Call for Papers – After Memory: Conflicting Claims to World War Two in Contemporary Eastern European Literatures, Berlin, Germany, November 6-8, 2015

2015 marks the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II. The question as to how we ought to and even how we are able to think about this event are just as relevant today as ever. Representational practices and commemorative rituals fluctuate throughout history, and in the last few decades we have seen fundamental shifts in how World War II is dealt with. The reasons behind such shifts are diverse. In particular, the current “post-memorial” constitution of a kind of commemoration, which no longer primarily depends on the personal memories of historical eyewitnesses (Marianne Hirsch) [1], is bringing with it new approaches to the topic. Post-memorial, aesthetic products no longer have the same degree of involvement that had previously defined the contributions of eyewitnesses when it came to conveying norms based on content and ethics. Quentin Tarantino’s film “Inglorious Bastards”, which brings the aesthetics of the splatter film to the German hinterland, Jonathan Littell’s novel “Les Bienveillantes”, which gives imaginary form to German SS officers’ fantasies of violence, and Stefan Twardoch’s novel “Morfina”, in which a Polish fighter in the underground resistance gets to share in the intoxicating thrill of power enjoyed by the German “master race,” are all examples of post-memorial war stories that reinvent the past and by doing so render it more appealing in terms of affect and the imaginary of the present.

In Eastern Europe, this radical, new adjustment of perspectives on the Second World War in the arts and belletristic literature in particular goes hand in hand with literature’s loss of standing as a central medium of communication, a status it held well into the 1990s in the societies of this region, which were very much centered on literature.

This state of affairs has to be considered against the backdrop of the surge in cultural and artistic thought that took place in Eastern European countries after the breakup of the Warsaw Pact, which has taken on enormous relevance in light of current controversies that amount to something like a “war of remembrance.” These conflicting claims to an authoritative memory of World War II evoke the Soviets’ role in Eastern Europe as well as national resistance and emancipation movements, some of which worked closely with German National Socialists. [2] These often irreconcilable positions have become even more entrenched with the crisis in Ukraine, where both Russians and Ukrainians constantly instrumentalize the pathos formulas of World War II that were used in warfare conflicts and in demarcating identity politics.

The recent boom in historical-political debates can be traced back to the aftereffects caused by the change in systems in former state socialist countries, for this change brought with it the end of a politics of remembrance and history regulated by the state, which had formerly involved the victory against Nazi Germany as the central legitimizing moment behind the Soviet hegemony in Eastern Europe. With the fall of the Soviet system memories and narratives of the past that were long forbidden, repressed and marginalized have resurfaced in the last few decades. They have subsequently been appropriated in different historical-political ways as part of the newly claimed, or reclaimed, independence of certain nation-states. In reassessing the treatment of the Second World War and the Holocaust, one phase of the prescribed politics of memorialization and partial forgetting necessarily loses its hold in Eastern European countries (Marszałek, Molisak). [3]

The conference takes this situation as its point of departure, a situation characterized by a double sense of afterwardsness on the one hand, with regard to the dwindling numbers of historical eyewitnesses and, on the other hand, concerning the suspension of the monopoly on how history is interpreted and given meaning. From here we take a comparatist perspective and inquire into how the engagement with World War II has taken shape in recent years in East-European literature. The conflicting claims to these events, one might argue, are not mirrored in the literature of Eastern Europe as one-dimensional representations of reality according to cultural politics, but instead they are dealt with in complex and diverse ways as part of a reflection on the post-socialist and post-memorial configurations in a given region.

Deadline for submitting abstracts: February 28, 2015

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