It’s fascinating how narrative works. It’s not just about storytelling (which the Greeks called diagesis), but the actions that give it substance and meaning, (or mimesis). It’s possible to understand stand most of the power plays in NI which often come over as puzzling cultural power plays in our local politics.
So mimesis is Rosa Parks refusing to sit at the back of the bus, or Peter Thatchell performing a citizen’s arrest of Robert Mugabe. In each case the action is used to underwrite a larger story or narrative.
Seen in these terms, politics is a struggle for narrative dominance. When one wins out over another it often banishes the previously dominant one. So it is with victims of the Troubles. In large parts of civil society the appeal to law is perfectly legitimate in respect to the actions of the state.
The counter narrative is then forced underground, brooding and then occasionally bursting forth with great social and narrative force. (The #TakeControl strap line of the Leave campaign was a good example of this).
In the context of Northern Irish politics of dealing with the past, the idea of using the Maze as a centre for peace and reconciliation has been popular with the liberal establishment but it’s counterpart, “the terrorist shrine” proved too much for then First Minister Peter Robinson to resist.
The thing about these narratives is how they resonate, and persist. So that even the idea of prayer of the site of the ‘shrine’ is capable of enflaming strong passions, this from a Protestant pastor puts the counter narrative to the idea that the vast majority of Troubles victims must be reconciled to what was done to them as the acceptable price of peace, whilst victims of state violence are proactively encouraged to do the opposite …
This interplay of narrative and counter narrative is seemingly interminable in Northern Ireland and noticeably rather more well developed in terms of repackaging the traumatic experiences of the past than building robust narrative bridges with the future.
Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty