2018 | 71 | 111-142
Article title

Trauma ja elulood

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The article deals with the manifestation of traumatic experiences in life stories narrated at the end of the 20th and beginning of the 21st century. The manuscripts of these life stories are stored in the Estonian Cultural History Archives. The authors of the stories are guided not so much by artistic aspirations as by the possibility of creating a picture of the past, relying on their own real-life experiences. In the article, the folkloristic narrative research is combined with the concept of trauma theory. On the one hand, life story is seen as a specific text characterised by its relation to a specific cultural background and historical framework. On the other hand, the trauma theory perspective allows to observe the universality of trauma, the interrelation between the events that affect society and the related identity changes. Generally, the narrators do not use the term “trauma”. The texts also lack the topics of being a victim and asking for forgiveness, which are typical of trauma theory approaches. These manuscripts may include discussions of cultural trauma-related public life, but in this case the dialogue between the public attitudes and the narrator’s own experience can be seen rather as a reflection effect or following an example. This makes the life stories unique carriers of information, because they cannot be treated as miniature forms of the trauma culture that is accepted in society or globally. The aim of the comparative analysis of the two stories was to outline the specific features of the language of trauma in a life story. The language of trauma in life stories refers on the one hand to the formation of the narrator’s life truth, and on the other hand, to the presentation that spares the narrator. Traumatic experiences can be distinguished from the story, for example, based on how the narrator associates one or another aspect with the events of his/her life and the formation of beliefs that stem from the life events. These aspects emerge both through the reasoning and through constant repetitions. The descriptions of particularly hard experiences (e.g. life in Stalinist prison camp, divorce) stand out in the stories for their brevity and laconicism. This results from the emotional state of the narrator, the first-person character in the story, at the time of remembering the events or the situation, but on the other hand also from self-defence – the storyteller is unwilling to relive the situation again while narrating. The story presents traumatic experiences in firm connection with other episodes and deliberations, whereby the traumatic experience is positioned in its place in the narrator’s, the first-person character’s development story. The stories also imply that there are other traumatic experiences, which the narrator does not reveal. However, the dynamism of the trauma comes significantly to the fore: an individual’s each trauma experience absorbs new aspects and associations, thus pointing to stages in the development of the individual, as well as to the changeability of the relationships between the individual and the community.
  • Department of Estonian and Comparative Folklore, Institute of Cultural Research, University of Tartu, Ülikooli 18, 50090 Tartu, ESTONIA
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