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2017 Conf. - When Your Life Depends on Your Story: The Narrative Dimensions of Asylum Applications
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In Life and Words, Veena Das asks, “What is it to lose one’s world?” (2007:2). As part of her answer, she proposes, “this theme of annihilation of the world, or of finding oneself within the scene of world-annihilating doubt, is not necessarily tied to big events” (2007: 7). In political asylum narratives, the categories of ordinary and big events are always overlapping and intersecting; violations of human rights are always both personal and political, not as separate categories but as constantly reconfigured alliances. Using narrative analysis, I interrogate more precisely the reconfigurations and intersections between ordinary and big historical events, between personal and collective representations, and, in this case, between narrating atrocity and narrating the ordinary.

My discussion is based on narratives collected from individuals applying for political asylum in the U.S. and U.K. The narratives were collected as part of a larger project designed to aid individuals in the asylum process. Part of that process is better understanding how the narratives work. In this paper, I develop a theory of narrative and the ordinary/extraordinary. Others have addressed this topic from quite different perspectives (for example, Tzvetan Todorov’s exploration of the genre of the extraordinary and the fantastic, 1975; and Martin Jay’s discussion of ordinariness and authenticity, 2006). My discussion diverges from these in its exploration of narrative positioning (Michael Bamberg, 1997) in relation to the ordinary and the atrocious. The ordinary has not been discussed extensively in narrative trauma theory; this paper builds on that discussion.

References Cited:

Bamberg, Michael GW. "Positioning between structure and performance." Journal of narrative and life history 7.1-4 (1997): 335-342.
Das, Veena. Life and Words: Violence and the Descent into the Ordinary. Univ of California Press, 2007.
Jay, Martin. "Taking on the stigma of inauthenticity: Adorno's critique of genuineness." New German Critique 97 (2006): 15-30.
Todorov, Tzvetan. The fantastic: A structural approach to a literary genre. Cornell University Press, 1975.

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