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Temporalities of Memory

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Organizer: Michael McGillen

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A key challenge facing memory studies, despite its central role in interdisciplinary humanities work over the past 30 years, is how the field can survive in the face of a contemporary culture whose “regime of presentism,” in François Hartog’s words, appears to obliterate distinctions between past, present, and future. Building on the work of scholars such as Aleida Assmann (Is Time out of Joint?, 2020), Anne Fuchs (Precarious Times, 2019), and Andreas Huyssen (Present Pasts, 2003), this seminar seeks contributions that explore how literature and other forms of cultural expression depict the rich and complex relationship of past and present in works of memory. In what ways can literature and the arts preserve historical consciousness—even in the wake of trauma—and push back against the tendency to subordinate the past to the imperatives of present concerns?

Conceived as a series of investigations into the “temporalities of memory,” the seminar’s contributions will examine the unique capacities of literature and the arts to display “polychronic temporalities” (Gamper and Huhn, 2014)—that is, multiple experiences of time that are singular, heterogeneous, and often out of sync. In a comparative framework, we will assess how the notion of polychronic time can provide insights into how memory is represented in literary and cultural forms. Among the questions that we will consider are: How do writers and artists picture the relationship of past and present in works of memory? What techniques are available for depicting the collision of different layers of time? In what ways can ideas of latency and belatedness help us understand the unique qualities of temporalities of memory?

The seminar solicits case studies of specific works as well as theoretical investigations that encompass areas of inquiry including (but not limited to):

Temporalities of traumatic memory (via Caruth, Luckhurst)
Philosophical and psychoanalytic approaches to memory
Spatial configurations of memoryscapes and their relation to polychronic time
The spectral return of memories; memory as repetition
Forms and genres of literatures of memory (memoire/autobiography, testimony/documentary forms, the novel as form, poetry, etc.)

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