Full course description
Taking its cue from the current focus of the humanities on practices of collective cultural remembrance, the course focuses on literature as narrative and performative medium of memory. Literature fulfils a crucial role in recreating aspects of the past in the present. But is there a difference between ‘memory in literature’ and ‘memory of literature’? Without remembrance and representation, cultural and individual life would be impossible; the same counts for cultural oblivion: total recall would mean madness. Not only individuals, but also social groups and nations as a whole construct their identities by re-appropriating and ‘inventing’ the past. Here memory and identity politics merge. The course will introduce central theories of memory and remembrance. Around 1900, the sociologist Maurice Halbwachs and the art historian Aby Warburg independently developed theories of “collective memory”. Yet, it was not until the 1980s that Pierre Nora’s lieux de mémoire and Jan and Aleida Assmann’s concept of Cultural memory made memory studies resurface.
Moreover, cultural remembrance depends entirely on processes of (re-)mediation. That is where literature, rituals, and the arts enter the field. Beginning with modern authors like Marcel Proust and Edgar Allan Poe, the theoretical texts will be accompanied by close readings of literary texts that shed light on the poetical creation of remembrance. With regards to literary analysis it is important to define the way in which remembrance and poetic imagination interact.
Memory studies started within Holocaust studies at the very moment when the generation of survivors passed away. Therefore, research in trauma and remembrance has taken centre stage. The course follows a genealogical approach to the “trauma paradigm” in memory studies. It refers back to Sigmund Freud’s theory of “traumatic neurosis” and connects it with new approaches in trauma theory. It will focus on the question of how traumatic experiences have been expressed and represented in modern literature. Our central example is Kurt Vonnegut’s novel Slaughterhouse 5 (1969). The course connects questions of cultural remembrance and trauma experience via literary narration, style, and intertextuality. Its focus on the role of gender in memory draws attention to the relevance of body images and gender myths for the construction of narrations and images of the past.
A post-colonial dimension will be added when we take a close look at the debate around the contested concepts of archive and repertoire in memory studies. If we link the performative repertoire to cultural memory, we will have to go beyond the long established Western model of memory as a fixed, mostly written “storehouse” of the past. If we take repertoire into account, we will have to consider and acknowledge embodied, sensual remembrance, narrated oral memory and gestural ritual repertoires as equal to texts, monuments and objects.
- To familiarize students with some of the key theoretical and methodological approaches within cultural memory studies: Halbwachs, Warburg, Nora, Assmann, Erll, Rigney.
- To introduce students to conceptual analysis and provide them with the necessary analytical skills.
- To provide students with an introduction into trauma (theory) and memory.
- To teach students close reading of literary texts and analyze literary strategies, styles and narrations of remembrance and trauma.
- To teach students to analyze literature and the arts as ars memoriae, reconstruct the interaction of memory imagination and poetic imagination: ‘memory in literature and memory of literature’.
- To introduce students to Aby Warburg’s theory of the “memory of images” and pathos formulas
- To enable students to identify and analyze the role of gender in constructions of cultural remembrance of the Holocaust.
- To introduce students to the (political) debate and the post-colonial dimension around the paradigms of archive and repertoire as concepts of cultural memory.
- To analyze debates connected to contested memorial monuments, competing victim memories and “multidirectional memory” (Rothberg).
HUM1003 Cultural Studies I or HUM2003 The Making of Crucial Differences, and some knowledge/interest in close reading of literary texts.
Required Literary Texts and Films
- Erll, Astrid. Memory in Culture. London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2011.
- Vonnegut, Kurt. Slaughterhouse-Five, or The Children’s Crusade (1969). New York: Random House, 1991.
- Gadjo Dilo. Movie by T. Gitlif, 1997 (on youtube available with English subtitles).