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Day School – Gender, Memory and Modernity – Abstracts (April 2005)

Posted on April 13, 2005 by Administrator

Thursday, April 28, 2005
Wood Room, Plassey House
University of Limerick


‘On the Use of Memory, Forgetting, and Deferral’

Prof Raffaella Baccolini
English Department
University of Bologna-Forli, Italy

The concept of memory invokes a discussion of its opposite, forgetting. Whereas, traditionally, forgetting has been associated with loss, recent reconsiderations see it as a fundamental, positive force in our lives (Augé 2000, Ricoeur 2004). However, such “evaluation” depends primarily on the positionality and the historical and material conditions of those persons making that claim. My talk will review some of the debates on memory and forgetting and propose a possible alternative to such binary, particularly with regard to conflicting and/or traumatic events in works of literature: deferral. By postponing momentarily the memory of traumatic events or by imaginatively transforming them, it may be possible to “overcome” the trauma without necessarily having to repress and forget it.

‘“Don’t let my name be erased from history”:
Strategies for the recovery of women’s experience’

Dr Cinta Ramblado-Minero
Department of Languages and Cultural Studies, University of Limerick

In this paper I want to offer an overview of the recuperation of women’s collective memory and experience of the Spanish Civil War and subsequent dictatorship. The memory of the most dramatic period of Spanish recent history was silenced for a long time, first due to state repression and then as part of a pact of oblivion which would guarantee a peaceful transition to democracy. However, after the consolidation of the Spanish democratic system, there is a very visible social and cultural interest in the recovery of collective experience, collective memory of this recent past. It is the main objective of this paper to discuss a number of essential issues regarding the role of the literary critic and the writer in this process of recovery as well as the problematic interjection between history and literature.

‘The Ethics of Postmemory in Bobbie Ann Mason’s In Country’

Dr Sinead McDermott
Dept of Languages and Cultural Studies
University of Limerick

This paper will address the ethics of postmemory in a contemporary U.S. novel, Bobbie Ann Mason’s In Country (1984). Mason’s novel is one of a number of American fictions in the 1980s that look back at the Vietnam War and its legacy for the contemporary United States. By setting her novel ten years after the war’s end, and choosing as her main protagonist a teenage girl (Sam Hughes) whose father died in Vietnam, Mason raises the question of the effect of Vietnam on those distanced from it both by gender and generation. My reading of Mason’s text will draw upon Marianne Hirsch’s concept of ‘postmemory’ – the “second-generation memories of cultural or collective traumatic events and experiences” (Hirsch, 2002). I will argue that Sam’s belated relationship with the Vietnam War has much in common with the “delayed, indirect, secondary” nature of postmemory as described by Hirsch (13). Mason’s novel raises its own questions about the ethics of postmemory, asking us to consider the responsibilities of the second generation in remembering, mourning, and atoning for, the actions of their parents’ generation. In addressing these questions, Mason can be said to offer a new perspective on the role of postmemory in the construction of American citizenship post-Vietnam.

‘Subaltern Voices – From Máire Bhuí to Peig and beyond:
Radical memory in Irish-language women’s texts’

Dr Bríona Nic Dhiarmada
Department of Languages and Cultural Studies, University of Limerick

Irish-language political poetry of the eighteenth century employs a mode of memory that acts simultaneously, I would argue, as a mode of resistance, resistance in this instance to the processes and modalities of colonisation. In much the same way nineteenth and early twentieth century narratives of Irish political and cultural nationalism in its insurgent phase also invoke remembrance, not as an attempt to recede from the present but as a tool in utopian yearnings for a better future. This process has been described by Kevin Whelan as “the creation of an Irish radical memory…[which] deployed the past to challenge the present, to restore into possibility historical moments that had been blocked or unfulfilled earlier.” This paper will address the intersection of gender and radical memory in a variety of texts from the poems of Máire Bhuí Ní Laoghaire (1774 – ca. 1849) one of the few women practitioners of the aisling genre (which was a highly gendered discourse) to the first person narratives of Peig Sayers and Róise Rua among others.

‘“Not over yet”: Forgetting and remembering in Doron Rabinovici’s novel Ohnehin’

Dr Marieke Krajenbrink
Department of Languages and Cultural Studies, University of Limerick

Remembering and re-working the silenced past of the Nazi years has been a central concern of Austrian literary production since the 1980s, with authors such as Elfriede Jelinek engaging in a project of writing against historical amnesia, against the forgetting and repressing of Austria’s role in National Socialism and Holocaust.

In this paper I will discuss how forgetting and remembering are explored in the Jewish writer Doron Rabinovici’s novel Ohnehin (‘Anyway’, 2004). The protagonist Sandtner, a neurologist specializing in memory defects, begins treating Kerner, who suffers from Korsakov’s Syndrome. With his short term memory failing and his attention span reduced to fifteen minutes, Kerner is stuck in the year 1945, continuously reliving the end of the war in which – it is now revealed – he was an SS officer. His horrified daughter relentlessly pushes him to remember and confess his misdeeds, and to show remorse. While she herself resorts to increasingly horrifying inquisitional methods, Kerner’s son questions the whole undertaking, not least because a revelation of his father’s Nazi past might harm his own career. Sandtner finds himself caught between these contrasting reactions of the younger generation, while the Jewish Holocaust survivor Paul Guttmann, who cannot forget what happened, functions as a counterpart to Kerner. The theme of memory in Ohnehin is, however, not limited to the legacy of the Nazi past, Rabinovici draws parallels to the Balkan War with its ethnic cleansings. I will focus on the questions this constellation raises about the dialectics of forgetting and remembering, about the ethical and political implications of these for the present and their impact on relationships between generations. I will argue that by re-examining what purposes remembering and forgetting may serve, and by widening its scope beyond the Nazi legacy, the novel explores new avenues in the project of writing against amnesia.