Constructing Stories of Political Forgiveness
This paper examines the attempts made in post conflict societies between ‘perpetrators’ and ‘victims’ to overcome traumatic rupture through the exercise of public truth telling. Might the pressure to tell particular kinds of stories – such as those which demonstrate a willingness to forgive – be beneficial for communities, at the same time that they enhance the quilt of silence which covers over much traumatic experience? Must a perpetrator apologise, and ask for forgiveness, before it can be bestoyed? Finally, who determines who is allowed to forgive whom, and for what? The paper will focus on the challenge of forgiveness over two decades in the former East Germany.
Larry’s Last Tape: Troubling Truth in Glenn Patterson’s That Which Was
Certain basic facts about the Northern Irish Troubles, such as the over 3,000 fatalities caused by the conflict, are indisputable. But the true meaning of the Troubles has proven a more contentious matter, with dissension between Unionist, Republican, and other narratives preventing a consensus. This paper will use Glenn Patterson’s comic novel That Which Was (2004) as a point of entry for a discussion of how trauma narratives fit in with this larger context of ideological contestation and skepticism. Particular emphasis will be given to the traumatized testimony of the character Larry, whom may or may not be struggling with the after-effects of perpetrator trauma. The novel’s protagonist – the Presbyterian minister Ken Avery – wants to believe in Larry’s fragmented memories of violence, and starts to tape them with a cassette recorder, yet is led to question their truth value as they increasingly smack of “something out of John Le Carré” and other pop culture sources. Why does the novel place traumatic witness in such a comic and vulnerable light? And what is it about trauma that makes it susceptible to such treatment? The way in which Patterson’s novel exploits the vagaries of trauma testimony will be placed in the context of Post-Agreement Northern Ireland, after the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, as well as other relevant literary works such as Samuel Beckett’s Krapp’s Late Tape.
Trauma and Narrative in the Graphic Novel Series Episodes from Auschwitz
Between 2009 and 2013, K & L Press, in partnership with the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum, published a series of four Graphic Novels entitled “Episodes From Auschwitz”, narrating different moments and characters from the most famous concentration camp of the Second World War. According to the editors, the series is the “first historical comic book about Auschwitz” and its production had the consultation and assistance of historians specialized in the subject, as well as survivors of the field itself. Although with its specificities, the Graphic Novels series should be understood as part of a set of representations on World War II and the Holocaust, as well as testimonies, audiovisual productions and the historiographic narrative, and to understand its role in the set of these representations, it is necessary, first, to understand the object itself. In this sense, this research seeks to identify the relationship between trauma and everyday experiences in Auschwitz from the analysis of two aspects present in the series, the relations between victims and perpetrators, and the narrative aspects of the language of comics, articulating, in this way, the contribution of historians such as Roger Chartier – and his definition of representation – and Dan Stone with comic language theorists such as Scott McCloud and Thierry Groensteen.
Facts, Lies and Alternative Facts: Does the Truth of Testimony Matter?
In the so-called ‘post-truth’ age, the claim to be telling the truth might appear to be quaintly dated or merely rhetorical. However, the ‘post-truth’ age is also an age of testimony, in which survivors of trauma and abuse demand the right to be heard, even if their stories are also sometimes felt to be untellable. As readers and critics we still tend to expect and require that testimonial texts should have a different relation to real experience from overtly fictional works. Testimonial works ask for consent at a factual, literal level. What happens when that literality is brought into question? Does it discredit testimony or re-locate it, and enforce a revision of how we understand history, experience, facts and lies? The paper raises these questions on the basis of three examples: Dori Laub’s discussion of an eyewitness account of the Auschwitz uprising, according to which four chimneys went up in flames when in fact only one chimney was blown up; Elie Wiesel’s La Nuit/Night, which insists on the truth of its narrator’s experience of Auschwitz and Buchenwald, even though some have claimed that certain incidents are misrepresented or invented; and Binjamin Wilkomirski’s Fragments, which was initially presented as a Holocaust memoir but was later discovered to be fiction.
Cigdem Esin and Aura Lounasmaa
Creative Spaces of Resistance in Narratives by Refugees
This paper explores the possibilities that narratives generated by refugees in creative spaces can offer to resist and challenge the representation of refugee lives and stories. We argue that the relational and mobile processes in which refugee stories are told plays an important role in their emerging as powerful tools of resistance. The discussion in this paper will draw on the published stories by refugees from the Calais ‘Jungle’ camp and stories emerged within the educational space of OLIve, Open Learning Initiative for Refugees and Asylum Seekers that we have run at the University of East London. We will examine the experience of creating narratives as well as the products of this process.
‘You can’t grab anything with a closed fist’: Reflections on Ulster Protestant identity in Derek Lundy ́s memoir Men that God Made Mad: A Journey Through Truth, Myth and Terror in Northern Ireland
In Ireland and within Irish studies itself, considerable effort has been expended in the attempt to disclose the complex interaction between past conflicts and contemporary attempts to recoup their significance in the present. Given that the interpretation of historical events has often been at the heart of national conflict, there have frequently been fierce clashes between rival versions of a common past. Derek Lundy ́s Men that God Made Mad: A Journey Through Truth, Myth and Terror in Northern Ireland a work of non-fiction published in 2006, is an invaluable and timely contribution to our understanding of the selectivity of national memory and the indelible link that exists between familial remembrance and its communal counterpart. As a work of historical investigation, it sheds light on the interaction between repressed cultural memories, communal and national amnesia and the evasion of the past. A generically hybrid work, part historical investigation, part memoir, Lundy ́s text combines a blend of meticulous research with autobiographical snapshots, interspersed with an exploration of the connection between personal and collective identities. Claiming that ́the lives of my ancestors resonate in the very core of Ulster history ́ ́ Lundy uses the lives of three such ancestors as a prism through which to examine the standard, received stories of myth and history so prominent within the Ulster Protestant tradition. In doing so, Lundy ́s narrative provides support for Jean Braham ́s view that ́We see the past in something of the same way as we see a Henry Moore sculpture. The ́holes ́define the shape ́. What is left repressed or what cannot be uttered, is often as significant…as what is said ̈. Moreover Lundy, through an engagement with his own personal background as a member of an Ulster Protestant family, positions himself in a metaphorical space where individual memory, cultural allegiance and concepts of the self merge. My paper will seek to show how Lundy ́s text, in attempting to investigate the past with ́thoughts of salvage, ́ can be viewed as an attempt at achieving a renegotiation of selfhood.
Patrick Modiano and the Occupation: Absence, Recurrence, Reticence
The German Occupation of Paris constitutes a frequent backdrop to the narratives of French novelist Patrick Modiano, winner of the 2014 Nobel Prize for Literature. It is also an event that the novelist, born in 1945, did not participate in. When a ‘primary framework’ (E. Goffman) is as traumatic and affect-laden as the Shoah and the Occupation, its transformation into a work of fiction is not without raising suspicion, particularly so when the author has no first-hand experience of it. In such instance, literature could be accused, quite legitimately, of appropriating the past. Yet, in the case of P. Modiano, such accusation does not hold. Modiano cannot be accused of cannibalising the Occupation for entertainment purposes, or in order to shroud his narratives in a disquieting and vaguely titillating atmosphere. I propose to demonstrate the validity of this assertion by examining the recurrence of both an onomastic and a topographical marker of the Occupation in several of his novels: the morally questionable figure of Sonia O’Dauyé/Odette Blache, in De si braves garçons (1982) and La Petite Bijou (2001); the Bal Tabarin, a cabaret of the period, assiduously frequented by Germans and collaborators, in Livret de famille (1977) and Une jeunesse (1981). By in turn considering the raison d’être of these referential traces (linked to personal, familial and collective histories), and by analysing the largely ‘oblique’ rhetorical devices underpinning their inclusion in the narratives (elliptical descriptions; aposiopesis; contradictory iterations; inferences; blanks), we will come to appreciate not only how Modiano seeks to reconcile ethical imperatives with aesthetics considerations, but also that the intermingling of fact and fiction in this œuvre points not to a dichotomy, but rather to a partnership, as if the harsh baton of reality needed relaying through the ‘transparent density’ (J. Semprun) of literature.
Kaisa Hiltunen and Nina Sääskilahti
Remembering and Imagining the Past in Two WWII Films
During the Continuation War, Finnish civilian population and German soldiers lived side by side in Lapland. This lead occasionally to romantic relationships between Finnish women and German soldiers. When the Finnish army forced Germans to retreat from Finland during the Lapland War in 1944, many Finnish women decided to leave with the German soldiers. The local community condemned those women who returned, and their children experienced the scorn too. The issue has been surrounded by fictionalization from the beginning. When Finnish men returned from the war, they started to imagine what had occurred between the(ir) women and the German soldiers. Literature took up the topic soon, but in cinema it has been treated sparsely. Susanna Helke’s Auf wiedersehen Finnland (2010) was the first documentary film to discuss the topic in Finland. In the film, women reminisce their experience and the shame related to it. Antti J. Jokinen returns to the topic in the fictional film The Midwife (2015), which is based on Katja Kettu’s novel. It tells the love story of a Finnish woman and a German-Finnish soldier in the midst of the Lapland war. This presentation discusses the different levels of memory and imagination and analyzes how fictional and factual elements intertwine in the films’ narratives. It asks what kind of entries into history they offer for today’s spectator. In Auf wiedersehen Finnland archive footage and dramatized scenes illustrate the intimate stories rather than explain the historical context. The documentary invites the spectator to take part in remembering and imagining the past. The Midwife detaches the romance from the social and historical context and offers affect as a way to connect with the WWII. It recycles semi-documentary imagery and uses explanatory texts that refer to the historical course of events.
Between Remembrance and Forgetting: Fact, Fiction and the Importance of Form in Kundera’s The Book of Laughter and Forgetting (1979) and Semprun’s What a Beautiful Sunday! (1980)
In both Milan Kundera’s The Book of Laughter and Forgetting and Jorge Semprun’s What a Beautiful Sunday!, the visual arts are implicated in forms of cultural forgetting. In Kundera’s novel, aesthetic erasures mask political violence: Kundera describes an official photograph of Clementis, the high-ranking communist who was instrumental in organising the coup d’état which led the Czech Communist Power to power in 1949. When Clementis subsequently fell out of favour with the Party and was hung for treason, this photo was doctored to erase Clementis aesthetically just as he had been erased in reality. For Semprun, the 1958 memorial to the atrocities at Buchenwald Camp is implicated in similar forms of aesthetic forgetting: while ostensibly designed to commemorate the deaths within the camp, the monument in fact erases the violence of these deaths by converting them into a sculptural narrative of fraternal triumph and resistance. Both authors are, then, concerned with the ways in which translating a traumatic event into an aesthetic form can enable a forgetting of the very experience it purports to remember. Yet it is through an aesthetic form – the novel – that both authors seek to highlight these erasures. Indeed, both Kundera and Semprun have written extensively about the potential for novelistic narrative to enable us to grasp the reality of a traumatic experience. How then can this dichotomy in their discussion of aesthetic forms be understood? This paper will argue that it is by translating these visual images into narrative, by integrating fact and fiction, that both Kundera and Semprun seek to give voice to those silenced by the official representations of the events they narrate.
Anne-Karoline Sunde Jakobsen
‘The Mechanics of Bombing: Documenting Atrocity in Kate Atkinson’s A God in Ruins’
How can literary works of the twenty-first century encourage the remembrance of historical traumas whilst simultaneously acknowledging the gap between real event and its subsequent fictional representations? The proposed paper will explore this question in relation to Kate Atkinson’s 2015 novel A God in Ruins, a work that centres on the allied bombing campaign on Germany during World War II. It narrates the experiences of bomber pilot Teddy during and after the war, but also elaborates on the mundane lives of his successors all the way into the twenty-first century. The novel includes a depiction of the RAF Bomber Command that draws heavily on documentary techniques, but within a self-reflexive, metafictional framework: towards the end of the novel, it is revealed that Teddy never actually survived the war, and as a consequence, his successors are virtually erased from the fictional universe. This emphasizes how historical trauma resonates through the ages, as the novel mourns not only the immediate victims of war, but also the “ghosts of the future”, all the children who never got a chance to be born. “Let us talk about something more interesting than the mechanics of bombing”, urges Teddy’s wife repeatedly. However, her insistence is continuously overruled: to the contrary, the novel suggests that research-based and detailed descriptions of such events as “the mechanics of bombing” are a vital part of the aesthetic project of coming to know historical traumas. Simultaneously, its metafictional elements respond to a perceived need to address epistemological issues concerning literature’s power to render the past accurately.
Fragment, Episode, Ellipsis: Narrative Features of Holocaust Narratives
This paper starts from the premise that, though narratives are imbued with a capacity to create meaning, no narrative can make the Holocaust meaningful. Yet as stories from the Holocaust show, it does not follow that narratives about this historical event are meaningless. Discussing how Holocaust survivors grapple with the task of narrating about an event that threatens to render language unusable and narrative impossible, the paper focuses on the narrative elements of fragment, episode, and ellipsis. The textual examples are taken from Time’s Witnesses: Women’s Voices from the Holocaust, ed. Jakob Lothe (Edinburgh: Fledgling Press, 2017).
Addressing Diversity and Inclusion in Contemporary Northern Irish/British Literature for Children and Young Adults
The paper assesses the issues of diversity, inter-group tolerance, cooperation, cultural assimilation and inclusion as portrayed in contemporary Northern Irish/British fiction from/about Northern Ireland – as related to the peace process and conflict management. While some research into fiction writing on the Troubles for adults has been carried out, the area of creative writing for children and young adults concerning the same subject is rather underrepresented. It has been argued that if Northern Ireland is to overcome the ethno-political binaries, and hence foster a more open/tolerant societal relations, the overall discourse concerning the conflict has to change. The consensus has been that tendencies towards heterogeneity and openness should constitute an inherent part of the language of instruction applied in education at its earliest stages possible. The paper seeks to examine the role creative writing has played in this process (has it affected it and if so, how?). It is understandable that it might be difficult, or even impossible, to ‘measure’ the actual impact art can have on the peace process or conflict management. On the other hand, the role of storytelling in bringing reconciliation and understanding, particularly in the context of the Troubles, has been generally acknowledged and secured support and continuous funding from the EU resources. Moreover, the paper will seek to incorporate findings/feedback from numerous organizations active in non-violent education and training to establish the congruence of actions carried out by the different bodies active within this field and how such is reflected on in fiction for children/young adults or not.
Narratives, Fiction and Fact in and Anna Burns’ novel No Bones (2002) and During the Troubles in Northern Ireland
How does the novel No Bones, Anna Burns’ anatomy of emotional distress, relate to issues of fiction and fact in its compassionate and comic and totally weird presentation of the very real experiences of paramilitary warfare, social suppression and individual suffering during the Troubles in Belfast from 1966 to the Good Friday Peace Agreement in 1998? The novel offers an astonishing insight into the traumatizing effects of political conflict, social upheaval and situations of war, not least in its surreal qualities. Burns’ surreal prose would conventionally be characterised as a work of semi-autobiographical fiction. This paper argues that No Bones presents a document of facts. It also positions briefly Burns’ novel in the welter of discourses on the Troubles, and, finally, speculates on how the novel’s reception reflects the transition of grand narratives in Belfast from war to peace at the time of its publication in 2002.
Science Fiction Poetry – A Genre of Critical Reflection on Society and Our Present Way of Living
My paper focusses on SF poetry, which is a growing genre in Scandinavian contemporary poetry. SF is often associated with pure fiction, however one of the central features of the genre is that it depicts future scenarios with the aim of drawing attention to and questioning our present society and the consequences of modern lifestyle. SF uses a hypothetical scenario to explore tensions within contemporary society and to produce new perspectives on reality. In this way, SF negotiates fiction and facts, and it functions as a trick mirror in which the reader can see herself and her time. The narrative of SF often relates to the consequences of new technological developments, war and terror, however natural disasters also play an important part. The dystopian aspects of SF seem to have outmatched the utopian perspectives, and today some of the most frightening scenarios relate to the question of a global climate crisis. In “Science Fiction and Ecology” in A Companion to Science Fiction (2005), Brian Stableford writes that while many apocalyptic representations in the beginning of the 20th century depicted world disasters caused by other agents than human beings, these disasters have become more closely linked to humankind throughout the twentieth century, and around the millennium, the great majority of SF takes for granted that the ecocatastrophe is irreversible. What is it that makes SF a promising genre for reflection on contemporary society, conflicts and disasters? How does SF poetry, more specifically contribute to critical reflection on the threats to the environment and mankind? In my paper, I will discuss the potentials of SF as a genre in relation to different intermediale and multimodal works by the Swedish artist Johannes Heldén, who is one of the most important Scandinavian SF poets of today.
Aura Nikkilä and Anna Vuorinne
Visual Counter-Memory of the Continuation War in Hanneriina Moisseinen’s The Isthmus
The military conflicts between Finland and the Soviet Union during the World War II (Winter War 1939–1940, Continuation War 1941–1944) play a central role in the public memory of Finland. They are remembered as acts of heroic defence presenting the true Finnish spirit. Only in the recent years more alternative narratives about the war have found their way to literature and media. For instance, literature about the war from the perspective of women has been published as well as about the mental problems suffered by soldiers. One example of these new stories of war is Hanneriina Moisseinen’s historical comic The Isthmus (2016), portraying the end of the Continuation War and the evacuation of the Karelian Isthmus in 1944. The focus of the comic is on two individuals who are affected by the war: Maria Shemeikka, a farm girl who has to evacuate from her home with her cattle, and Auvo Oksala, a traumatised soldier and a deserter. The Isthmus is a particularly interesting case due to its peculiar way of combining pencil-drawn images with archival photographs. All the photographs used in the comic are taken from the Finnish Wartime Photograph Archive, a collection of some 160,000 photographs taken in 1939–1945 by the Information Company of The Finnish Defence Forces. The archival photographs lay the ground for alternative war stories told through fictive graphic storytelling. Even though The Isthmus does feature some photos from the battlefield, the majority of the photographs in the comic are of people and cattle fleeing from the war. In our presentation we argue that The Isthmus creates a visual counter-memory of the war through the combination of a fictional drawn story and the extensive use of documentary photographs that show a side of war rarely seen.
Humorous, Self-deprecating and Traumatic: Soviet Emigrant Fiction in the US
North American fiction by immigrants from the former Soviet Union has a become substantial body of literature, some say a genre. The representatives of this genre were born in the Soviet Union, but their birth as writers happened in the US or Canada. Differently from dissident émigrés from the Soviet bloc, such as Brodsky, Milosz, Solzhenitsyn, or Voinovich, who transplanted their writing careers to the West, these young immigrants built their writing careers in the West by, many claim, capitalizing on their Soviet affiliation. In Russia, in particular, they have been criticized for using their supposed Soviet traumas to cater to the Western curiosity about their fallen Cold War adversary. Vladimir Voinovich, who had a writing career both in the Soviet Union and Western Germany, discovered that in order to make a living in the West, he had to write not for self-expression or the state’s demands but for the audience. When it comes to literature by Russian or Soviet writers, written either at home or in emigration, dissident texts probably have the highest claim on truthfulness. Is then the literature produced in the two decades after the collapse of the Soviet Union in North America by such writers as Gary Shteyngart, David Bezmozgis, Lara Vapnyar, Ellen Litman and others less than truthful? Although these writers of Russian Jewish backgrounds recycle the stereotypes about their former homeland often for humorous, some may claim superficial, effects, I would argue that they tap into the long-standing American Jewish literary, and more broadly cultural, tradition of self-censoring, audience entertainment, and trauma writing with humor. A comparison of Shteyngart’s The Russian Debutante’s Handbook (2002), the pioneering text of Soviet immigrant literature, with his recent memoir Little Failure (2014) attests to the reality of the trauma, addressed jokingly in the first and brutally honestly in the second.
Confessional and Political Rhetoric in the Memoirs of Former Nordic Neo-Nazis. Reading Kent Lindahl’s Exit and Henrik Holappa’s Miten perustin uusnatsijärjestön?
In fiction, one of the means available to the author to reveal the ethical levels of the narration and the characters is the rhetorical device of confession. Confession acts as a ritual and rhetorical formula in which feelings of shame and repentance are expressed by an act of speech or testimony. In my paper I will examine how the confessional mode in presented in Swedish Kent Lindahl’s memoir Exit (v. 2000) and Finnish Henrik Holappa’s memoir Miten perustin uusnatsijärjestön? [How I established a Neo-Nazi organization] (2016). In my paper, I will examine how the narrative strategies of these witness accounts remind of the confessional mode presented in fiction. Although Lindahl and Holappa belong to different generations, they share a common history as being members of the Nordic neo-Nazi and white supremacist movements and networks. I will examine how the process of leaving of these organizations is narrated. I will discuss, for example, how the narrators resist and react to the presentation of facts and political rhetoric by the neo-Nazis. Both narrators become gradually doubtful of the political argumentation of the neo-Nazi movements. Moreover, I will study the representation of violence in Lindahl’s and Holappa’s memoirs. The involvement of the narrators in street fights is closely depicted in both memoirs. The narrator in Lindström’s text, especially, suffers from the trauma caused by his active participation in horrific violence. The representation of violence is studied in the context of gender and trauma studies.
Andreea Deciu Ritivoi
Democracy as Narrative of Rescue
Political philosophers like Jacques Derrida, Jacques Rancière, and Giorgio Agamben have argued that democracy is not simply a political system among others, but also an ontological order that requires constant re-discovery and rebirth. “Democracy-to-come,” to use Derrida’s phrase, also requires a narrative of perpetual legitimation. In this paper, I examine the political narrative that underwrites some of the key features of the democratic political order, by focusing on its plot of salvation and rescue of others—the “least fortunate” ones, be they impoverished countries, disenfranchised groups, or particular individuals (especially refugees and migrants).
Per Roar Thorsnes
While They are Floating
While they are floating addresses the performance with the same title by choreographer Hooman Sharifi and Carte Blanche –the Norwegian National Company of Contemporary Dance, which premiered at Bergen International Festival (Festspillene i Bergen) 26. May 2017. According to the program notes, by “taking refugees’ personal narratives as its point of departure” the company “looks at individual stories of transit… and loss.” Hooman Sharifi, who also is the artistic director of the company, came himself to Norway from Iran as an unaccompanied minor asylum seeker in 1988. I want to address Sharifi’s deliberate blending of fact and fiction in the performance While they are floating, which was performed in Oslo 9.-12. November 2017, days before the Norwegian Parliament was to debate their policy towards the return of Afghan refugees and asylum seekers, and then especially the policy towards the unaccompanied minors. By drawing on trauma theory and Toni Morrison’s strategy to use fiction to embody what cannot be documented factually, I want to reflect upon the relationship between fiction and fact in narratives of political conflict through looking at the dramaturgical narrative of this performance While they are floating.
Hans Kristian S. Rustad
Between the Fictional and the Factual. Political Conflicts in Marie Silkeberg and Ghayath Almadhoun’s To Damaskus
We are witnessing a resurgence of engaged poetry, with poets of different genres and schools writing about concerns beyond the personal, epiphanic, and aesthetic (see i.e. Gray and Keniston 2016). Poetry after the change of the millennium makes a space for a different and more overt poetry of social responsibility, often combining lyrical, narrative and rhetorical features (see i.e. Altieri 2012; Spahr 2012), sometimes across genres and media. This shift in contemporary poetry is among others a response to the experiences of conflicts and catastrophes that are of not national, but global concerns. How are political conflicts presented in contemporary poetry? And how can contemporary engaged poetry offer a different understanding of political conflicts? With the Swedish poet Marie Silkeberg’s poetry on global catastrophes as a starting point, I will explore how contemporary poetry responds to political conflicts of today, and I will claim that to attain social efficacy, contemporary engaged poetry makes intensified use of any strategy geared to evoke readerly attention (Culler 2015). Silkeberg’s poetry makes an interesting case in this regards because, in its response to political conflicts, it creates a fuller poetic language by combining poetry’s ritualistic, non-fictional dimension with narrative and rhetorical dimensions. Further, it expands its language and social efficacy by exploring these dimensions in different media, including book poetry and poetry film. And as a consequence, it puts forward a reading that is sensitive both to political poems’ claim of being non-fiction, responsible, and reliable, and to their ritualistic, lyrical, narrative, and imaginative qualities.
Fact through Fiction: Véronique Tadjo’s Retelling of Testimony in The Shadow of Imana
In 1998, as part of the collective and multinational project entitled “Rwanda: Writing for the Sake of Memory” (Rwanda: Écrire par devoir de mémoire), Ivorian artist Véronique Tadjo traversed Rwanda collecting the stories of victims and perpetrators of the 1994 genocide. Although, she initially began her work by painting in Kigali, Tadjo ultimately turned to text in order to encapsulate the experiences of the genocide. The collection of these testimonies can be found in her novel titled The Shadow of Imana: Travels in the Heart of Rwanda (2000). Tadjo herself becomes a central character in the text as it follows her quest to collect and preserve authentic testimonies of the unfathomable atrocities that had taken place several years before. The text initially presents itself as a non-fictional work, but the question and usage of fiction to recount true stories quickly arises. It becomes clear that Tadjo is utilizing fiction as a means to preserve authentic stories. This paper addresses the ethics of fictionalized testimonies of genocide in literature. It also examines the way in which Tadjo utilizes fiction to create a work that helps the reality of the trauma stemming from Rwandan genocide become tangible for readers around the world. Her use of excessively ornate imagery related to the sense of smell is an attestation that fictionalized accounts can sometimes render themselves more accessible, and thus more real to the reader than if they had limited themselves to the constraints of non-fiction. Inevitably when dealing with a work of ethno-fiction, questions arise concerning testimony and who bears the right and responsibility to provide it. Furthermore, one must not overlook the implications of the author publishing on behalf of a French based entity such as Fest’Africa given the previous imperial relationship between France and Rwanda. Despite the risk of losing credibility by writing fact through fiction as an outsider to the conflict, Tadjo pushes forward and the payoff is worth it.
The Ministry of Truth: Uncovering the Intelligence Community’s Fictional Narrative in Glenn Greenwald’s No Place to Hide
On June 5, 2013, The Guardian published the first of many explosive articles that uncovered the existence and broad scope of NSA surveillance programs. These programs allow the US government to unwittingly spy on its own citizens by collecting what is referred to as “metadata.” However, it soon became clear that these programs were not limited to the US, and as the leaks developed, it was revealed that many European countries (UK, Germany, Netherlands, Sweden) had collaborated with the NSA to establish surveillance systems of their own, many of which are even more invasive than those implemented in the US. What seemed to be a domestic incident soon became an international firestorm. But the question remains, how did citizens across the globe “willingly” give up their right to privacy in a perceived trade-off for greater national security? While the threat of terrorism is genuine, the intelligence agencies of these governments have conflated this factual threat with a “fictional” narrative that seeks to strike fear into the public heart. This is done intentionally in order to justify the implementation and swift expansion of these programs, all in the name of “safety.” As a result, governments have rapidly expanded their ability to monitor citizens’ phone calls, emails, text messages, web browsing, and location even if they have no connection to a terrorist organization. Glenn Greenwald’s No Place to Hide traces the development of these surveillance programs throughout the 21st century. By examining the timeline, Greenwald is able to explore the ways in which international governments have exploited the national security threat to create a fictional narrative that justifies the existence and need for government surveillance that goes far beyond anything Orwell had imagined. This presentation seeks to assess the fact/fiction dichotomy of these politically motivated narratives and assess how Greenwald’s chronicle, and others like it, might help to reshape public perception and our understanding of privacy and truth.
In the Crosswind: the Construction of a National Trauma Representation
This paper analyzes the relationship between facts and fiction in the 2014 Estonian drama “In the Crosswind” (directed by Martti Helde), a trauma representation focusing on the transportation of women and children to the labour camps in Siberia. The story of mass deportations is based on a real-life diary from the period. The film was widely acclaimed among both, Estonians and Russianspeaking minorities in Estonia. The effect of the film is largely based on the subject of time, which is achieved through using the technique of tableau vivant. In the beginning, the film is at ordinary speed per frame, yet after the deportation, time comes to a standstill, with the film adopting the time of a photograph. Using these choreographed “photographs” and excerpts from the diary, the film weaves together different levels, personal stories and collective trauma. This paper analyzes how the role of fiction and facts, images and text, is being played in the film in order to convey the trauma of these historical events. The focus is on how the film combines different trauma narratives to tell a story that would reach different audiences and have an especially dramatic impact.
The Upside-Down World of Fact and Fiction Surrounding the Dresden Firestorm in Memory: Current Literary Texts as Possible Correctives to the Dresden Destruction Narrative
Dresden comes with a widely known story that is considered a unique perspective on war, memory, history and architecture which is based on its destruction by firebombing in February 1945. The bombardments levelled much of the Old City with its famous landmarks and about 25,000 people lost their lives. Dresden residents base their identity, their understanding of belonging and local pride, on a view of their city from the pre-bombing times. In reality, of course, this understanding of Dresden is a nostalgically distorted form of the actual city, which had seen plenty of modern developments and had long-standing high industrial and military significance, as well as being a full participant in National Socialist ideology. Yet Dresden residents frame their place with the so-called Canaletto-view from the mid-18th century and stylize their city as a place of beauty and art. This assessment is still widely shared both nationally and internationally and informs the Dresden bombing narrative, which defies factual evidence in favor of a victim discourse that describes the bombardment as a war crime and a unique catastrophe. Dresden and its residents are seen as innocent, the city is claimed to have possessed purely cultural significance and been largely defenseless, the bombings are understood as particularly cruel at a point that the war was already decided and as unmatched in their destructive force, and the number of casualties is continuously inflated. Despite the evidence to the contrary, this myth of Dresden, built around images of before and after the bombings, is firmly established both nationally and internationally even today. Historical narratives which contradict this established story are often ignored, doubted or firmly rejected. In my talk, I will examine how a discussion of the role of Dresden, its history, and symbolic meaning as a theme in current national and international literature reveals possible new avenues for the remembrance of Dresden and its bombing discourse. Ironically, through fictional re-workings of the Dresden narrative, these texts succeed in offering a corrective to some of the misconceptions about the bombing narratives surrounding Dresden and suggest new ways the events can be remembered today. While Dresden remains a central memory cipher in these texts, the discourse of loss and cultural significance are reevaluated and reshaped to allow a more pluralistic view of the past.
I will focus on recent works by two German and two American writers. Dresden-born poet Durs Grünbein’s long poem Porcelain: Poem of the Demise of My City (2005) emphasizes pluralism, presenting Dresden as a composition of porcelain shards, which suggests harmony and beauty, but also cracks and breaks. The author strives for balance, neither denying suffering nor responsibility. The text is visually framed with undestroyed cityscapes, playing with the Dresden pictorial archive and acknowledging the power of words and images in the established Dresden narrative. Marcel Beyer’s novel Kaltenburg (2008) looks at a different aspect of the memory culture surrounding Dresden and its effects. The novel’s main character avoids questions about responsibility and guilt related to his life. In order to keep excluding such questions, he feels unable to leave Dresden. The city with its traumatic past, memorialized as innocent suffering, allows and models a discourse which excludes painful questions. In Jonathan Safran Foer’s novel Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close (2005), the trauma from living through the Dresden bombings becomes intertwined with the trauma from the 9/11 attacks. The main character is modeled loosely after Oskar in Günter Grass’ The Tin Drum, yet Foer’s Oskar tries to find his way in the post-9/11 New York. The novel deals with war, terror, and personal suffering, and through Dresden incorporates Germany into a global framework, and effectively denies both 9/11 and Dresden a status of uniqueness. Jonathan Lethem, in contrast, focuses in Dissident Gardens (2013) not on the bombings themselves, but their appropriation by East Germany as propaganda against the West. He also touches upon the high significance of visual images in this discourse. Such diverse reworkings of the Dresden narrative reveal a first move towards a democratization of the memory of Dresden and the war, allowing for multiple narratives of the past to exist concurrently as well as a more critical assessments of the established ways of remembering the bombing.
Manufacturing Monsters through Facts and Fictions
The papers combined in the present panel investigate the social construction of ‘monsters’ in and through a variety of media and genres. ‘Monsters’ emerge in our collective imaginaries and memories in different forms and functions, but a shared characteristic seems to be their monolithically evil nature that commonly disallows for contact through other than directly violent means. Branding someone or something as monstrous often implies that the respective entity can, and indeed often should, be fought under the application of all means available to assure the survival of a fragile self in inherently hostile environments. As a result, categorizing an opponent as a ‘monster’ is a precondition for the justification of war and other violent conduct. As such, the social construction, or mediated manufacture, of ‘monsters’ in and through cultural expressions matters for issues of politics and practice. The present panel interrogates the formal means through which Hollywood films, television news and documentaries, and computer games invite for perceptions of particular opponents as monstrous, thereby implicitly facilitating a politics of violence and exclusion. These formal analyses are then combined with attention to the socio-economic and political contexts of production and reception through which the functions and effects of formal meaning potentials are channelled and predisposed. Drawing upon the frameworks of Astrid Erll, Noam Chomsky, and Edward S. Herman, the panel combines close readings of specific cultural expressions with critical attentiveness to the contextual frames that inevitably colour possible readings and predispose possible socio-political implications of cultural expressions.
A Tale of Two Versions: I Am Legend, the Cold War, and the War on Terror
The paper compares and contrasts the officially released version of Lawrence’s 2006 Hollywood movie I Am Legend with the director’s cut, and brings the findings into dialogue with Richard Matheson’s 1954-novel with the same title upon which the film is based. I argue that the officially released version of Lawrence’s film rearticulates Matheson’s novel in religiously conservative and politically reactionary terms as a struggle of a good male military protagonist against incomprehensibly evil subhuman adversaries. At the cost of considerable narrative inconsistencies, the officially released version reframes main protagonist Neville as tragic hero sacrificing himself for the sake of saving a woman and child, and indeed the whole of humanity, against a monstrous and threatening other. In contrast, the director’s cut opens a liminal zone of contact and negotiation in the film on which the formerly confined other can reassert its humanity and, indeed, ethical superiority, thus fundamentally undermining received notions of the military-male Hollywood hero. Realigning the core narrative of the film to the one of Matheson’s novel, the director’s cut as such reverses generic structures of sympathy of mainstream Hollywood film and opens for deep and troubling questions about the consequences of othering and exclusion. Putting Matheson’s novel and Lawrence’s director’s cut into dialogue, the paper then identifies parallels between the cold war political paranoia of the McCarthy era in the US and the contemporary sensitivities of the GWoT. On this background, the release of the official version of I Am Legend is interpreted as a deliberate nod towards a hegemonic political discourse that frames most oppositional political articulations as out of bounds. In this context, controversial narratives that break established genre conventions are reframed as a significant hazard for economic pay-offs of large scale investments in cultural products.
Tales of Tirpitz: Manufacturing History in the Documentary The Battle for Hitler’s Supership
My paper deals with the relationship between factual and fictional elements in the documentary The Battle for Hitler’s Supership (Quinn 2005). The subject of the documentary is the story of the German battleship Tirpitz that the British RAF sunk in Norway in 1944. The paper focuses on the presentation of eyewitnesses in the documentary and analyses how their presentation might contribute to manufacturing a monster—the Tirpitz, or the beast, as Churchill called the ship. To examine the factual and fictional elements of the documentary, I will analyze different aspects. The arrangement and staging of the scenes with the eyewitnesses is remarkable regarding their similarity to fictional movies and their distance to neutral interview situations. Light, setting, and even clothes are selected carefully and used in an atmospheric and narratively engaging manner. The music and sound effects support and strengthen the atmosphere and help to create the main narrative of the documentary with the Tirpitz and the Nazi German Empire as the monster that has to be fought. In addition, text plays an important role in the eyewitnesses’ scenes. The spoken text by the interviewees is minimal in many scenes and the effective content of their speech seems to be rather uninformative. The purpose of the represented talk could be a different one than adding crucial information, but might serve to create empathy between the eyewitness and the spectator. The last element that is of importance in this analysis is the spoken text by the narrator of the documentary Piers Gibbon. His status as known and acknowledged narrator in numerous British documentaries and TV shows, his tone and highlighting in the spoken text and the content of his speech are essential regarding the creation of the narrative and in terms of pulling the audience into it. The genre of documentary is perceived as a medium that is based on, in this case historical, facts. The aim of this talk is to highlight and to analyze the inherent fictionality of The Battle for Hitler’s Supership.
Tales of Omran: Media at War, Manufacturing Monsters and ‘Their’ Victims
In the conference description, we read: “Since public awareness of violence, terror, and war to a considerable extent is informed and shaped by media images, the image as such is a recurring topic in narratives of political conflict.” Throughout this paper, we will have a closer look at a distinct media image from the late Battle of Aleppo: the one of Omran Daqneesh. What is the story of Omran Daqneesh? Many of us may still remember Omran as the ‘Boy from Aleppo’, sitting on an orange ambulance-car seat with a bloodied face. Initially published by the Aleppo Media Centre in August 2016, images of him appeared worldwide and gained a large media attention. Yet, can we as mass-media spectators distinguish facts from fiction when examining his medial appearance from 2016 alone? Throughout the Syrian conflict, grand narratives appeared within the ‘regime-change’ faction of media commentators and scholars alike, ranging from (i) “A ‘tyrant’ (‘regime’) killing ‘its own people’” via (ii) “A Sunni–Shia clash” to triangular puzzle-solving analyses such as (iii) “‘The regime’ versus ‘moderate rebels’ versus ‘Jihadists’”. In the wake of so-called ‘Arab Spring’ readings, these narratives were widely echoed and supported by manifold ‘experts’ within ‘Arab’ (mainly Qatari- or Saudi-based) and ‘Western’ (mainly US- or UK-based) news channels such as Al Jazeera and Al Arabiya or ‘newspapers of record’ such as The New York Times and The Guardian—predominantly in states that later became part of the “Friends of Syria Group” or “London 11”. In these contexts, Omran’s image quickly arose as a personified representation of the ‘cruelties of the regime’; being branded as one of “Assad’s ‘barrel bomb’ victims”. Especially in the late stages of the Battle of Aleppo (July 2012–December 2016), whose outcome was described as the “Fall of Aleppo” by some and the “Liberation of Aleppo” by others, manifold children images were used as visual ‘weapons of mass distraction’. Drawing on Herman/Chomsky’s notions of ‘worthy victims’ versus ‘unworthy victims’ (1988), we will try to rudimentary sketch the complex ‘Military-Industrial-Media-Entertainment-Network’ (Der Derian 2001) surrounding the establishment of ‘Omran, the Boy from Aleppo’ as a ‘global icon’ of collective memory. In our case that means that we will have to have a look at the multi-medial interplay of entities such as the three global news agencies Agence France-Presse, Associated Press, Reuters; the A–B–C of international 24-hour English-language news Al Jazeera English (Qatar), BBC World News (UK), CNN International (US) and its major narrative competitors RT (Russia), presstv (Iran), telesur English (Venezuela); diverse Arab-speaking channels such as Al Arabiya (Dubai/Saudi Arabia), Al Mayadeen (Lebanon) or Syria TV (Syria); ‘regime-change’ support groups such as the White Helmets, Bellingcat or The Syria Campaign; the work of influential NGOs such as Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch or Médecins Sans Frontières and their ‘local’ sources such as the Aleppo Media Centre or Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. We will further read the story of Omran in conjunction with other non-fictional characters such as Bana al-Abed (born 2009; ‘the Twitter Girl from Aleppo’) or purely fictional phenomena such as Amina Abdallah Arraf al Omari (the imaginary blogger of ‘A Gay Girl in Damascus’). Our goal will be to draw a more complex picture of what it means to speak about ‘perpetrators’ and ‘victims’ alike, with a clear focus on the possibilities and impossibilities of undoubtedly distinguishing between facts and fictions. Therefore, notions of ‘multi-sided exploitation’ and an inherent ever-lasting ‘ambiguity of knowledge’ will be of great importance.