Balancing Acts: Negotiating Relations in Response to Trauma in life-writing

Recent studies of relational life-writing argue that since the power dynamics are tipped conclusively in favour of the writing subject, telling the other’s story becomes akin to a ventriloquistic act. Other perspectives and voices are an illusion produced by the authorial self, who remains steadfastly at the centre. In my D.Phil. project, I argue that contemporary French and Spanish women’s life-writing is grappling consciously with the challenge of reconfiguring this power imbalance. The texts that I focus on are examples of ‘post-traumatic’ life-writing, in which the narrative connection between writing and non-writing subjects is as problematic as it is paramount. In this paper, I explore some of the strategies that contemporary authors are mobilising to counteract this potential for displacement; to tell the story in such a way that resists their narratives filling up the empty spaces left by those of the victims.

Hannie Lawlor is in the 3rd year of her AHRC-OCLW funded D.Phil. at Wolfson College, and completed her BA and M.St. at Lady Margaret Hall. She works on contemporary French and Spanish life-writing by women authors, focusing on works published since the turn of millennium. Her thesis explores intergenerational relationships in life-writing, specifically in responses to trauma, and the narrative and ethical challenges that are faced when recounting multiple life-stories in the same textual space.