The Truth Tellers project relies on a type of discourse analysis called archaeology. First developed by philosopher Michel Foucault to discern the conceptual mechanics in everyday disciplinary discourses, the version here used focuses on retrieving and understanding the instances, structures, references and histories that constitute subjectivity in any piece of writing. In practice, combined with Roland Barthes’ approach to literary analysis, the mini-archaeologies carried out on this poems –summarised in the notes to the right of each– treat them as if they were the political texts we usually examine.

This experimental approach, which we call art archaeology, firstly allows analysis to understand how subjects and their contexts are constituted in the linguistic mechanics of the poem. Secondly, exploring the mechanics of language lays bare how they rely on previous languages, words, expressions and ideas to make sense and link to the rest of reality. Thirdly, and this is where the experimental art archaeology approach reveals its political science utility, the poet has already retrieved the exact aesthetic codes that make sense of events, in this case the trauma following the Manchester Arena attacks. So, at this art-IR juncture, analysis can reap the benefits of aesthetic insight and poetic construction of subjectivity, deconstructing the aesthetic insights of the poet to retrieve and understand the essence of an otherwise unspeakable representation. 



For the textual aspect of this project, Mariah and I brought together two very different ways of looking at any given political text. I collected local, national and international news articles concerning the attacks and shared them with Mariah, while applying onto them a form of Poststructuralist discourse analysis called archaeology. This entailed analysing how identities were constructed, framed and set in relation to others, locating the points at which they were or were not politicised, identifying the subjectivity of that politicisation as well as its historical, political and contextual conditions of possibility.

At the same time, Mariah explored Manchester as a site of meaning, emotion, meaning-making and as the living city that survived the attacks. This exploration was geographical –there are multiple references to Mancunian locales in the poems– as well as textual and historical. This allowed her to enter the mind of the night, of the events, of those not involved but who also participated in that instance of collective emotion and traumatic selse-making. Her poems are the fruit of these observations. In writing them, Mariah reflected the images, words, and ideas of emotion she encountered:

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The poems make choices that political analysis cannot. For example, ‘rip’ ignores the discursive and informational environment of the aftermath of the attacks entirely. In this deeply individual sense-making, the poet creates a space where the politicisation of the event is altogether missing, where we the audience can decide what the emotions mean to themselves. This is by definition an artificial space that could only exist in literature. In constructing such ideational spaces, the poet selects what goes into them. This is a key part of how Mariah and I collaborated: the free-playing artist chooses which representations, images, emotions and ideas enter or do not enter the world she writes. This selection is entirely subjective, of course, and on its own carries no scientific value. Its analytical potential resides in the aesthetic relevance that drew the artist’s gaze to these specific elements.

The artist’s gaze and its analytical instrumentalisation lie at the heart of this approach. We might call it artistic archaeology, for I then performed in-depth discursive analysis of the poems exactly as if they were one of the original pieces of political text. Again, as with the original empirical evidence, the objective was to understand how it creates identities, political positions, narrates events, represents the city, community and made sense of trauma.

Poetry revealed itself as a powerful method to identify, retrieve, and isolate single themes of aesthetic power and significance into a page-shaped petri dish. Analysis of the poem ‘rip’, for example, found that, though the collectivity of such a traumatic aftermath might be assumed, the poetic exploration forces the reader to consider how the individual relates to collective trauma and, by extension, its politics:

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This is entirely thanks to a classical literary device, the creation of a narrative author in the text that acts both as herself and every person, that evacuates the reality of the author’s existence allowing for us to stand in and reflect as the poem does:

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This takes the reader to an artificial space where collective trauma can be explored by a single person in isolation, creating the ideational freedom to interpret the events anew despite the unavoidably collective nature of the trauma.

In deleting the surrounding noise and selecting what remains, poetic responses like ‘rip’ compel us to consider the experience of sharing and digesting community-level trauma. This makes it possible to overlay this understanding of traumatic narratives on top of the socially-constructed collective trauma as it occurred and compare them. The difference between the two amounts to no less than the power of the public and socially-constructed interpretation on each of us and thus, ultimately, on political discourse.


Dr Pablo de Orellana | King’s College London, 2019