Migrant Literature As Agency for Cultural Memory – Visions of Europe in Contemporary German-Language Literature from Eastern Europe

Wednesday, July 12, 2017
Melville Room (University of Glasgow)
Jessica Ortner , Department of English, Germanic and Romance Studies, University of Copenhagen
EU’s difficulties of reaching a consensus on a common solution to the current refugee crisis have revealed a deep mnemonic gab between the Western and the Eastern parts of Europe. Whereas the political elite of the “old” EU countries has agreed on understanding the Holocaust as primary shared memory of Europe, this “Auschwitz paradigm” (van der Laarse 2013) is opposed by the demand of the post-soviet member-states to perceive the Stalinist and Communist dictatorship as “equally evil” (Plessow 2015). Whereas Angela Merkel’s hospitality towards the refugees implicitly can be understood as repentant atonement for Germany’s historical guilt – which she expected the other member-states to agree with –, many Eastern European member-states perceive EU’s aspired dissemination of the refugees as an intrusion in their domestic affairs reminiscent of the Socialist domination. Hence, the migrant crisis highlights the need of refraining from a supposed “oneness of memory” (Werner-Müller 2010) and of replacing it with multifaceted memories of Europe’s catastrophic 20th century. Referring to Rigney’s (2010, 2016) and Eshel’s (2013) notion that new understandings of the past depend on the availability of a new language and innovative idioms for expressing them, I will show that a distinct group of German-language writers from Eastern Europe test out a way of remembering Nazism and Holocaust together with Stalinism and Gulag. By widening the realm of attention both spatial (towards the East) and temporal (from 1900 until 1989), those writers invent mnemonic models that allow diverging perspectives on victimization and guilt to be recognized equally.