"I never talked": Enforced silence, non-narrative memory, and the Gulag
Jehanne Gheith's essay comes from a larger project of life history interviews with Gulag survivors which she conducted over several years (multiple interviews with each person). The Gulag is typically left out of Western histories of traumatic memory in the twentieth century. Gheith argues that this omission is connected to the silence around the Gulag in Russia and to the fact that the dominant models for traumatic memory are based on the Holocaust, an experience that does not fit for Gulag survivors. Many trauma theorists place narrative (telling the story) at the center of healing from trauma. Yet, for some 50 years after the height of Stalin's purges, Gulag survivors risked severe punishment if they discussed their experiences in the labor camps so that this kind of narrative approach was not open to them. One of the major effects of the enforced silence, Gheith argues, is that absent the narrative option, Gulag survivors developed creative, non-narrative ways to deal with their memories and experiences. Deploying a case study methodology, Gheith argues for the need to include the Gulag in discourse on traumatic memory and to seriously consider modes of healing or repair that are not primarily organized around narrative.
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