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					  The First Annual Conference of the Columbia Graduate Colloquium in 20th-Century Literature:

   Twentieth-century Literature and the Weight of
                                      9am-7pm, April 4th 2008
                      Deutsches Haus, 420 West 116th Street, Columbia University
                       Sponsored by GSAC and the Department of English and Comparative Literature

                                               Paper Abstracts
Panel Session I

A. Hybrid history: Finding a genre for World War II (Deutsches Haus)
Martina G. Lüke, University of Connecticut: ‗The language of history: The work of Walter Kempowski‘

Walter Kempowski (1929-2007), one of Germany‘s most important contemporary authors, created an
exceptional oeuvre, in which history, literature, collective and personal memories are combined to inter-
disciplinary mosaics of human fate.
Kempowski compiled hundreds of World War II era diaries into the Echolot (Sonar, 1993-2005), a work of ten
volumes that caused ―a book sensation‖ (New York Times). January 1, 1945, for example, is a montage of 96
quotes from that day, presenting the voices of civilians, soldiers, politicians, victims, and murderers.
         In addition, the nine volumes of the so called German Chronology (1969-1998), a mixture of
autobiography, fiction, and historical facts, e.g. excerpts of newspapers and political texts, represent the
history of the bourgeoisie in the twentieth century. Inspired by authors such as Alfred Döblin and Franz
Kafka as well as by movies, e.g. Robert Altman‘s play with synchronization in Short Cuts, Kempowski
merged pieces of memories into a literary and historical panorama.
         My paper will investigate the work of Kempowski based on selected texts as example of an
intermediary status between literature and history and as a modern retelling of the past. Key questions in this
analytical context are: What are his concepts of memory, history, and language? How did his personal life
motivate his work as a diarist and collector of historical fragments and how does he balance individual and
collective memories?

Liran Razinksy, NYU: ‗What kind of book is this anyway? On history and literature in Jonathan Littell‘s Les

The publication and reception of Jonathan's Littell's Les Bienveillantes (‗The kindly ones‘) in 2006 was the
biggest literary event in France in recent years. Littell's novel, enormous in terms of size, difficult-to-read -
unbearable at times – in terms of content has become a bestseller and has won France's most important
literary prizes. Describing the life of an SS officer during World War II, in an admixture of literary
descriptions and historical notes, Littell novel is hard to classify. In my paper, I will attempt to unknot some
of the difficulties that this admixture poses. I will examine different aspects of this text to ask what kind of
authority for knowledge is embodied in it. I will discuss the links between descriptive-historical aspects of the
plot and the ones belonging to the narrative. I will approach the text from the perspective of witness and
testimony, relying on the distinction between eye-witness and Flesh-witness (Harari), and bearing in mind the
uniqueness of this text where the holocaust in told from the point of view of the victimizer rather than that
of the victim. I will also touch, briefly on the relationship between knowledge and violence as manifested in
this novel.
Susanne C. Knittel, Columbia: ‗Uncanny homelands: Remembering NS euthanasia‘

Despite being inextricably linked with the Holocaust, the memory of NS euthanasia still occupies a marginal
place in the contemporary public and scholarly discussion of Nazi crimes in Germany. There are several
possible reasons for this silence: many of the institutions implicated in the NS euthanasia program still
function as clinics and homes for the disabled today; until recently, the victims of euthanasia were not legally
considered victims of National Socialism and thus not entitled to reparations; and finally, part of the
responsibility lies with the victims‘ families, since in many cases it was the family that decided to consign a
mentally ill family member to an institution. My paper examines three different literary approaches to the
difficult memory of NS euthanasia: fiction, memoir, and the Heimatkrimi - crime novels with a regional
setting. I analyze how these different genres thematize the role of Germans as helpers or bystanders, illustrate
the interplay between remembering and forgetting, and raise questions of belonging and otherness. A closer
look at the German Heimat discourse during and after WWII is productive in this context: many of these
books operate with a Freudian sense of unheimliche Heimat by bringing to light hidden and repressed Nazi
crimes in small towns. By focusing on local memory I not only investigate the role of literature in the
interplay between regional and national discourses of commemoration but also discuss how the silence and
amnesia concerning NS euthanasia is grounded on certain continuities in the treatment of disabled people
until today.

B. Rethinking narrative space and time (301 Hamilton Hall)

Adrienne Brown, Princeton University: ‗The missing literary history of the American skyscraper‘

The skyscraper was the defining American structure in the first half of the twentieth century. During this
time, the skyscraper was a vitally important and central icon for the fields of urban history, architecture, urban
planning, photography, painting and film. For all of the skyscraper‘s multi-media publicity, there is one glaring
absence in this list of disciplines who placed it as a central object of representation—literature. Though there
are novels, short stories, and poems that deal with the skyscraper in the first half of the twentieth century,
with the exception of the work of John Dos Passos, there are few canonized novels that feature the
skyscraper contemporaneous to the structure‘s initial domination of the New York and Chicago skylines.
Most of the highly-discussed urban fiction of the time has few or no mentions of skyscrapers.
         My paper aims to understand why literature, and more specifically, the novel, was so slow to
represent the skyscraper (there are many representations starting around the mid-forties, and the skyscraper
has been a increasingly featured subject in fiction since the September 11th attacks). Is it possible to trace a
connection between the fat urban realist novel, mapping space horizontally, and the dizzying verticality of the
skyscraper? When the skyscraper does appear in novels, what is the nature of its representation and how do
they differ from the representational practices of history, architecture or the visual arts? Secondly, I will turn
to a few other genres—female noir paperbacks and science fiction short stories—where the skyscraper
actually does feature prominently and examine these representations.

Ying-hsiu Akilina Liu, George Washington University: ‗The vessel of history: Spatial practices in LeRoi
       Jones‘ Dutchman‘

This paper theorizes space as a totality, defined by the social practices conducted within it. I examine the
space of the New York subway train in LeRoi Jones‘ 1964 play Dutchman as a space of multiple layers of
conflations: mobility versus immobility, and the private versus the public, conveyed through the changing
spatial interrelations between the two protagonists and other subway riders. The particular space of a public
transportation vehicle, as Michel de Certeau demonstrates in Practice of Everyday Life, is a space in which
mobility and entrapment are paradoxically condensed together, and it is also a space that allows/forces
perfect strangers to share temporary physical intimacy.
          Reading Dutchman in light of de Certeau‘s theory, I observe that as the conversation between the two
characters, Clay and Lula, leans more and more toward the larger social and racial conflicts, transgressing
beyond their initial sexual flirtation, their isolated occupation of the privatized public space is degrading, and
the involvement and interference of the fellow riders into their encounter become increasingly active. Jones
transforms the space of a subway train into a historicized vessel of the racial tensions in the 60s, and the
space of a subway train becomes a capsulate reflecting the two characters‘ respective racialized power
positions in the public dominant discourses. Through calling for involvement from the fellow riders, Lula
shows her assertion and Clay his failure to possess agency. With Clay dead and all other passengers getting
off, the train moves on with Lula on board: the white Lula is the active occupant of the space, altering its
social practices as she wishes. The control of the space is the ultimate marker of power.

Paul Devlin, SUNY Stony Brook: ‗Wilson, Bergson, Deleuze: Duration and memory in Gem of the Ocean and
       Radio Golf‘

In Gem of the Ocean and Radio Golf, plays that bookend his ten-play cycle, August Wilson deals creatively with
time and memory in relation to African American history in a way that closely approximates, even seems to
directly incorporate, Henri Bergson's theories of time and duration. For Bergson, the common sense of
perception created the confusion and misperception that conflates time and space: because space is
homogeneous, people made the mistake of thinking that time is as well. But things have duration (duree) and
duration is not homogeneous. Other canonical writers (Proust, Eliot in Four Quartets, Faulkner in Requiem for
a Nun) have been intrigued by and toyed with this idea, but Wilson makes it central to his meditation on
African American history, specifically in its Pittsburgh Hill District microcosm.
          The ten-play cycle begins with an object that has long duration, the ―gem‖ of the ocean. The cycle
concurrently begins with the protagonist Aunt Esther. Aunt Esther Tyler is 285 years old. This is not a
metaphor or corny symbolism: it is her duration, or we prefer not to make the jump into magical realism, it is
her relation to the duration of the African American experience, which ends up being more important than
her real age anyway. The cycle ends by incorporating two items (in contrast to Esther Tyler and the City of
Bones) of the shortest possible duration: radio signals and golf courses, both of which come together in the
antagonist Roosevelt Hicks, the banker who hosts a golf talk show on the radio station he co-owns. Radio
signals require constant maintenance, lest they drift into other signals. Golf courses also require constant
maintenance, lest the forces of nature (e.g. erosion) transform them into something unrecognizable.
          It does not matter whether or not Wilson read Bergson. He seems to have created a poetic
illustration of Bergsonian time one way or the other. Perhaps this is because Wilson and Bergson both came
from cultures that were paradoxically at the epicenter and fringes of modernity. Modernity spread(s) like wild
fire, clearing out folk cultures in its path. Wilson's play cycle, to some extent, is about this happening in the
Hill District of Pittsburgh. The ―modernity‖ of a character like Roosevelt Hicks has no place for ―folk‖
characters like Sterling Johnson and Elder Joseph Barlow, whose memories stretch back into the deep well of
African American culture. Here Bergson's greatest student, contemporary popularizer, and re-discoverer
Gilles Deleuze comes into play, especially his theories of deterritorialization and smooth and striated space.

C. History in the home (302 Hamilton Hall)

Katie Gradowski, Columbia: ‗Historicizing the parlor: Reading domestic objects in Katherine Mansfield and
Virginia Woolf‘

To raise the question of ‗home‘ in twentieth-century literature is in a certain sense, to put objects front and
center. Questions of capitalism, gender, mass culture, the relationship between public and private spheres all
emerge with regard to the circulation of objects in space, and the relationships between individuals and the
"things" they acquire. The ability to read these objects, likewise, becomes paramount in domestic fiction,
where subjectivity is often literally mapped against the objects that people own.
         This paper examines the trajectory of objects in early 20th-century domestic fiction, marking the
transition from the Victorian parlor - where objects are often explicitly coded in terms of social or moral
value - to the Edwardian sitting room, where they emerge as points of instability and psychic trauma. Taking
Katherine Mansfield and Virginia Woolf as the main examples, I examine how modernist writers adapt and
revise the symbolic logic of the Victorian parlor, which traditionally takes the furnishings of domestic space –
the arrangement of chairs, paintings, and wall hangings - as concrete moral signifiers. Using the Victorian
parlor as a frame of reference, Mansfield and Woolf transform these objects into points of instability, as
symbols which can no longer be "read," but which nevertheless remain critically important in delineating the
psychological framework of domestic space. Reading these objects thus provides a unique insight not only
into the changing status of objects as material culture, but also points to the domestic interior as a key point
of historical revisionism in the modernist text.

Christopher Good, University of Pennsylvania: ‗What the Mystique mistook: New Historical structures of
       silence and strategies of subversion in Betty Friedan‘s The Feminine Mystique‘

This paper explores the relationship between history and literature in two manners. First is a New Historical
interrogation of Betty Friedan‘s 1963 publication of The Feminine Mystique, analyzing the relationship between
Friedan‘s text, the response of her critics, and the role of these discourses in the shifting definition of
Feminism(s) in the in 1960‘s. Secondly, this paper uses these relationships to explore the nature of discourses
of power- both in history and in literature. Using the theoretical approaches of Marx, Foucault, and
Greenblatt, it is possible to determine to what extent Friedan‘s book exemplifies the structure of power that
accompanies textual production and the creation of history.
         Friedan‘s text occupies three different literary spaces. First, it is a historical exercise, collecting and
categorizing the experiences of women in the 1950‘s. Secondly, the text is literature, constructing an
overarching narrative for the experience of these women and of the author herself. The aesthetic techniques
that accompany this narrative necessitate an analysis of how the text is constructed. Finally, Friedan‘s text
occupies a space that is neither purely historical nor literary, but works as a ―narrative of persuasion‖. Critical
responses to that text illustrate the nature of artistic creation, power, literature, and history. Furthermore,
Friedan‘s work opens larger questions regarding the formulation of literature and history that are essential in
continuing the New Historicist debate over what can and cannot be included in the analysis of text.

Jenny James, Columbia: ‗Marital disintegration in the wake of Vietnam: The unproductive futures of Tim
O‘Brien‘s In the Lake of the Woods‘

Throughout his literary career, Tim O‘Brien has taken on historical truth as a site of national mediation,
personal exploration and literary experimentation. In his most complex novel to date, O‘Brien utilizes a
unique metafictional structure that illuminates the unstable borders of literature and history, providing the
reader with an unusual power to imaginatively participate in uncovering the ―mystery‖ of protagonists Kathy
and John Wades‘ disappearance. In the Lake of the Woods is not just a novel detailing the violent imprints of
national trauma onto the domestic sphere of northern Minnesota, but moreover a patchwork form that
sutures the Wades‘ marital struggles into a larger narrative frame of the Vietnam War, and its most contested
event, the My Lai Massacre. O‘Brien‘s inclusion of detailed archival ―evidence‖ chapters that embrace both
fictional fragments and verifiable national documents ironically intimates the symbolic web of affiliation that
cannot be maintained in this novel: the reproductive family and its unproductive conscription in support of
national reparation post-Vietnam. For O‘Brien, My Lai becomes the historical fabric through which he
narrates the disintegration of a marriage that came of age in the war‘s aftermath. The novel‘s representation of
traditional reproductive gender roles plays a central role in illuminating the generational crisis that the 1968
massacre seemed to symbolize to the nation on an apocalyptic scale. In doing so he imagines the Wades
mournful ―choice‖ to not have children, through abortive means, as symptomatic of a generational inability
to create a future out of the violent remnants of a guilt-ridden past.
Panel Session II

A. Relating, rewriting, and remaking the past (Deutsches Haus)

Marta Bladek, CUNY Graduate Center: ‗A true story without a narrative: relating the past in Maggie
       Nelson‘s Jane: A Murder and The Red Parts: A Memoir‘

In Jane: A Murder (2005), a collection of (auto)biographical poems on the life and death of her mother‘s 23-
year-old sister, Jane Mixer, and The Red Parts: A Memoir (2007), an extended prose reflection on how the newly
solved murder case continues to simultaneously haunt and elude her, Maggie Nelson explores both the
potentialities and recuperative limits of her attempts to factually and imaginatively reconstruct her murdered
aunt‘s story. Jane was murdered in 1969, a few years before Nelson herself was born. Even though Nelson
has never known her aunt, Jane‘s absence has been palpably present in her surviving relatives‘ lives. Sensitive
to the crucial distinction between fusion and identification, Nelson questions her own role in passing down
the story of Jane‘s life and death she has been able to reconstruct from her aunt‘s own diary entries, a few
photographs, the relayed memories of those who knew her, and newspaper accounts of the murder.
         Reading Nelson‘s work within the theoretical framework provided by Andrea Cavarero‘s Relating
Narratives: Storytelling and Selfhood and other feminist philosophers‘ (Susan Brison and Sue Campbell)
considerations of the relational aspects of self and memory, I will consider the following questions: What
does it mean to relate the past of an other? Is it possible to tell a true story of a life that is not ours? How
does factual and historical truth get transformed through memory and reconstructive narratives? Does a
narrative retelling necessarily appropriate and take over the other‘s own untold story? What do the limits of
factual and imaginative reconstruction reveal about the difference between a narrative and a story?

Deirdre Linkiewicz, University of Sydney: ‗A National Portrait: History, Memory and Metaphor in A.S.
       Byatt‘s The Virgin in the Garden‘

The historical novel in England today is characterised by what Sally Shuttleworth identifies as ‗a self-reflexive
consciousness about the problems of writing history in our postmodern age‘. This is exemplified in A.S.
Byatt‘s approach to (re)writing twentieth-century history in her quartet of novels, beginning with The Virgin in
the Garden (1978), at once a detailed recreation of England in the 1950s and ‗60s, an endeavour to recover the
tradition of nineteenth-century literary realism, and an attempt to confront ‗the problems of the ―real‖ in
          The Virgin in the Garden, in presenting England at the time of the coronation of Elizabeth II in the
light of the golden age of Elizabeth I, operates as what Byatt terms ‗nostalgia for a paradis perdu in which
thought and language and things were naturally and indissolubly linked‘. Through its reproduction of various
texts – the Darnley portrait of Elizabeth I, the televised images of Elizabeth II‘s coronation, the play within
the novel – the novel probes the nature of historical representation, and the function of art in human society.
Byatt‘s fashioning of the ‗organic image‘ through an intricate poetics of natural history explores notions of
character and community, change and continuity. Her identification of artistic endeavour with the biological
human impulse to ‗remember, make images‘ places memory and metaphor at the centre of her observations
of human history, and explores the complex relationships in English culture between nationality and
nostalgia, truth and fiction, and public and private spheres.

Ruth Lexton, Columbia: ‗―Murthering of Christen men‖: Remaking past knighthood in David Jones‘s
       In Parenthesis‘

In Parenthesis, David Jones‘s poetic interpretation of his First World War experience, incorporates a tangible
sense of the past into what he ―saw, felt & was part of.‖ The past is mediated through a fifteenth century text,
Malory‘s Morte Darthur, a retelling of the stories of Arthur and the fellowship of the Round Table. Jones‘s
interweaving of the Morte into a modernist text which T.S. Eliot hailed as ―a work of genius‖, is highly
unusual and In Parenthesis has posed significant difficulties for critics in its use of an Arthurian past. Jones‘s
intertextual engagement of the Morte goes beyond simple allusion: the language of Malory is woven into
Jones‘s own vocabulary. I argue that Jones‘s complex deployment of the ideas and language of knighthood
from the Morte creates a conception of the knight for the modern era, one that attempts to raise a bulwark
against the excessive destruction that new technology brought to the battlefield. The ―murthering of Christen
men‖ is one of Jones‘s Malorian phrases which reformulated a text from the past in order to understand the
wholesale slaughter of men in the present. Jones read the Morte not with bitterness or irony, but as an opening
onto a world of values almost lost which might somehow be reworked and regained amidst the terrifying
cataclysm he witnessed in the trenches. Lancelot, the best knight of the Round Table, is Jones‘s lodestone for
the remaking of knighthood for his own time, a knighthood which proves to inhere in the crude, stoic
fellowship of Jones‘s companions, the infantrymen.

B. The weight of witnessing (301 Hamilton Hall)
Timothy Youker, Columbia: ‗Performing Testimony: Actor as Witness or Actor as Historian?‘

In the last twenty years, theatre about historical events has tended to move away from a ‗literary‘ mode of
expression and into a ‗documentary‘ mode, drawing on verbatim excerpts from eye-witness testimony and
other kinds of primary documents. In many cases, theatre artists themselves conduct interviews and perform
archival research to put these works together. However, even while performers—especially politically
engaged performers—pursue and valorize evidential truth in a way that the early modern History Play did
not, the proponents and theoreticians of these theatrical forms often conceive of the relationship between
actor and document in naïve or conceptually problematic ways, such as imaging the actor as a ‗virtual
witness‘—a mimetic conduit for testimony or a stand-in for an absent or silenced victim.
         This paper will outline some of the theoretical underpinnings of the Actor/Witness model, paying
particular attention to Freddie Rokem‘s writing on Shoah plays, and then, drawing on the theories of Bertolt
Brecht and historian R.C. Collingwood, propose the alternative formulation of Actor/Historian, in which the
actor is not a ‗virtual witness‘ but an agent of critical interpretation. The objective in putting these two
formulations next to each other is not to claim that a conceptually sound and theoretically coherent version
of the Actor/Witness model is impossible, but rather to establish that theatre artists who seek to do the work
of historians need to consider the conceptual, formal, and ethical implications of how they conceive of the
relationship between actors and textual sources.

Katharine Westaway, University of Florida: ‗Truth and Reconciliation: A Muckraker‘s Dilemma‘

Note about nomenclature: One cannot use the term historical novels, for it infers fiction, nor nonfiction novels, for
it is not specific enough, nor historical texts…and thus, we have this conference. For purposes of my abstract
below, I imagine the genre of historical literary nonfiction this way: the stiff spine of nonfiction supports the
historic accounts of post-Apartheid South Africa; reciprocally, the generically pliant pages provide Anjite
Krog the room to humanize and communize the telling.
          Country of My Skull (1999) examines more than questions of truth and justice in post-apartheid South
Africa, for in Anjite Krog's retelling she looks at the common dilemmas and indistinct provisions of the genre
of historical literary nonfiction itself. The body at the center of Krog's story, the Truth and Reconciliation
Commission (TRC), inherently valued multiple truths and was designed to be a public repository of fractions;
officially, it heard 21,000 statements, components of a large and enduring story. Similarly, Krog seeks to
collect a cache of historical moments and perspectives forming a sort of literary repository. However,
interwoven layers of witness statements made at the TRC's Human Rights Violation hearings, historical data,
and narration, forms its own exohistorical account around the "history" being created and recorded inside the
tribunal. I will consider whether the hybridity of the text's generic format overwhelms the story/stories and
ask can an understanding of South African history focused on apartheid politics and individual lives be
grounded in a literary experience? Furthermore, I hope to specifically address whether through Country of My
Skull Krog shows this genre to be especially amenable to histories entwining the people and politics of
especially traumatic events or eras.

Louis Segura, San Francisco State University: ‗The Art(ifice) of Memory: The Dialectic of Witnessing the
       Death-Camp Experience in Jorge Semprun‘s Literature and Life‘

The essay examines the dialectic of witnessing the death-camp experience using Holocaust survivor Jorge
Semprun‘s text Literature or Life (1997) where he challenges the role of the survivor/story-teller by suggesting
that a fictional narrative mends the contention between survivor/story-teller and fiction writer of Holocaust
Literature. Semprun asserts that all he must do is write and relate the experience, yet the same act of writing
to give the memory life is his own death. He suggests that novelists must appropriate the memory of this
experience and communicate it through the artifice of a literary construction. The motivating question
behind the essay is whether it is possible to be a responsible witness to an un-experienced event.
          Additionally, the essay discusses the complications of memory for the survivor/story-teller and the
implications of a fiction writer‘s narrative as a claim to bearing witness. Both seek to construct a narrative of
the event to communicate its experience. However, a memoir‘s verity is unstable because it relies on the
experience, and must justify its claim to memory. Whereas the fiction writer, whose fiction, insofar as it claims
to be historical with its referents and kernels of historical data, is not necessarily re-producing a memory from
a lived experience (what some may consider a more reliable mnemonic source), but from the imagination and
from what he/she thinks he/she knows (i.e. collective memory). As a result, the essay concludes that fiction
discusses and produces a memory about the Holocaust that does not diminish it, but rather advances it.

C. Historical narrative as national narrative (302 Hamilton Hall)
Gene Gorman, Boston College: ‗Bearing ―the marks of haste and violence‖: Memory as history‘s fulcrum in
      Ralph Ellison‘s Invisible Man‘

This paper examines both the pivotal role that memory plays in Invisible Man (1952) as well as the pivotal
nature of the text itself for understanding two of the most crucial historical events of the twentieth century –
the Great Migration and the Civil Rights Movement. By focusing on Brother Tarp‘s ―gift‖ to the novel‘s hero
of a broken chain link, I will discuss the unsettling moments of memory, trauma, and bondage that cross
generations and historicize Ellison‘s text. While slavery offers the most obvious historical allusion and
conceptual framework for this scene, a closer look at the material history of Brother Tarp‘s link as a product
of the ―good roads movement‖ in the South illuminates both the implications of the exchange for the
characters involved and the reality of a ―differential punishing‖ of African Americans that continues to beset
the United States‘ criminal justice system.
         Ellison uses Tarp to reconnect his protagonist to a more recent past in the South to increase his
understanding of conditions that were having a more immediate impact on his contemporaries as they
unknowingly transitioned from the physical migration of blacks from the South to the North to the social
mobility of the nascent Civil Rights Era. Though unable to fully articulate the importance of the link, Tarp
understands that there is ―a heap of signifying wrapped up in it‖ (388), and I intend to explain how this link
provides an object lesson in the power and functioning of memory in literature.

Erica Weitzman, NYU: ‗Unmarked Graves: Ismail Kadare‘s The General of the Dead Army‘

This paper examines contemporary Albanian author Ismail Kadare‘s first major novel, The General of the Dead
Army (1963), in terms of its relation to both the Albanian and the Italian national narratives in the wake of the
Second World War. The General of the Dead Army tells the story, based on real events, of a ―foreign‖ general (it
is implied, but never stated, that he is from Italy), sent to Albania some years after World War II to repatriate
the bones of the soldiers fallen in battle. From this historical event, Kadare develops a narrative which
critically interrogates ideas of national identity and national myth, of wartime sacrifice, and of history as
written by both the winners and by the losers. This paper argues that despite Kadare‘s own well-known and
well-documented pandering to the communist Hoxha dictatorship and the exigencies of Socialist Realist
aesthetics throughout much of his literary career, Kadare‘s novel may be read as a pessimistic parody of
triumphalist historical narrative, particularly in terms of the novel‘s formal structure, which consists of a series
of displacements, diminuations, and evacuations—linguistic as well as narrative—leading ultimately to both
literal and figurative catastrophe. The paper thus strives to open up the question of narrative form as it relates
to national identity and national narrative, particularly when this narrative has become, or has proven always
to have been, not just morally but epistemologically and ontologically untenable.

Claire Taylor Jones, University of Pennsylvania: ‗Toward an aesthetics of rhythm: Oskar Matzerath and
        the destructed ―I‖‘

At the beginning The Tin Drum, Oskar Matzerath insists on the power of his drum and its necessity to the
narrative. It not only provides details lost in memories, but structures the course of the narration. If Oskar‘s
(unreliable) account is thus fundamentally formed in and through the voice of the drum, the drum must also
have an effect on the construction of the narrative as a whole, and not only on the individual episodes in
which it lends Oskar agency within the plot. Indeed, if the drum is so structurally important to the form of
the narrative, it is possible that the narrator himself is a function of the voice of the drum and not vice versa.
The unstable ―I‖ of The Tin Drum would thus arise in the double movement of constructing and destructing
itself through its dependence on rhythmic force rather than subjective experience or language.
          Read in this way, Grass‘ novel considers the way in which the literary and historical events of the
twentieth century have made the construction of self-identity aesthetically impossible. It is only through the
narration of the absurd subjectivity of an object that the construction of modern identity can be dismantled
and reassembled into a disclosure of the unstable structure of the modern ―I.‖ I will explore this question in
the course of this paper with special attention to the aesthetic focus in the novel, the agency of the drum‘s
rhythm, and the use of dialectical movements to structure the drum‘s ―I.‖

Panel Session III

A. Mixed media: Interdisciplinary approaches to history (Deutsches Haus)
Rosemary Demos, CUNY Graduate Center: ‗Living histories: Aesthetic reality in A Death in the Family
      and Let Us Now Praise Famous Men‘

James Agee's two major works, Let Us Now Praise Famous Men and A Death in the Family, are both based on
historically real settings and events: the first is a documentary, the second an autobiographical novel.
However, both situate themselves only uneasily within their respective genres, resisting the institutionalizing
tendencies of conventional historical narratives. As a student of I. A. Richards, Agee denied the absolute
power language. For him, linguistic embodiment of living reality was impossible, and his writings, literarily
brilliant though they may be, ironically defer to the superiority of life over artificial linguistic systems. For
Agee, historical, political, or social structures joined language as fundamentally artificial systems to be
distrusted. To avoid these systematizing forces, Agee's language points to the reality that locates itself outside
these systems. He employs a narrative of ephemerality through sense perception, he seeks to create his
characters' personal identities through memory rather than written archive, and he claims a preservation of
humanity through familial ties rather than political continuities. The result is a body of work that creates an
aesthetic alternative to conventional historical documentation. It highlights the fundamental solitude of
human individuals, while simultaneously offering an elusive but enduring source of unity that transcends
artificial structures of language and history.

Valeri Whitmer, CUNY Graduate Center: ‗Ballad for Americans: An ideological tug of war‘
Ideological ownership of the radio cantata Ballad for Americans, originally broadcast in 1939 on CBS‘s series
The Pursuit of Happiness, has been contested by the right and left from its first airing. Aimed at a broad national
audience and sung by renowned African-American baritone Paul Robeson, the work celebrated the ethnic
and racial diversity of the nation and was an immediate popular success. Robeson recorded it for RCA Victor
with a working class amateur chorus and featured it in his concert tour of 1940 before labor union and
middle-brow audiences. It was disparaged by a generation of liberal critics, such as Robert Warshow, who
decried the work as an easy listening ―vulgarization of [the] intellectual life‖ of the Popular Front. More
recently Michael Denning, in his book The Cultural Front, has tried to rehabilitate the piece, calling it part of
the ―documentary literature‖ of the 1930s.
         My paper argues that the work would never have been contentious, or even noticed, had its history
not been entwined with its presentation on commercial radio, and especially, with its performance by Paul
Robeson, who had a ―questionable‖ reputation because of his Communist affiliations and visits to Russia in
the 1930s. These extra layers of textuality influence its reception—valorization because of the provenance of
its presenter, and disdain because the source material and broadcast were from a commercial radio network.
D.F. McKenzie, in his book Bibliography and the Sociology of Texts describes the significance of studying texts for
―physical forms, textual versions, technical transmission, institutional control, their perceived meanings and
social effects.‖ His idea of a ―sociology of texts‖ includes ―all forms as a record of cultural change, whether in
mass civilization or minority culture. My analysis of Ballad for Americans is viewed through this lens.

Anna-Lisa Dieter, University of Munich/Columbia: ‗The impossibility of memory and the pitfalls of seeing:
      Stendhal‘s meandering through history in Sebald‘s Vertigo‘

The work of the German exile author W. G. Sebald is haunted by questions of memory, history, and their
representation. Vertigo, the first prose collection by the author, obsessively returns to the impossibility of
memory. Memory, as Sebald understands it, is inextricably tied to the capacity of seeing. The visual, however,
is suspect to him, as it easily mistakes the real and thus distorts memory.
         In this paper, I examine the initial text of Vertigo, ―Beyle, or Love is a Madness Most Discreet‖ in
order to consider the relation between memory and seeing. Sebald describes Stendhal‘s struggle with what he
has seen and what really had happened by fictionalizing the three major themes of Stendhal‘s life: the
Napoleonic war, love, and writing. How exactly is the process of seeing applied as a literary device and how
does it interfere with the creation of memory? To what extent does perception alienate the recollecting of war
and love?
         I will propose answers to these questions by drawing on Stendhal‘s theory of crystallization, which
Sebald cites. The ‗crystallization‘ provides a model to understand the pitfalls of seeing. At its heart, it has the
force of imagination running contrary to an encounter with the real, altering the visual, and thus memory.
Paradoxically, the impeded search of the original image engenders a powerful narrative dynamics, an intricate
weave of documentary and fictional, image and text. The reader cannot escape but is forced to share with the
author the experience of the blind spots of memory.

Michelle McSwiggan Kelly, Fordham University: ‗Blog as archive: Remembering the Iraq War‘

President Bush famously argued that history will be the judge of his legacy and the legitimacy of his
administration‘s decision to go to war in Iraq. Since the national memory depends so much on the writing of
history, it seems prudent to ask: Who is writing the history of the Iraq War? Since this war is the first to be
captured in the blogosphere, it seems correct to answer that everyone is writing the history of the Iraq War.
In her 2003 article, ―‗Blogs of War‘ Weblogs as News,‖ Melissa Wall identifies a trend toward ―postmodern
sensibilities‖ in the use of this new medium for communicating current developments. However, the theory
that blogging will create a polyvocal version of war history must be qualified in terms of the presentation and
preservation of the blogs. Collections of blogs are being published on the internet on sites like ―Blogs of
War‖ and in print in books such as Matthew Burden‘s The Blog of War: Front-Line Dispatches from Soldiers in Iraq
and Afghanistan, and the likelihood that the stories of these collected blogs will last beyond the end of the
war—or the end of the week—is thereby increased. Meanwhile, as time passes, other independent war blogs
may be deleted or simply disregarded. In my paper, I pan to investigate if it is possible for a polyvocal history
to emerge, or if through the collection and republication of certain blogs, a dominant voice will emerge and
minority voices will be silenced.

B. The politics and poetics of memory (301 Hamilton Hall)

Rowena Kennedy-Epstein, CUNY Graduate Center: ‗Muriel Rukeyser‘s proliferating Spain: The poetics of
      living time, the politics of connection‘

The Spanish Civil War is continually present in Muriel Rukeyser‘s body of work. In her poetry, essays and
journalism the image of Spain, its war, exiled and dead, figure again and again. By re-imagining Spain
throughout her career she develops a poetics of living time, in which an event is reshaped in new contexts,
producing ‗a past charged with the time of the now‘ (Benjamin). Rukeyser uses Spain as a point of contact,
both in developing her poetics of ‗life in time,‘ and formulating an alternate historical narrative, one that not
only evaluates history on different terms (‗clusters‘ rather than single moments) but allows her as a woman
and radical the power to create history. Using Walter Benjamin‘s ‗Theses on the Philosophy of History‘ as a
point of reference, I examine Rukeyser‘s ‗politics of remembrance‘ in her use of discrete visual moments: the
imagined body of her dead lover at the front, the refugee, etc. Through this poetic strategy she identifies the
figure of self as exile, positioning herself to speak for refugees from Spain in the first days of the war. By
bridging subject and other, past and present, she asserts the poet‘s ability to not only witness but to speak for
the collective. ‗At our most subjective‘ she writes, ‗we are still universal.‘ We might ask if this is a viable
poetic stance; as Rukeyser documents and re-imagines Spain, can she truly speak for any experience other
than her own?

Niamh Slevin, NYU: ‗When the colonized start colonizing: Narrating the power of the child in Midnight’s
      Children and Seamus Heaney‘s Station Island‘

In his essay ‗Culture,‘ Stephen Greenblatt argues that culture thrives on two ostensibly opposite ideas:
constraint and mobility. Within his theoretical approach, he posits an understanding of literature that does
not rely on the distinction between what occurs inside and outside the text but, rather, on the cultural
connections that produce the text. This concept of literary production and the fluid interplay between
constraint and mobility becomes a particularly useful mode of interrogation when applied to the formation of
identity in postcolonial narratives, such as Seamus Heaney‘s Station Island and Rushdie‘s Midnight’s Children.
          As postcolonial authors, Heaney and Rushdie are the products of two distinct nations with distinct
histories, languages, and cultural mores. Yet, in their texts, both authors voice an overwhelming sense of
fracture, of loss, of a haunting bond with a violent and turbulent national past. Both authors negotiate the
boundaries of cultural constraint and mobility to confront the ghosts of national memory and forge new
perceptions of self in spite of the looming inheritance of one‘s history. Through reinterpretations of
―parental‖ power and authority, Heaney and Rushdie – each in his own way – reexamine the narrative
constraints of the past as one strategy for the mobilization of the future.

Moberly Luger, Univ. of British Columbia: ‗Auden then and now: Reading 20th-century poetry after 9/11.‘

In the wake of 9/11, many people, reeling from the day‘s events, turned to poetry. Some wrote their own
poems—but millions of others rediscovered, read, and circulated previously written ones. In the New York
Times, Mary Karr writes that after 9/11 she ‗probably faxed more copies of poems—and received more faxes
from other devoted readers‘ than ever before. In particular, W.H. Auden‘s poem ‗September 1, 1939,‘ was
widely circulated—in emails, newspapers, and radio broadcasts.
         In this paper, I consider the role that certain 20th century poems—like Auden‘s—played in the
aftermath of a 21st century disaster. What does the choice of these poems say about our understanding of the
last century and our place in this one? Did people read Auden, for example, because they took comfort in
knowing that war, however unspeakable, had, years before, already been spoken? My paper offers a ―new
consideration of work that has achieved monumental status‖ (conference call).
         My thesis is that, in extracting these 20th century poems from their original contexts, readers
depoliticize them. In Tourists of History (2007), Marita Sturken suggests that certain kitsch objects, such as
teddy bears and snow globes, distributed after disasters in Oklahoma City and Lower Manhattan, ‗enable[d]
people to make sense of their grief‘—but she is concerned that the culture of comfort produced by these
objects is also, dangerously, uncritical and apolitical. I suggest that poetic artifacts (Auden‘s, in this case) may
be like Sturken‘s kitsch objects, and I seek to repoliticize them by exploring what they say about both 9/11
and their own political contexts.

Mark Sussman, CUNY Graduate Center: ‗―Trivial linguistic exchanges‖: History and archive in Kenneth

Since the early 1990s, Kenneth Goldsmith‘s poetry has radically revised received notions of poetic language
and poetic form. Ranging from transcriptions of a year of weather reports (The Weather, 2005) to every word
that the poet uttered for a week (Soliloquy, 2001) to a transcription of an entire issue of the New York Times
(Day, 2003), all of his projects are united by a highly formalized orthographic drive to archive and index, to
record, reorder, and re-present existing information. In that sense, Goldsmith‘s work articulates a poetics of
the archive that reconfigures notions of history rooted in narrative. Specifically, Hayden White's description
of historical writing as, “a verbal structure in the form of a narrative prose discourse that purports to be a
model, or icon, of past structures and processes in the interest of explaining what they were by representing them,”
finds itself disassembled by Goldsmith‘s “conceptual poetics,” which construct history through the
recombination and decontextualization of orthography rather than, as White finds in nineteenth-century
historians and philosophers of history, the deployment of rhetorical figures and schemas. Using White's
classic Metahistory as a point of departure, and incorporating theoretical writing by Jacques Derrida, Frederic
Jameson, and Marjorie Perloff, I will demonstrate that the strange historical imagination at work in
Goldsmith‘s poetry demands a reassessment of theoretical claims that have been made about the relationship
between poetics, history, and the archive in the late twentieth and early twenty-first century.

C. America in the 20th century: Personality and power (302 Hamilton Hall)
Casey Shoop, Columbia: ‗Thomas Pynchon and the rise of the New Right.‘

Thomas Pynchon‘s The Crying of Lot 49 is one of the paradigmatic novels of the postmodern literary canon.
For many critics Oedipa Maas‘s moment of suspended revelation at the novel‘s end, her inability to discover
finally the meaning of the secret Trystero system, has been read as an allegory of the textual indeterminacy
that has been such an abiding concern of postmodern literary practice. And yet this critical compulsion to
focus almost exclusively on the novel‘s interrupted revelation, to read along with Oedipa only the writing on
the wall, has been to ignore Lot 49‘s deep attention to the political and cultural climate of California in the
early Sixties. I read the novel in conjunction with recent scholarship on the rise of the New Right in
Southern California in order to reveal a surprising and unacknowledged correspondence between the novel
and the political preoccupations of its time. By excavating this genealogy of the New Right within the text, I
argue not only that Pynchon‘s novel is deeply historical in its orientation, but also that its attention to the
anxiety of the New Right is vital to understanding Pynchon‘s interest in the politics of paranoia. The suburb
that gleams before Oedipa with the ―outward patterns of concealed meaning, of an intent to communicate‖
begins to transmit a very different message than the one received by many critics of the novel when it is
resituated within the context of the New Right‘s political organization around the campaign of Barry
Goldwater. Restoring history to Pynchon and Pynchon to history prove mutually illuminating, especially in
the novel that seems most resistant to such cross-fertilization.

Ryan McCormick, Notre Dame: ‗Invisible history: Context and conflict in Pynchon‘s Against the Day‘
My argument in this paper is that Thomas Pynchon, in his recent novel Against the Day, thematizes turn-of-
the-century America precisely in order to address certain ethical considerations that are extremely important
in contemporary life. Against the Day accomplishes a kind of re-imagination of American industrial capitalism
on the model of modern global capitalism, while indirectly calling attention to certain unacknowledged
affinities between America‘s past and present. The privileged narrative thread of the text concerns the trials
of the Traverse clan, a family of Colorado miners, and its clashes with the agents of the industrialist Scarsdale
Vibe. Throughout the novel, Pynchon the emphasizes that the conflict between Vibe and the Traverse family
has its roots in the history of American labor struggles in the twentieth century, reminding readers that this
conflict does, in fact, have a ―real-world‖ historical referent. The text effectively manages to ―take hold‖ of
history by suggesting that events such as the Haymarket riots, the Pullman strike, and the Ludlow Massacre
are somehow a part of the narrative action. As text and history progressively become indistinguishable,
Pynchon focuses on the role that representation plays in perpetuating ethical conflicts like the one between
Vibe and the Traverse clan and the role that aesthetics and interpretation might play in working toward
resolution. According to Pynchon, representations are not only able to document history but to make history
as well. Because the novel understands historical conflicts as radically open-ended, it maintains the possibility
of intervening in them actively.

Matt Sandler, Columbia: ‗The Protestant ethic of the starving artist and histories of the American personality‘

Warren Susman and T.J. Jackson Lears, in two seminal essays on the early twentieth century, make substantial
claims for the role of therapeutic discourse in the rise of advertising and commodity fetishism. Susman
argues that the rise of a spending rather than saving economy necessitates a change in the goals of advice
literature from the making of character (with its attending values of virtue, thrift, loyalty, and hard work) to
the making of personality (with its descriptors being magnetism, force, charm, and depth). Lears claims that
character formed a bulwark in the conflict of instinct and civilization, where personality is a sort of conduit or
expression of instinct in an abundant society. Each of these historians, and many more for whom their
theories have become important explanatory tools, have some difficulty accounting for the role of modernist
literature in engineering the transformations they describe. Susman, for instance, can only note in passing that
Walt Whitman was using his keyword ‗personality‘ with deliberate frequency some fifty years before it marks
what he claims is an epochal shift around the turn of the century. For their part, literary studies of modernism
and the avant garde are often hampered by a contradictory investment in its key figures‘ radical individuality
and broad cultural importance. Especially in their emphasis on the ‗failure‘ of various aesthetic projects,
scholars have found it difficult to parse the extent to which the literary moderns were complicit in the
structural changes of modern selves.
          In this paper, I will examine Gertrude Stein‘s work and public presence for the problems that she
presents these sweeping historical narratives. She was educated by William James, whose work represents
perhaps the last expression and expansion of the definition of character before the onslaught of the ideology
of personality. James wrote what sounds like the damning early reviews of his pupil: ―Literature has no
character when full of slack and wandering and superfluity. Neither does life. Character everywhere demands
the stern and sacrifical mood as one of its factors. The price must be paid.‖ On the other hand, Stein‘s work,
especially Three Lives, The Making of Americans, and the portraits, sought to capture ―the rhythm of
personality,‖ to steadily exhibit the unconscious, unique and essential interior. In her triumphal visit to
America after the publication of The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas, she presented the freewheeling life of
Parisian bohemia in the guise of a home-cooked schoolmarm, obscuring her origins as an educated, pre-
professional New Woman in the persona of a kind of fauviste Mother Goose. This stylistic mixture is difficult
to frame in dichotomous historical terms, but the way Stein dramatizes different coordinates of historical
transformation might provide a different window onto the way those coordinates are lived in process.

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