This interdisciplinary research network supported by the NSU (nordic.university) – an international research initiative funded by Nordic Council of Ministersexplores the complex intertwinement of narrative and memory in processes of cultural self-understanding. It addresses the ethical, aesthetic, and political dimensions of the interaction between narrative practices of sense-making and the shaping of cultural memory. We investigate how different storytelling strategies of literature, audiovisual arts, social media, and oral testimonies address the legacy of twentieth-century European conflicts and how they travel across national borders.

How do artistically produced and culturally mediated narrative models, such as those that shape the transcultural memory of the Holocaust and postwar migration, function as memorial forms that are used in reinterpreting other cultural experiences, such as the Stalinist repressions in the Baltic countries, Franco’s crimes, the more recent wars in Kosovo and Ukraine, and the current refugee crisis? What dangers are involved in adopting the narrative memories of others? The project explores the ethical and political questions related to the use and abuse of artistic, political, and intermedial storytelling practices that function as transcultural memorial forms.

Our hypothesis is that in contrast to the competing political discourses on twentieth-century totalitarianisms, the arts have developed more productive comparative approaches that negotiate national and regional differences and address the ethical complexity of narrating traumatic experiences of war, conflict, displacement, and political rupture. Important to the ethical potential of artistic narrative practices is also the way in which they link memory to imagination in such a way that allows us to envision a future-oriented ethics of memory. They suggest ways of narrating the suffering of past others so as to learn from their stories in constructing contemporary European identities and negotiating current political conflicts.

We aim to bring discussions in narrative studies and cultural memory studies into a more intensive dialogue through reflection on how the interpretation, suppression, and negotiation of the memory of war, rupture, and nonviolent struggle across Europe are interwoven with processes of narrative identity construction and how they open up new possibilities for reshaping and reimagining the European project. Our research initiative aspires to further contemporary European self-understanding and cross-cultural dialogue in the joint endeavour to rethink the place and task of Europe today, in what is simultaneously an age of terrorism and conflict and an age of unprecedented transcultural exchange and interaction.