CDE Studies 19

Jürgen Wehrmann
Gedächtnis als Gefängnis: Metahistorische Reflexion in zeitgenössischen irischen Dramen

Trier: Wissenschaftlicher Verlag Trier, 2011.
ISBN 978-3-86821-297-6, 432 S., kt., € 41,50 (2011)

Since the 1970s, numerous plays that connect remembering to imprisonment have been published and performed in Ireland. The present monograph interprets the recurrence of this motif as an element in a complex debate on a crisis of national memory, triggered primarily by the Troubles but also by experiences of modernisation and globalisation. The central challenge for drama in this situation has been the realisation that time and again the Irish nation has been imagined as a performance and that the theatre has played a significant role in staging heroic sacrifices for the nation. While exploring the usage of history in society, Irish drama does not only celebrate the utopian potential of the theatre as an antidote to political encrustation but also interrogates the theatre as a medium of national memory and its complicity with violence and oppression.

The Irish example thus suggests emphasising the differences between historiographic metafiction in prose and metahistorical reflection in drama. Instead of the structural affinity, it is the medial distance to historiography that opens up opportunities specific to the dramatic form. Due to its intermedial character as texts intended to be performed, plays are particularly capable of staging and reflecting on tensions and transitions between individual and collective memory; interaction and mediality; myth, fiction and history; as well as politics, academia and the theatre.

Against the background of constellations of historical memory that are traced back down to the Irish Renaissance and the Young Ireland movement, the monograph focuses on the analysis of select plays by Brian Friel, Stewart Parker and Sebastian Barry – playwrights to whose work metahistorical reflection is central and who represent different generations, communities and theatrical agendas.