universal Declaration and attendant discourses, events, and mechanisms. The collective movements have also argued for new claims, pressing for reinterpretations of rights frameworks, and lobbying for Covenants and Declarations that expand the kinds of rights that require recognition and protection.
In the 1960s, group action and advocacy led to the adoption of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (1969). In the 1970s, women's and feminist activism led to the adoption of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (1981). In the 1990s, trade union and indigenous advocacy led to the adoption of the International Labor Organization Convention 169 concerning Indigenous and Tribal Peoples (1991) and the Draft Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People (1993). Together, these latter two instruments, if and where ratified, could significantly alter the parameters of rights discourse in that they acknowledge and support group rather than individual rights, encompassing the aspirations of indigenous and minority peoples for self-determination and their claims to culture, language, religion, and land rights, sometimes in opposition to states' claims of sovereignty. In the early 1990s, rights activists lobbied for the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
In this evolving culture of rights, personal witnessing plays a central role in the formulation of new rights protections, as people come forward to tell their stories in the contexts of tribunals and national inquiries. In its role as an advocate for peaceful forms of civic engagement within nations and across nations, the United Nations itself has generated audiences for local stories muted within the dominant cultures of member states through its "decade" strategy; that is, through the targeting of a particular group and the concentration of attention on its issues for a decade, as in the International Decade for Women (1975-1984) and the International Decade of Indigenous Peoples (1995-2004).
Local movements that "go national" or "international" often generate climates that enable the reception and recognition of new stories, attaining what Gillian Whitlock refers to as a "discursive threshold" (144). Emergent in communities of identification marginalized within the nation, such movements embolden individual members to understand personal experience as a ground of action and social change. Collective movements seed local acts of remembering "otherwise," offering members new or newly valued subject positions from which to speak and to address members of their own community in acts of solidarity. They also offer members of the dominant community occasions for witnessing to human rights abuse, acknowledging and affirming the rights of others. Through acts of remembering, individuals and communities narrate alternative or counter-histories coming from the margins, voiced by other kinds of subjects--the tortured, the displaced and overlooked, the silenced and unacknowledged--among them. These counterhistories emerge in part out of the formerly untold tales of those who have not benefited from the wealth, health, and future delivered to many others by the capital and technologies of modernity and postmodernity. Individuals and groups may also engage in narrative acts of critical self-locating through which they assert their cultural difference and right to self-determination, or they may imagine leaving the past behind for a new social order or a newly empowered collective subjectivity. Members of collective movements deploy personal narrating to witness many forms of trauma--sexual violence and abuse, economic and political degradation, racism, terrorism, and forms of genocide. Their stories enable new forms of subjectivity and radically altered futures.
In authoritarian, fundamentalist, and rigidly patriarchal nations, including some newly constituted Asian, Islamic, and other democratic states, where victims may be unable or unwilling to speak publicly, professional rights advocates may seek out stories of abuse from victims, speak on their behalf, and frame their stories within the field of human rights. Often these stories must be solicited and circulated anonymously by NGOs. This has often been the case in relation to non-Western women telling stories of sexual, domestic, religious, and cultural inequality and oppression. In such contexts, activist framing may enfold the narrative within the individualist, humanist, and secular frameworks of Western rights, overwriting the customs and beliefs of the victims. Local campaigns, particularly those that involve stories of violence against women, have been most successful when local activism is harnessed to an international rights movement. In these instances, transits between the local and global and within pockets of modernity involve complex negotiations of traditional and modernist discourses and practices. (3) In other instances, stories may be framed within traditional, communal, religious, or philosophic frameworks different from, but arguably consonant with, modernist aspirations for human dignity and social justice.
Since the late 1980s, wide-scale transformations--geographic, economic, political, cultural, and psychic--have also impelled people to tell their stories. These include the opening of the Berlin wall, the collapse of the Soviet Union into ethnic states pursuing agendas of ethnic nationalism, the end of the policy of apartheid in South Africa, the global movements of indigenous peoples to reclaim lands and have their cultures acknowledged, the changing demography of the new Europe through immigration, the rise (and collapse) of Asian economies and the expansion of the Asian diaspora, the refugee crises around the globe, and before and after September 11, 2001, the rise of international religious fundamentalisms. Unprecedented global unrest has called forth and called for repeated acts of remembering, through which people reclaim identities at home, in transit, and in new communities and nations.
The violence unleashed by resurgent ethnic nationalisms at the end of the Cold War has multiplied the number of people displaced into refugee camps, and dispersed into welcoming and not-so-welcoming nations, intensifying the distress of dislocation in recovery and in peace. The proliferation and increasing reach of ethnic diasporas through mass migrations has brought about displacements of peoples, values, and identifications, often motivating the reconstitution of communities of tradition in exile. Ongoing processes of decolonization have led people released from their colonized status to struggle with the internalized, psychic legacies of colonization. In white settler nations, indigenous struggles to survive state-sponsored acts of oppression compel acts of witnessing to a past erased in official histories of the nation. Within different democratic nation-states, the rise of the politics of multiculturalism and diaspora, and calls for recognition of the claims of indigenous groups, have challenged conventional understandings of the relationship of ethnicity and indigeneity to citizenship. As a result, new or newly identified citizen-subjects reimagine the grounds of their communal identities, test the individualist ethos of the UDHR, and contest master narratives of national belonging and identity.
Forces of turmoil, often violent, move individuals, communities, ideas, cultural forms, and economic wealth around the globe in ways that unsettle old identities and understandings of the past, and presage the imagining of possible futures. Such dislocations of identity unsettle psychically experienced understandings of time (the before, the now, the possible future), space (the old place, the new place), subjectivity (the me I used to be and the me I am becoming), and community (the ones to which I used to belong and the ones of which I am now a member). The scrambling of zones of time, space, subjectivity, and community engenders new patterns of remembering and new modes of response on the part of individuals, communities, and nations. The condensations and expansion of temporal and spatial dimensions of past and present set in motion rememberings of old selves and imaginings of new selves, rememberings of old belongings and allegiances and new ones in the diasporic spaces of dispersed, postmodern communities and nations (Baucom 160-62). While some people may be reluctant narrators, preferring to forget or forestall the pain of unrest, dislocation, and exile, others may be energized to tell their stories in order to work through the political and social, psychic and embodied residues of trauma and loss. Furthermore, displaced, migrant, and diasporic people arrive at destinations where different discursive fields and different histories of activism offer new terms and storytelling modes (sometimes foreign, sometimes familiar; sometimes shunned, sometimes embraced) through which they might remember, interpret, understand, reconstruct, and come to terms with a complex past.
In the midst of dislocations and relocations, personal and collective storytelling can become one way in which people claim new identities and assert their participation in the public sphere. It can also become a way of maintaining communal identification in the face of loss and cultural degradation. Or it can be enlisted in witnessing to the failures of democratic nations to realize and live up to their democratic principle of inclusive citizenship, making visible rents in the social fabric that undermine unified narratives of national belonging. In all cases, storytelling functions as a crucial element in establishing new identities of longing (directed toward the past) and belonging (directed toward the future).
THE LITERATURE OF TRAUMA AND THE HOLOCAUST
Stories emerging from collective rights movements and the cataclysmic geopolitical displacements of the last two decades have been identified with a larger body of literature concerning trauma and traumatic remembering. The cultural focus on "trauma" in the last decades of the twentieth century, arising out of feminism, psychoanalysis, and ethnic identity studies, motivated life writing that mapped and mined the disruptive effects of significant events in the past. Circulating within professional, academic, and popular perceptions of and discourses about trauma in the West, this literature has become a prominent genre of personal narrating at the end of the twentieth century. Journalistic reports, popular magazine articles, academic studies, feminist activisms around sexual abuse, and medical diagnoses of Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome (officially accepted in 1980) as a condition suffered by victims of the war in Vietnam--all have contributed to the public awareness in popular and academic domains of multiple forms of trauma and traumatic remembering.
In English-speaking and European cultures, the experience of trauma is understood predominantly through psychoanalytic frameworks of interiority that describe trauma as self-altering and self-shattering, and acts of traumatic remembering as fitful, incomplete, and belated, caught in a "dialectic between dissociation and compulsory repetition" (Ball 2). The literature of "trauma" at once compels and sustains the contemporary practice of trauma therapy specific to the West. Once this psychoanalytic understanding of trauma and the healing process it underwrites take effect and become enlisted in human rights frameworks for telling and listening to stories, this psychoanalytic model spreads through global circuits into dispersed local sites. This form of remembering presumes and prescribes a particular kind of storytelling about the past. It also serves to locate narratives produced in dispersed global locations in the field of trauma and to reinterpret them as a part of the contemporary literature about trauma.
Exemplary of the literature of traumatic remembering in the West have been Holocaust stories and all that has come to signify "the Holocaust" as the emblematic limit case of human rights abuse in the twentieth century. So important and influential have Holocaust stories become, and so ingrained in Western audiences invoking a pattern of response, that this signal event has become a template for all forms of traumatic telling, response, and responsibility within the contemporary field of human rights.
In the last two decades of the century, an imperative for Holocaust survivors to work through the trauma of the past took on particular urgency with the passing of the last generations of survivors. Popular and scholarly audiences throughout the United States, Europe, Australia, and other Western nations have reacted profoundly to the resultant outpouring of Holocaust stories. Empathetic identification with witness and second-generation testimony has prompted diverse readerships to respond ethically and to explore the challenge of the ethical in the face of radical suffering. Individual and collective testimonies of survivors of the Holocaust have come to comprise a significant literature in the field of human rights.
It is instructive to review the history through which the Holocaust and Holocaust stories came to be exemplary of the literature of trauma, linking that history back to the Nuremberg Trials at the end of World War II. The Nuremberg trials, so much a part of the environment of outrage out of which the regime of human rights had its inception, may have called Nazi leadership to account, but did not focus on the systematic, mass killing of Jews and others labeled "undesirable" by the Nazi regime as a crime against humanity. The event that would later be labeled "the Holocaust," and become paradigmatic in defining the limits of unimaginable and unspeakable trauma in the latter part of the twentieth century in the West, had not yet reached a discursive threshold of intelligibility (Stratton). That would take another thirty years. (4)
The first turning point came in 1961, when the Eichmann Trial in Israel televised to the world the testimony of survivors of the Nazi Judeocide, testimony that was accepted as evidentiary and took on juridical authority. While the Eichmann Trial brought the horrors of the Nazi genocide to an international audience, it did not provide a unifying discursive framework for understanding the nature of the event as Holocaust, as an unprecedented traumatic world event exceeding the understanding of Jewish history as a succession of pogroms (Arendt 35). Israeli success in the 1967 Six Day War marked another turning point, affecting as it did the re-masculinization of the Israeli nation. It also promoted transnational identification and affiliation between an Israeli and an American Jewry (Breines 72). The emergence of an Israeli state with a history of victory, coupled with "the revival of the public culture of countries humiliated by occupation and collaboration" (Winter 55), provided an environment in which stories of the traumatic past could be told and heard.
By 1978, the word "Holocaust" came to signal not only an event within Jewish history, but also a unique and unprecedented "world" (or European) experience. Personal memories of the Nazi genocide became part of a public discourse beyond the personal, resonating within world cultural memory. This transformation was aided by the proliferation of published life narratives, films, and the immensely popular television mini-series Holocaust, broadcast in the United States and subsequently in Europe (Breines 72). Over the next decade, at academic conferences and in university courses, scholars and students debated the ethics, politics, and aesthetics of Holocaust representation with reference to the growing body of Holocaust narratives. Exploring the status of witness "truth" and "genocide," this work seeded the emergence of the field of Holocaust Studies. Jon Stratton remarks that "it is only when the Judeocide becomes discursively constructed as the Holocaust, and as traumatic that there is a public space in which the traumas of Holocaust survivors make sense, not just as individual trauma, but as experiences within a greater, cultural trauma" (6). In the context of the culture of trauma, the Holocaust story became commodified and reified as the premier instance of traumatic remembering.
By the final decades of the twentieth century, as scenes of personal witness gave way to processes of historical recovery (Wajnryb 2), Holocaust remembrance took many forms. The first and second generations of children of Holocaust survivors enacted what Marianne Hirsch describes as "post-memory," "a powerful form of memory" attached not to the event but to images, stories, and transgenerational hauntings "mediated not through recollection but through projection, investment and creation" (9). In paintings, websites, videos, and personal narratives, these children of survivors gave meaning and structure to an event that had occurred outside their lifetimes but nonetheless persisted through received memories and the residues of personal and cultural affect. (5) Artists and activists dedicated to building and maintaining an archive of testimony produced documentary and feature films, and assembled exhibitions, oral histories, and video archives at various places (6)--in Israel, the United States, Australia, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, and elsewhere. (7) Communities built and sponsored memorials and museums housing collections of photographs and witness testimony. All of this occurred in an era when anti-Semitism and Holocaust denial were on the rise (Winter 55).
The literature of trauma in the West, exemplified by Holocaust narratives, has become the dominant paradigm for understanding the processes of victimization, remembering, witnessing, and recovery. And psychoanalysis has provided the explanatory framework through which the survivor's embodiment of traumatic memory, explorations of the traumatic past, and mourning and "working through" of trauma's radical disruption in the present has been understood. (8) Responses to these stories focus on ethical processes of responsibility and psychoanalytic understandings of the processes of healing, both personal and cultural. Because of the paradigmatic status of Holocaust stories and their interpretation as limit cases of trauma, the production, circulation, and reception of those stories have shaped modes of response for other events, histories, and forms of suffering.
Recently, however, the universal applicability of a psychoanalytic model, with its emphasis on the closed interiority of trauma, has been contested as inadequate to address the diverse experiential histories, languages of suffering, structures of feeling, and storytelling modes evidenced in diverse cultural traditions around the world (Bennett and Kennedy 4). Critics argue that the psychoanalytic model privileges stories suffused with traumatic remembering and suffering, and silences other kinds of stories that may not unfold through the Western trope of trauma (see Ball; Berlant; and Boler). They argue that it universalizes diverse and multiple structures of feelings, eliding gender, racial, and ethnic differences. It renders individual suffering and psychic interiority the ground of trauma, making it difficult to register the cultural transmission of stories and their imbrication in institutional and political structures and practices. Furthermore, the psychoanalytic model of trauma cannot adequately address the genealogies and architectures of cultural memory, such as those characterizing the evolution of "the Holocaust" as it has come to be represented not only as story, but as preeminent event, emblem, haunting, history, and transcendent myth on a world stage.
Though foundational to Holocaust studies, for millions of people elsewhere in the world this model for understanding trauma and processes of healing may have little relevance to the ways in which people respond to and deal with a past of suffering. Many cultures have adopted other ways of understanding and figuring cataclysmic events, including genocide. For example, in indigenous struggles in South America, liberationist theology provides a model for resistance within the struggle and recovery in its aftermath. In some East Asian countries, shamanic inscription and Daoist modes of spirit possession become experiential models and embodied forms of dealing with a traumatic past. In some Islamic fundamentalist contexts, Jihad becomes a form of recovery from the past of degradation. In the immediate face of radical suffering and distress, telling and healing can take more pragmatic forms, even in Western settings (see Rall).
STORIES AND MARKETS
These historical contingencies help us to understand larger global contexts for the production of narratives of displacement, suffering, and trauma, some but not all of which arise out of or are enlisted in human rights activism. In order to more fully comprehend the force of storytelling in the late twentieth century, we need also to consider the economic and cultural forces imbricated in the local and global transits of circulation and reception of life narratives.
Life narratives have become salable properties in today's markets. They gain their audiences through the global forces of commodification that convert narratives into the property of publishing and media houses (Baxi 40-41). Publishing houses in turn convert stories of suffering and survival into commodified experiences for general audiences with diverse desires, and also for an increasing number of niche audiences interested in particular kinds of suffering. The expanding market for life stories coincides with the increasing education, disposable income, and leisure time of the post-World War II generations in Western democratic nations and pockets of modernities elsewhere around the globe. Postwar educational initiatives and modernization campaigns provided greater access to higher education, resulting in a broader-based reading public and wider markets for stories.
Different communities around the globe, however, have differential levels of affluence, education, leisure, and access to media and print technologies. In relationship to print technologies, Philip G. Altbach notes that developing countries, which may have a public eager for stories from home and elsewhere, often have a poorly developed publishing industry (2). In such locations, a paucity of publishing venues seriously affects the ability to "communicat[e] a culture" at the local and national levels, and within a global marketplace of commodities and ideas (3). The same point could be made about the access of people in developing countries to nascent local and national media outlets in the face of the globalizing force of Western syndicated and corporate media transmission. At this historical moment, telling life stories in print or through the media by and large depends upon a Western-based publishing industry, media, and readership. This dependence affects the kinds of stories published and circulated, the forms those stories take, and the appeals they make to audiences. That is, stories coming from local sites around the world or from sites of exile, as they are taken up within Western-dominated global information flows, may lose their local specificity and resonance in translation. What is lost and gained in the local to global transits affects patterns of recognition and redress in diverse and often unpredictable ways.
The "triumph" of global capitalism and the dominance of the West, particularly the United States, have meant that the culture of the individual, with the belief in the individual's uniqueness and unique story, and in individual rights, has gained an international currency as it has been exported to ever expanding areas of the globe. Interlocking media venues, serving the interests of global capital, keep personal stories in various kinds of circulation. The culture of talk shows feeds audience desires to hear other people's stories. Publishers seek out and put in print the personal narratives of celebrities of all kinds: actors, politicians, sports figures, and the little people whose small stories are made newsworthy for their fifteen minutes of fame due to a traumatic or freakish event (Massumi 3-4). Television producers turn out video biographies, called biopics, to feed to the history channels or the channels and programs targeted to engage the emotional sympathies of women. Olympics coverage, broadcast around the world every two years, features mini-biographies of star athletes, stories that enhance the investment that viewers can have in the games, stimulating identification with personal struggles to overcome adversity. The market for personal stories, often telling of individualist triumph over adversity, of the "little person" achieving fame, of people who struggle and survive illness, catastrophe, or violence, seems insatiable to readers and viewers in the West, and is expanding with the media reach of global capitalism.
Publishers and media conglomerates recognize that stories of suffering and survival sell to readers. The marketing of these life stories takes place in different cultures--of fear, suspicion, trauma, recognition, and advocacy. If the post-World War II era began with new hopes for a transcendent future and faith in democratic governments, the century ended with a sense of nostalgia, melancholy, and cynicism in the midst of communities fractured and unsettled. Cataclysmic shifts in power relations and the movements of populations abroad and within a nation have bred a culture of fear, borne of insecurities. Local identity movements within Western democratic states (gay, feminist, and indigenous rights, to name a few) also foster insecurities, raising fears in others by challenging beliefs, relationships, and seemingly stable identities, and by demanding recognition of different experiences and pasts.
Markets feed these insecurities and provide commodified stories through which readers can reinvent imagined securities. Some readers may respond to insecurities by enacting empathetic identification that recuperates stories of radical differences into their more familiar frameworks of meaning. Such acts of consumption of other peoples' lives enable them to dispel the fear of otherness by containing it. This type of recuperation occurred when Western feminist readers of Iman's I Am Iman sensationalized African and Islamic women's lives and translated their empathetic identification with Iman into a white, Western-inflected campaign against the practice of cliterodectomy. In this case, empathetic identification became a means to the reader's own self-affirmation as an empowered agent, here an agent of social change and humanitarian betterment.
Some readers may respond to the insecurities of fragmenting national environments by recuperating stories of difference in ways that reconfirm national myths and heroic fictions, as occurs when immigrant stories such as Frank McCourt's Angela's Ashes and 'Tis, or indigenous stories such as Sally Morgan's My Place, are read as assimilation success stories. In the midst of insecurities, some readers seek out stories as a means to displace their fears and supplement the sense of their own modernist anxieties through the vicarious consumption of other people's lives. Or they may seek in those lives opportunities for trying on different, more exotic, exhilarating, romantic, or outlaw identities. This kind of reading occurred when readers adopted characters of Armistead Maupin's Tales of the City as if they were fragments of their own imagined lives.
Life narratives may also provide ways for readers to imagine the security of a common past or common future in the midst of the fragmentation and the pace of change of the present. If, as Jay Winter suggests, memory is "a metaphor for a broader movement of uncertainty about how to frame the past" (65), then narratives of personal remembering become sites for knowing the past differently in the present. Winter describes the capacious absorption of stories of suffering in the United States as the compulsion to recover the past, particularly for privileged, wealthy, educated urban elites. For Andreas Huyssen, the commodification of storytelling is one way for the culture to forestall postmodern fragmentation and the uncertainty of contemporary life by anchoring belief on some imagined foundation around which people can keep at bay the impending forces of chaos. This openness to remembering the past through the consumption of stories of trauma and suffering reverberates with a desire of readers to believe in the promissory note of modernism within the postmodern condition. Andreas Huyssen calls this preoccupation with memory a "new imaginary of temporality" (16) in which Western audiences feed their need to believe in the achievable goals of justice and freedom, to keep faith in narratives of progress, and to believe in the efficacy of collective action against the overwhelming forces of fragmentation.
For other readers, sensationalized stories of suffering feed the darker passions of what Kirby Farrell labels the post-traumatic "wound" cultures of postmodernity. Farrell describes post-traumatic culture as a culture desensitized to suffering, "a world in which power and authority seem staggeringly out of balance, in which personal responsibility and helplessness seem crushing, and in which cultural meanings no longer seem to transcend death" (7). In a post-traumatic environment, some readers seek out spectacles of suffering and trauma to fuel sadomasochistic fantasies and voyeuristic pleasures. Identifying with perpetrators rather than victims, such readers may turn to another person's potential violence to both experience and exorcize their own "post-traumatic demons" (Farrell 7). Others may turn to narratives of suffering and trauma to feed their needs to "feel" something, anything, any sensation, to experience some concatenation of affects and pleasures. This "recourse to traumatic narratives," argues Ball, "paradoxically serves simultaneously to defer, to organize, and to reproduce the low-grade angst" (19).
Despite the vagaries of the cultures of trauma and post-trauma, the insatiable reach of capital, the commodification of narratives of suffering, and the standardizing forces of globalization, a counter-desire for local knowledge arises as local communities struggle to distance their stories from a "panoptic mastering viewpoint" (Clarke 242; Baucom 161). (9) In local sites of struggle, a culture of disbelief and cynicism about "official" or normative narratives of history, identity, and nation motivates people to narrate as well as read stories that contradict, complicate, and undermine the grand modernist narratives of nation, progress, and enlightenment. These stories of cultural difference proliferate as voices of dissidence claim the legitimacy of their local experiential histories. These are the stories that are told by people who have been displaced into new communities and nations, or who have been previously subjugated within their respective nations, who have broken silence to tell the stories of racism, discrimination, and degradation, but also of survival, resilience, and transformation. For readers who identify with collective movements, whether they are in them or not, narratives coming out of a shared experience offer new avenues for activism and self-understanding, new models of remembering. Such narratives can enable access to and potential recognition of the incommensurable differences between the teller's experience and that of the reader, making possible circuits of connection across differences, and circuits of difference across connection. Although always compromised, stories offer readers new ways of gaining knowledge about peoples around the globe, calling into existence new cultural forms, new modes of circulation, and new forms of civic engagement.
In the midst of the transits that take stories of local struggle to readerships around the world, NGOs and activists enlist stories from victims as a way of alerting a broader public to situations of human rights violations. They also solicit and package stories to attract readerships. The kinds of stories they choose--sensationalized, sentimentalized, charged with affect--target privileged readers in anticipation that they will identify with, contribute to, and become advocates for the cause. The frames they impose on stories are designed to capture the interest, empathy, and political responsiveness of readers elsewhere, in ways they have learned will "sell" to publishers and audiences. NGOs harness their rights agendas to the market and its processes of commodification. And yet, the processes of commodification are never fully complete, nor are the efficacies of stories in action entirely predictable. Given their imbrication in the flows of global capital and the commodification of suffering, stories are received and interpreted in unpredictable ways by the audiences whose attention they seek and garner.
PUBLISHED LIFE NARRATIVES AND HUMAN RIGHTS CAMPAIGNS
Published life narratives have contributed directly and indirectly to campaigns for human rights. Although this article addresses the conjunction of narrated lives and human rights discourses and activism in the last twenty years, this linkage between stories and actions extends back to the earliest discussions of an international rights movement. As David Rieff notes, it was a memoir that spurred the adoption of the Geneva Convention of 1864. In A Memoir of Solferino (1859), Swiss humanitarian Henri Dunant witnessed the carnage of the decisive battle of the Franco-Austrian war. The memoir provided an affective springboard for subsequent debates about just and unjust wars, leading to the founding of the International Committee of the Red Cross and the adoption of the Geneva Convention. (10) Rieff goes so far as to suggest that "the conference at Geneva succeeded in translating the reaction to the book into a body of law" (68-69).
In the last decades of the twentieth century, countless numbers of published narratives have fuelled and been fuelled by campaigns for human rights. Told from diverse locations by diverse people, many of whom have been previously silenced, they offer hybrid modes of telling stories, and hybrid modes of mediating political, ethical, and aesthetic imperatives. Latin American testimonio, the recorded and transcribed testimony of indigenous and/or poor peoples, bears witness to collective struggles against massive state violence and oppression. Postcolonial bildungsroman, the story of education into and for national citizenship, explores the possibilities for and constraints limiting the decolonization of subjectivity in postcolonial worlds. Survivor narratives tell stories of abuse through which narrators turn themselves from victims to survivors through acts of speaking out that shift attention to systemic causes of violation. Coming-out stories have played a critical role in campaigns to achieve human rights legislation for lesbians and gay men. Personal narratives of displacement and cultural marginalization, such as those written by ethnic Turks in Germany, bring stories of second-class citizenship to the bar of public opinion around the world. Narratives of disability claim that the failure of the state to address the particular needs of the disabled is a denial of basic human rights. Stolen Generation narratives in Australia collectively reframe "well-intentioned" policies of assimilation as forms of cultural genocide. Narratives by former "comfort women" such as Jan Ruff-O'Herne's 50 Years of Silence force attention on military rape cultures through which women's rights to life and bodily integrity are violated, bringing to the fore recognition of the importance of women's rights and human rights. Prison narratives of political dissidents, like the letters from prison by China's champion of democracy Wei Jingsheng, while often banned in their country of origin, find publishers elsewhere, and thereby exert continued international pressure on non-compliant nations to address, justify, and modify their human rights record.
Sometimes narratives published previous to the public recognition of a specific rights campaign are recirculated and resituated within the context of that campaign, as has been the case with Sally Morgan's My Place. Published in the year of Australia's bicentenary of white settlement/invasion, Morgan's hybrid narrative reconstructs her coming to consciousness as an Indigenous Australian, and incorporates the oral histories of her mother, grandmother, and uncle. Initially received as an individual journey in search of a lost identity, My Place was reinterpreted as a "stolen generation" narrative about lost childhoods after the publication of the Bringing Them Home report (Wilson) issued by the National Inquiry into the Separation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Children from their Families (Kennedy 237). In such cases, a narrative's popularity, built up through years of new editions, provides a threshold that seeds the reception of narratives by succeeding witnesses.
Sometimes published narratives serve as lightening rods in rights campaigns. Take, for example, the case of Rigoberta Menchu's powerful testimonio, I, Rigoberta Menchu: An Indian Woman in Guatemala, published originally in Spanish in 1983 and issued in English in 1984, quickly finding a responsive audience, particularly in the United States. "This is my testimony," she begins: "My experience is the reality of a whole people." Menchu's testimonio chronicled the means through which the ruling elites and the military sustained their power and maintained their control over the Quiche Indian population through physical violence, economic dependency, and cultural denigration. It chronicled as well the passionate commitment of the indigenous community to withstand degradation and forge a politics and an activism of resistance. Throughout her testimony, Menchu provided graphic details of her own personal and familial tragedy at the hands of a repressive army that tortured her mother to death, murdered her father, and burned her brother alive. Menchu's narrative and her extensive activism directed world attention to the plight of the Quiche Indians in Guatemala, contributing to the efforts of Indigenous Guatemalans, united in local guerrilla resistance movements, to bring an end to state-sponsored massacres and an increased respect for Mayan culture.
Through her narrated life, Menchu told the story of her people, performatively enacting the culturally specific mode of collective testimony that exposed the oppressive conditions within Guatemala and secured her authority to speak as a representative of her people elsewhere. The attention generated by the testimonio produced an aura-effect around Menchu herself, elevating and legitimating the Quiche woman as an international authority on the struggles of indigenous peoples. In 1992 Menchu was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, international acknowledgment that brought increased sympathy for her cause and increased interest in her narrative. She was subsequently appointed Goodwill Ambassador for the United Nations-sponsored International Year (and now decade) of Indigenous Peoples, becoming a spokesperson for indigenous communities around the world that are engaged in local campaigns and are claiming rights to self-determination and cultural integrity.
Taken up in the United States as testimony to human rights abuse, and promulgated largely through the advocacy of the urban left, Menchu's narrative became a symbol of the revolutionary spirit and struggle of a people. It also entered mainstream academe when selected as a core text in the undergraduate curriculum at Stanford University, and when placed on the reading lists of courses in literary and cultural studies, Spanish languages and literature, and anthropology at many other colleges and universities. These modes of circulation and reception in America reified the narrative as an exemplary testimonio. When taken up in university classrooms and scholarly journals, the text became a locus of postcolonial critique in the United States. It spurred debates among Latin Americanists, postcolonial critics, anthropologists, and women's studies and cultural studies scholars about the nature of the postcolonial condition, the evidentiary status of testimonio, and the intersections among cultural formations, reading publics, and politics. The combination of popular and scholarly attention turned close attention back on the narrative itself.
In the late 1990s, I, Rigoberta Menchu provoked a scandal in academic and activist circles in the United States with the publication of David Stoll's analysis, Rigoberta Menchu and the Story of All Poor Guatemalans. Stoll, an American anthropologist, challenged the text's status as testimonio. While sympathetic to the Quiche cause espoused by Menchu, he charged Menchu with fabricating details of her own history, of the violent oppression of her family, of the deaths of family members, and of the extent of her leadership role in the resistance. (11) His critique fuelled yet another set of contestations. Among other issues, commentators questioned the nature of the collaborative relationship between Menchu and Elisabeth Burgos-Debray, the anthropologist/collaborator who is sometimes listed as the "author" of the text. Debray's role as interlocutor and editor of the text called into question the "authenticity" of Menchu's narrative as witness documentary. Readers, critics, and activists took sides. Menchu's cause was joined. In fiercely contested debates, advocates and detractors invoked Menchu's narrative in newspaper columns, academic journal articles, and conference sessions in the United States, where they took up issues having to do with personal and collective forms of remembering, narrative authenticity, and juridical versus non-juridical understandings of truth telling.
The circulation and reception of Menchu's narrative demonstrates the contested and unpredictable impact such stories can have. In some contexts, as Attwood and Magowan suggest, published stories can become a form of cultural and political capital for oppositional groups (xi), and the knowledge they represent can generate proprietary claims within communities that distinguish insiders from outsiders. In others, readers and audiences can impose competing demands and tools of interpretation through what Leigh Gilmore terms "extrajudicial 'trials'" or "forums of judgment" that provoke engagements around the evidentiary status of narrative meanings. Through these contradictory channels of circulation and reception a "levering forward of ethics, truth telling, and scandal" unfolds, setting in motion many potential outcomes (Gilmore, "Jurisdictions" 695-96).
The history of reception of I, Rigoberta Menchu suggests that those who publish their stories of oppression, abuse, trauma, degradation, and loss can neither know nor control how that story will be received and interpreted. A story can generate recognition, empathy, critical awareness, advocacy, and activism elsewhere that helps to empower people struggling locally in Guatemala to extend their campaigns for human rights. The same story can become a commodity, and the teller a celebrity on a world stage, as the narrative is dispersed through book clubs, radio and television interviews and talk shows, classrooms and living rooms, picked up by independent documentary filmmakers, and distributed internationally. The same story can become a "scandal" overseas that produces resistance within and beyond the boundaries of Guatemala as it generates, as did I, Rigoberta Menchu, controversy that turns international attention to claims and counterclaims having to do with issues of juridical veracity.
Through the rise in publication of "minority" life stories, the literature of trauma, and hybrid forms of life writing, storytelling has become a potent and yet highly problematic form of cultural production, critical to the international order of human rights and movements on behalf of social change. Personal narratives in all their generic variety and locational specificity reveal the effects of the traumatic past whether the past be one of radical dislocation, "terrorism," physical torture, profound loss, forced assimilation, discrimination, oppression, or sexual abuse. The very aesthetics of form, the very forms of narrative address to the reader, enable victims to speak truth to power. As meta-sites for social critique, published narratives sometimes unsettle received conceptions of personal and national identity, sometimes dismantle the foundational fictions through which nations and imagined communities construct and reconstruct their histories, sometimes promote new platforms for and forms of political action, and sometimes produce a backlash of actions that forestall recognition and redress. In local communities and through global flows, stories sometimes enable the re-constitution of lost subjectivities, call forth new narratives of affiliation and belonging, and open up new international debates on the practical means through which to achieve justice with respect for the historical, national, religious, and philosophic traditions both consonant with and different from those foundational to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
At other times, however, their efficacy remains severely limited. The personal voice, as it is picked up, edited, translated, published, and disseminated by dispersed media, institutions, and advocacy groups around the world becomes at once reified as the authentic voice of suffering and depersonalized through various forms of recontextualization. The narrative reaches broader audiences beyond the local community, but those audiences subject the narrative to different and unpredictable readings, put the narrative to different and unpredictable uses. At any historical moment, only certain stories are tellable and intelligible to a broader audience. Ultimately, historical contingencies also bring historical occlusions.
OTHER SITES OF NARRATION
Published life narratives, although widely circulated and influential, are only one site of personal storytelling in the field of human rights. Storytelling in the context of human rights takes place in diverse venues and occurs for a variety of intentions. Sometimes it occurs in the field, where abuses are ongoing, or in preparation for a commission hearing or national inquiry. In these instances the taking of testimony is purposeful and directed at a particular goal or specific aspect of a human rights campaign. Sometimes the narrating is embedded in UN-sponsored documents and NGO handbooks and Internet sites, or framed by the UN-sponsored aims and objectives of national forums and reports. At others, it is gathered into anthologies of testimony assembled by activists, academics, and publishers. Sometimes stories are produced by local campaigners and circulated through dispersed media. At other times the aims and objectives of personal storytelling are more diffuse, as in the many scattered sites of rights activism, and in mediascapes where reporting on rights and rights advocacy is advanced. Some sites are organized and supported by human rights institutions. Some operate underground in opposition to state laws, constantly subjected to surveillance, censorship, and possible prosecution. Other venues of public culture--sporting events or rock concerts for example--may seem entirely unrelated to human rights activism but can suddenly be mobilized to call attention to rights violations.
Our survey of the role of storytelling in human rights campaigns throughout the world in the late twentieth century highlights some of the many conundrums that unsettle the utopian, and modernist, ideals promulgated by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The last fifty years of human rights activism underscores the importance of storytelling in bringing the specificities of local conditions of abuse and the inadequacy of the modernist framing of rights to the attention of a global community, however compromised those stories become when subjected to the unpredictable transits of reception between local and global locations. Claims on behalf of new and specialist rights challenge the universalist assumptions of the UDHR, presaging new human rights agendas. These agendas prompt diverse platforms for advocacy, especially as they respond to the cultural contingencies of minority cultures and indigenous groups or to the concerns of activists in Asian and Islamic countries. They prompt calls for new approaches to justice (Douzanis 368-69). They also prompt new modes of witness.
New rights agendas, challenging the authority of Enlightenment-based principles, now circulate in a global environment radically altered by the September 11, 2001, terrorist attack on the United States. A new regime, that of the global "war on terror," seems to be displacing the regime of human rights, sidelining certain principles of justice and reorienting the politics of alliance and responsibility along the way. These changes have prompted some commentators to suggest that we are now witnessing the demise of an era of human rights and commitment to social justice. Nonetheless, the international market for local stories has not diminished, nor have the capacities of readers to respond ethically to the violations inflicted upon others, nor the commitments of human rights campaigners to pursue channels of redress. While there appears to be an erosion of human rights principles and mechanisms and a loss of moral authority for the international, national, and local institutions charged with promoting justice, there remain in place a multitude of witnesses, activisms, alliances, and challenges, seeding new definitions of rights and new human rights campaigns. Thus, despite the challenges to the philosophies and politics attached to the international regime of human rights, calls for justice, dignity, and freedom continue to engage listeners and call readers to respond ethically by joining the cause of disempowered and disenfranchised people in many parts of the globe. As balancing acts, directed back to a past that must be shared and toward a future that must be built collectively, acts of personal narrating remain foundational to the expansion and proliferation of claims on behalf of human dignity, freedom, and justice.
AUTHORS' NOTE: This article forms part of the discussion taken up in our forthcoming book Human Rights and Narrated Lives: The Ethics of Recognition (Palgrave, in press).
1. The West is obviously a contested concept. By it, we mean to imply not a geographic location but a locus of symbolic and grounded power relations, emanating mainly from the United States, Europe, and the English-speaking world, sharing Enlightenment traditions and (post) colonial histories. The term entails a complex and often contradictory set of philosophic, political, economic, and social relations. There is no ground for identifying an essential "Western" subject, discourse, or nation. The Western subject shares many attributes of modern, or modernizing, subjects, nations, and cultures across the globe. Often, critics in non-Western countries who are contesting Western frameworks use hybridized Western-based political, legal, and cultural theory to make their case. Often those living in and identifying with the West inflect their arguments with theories and analyses contrary to Western traditions. We will try to work with some of these complications in our analyses of storytelling in a human rights field.
2. As Leigh Gilmore recently noted, the number of books published in English and labeled as "autobiography or memoir" tripled from the 1940s to 1990s (Limits 1). Gilmore goes on to discuss factors contributing to the memoir boom, particularly in the United States. Jay Winter notes that in the last twenty years historians in France, Germany, Italy, and Portugal have sought and published numerous collections of memoirs as ways of understanding historical legacies of events in the twentieth century (52).
3. The Sisters in Islam is a case in point. Working in Malaysia, but connected to reformist Islamic women's groups throughout the world, Sisters in Islam solicits testimony from abused Muslim women with a view to promoting equality and justice in accord with the teaching of the Koran. Although the group adopts modernist philosophies and feminist practices from the West that are "not welcomed" by conservatives and traditionalists (Langlois 60), it has nonetheless been influential in a number of spheres, particularly in relation to law reform and advocacy for Islamic women suffering domestic violence. Working between democratic states rights and religious obligations of the Islamic state, Sisters in Islam argues that grounds can be found in the Koran to promote equality, justice, and freedom for women through democratic Shari'a (or religious) law reform.
4. Elie Wiesel and Primo Levi were two of the more widely circulated witnesses from the 1960s and 1970s, contributing their testimony to public Holocaust remembrance.
5. Hirsch defines postmemory as "the relationship of children of survivors of cultural or collective trauma to the experiences of their parents, experiences that they 'remember' only as stories and images with which they grew up, but that are so powerful, so monumental, as to constitute memories in their own right" (8).
6. Films include documentaries like Claude Lanzmann's Shoah, and features such as Steven Spielberg's Schindler's List. Representative exhibitions and archives include the Spielberg Shoah Visual History Foundation, the Fortunoff Video Archive at Yale University, and the dramatic scenes of witness in the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C.
7. The reception of Holocaust narratives by different audiences both inside and outside of Israel suggests how critical location is to reception. In Israel, the dominant mode of response is to receive these narratives as examples of heroic resistance and survival. In the United States, Holocaust literature is consumed and interpreted within national narratives of redemption, as stories that tell "of the wider struggle for tolerance, for freedom of religion, for freedom from persecution: they locate the Holocaust within the American narrative, itself configured as universal" (Winter 54).
8. See, for example, Caruth; Felman and Laub; and La Capra, among others.
9. For some social commentators, however, "the global reach of the media and of power mechanisms with which they are in complicity dwarf local efforts to fight back" (see Massumi 30).
10. Dunant shared the first Nobel Peace Prize (1901) with Frederic Passy.
11. See The Rigoberta Menchu Controversy, edited by Arturo Arias; with a response by David Stoll.
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