blog posts Transnational Bloody Sundays: Multi-Sited Memory Mar 8, 2015 4:15 pm by Ann Rigney Images Mural in Derry, depicting iconic photograph of Bloody Sunday 1972DeleteEdit embedded media in the Files Tab and re-insert as needed.align image leftalign image centeralign image rightOn Sunday 30 January 1972, a paratroop regiment of the British army killed 13 participants in a civil rights demonstration in the Northern Irish city of Derry; a 14th victim died later. This event has come to be known as ‘Bloody Sunday.’ It has been remediated time and again since 1972: in literature, theatre, cinema, the visual arts, music. It has been the subject of memorials, and of two major judicial inquiries, one of which (the Widgery report of 1972) exonerated the army of all blame, while the other (the Saville report of 2010) acknowledged almost four decades later that their actions were “unjustified and unjustifiable,” an admission of culpability that lead to an official apology on the part of the British Prime Minister in that same year. The desire to see justice served with regard to this atrocity has been an important motor behind the intensity with which it has been remembered.As a result of all this attention, the significance of Bloody Sunday has extended beyond the particular city in which the atrocity occurred to become a shorthand for the long-term struggle of the catholic minority for civil rights in Northern Ireland as a whole. Bloody Sunday has thus become a classical ‘site of memory’ in Pierre Nora’s sense, a site-specific and locally-experienced event that stands for itself and, by a process of condensation and displacement, for much more besides. What exactly it stands for is open to debate, and this polyvalence is arguably part of its resilience as a site (see further Rigney 2015). What concerns me here today, however, is less how Bloody Sunday was remembered in Northern Ireland than its position within a larger, transnational field. The chances are that many of you reading this will also ‘recall’ Bloody Sunday, if only thanks to Paul Greengrass’s Bloody Sunday (2002) or U2’s Sunday Bloody Sunday (1983). For if Bloody Sunday is a site-specific, locally-inflected memory site bound up with the city of Derry, it is also an example of what Astrid Erll (2011) has called a ‘travelling memory’ that operates across different national borders with the help of its mediations. Bloody Sunday did not just become a transnational memory after the fact, however: it has always already been transnational.Bloody Sunday belonged, and was perceived from the outset as belonging, in what might be called a ‘canon’ of atrocities – many of which are called Bloody Sunday too - in which a peaceful demonstration by citizens is violently suppressed by state forces. These events are specifically related to the modern conditions of urban living as well as to the political condition of democracy, or would-be democracy, in which the will of the nation aspires to be represented in the workings of the state. The first Bloody Sunday to be named as such took place in Trafalgar Square in 1887. This involved the brutal breaking up of a march for civil liberties in which a coalition of socialists, workers organisations and Irish nationalists took part. Exactly a year later, this first Bloody Sunday was commemorated in a new mass gathering in London, which was also connected through a gesture of internationalist solidarity to the first anniversary of the deaths of the so-called Chicago Martyrs. It would appear that the mass shootings of demonstrators in St. Petersburg in 1905 was subsequently called ‘Bloody Sunday’ by analogy with the one in Trafalgar Square.‘Riot in Trafalgar Square’; from London Illustrated News, 26 November 1887DeleteEdit embedded media in the Files Tab and re-insert as needed.align image leftalign image centeralign image rightThere’s no time to go into details about these other ‘Bloody Sundays’, including the ‘Bloody Sunday’ in Dublin in 1920 and at Selma in 1965. Most important here is the fact that multidirectional comparisons between these various outbursts of state violence were very common on the part both of participants and observers. As the Dublin-based Irish Times wrote in reaction to the atrocity in Derry, for example: “Sharpeville, Amritsar, Bloody Sunday 1920 – the parallels are inadequate” (31 January 1972). So from the get-go the 1972 Bloody Sunday resonated with outrages that had taken place elsewhere. I use the word resonance here deliberately as a way of designating particular linkages between events that are not based on chronological connections, but on systemic similarities that work across space and time. ‘Bloody Sunday’ is an event-type that, like a mnemonic wormhole, connects locations, more specifically, cities across the world.The result is a multi-sited, city-to-city memory that invites us to think of transnationalism not merely as a broadening of geographical scale but as a rethinking both of scale and of the relations between distance and proximity. Each ‘Bloody Sunday’ is a singular event at the same time as it is grafted onto the memory of other civilian massacres in other cities as these have travelled through the international media and the arts.‘Bloody Sunday,’ Selma 1965DeleteEdit embedded media in the Files Tab and re-insert as needed.align image leftalign image centeralign image rightThe perceived resonances between these multiple Bloody Sundays is enhanced by the visual record where the underlying drama of ‘citizens in action’ becoming victims of state violence is performed over and again in iconic images that capture the movement of the crowd, as they first assert their right to demonstrate and then have to flee from violence. This ambivalent combination of victimhood and agency seems to feed into the mobilizing power of such images, exemplifying Aby Warburg’s concept of Pathosformel (Pathosformula), a visible constellation that arouses both deep memory and deep affect.So what sort of general issues can we distill from this very briefly presented example? Three interrelated things come to mind that bear on the issue of transnational memory and which are central to my research in progress.To begin with the case serves as a reminder that the transnational movements of memory are not a recent phenomenon, though transnationalism as an analytic perspective may be. Nation-building has always stood in tension with the movement of ideas, stories, and images across borders – with the help of media but also regularly supported by the actions of groups and individuals with a self-consciously internationalist agenda working to make common cause with people elsewhere. Recuperating the archive of such transnational entanglements will allow cities and the civic, rather than nations, to take centre stage in our analysis and help us go beyond methodological nationalism while still giving due account to the role of the state.Secondly, the case challenges cultural and literary studies to account more precisely for the movements of memory across borders – what gets remembered, picked up elsewhere and how? Judging by the resilience of ‘Bloody Sundays’ in the visual and textual record, there is something particularly potent about the combination of state violence and the right to protest. The ‘stickiness’ of these events in cultural memory, the fact that they are recalled over and again, could at least in part be explained by their melodramatic form. A Bloody Sunday involves the dramatic conversion of scenes of innocence and hope into scenes of brutal repression. The result is a double-faced, literally outrageous figure of memory that dramatizes the ideals and shortcomings of democracy in a melodramatic form, encapsulating both the agency of citizens (as evidenced in their power to demonstrate and to flee) and the limits of that power in face of the state. In the future we need a greater understanding of the role of such aesthetic forms in mobilising people, both within and beyond state borders, and for particular causes and not for others.Finally, the case of Bloody Sunday challenges us to think more about, or to think in new ways, about the relationship between activism and memory, building further on Kristin Ross’s work on the afterlives of 1968. Certainly in the cases briefly considered above memory and activism are deeply entangled: the commemoration of the outrage feeds back into the broader struggle to which the original demonstration already belonged – be this the struggle for workers’ rights or for national liberation. Distentangling the commemoration-activism nexus might help us move beyond the over-emphasis on the traumatic in memory studies and to think more clearly about the ways in which remembering the past, acting in the present, and shaping a different future have worked together, and continue to do so, across national borders. Nora, Pierre, ed. 1997 [1984-92]. Les lieux de mémoire. 3 vols. Paris: Gallimard. Rigney, Ann. 2015. "Do Apologies End Events? Bloody Sunday, 1972-2010." In Afterlife of Events: Perspectives on Mnemohistory, edited by Marek Tamm, 242-261. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan. Erll, Astrid. 2011. "Travelling Memory." Parallax 17 (4): 4-18. Rothberg, Michael. 2009. Multidirectional Memory: Remembering the Holocaust in the Age of Decolonization. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press. See also De Cesari, Chiara, and Ann Rigney, eds. 2014. Transnational Memory: Circulation, Articulation, Scales. Berlin: De Gruyter. Hurttig, Marcus Andrew. 2012. Die entfesselte Antike: Aby Warburg und die Geburt der Pathosformel. Köln: Walther Hönig. Brooks, Peter. 1995 . The Melodramatic Imagination: Balzac, Henry James, Melodrama, and the Mode of Excess. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press. Ross, Kristin. 2002. May ’68 and its Afterlives. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.