Valentines Day, 2013: what better date for a joyful and emotional conference to celebrate the twentieth anniversary of Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick’s Tendencies? I was privileged and not a little surprised to be invited to participate, commenting on Sedgwick’s essay ‘Nationalisms and Sexualities … Continue reading
As a nice Christmas present, I’ve had my abstract for the Association for German Studies in Great Britain and Ireland conference next year accepted for the History and Remembrance panel. I love going to the AGS – German studies is a small and geographically fragmented community in the UK, but it’s also extremely friendly and supportive. Many of the scholars I meet there every few years are not only leading researchers on the cutting edge of German, cultural and literary studies, but also old friends and mentors. There’s something really wonderful about our community, I feel; as anyone who is interested in modern languages in the UK will know, some in our research community have had a challenging time of it recently, as some departments have been forced to close and fewer students have been taking German at A-level. But the vibrancy of German studies research hasn’t been damaged, and neither has the spirit of camaraderie and solidarity shared at our annual gatherings in the AGS and WIGS. It’s fantastic to watch the intellectual development over years and decades of my community of scholars – and the socialising should be fun too.
It’s also really great – on a less elevated note – to have events to look forward to in the New Year! I’m at the stage in sabbatical that I dubbed ‘pyjamas and ballgown’ during my PhD; that stage of research where I rarely leave the house and start wearing pyjamas all day, and then dress up to the nines to compensate whenever a rare opportunity to meet my fellow-human beings arrives. So if you’re going to the AGS, and spot a researcher in a sequinned ball gown declaiming about Holocaust literature in spangly high heels, that’ll be me.
Here’s my abstract: I’d better book my archive trips so that I’ve done the research by then!
The Frankfurt trials and the trial of Eichmann in Jerusalem in the 1960s have been viewed as turning points in German memory of the Holocaust. While Arendt’s ‘Eichmann in Jerusalem’ created a new discourse of perpetrator guilt, Peter Weiss’s ‘Die Ermittlung’ created what many saw as a groundbreaking German aesthetic response to the Holocaust. This paper examines this so-called ‘testimonial turn’ (Wieviorka 2006) using a Bourdieusian model of the literary field to examine the extent to which the 1960s truly saw a turn to the voice of the victim in the developing German ‘Holocaust canon’. Using the works of Weiss, Adler and Hilsenrath as case studies, it argues that implicit aesthetic and ethical norms, imposed by gatekeepers from Adorno to publishers, still set limits on the form and content of German literary testimony to the Holocaust. The shifting status of ‘Die Ermittlung’, from celebrated cultural event to a text accused of erasing the specificity of Jewish victimhood, is set against the tepid reception accorded to Adler’s Holocaust testimonial novels ‘Eine Reise’ (1962) and ‘Panorama’ (1968), and the difficulty Hilsenrath had in finding a German publisher for ‘Der Nazi und der Friseur’ into the 1970s. The paper thus argues that the voice of the victim still struggled to find German publishers and audiences into the 1970s.
It’s been two weeks since the ‘H. G. Adler / W. G. Sebald: Witnessing, Memory, Poetics’ symposium in London, and I’m still glowing. The day was generally felt by all participants to have been remarkably productive, intensive and rich. All the contributors brought their own intellectual agenda to the links between the writers, and, as one commented, we could feel the frontiers of knowledge moving forwards. What more could one hope to achieve at a symposium?
So Lynn Wolff and I are tired but happy, as you can possibly see in the photograph of the conference participants below! Currently, we’re working on plans for a conference publication, and I hope we’ll be able to share more details in due course.
(Lynn, Dora Osborne and I all met while Ph.D. students at a conference organised by Jo Catling at the University of East Anglia, ‘W. G. Sebald and the European Tradition’, in June 2007. It was wonderful to all be together again five years later collaborating on Sebald once more – so thank you, Jo, for bringing us all together!)
One of the joys of sabbatical is that you get the chance to share the fruits of your research with the academic community at large. I’ve been lucky enough to receive invitations to speak in a number of institutions recently; here’s a list.
- 14 February 2013: ‘Nationalisms and Sexualities’, Tendencies at Twenty, University of York
- 29 January 2013: ‘Sebald’s Bachelors: Queer Resistance and the Unconforming Life’, University of Warwick German Seminar Series.
- 13 December 2012: ‘German Intellectuals from Student Revolution to Reaction: Botho Strauß, Peter Handke, W. G. Sebald’, University of Manchester CIDRAL Public Intellectuals Seminar Series.
- 11-12 November 2012: ”Prague circles: the vicissitudes of H. G. Adler’s modernist poetics’, H. G. Adler: Life, Literature, Legacy, hosted by the Israel and Golda Koschitzky Center for Jewish Studies and the Department of English at York University in Toronto.
I’d best get writing, then…
Phew! I think I’ve pretty much recovered from the annual Women in German Conference, held at Leeds last weekend – but the energy of the conference is still buzzing with me. It was a fantastic success, with nearly sixty female Germanists from Ireland and Great Britain present, as well as two brilliant and opinionated crime writers, Sabine Deitmer and Gitta Kloenne. The feminist fictioneers kept us entertained as well as enraged with hilarious and troubling readings from their novels about prostitution, debates about women’s rights and bumping off unnecessary husbands.
The papers were also wonderful, and the extraordinary turnout meant that we could have themed panels covering topics ranging from mediaeval printing to Muslim feminist hip-hop. Not all that wide a leap, indeed – both are very much about means of circulating, marketing and adapting texts! The conference began and ended up with papers given by postgraduates on the ways that the GDR has been represented in the British media and publishing industry. That was an unintended coincidence, but I think it represents what WiGS does best – promote brilliant young postgraduates and talk about the ways in which German culture matters in Ireland and the UK.
I think I’m particularly exhausted post-conference because I also took on the task of live-tweeting all the way through. The results are below! Another post on the trials and benefits of live-tweeting is to follow, but for now, enjoy WiGS in 140 characters or fewer…
I’ve had a wonderfully exciting and stimulating Reading Week at two conferences – just what Reading Week should be about, except that I didn’t actually have any time to read! Can we have a second Reading Week to follow up on all the wonderful ideas that others propose at conferences?
The first conference was the Portsmouth Translation Studies Conference, on Translation and Memory. I was speaking on H. G. Adler, and my abstract was as follows:
Translating Trauma: the fiction of H. G. Adler
The Prague German writer and scholar H. G. Adler (1910-1988) wrote a massive body of work concerning the Holocaust, much of which has sunk without a trace until a recent revival of interest in his work. While his works of historiography, principally his ‘Theresienstadt: Antlitz einer Zwangsgemeinschaft’ (1955) have been viewed as classics of Holocaust scholarship, his literary works and novels have received little reception, despite repeated republication since the 1960s. In particular, publishers rejected them in the 1950s because the way in which they translated Holocaust memory into literature was felt to be inappropriate. Following Adler’s centenary, however, these novels have begun to be translated into English, French and other languages, and are finding a new audience.
This paper addresses itself to two intertwined questions: Firstly, how do Adler’s novels, particularly ‘Eine Reise’/’The Journey’ and ‘Die Unsichtbare Wand’, both written in the late 1940s, address the problems of translation of memory within the texts themselves? Although the two novels have very different poetic strategies – one a highly experimental and polyvocal text, the other a first-person narrative told in mostly realist fashion – both are answers to the question of how to translate memory into text. Artur Landau, the protagonist of ‘Die Unsichtbare Wand’ and Paul Lustig, the only survivor of his family in ‘Eine Reise’, struggle to communicate their experiences in a post-war world bent on forgetting and on the creation of new forms of language that elide the specificity of Holocaust experience, and when faced with a dislocation of the self that makes saying ‘I’ impossible. Drawing on the theories of Agamben, I look at the various strategies that Adler employs to translate the memory of ‘homo sacer’ into literary language, that further draws on the literary memory of the destroyed Prague School. Further, I address some of the problems facing the translation of these texts into our post-memory-boom culture.
Of course, I didn’t get through all of that material at all – abstracts are always so over-ambitious! – but I did manage to get as far as using Agamben to talk about Adler’s impossibility of saying ‘I’, and I look forward to writing up the material into a paper.
I also had a go at livetweeting the event, and rather than have the tweets disappear into the ether, I thought I might as well paste them below. Obviously the chronology now runs from bottom to top, rather than top to bottom, but that’s the multi-directional, non-linear nature of the internet, isn’t it?