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Wounds of the body and the soul: Trauma, memory, and silences of the Irish woman in contemporary literature - AEDEI

Wounds of the body and the soul: Trauma, memory, and silences of the Irish woman in contemporary literature

The triad history, memory and trauma occupy a prominent position in contemporary cultural and literary studies and the English-speaking world (Piatek, 2014, p. 15). Lately, in the middle of an ambivalent obsession on the recuperation and scrutiny to pursue veracity of the first two elements, and strong debates around the third,  the field of trauma studies in literary criticism (Balaev, 2014; Bennett, 2005; Caruth, 1996, Herman, 2015; Kurtz, 2018; Tal, 1996) has gained significant attention due to the transversal contributions received from a wide range of disciplines such as  anthropology, cultural, literary and cinematographic arts, history, sociology, neurobiology, psychiatry, and psychology. 

  Counting with Freud as “a founding figure in the history of the conceptualization of trauma” (Leys, 2000, p. 18), originally the term for “a surgical wound conceived on the model of a rupture of the skin or protective envelope of the body resulting in a catastrophic global reaction in the entire organism” (Leys, 2000, p. 19). Gradually, the word “trauma” was coined by psychology and psychiatry to describe the shock produced between two events that maintain a connection, which is related to a “sudden, uncontrollable disruption of affiliative bonds” (Lindemann, 1944).Although coinciding in their allusions to trauma’s neurobiological side unspeakable void, the irreparable damage to the psyche, the profound and at times unarticulated suffering caused either by an individual perpetrator or a collective one, these new perspectives reject a former classic and universal pathological conceptualization of trauma, while insisting upon the particularities of each case under consideration. This is how alternative approaches explore the rhetorical components of trauma and its manifestations through the prism of psychoanalytic theory in conjunction to postcolonial theory or cultural studies (Balaev, 2014, p. 3). Reading through disciplines account for a range of representational possibilities and different conclusions, as focus here is placed on social, historical, and cultural contexts and factors which might explain the nature, the intensity, or the outcomes of the lived experiences. 

The present project attempts to explore trauma manifestations through the exploration of double wounds, inflicted on both body and mind (Caruth, 1996, p. 3) within  contemporary Irish context at the turn of the twenty-first century and in its immediacy. There have been other similar studies such as Ireland and victims: Confronting the past, forging the future (Lelourec and O’Keefe-Vigneron, 2012); History, memory, trauma in contemporary British and Irish Fiction (Piatek 2014); The Body in Pain in Irish Literature and Culture (New Directions in Irish and Irish American Literature) (Dillane, McAreavey & Pine, 2016); Trauma and Recovery in the Twenty-First-Century Irish Novel (Irish Studies) (Costello-Sullivan, 2018); The Memory Marketplace: Witnessing Pain in Contemporary Irish and International Theatre (Irish Culture, Memory, Place) (Pine, 2020); Trauma and Identity in Contemporary Irish Culture (Terrazas Gallego, 2020), just to mention some of them. Nonetheless, apart from the context, what makes this major undertaking unlike  is its desire to contemplate within this equation the gender/feminist factor and consider only contributions on Irish women’s experiences of the past and of the present. 

The framework of the study is adequate and propitious, since accelerated by the arrival of globalization and a recently born national feeling of self-confidence infused by the occurrence of the (inter-)national economic miracle of the Celtic Tiger at the turn of the twenty first century, the promise of peace in Northern Ireland and an end to the sanguinary Troubles which materialized officially in 1998 with the Good Friday Agreement, the incipient secularization of Irish society resulting from the numerous sex scandals and cases of child abuse involving the Catholic clergy, the discovery of endless numbers of physical, sexual and human abuses, a desire for cultural liberalization affecting not only the configurations of the private but also those of the public spheres, and a reconfiguration of gender, Ireland was ready to explore what seemed its embedded violent nature, its history, its memories and its episodes of trauma. Later contributions from the academia and the literary field, then, struggle to elucidate at least part of the mysterious, ambiguous, and slippery nature which define Ireland’s past, the discipline of Irish Studies and its current state in Ireland. These efforts attempt to distance further and further national discourses from traditional, closed, and categorical perspectives that characterised incipient stages of this academic field, offering agency and voice to previously excluded others from past and stiff discourses, opening in this way the path for the negotiation of their identity and position, legitimizing their stories, unveiling disheartening accounts, and confronting truth. This is the reason why nowadays panorama of Irish Studies would be incomplete without contributions coming from other theoretical perspectives as for instance deconstructive, psychoanalytic, eco critical, translational, gender/feminist, cultural, materialist, postmodern, new materialist, queer theory and presentist, since they broaden Irish horizons, as language unveils past and present kaleidoscopic experiences.

Irish women, for example, although cherished for centuries in the arts and history, had to fight for the recognition of their rights and for the achievement of their visibility outside the confinement of the domestic sphere or beyond their envisaged and submissive roles of daughters, mothers, wives, nuns, prostitutes or immigrants. Considering this, the present proposal would attempt to explore the systems of power and oppression exerted by Irish patriarchy, the allegiance of the Irish state and the Catholic Church, and by extension that of the Irish society on the Irish woman.  Attention, here, would be offered fundamentally to trauma manifested in relation to a wide range of issues going from religious, institutional to family abuse and violence, the latter coming either from the progenitors or the spouse; from prostitution to the double morality towards sex and bodily matters, but also infanticide, abortion, and pregnancies out of the wedlock; from the dismantlement of idealized notions about family and community, to the passivity of its heroines towards the suffocating structures of the nation state or their rebellion against the oppressive forces; from fairy tale notions about marriage and the harsh realities of motherhood and family life, to self-discovery, self-validation and freedom infused in emigration; from the alienation and misery of the native others (Traveller and Gipsy Irish women) in the past and the depiction of their realities in contemporary Ireland; from the exploration of a surfacing and thin layer of glam, style and consumption of the Celtic Tiger Ireland to a real, grey and disheartening current reality of alcoholism, drug abuse and lack of prospects; from the continuous necessity to find balance between the professional and the personal life of contemporary women, to entrapment, loneliness, unhappiness, misery and provincialism.

As it was previously mentioned, the chronology of this study pretends to cover the literary and contemporary perspectives of gender/feminist on trauma in reference to the above mentioned themes in works written since 1995, at the birth of the Celtic Tiger up to contemporaneity, in nowadays Post-Celtic Tiger era. Here contributions on Irish women’s traumas explored in short stories, crime fiction, young and adult fiction, spoken word poetry, chick lit, avant-garde or experimental drama, comedy, and satire are welcomed. The present study might not be all encompassing, given its limited nature, nonetheless, contemporary Irish literature and artistic creativity acknowledged during these years is flourishing. Literary manifestations connect tradition and modernity, debunk myths, break the silence with the exposal of uncomfortable realities, dismantle stereotypes and reflect reality with veracity and precision. Women issues and female experiences described in contemporary Irish fiction might provide an explanation for past and present gender dynamics, and with this the comprehension of its mechanism, opening the path in this way for further renegotiation of gender roles and the achievement of equilibrium and equality between sexes. These works might help to seal and heal old and new wounds and offer solutions for tomorrow.

Suggested topics include, but are not limited to, representations of trauma, memory and silence that involve, intersect and/or synergize with other concomitant areas, such as:      * Poverty      * Migration      * Violence      * Disability      * Racial/ethnic difference      * Gender      * Cultural difference      * Religion

  • Addiction
  • Identity issues
  • Prejudice
  • Sexual orientation

Chapter proposals are invited for a new project. Selected essays will be compiled in a collective volume that will be published in 2022,  part of a series to be published by Routledge Studies in Irish Literature

Interested authors are asked to submit their proposals electronically to the editors, Madalina Armie ( and/or VerĂłnica Membrive ( The deadline for the submission of proposals is next September  30th 2020.

Proposals consist of first, working chapter heading, and secondly, 500 words explaining the content prevised to be covered. Feel free to contact the editors for further details.

We look forward to your contributions.

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