|War and Memory: artistic and cultural representations of individual, collective and national memories in twentieth-century Europe at war
International conference 7th September – 9th September 2012
Venue: the Polish Academy of Sciences, Warsaw, Poland
Jointly organised by the Institute of Philosophy and Sociology of the Polish Academy of Sciences and the War and Memory Research Group at Queen’s University Belfast
Ashplant, Timothy (Liverpool John Moores University, UK) ‘Goodbye to All That? Remaking the (Masculine) Self in Post-First World War Britain’
This paper will use Robert Graves's memoir Goodbye to All That (1929) – one of a cluster of such war memoirs published in Britain a decade after the war's end (including those of Blunden, Sassoon, Brittain) – as the starting point for an exploration of efforts by writers and intellectuals to remake the self in the light of their experiences during the First World War. Graves's book both declares his determination to rid himself of the Britain in which he was brought up, and enacts – in both its narrative, and its formal construction – the immense difficulty of any easy settling of terms with the past. My reading of the text will engage with two recent debates: that concerning the representativeness or otherwise of what has become an apparently canonical body of British "anti-war" literature (poetry, prose fiction, memoir) produced by the First World War (Winter, 1995; Sheffield, 2001; Bond, 2002); and that concerning the refashioning of masculinity in response to the war's mechanised assault on male bodies and minds (Bourke, 1996; Roper, 2005).
Goodbye to All That, which – like some of Sassoon's poems – draws heavily on the comic forms of the farce and music hall, has been claimed as one of the templates for much later satirical anti-war productions (including Oh, What a Lovely War!and Blackadder Goes Forth) which have helped create a negative contemporary British "received memory" of the war. I will argue, however, that comparison with the memoirs of a private soldier making similar use of the music-hall genre (G. Hewins, The Dillen) suggests that its comic form serves a serious purpose: to express gendered traumas which can only be approached obliquely. Drawing on my previous work on the politics of war memory (Ashplant, Dawson & Roper, 2000), and on the fracturing of socio-political identities under the impact of war (Ashplant, 2007), I will situate Graves's text among diverse efforts to shape post-1918 British war memories, encompassing anger and despair as well as mourning, pride and reconciliation.
Astrouskaya, Tatsiana (Polotsk State University), ‘Visual Representation of World War Two in Belarusian history textbooks’
This paper aims to describe the specificity of visual representation of the Second World War in Belarusian history textbooks. It will focus on the images used to elucidate the period of the War but also on their correlation with textual interpretation.
Concerning the content of educational materials, the Belarusian situation is rather peculiar: throughout 20 years of independence, history textbooks were radically rewritten at least three times. It is clear that the process of nation-building and national memory construction in Belarus is still in progress. In this regard the image of World War II is representative because it is the most important place of memory today.
It is possible to define three main images of WWII, according to the pictures available in textbooks. The first image is based on the acceptance of negative effects of the War (the pictures of suffering people are presented). The second image is founded on the dichotomy of Good and Evil, conquerors and aggressors, heroism and suffering. The third – performs WWII mainly through the idea of liberation and the victory of the Belarusian people (the maps with the description of successful battles, modern pictures of memorials are shown).
As a result, the image of WWII (presented mainly as the Great Patriotic War) differs significantly depending on the time and political context of its appearance, but many important themes such as the negative role of Stalin and its milieu, collaborationism, the Holocaust are still absent in visual materials as well as in texts.
Atack, Margaret (University of Leeds), ‘Resistance and the politics of memory’
Résistantialisme was the term coined in 1948 to define a widespread criticism, that some people were using resistance credentials – often very shaky ones – to further their own career at the expense of others. In 1987 Henry Rousso forged a new term, résistancialisme, which, while clearly nodding to its precedessor, had the significantly different meaning of resistance myth, whereby reference to or portrayal of the resistance implicitly stands for the whole nation. The importance of both terms to critical writing on Resistance literature underlines the extent to which the Resistance has been a point of debate and controversy as well as commemoration throughout the postwar period, from the arguments of the liberation and épuration, the ceremony for Jean Moulin in the Pantheon, the ‘affaire Aubrac’, to President Sarkozy’s mobilisation of Guy Môquet’s letter in 2007 and the extraordinary success of Stéphane Hessel’s Indignez-vous in 2010.
The aim of this paper is to reconsider résistantialisme historically, as represented in novels and other writings of the 1940s such as Uranus (Aymé), Les Forêts de la nuit (Curtis), Résistantialisme (Bonnamy) and Les Crimes masqués du résistantialisme (Desgranges), and to take that as a point of departure for the exploration of the memory of the Resistance across a range of novels by Curtis, Daeninckx, Gary, Hyvernaud and others.
Beale, Helen (University of Stirling), ‘Resonant commemoration: time and memory echoes in 20th-century French war memorials which bear plaques on walls, rocks or boulders’.
Seminal to this paper are revolutionary images and commemorative practices reverberating again in the twentieth-century.
In the Affiche révolutionnaire, 1792, the writing is certainly on the wall for Louis XVI: an anonymous hand completes the poster with ‘your days are numbered’. My associated research for this paper, on ‘generational walls’ and wall-writing for protest, rallying calls and public information, is indebted to The Wall and the City (2009, by European sociologists for the University of Trento).
In 1943, on the anniversary of the Battle of Valmy (20 September 1792, when France's new armies defeated the Prussian forces, thus ensuring their survival and that of the French Revolution), the Front national launched a bonnet rouge poster. It called on the French to resist the STO (forced labour draft to Germany) and instead to join Resistance patriots 'worthy of the sans-culottes of Valmy'. I analyse similar ways in which First World War and Resistance memorials insert contemporary soldiers and struggles into the continuity of French history.
Time frames merge through memory in Ernest Pichio’s painting La Veuve du fusillé, 1877 (Musée de Montreuil). A widow and children covertly place a wreath beside the Mur des Fédérés, Paris. Their communard husband/father was shot there in 1871. That past event in chronological time disrupted their lives; its ever-present memory plunged them into the continuous psychological time [durée] of mourning. The paper asks why survivors of the concentration camps returning to Paris made pilgrimages to that same wall.
Overall, the significance of a variety of Resistance memorials incorporating walls, rocks, or boulders is analysed, including simple memorials to people outside the Resistance movement who gave the maquis crucial practical support.
Black, Jonathan (Kingston University, London), ‘The Fate of Icarus: Masculinity, National Identity, Memory and the Image of the British Second World War Fighter Pilot.’
The mythological figure of Icarus, daring, glamorous and doomed was often evoked in relation to the image of Royal Air Force pilots, and particularly the fighter pilot, during the Second World War. The comparison with Icarus was first made early in the First World War and, not at all coincidentally, in connection with the figure of the fighter ‘ace’ – the pilot who was a dedicated killer of other pilots, simultaneously ruthless and chivalrous, a supremely modern warrior but also a ‘knight of the air’ who equally harked back to memories of a medieval chivalry which rarely existed in historical actuality.
My paper will focus on the image of the RAF fighter pilot as hero, masculine role model, celebrity and as ‘the acceptable face of killing’ in portraits commissioned during the Second World War by the War Artists Advisory Committee of the Ministry of Information from a number of leading British portraitists such as: William Rothenstein; Cuthbert Orde; Eric Kennington; William Dring; Cecil Beaton and Laura Knight. Comment will be offered on the extent to which such imagery was disseminated and marketed to the British Home Front and to neutral nations utilising public relations techniques derived from the promotion of First World War and record-breaking inter-war aviators by the all-embracing Hollywood publicity machine.
With regard to the themes of the Conference, the paper will explore and analyse the extent to which the image of the fighter pilot created in art and in text by some of the war artists – namely Rothenstein, Orde, Kennington and Beaton – harks back to past models of British martial masculinity such as: Crusader Knights; Elizabethan buccaneers; the Ironsides of Cromwell’s New Model Army plus the soldiers who served in the armies of Dukes of Marlborough and Wellington. The past models evoked can also be related to the paradox of how to celebrate, within a Liberal Parliamentary state, men who break the ultimate peacetime taboo of taking life – indeed who prove themselves to be accomplished and even enthusiastic killers of the enemy in aerial combat. In this regard, British perceptions of Polish and Czech fighter pilots serving with the RAF, offer intriguing insights into wartime preconceptions concerning national identity at a time of crisis.
If time permits comment will also be offered as to how texts created by RAF fighter aces such as Richard Hillary (1942); David Crook (1942); Athol Forbes (1942); Pierre Clostermann (1951) and Jim Bailey (1964) continue to structure and shape the popular memory of the Second World War fighter ace to the current day.
Bogumił, Zuzanna (Academy of Special Education in Warsaw), ‘Stone, Cross and Mask. What do Gulag monuments commemorate in Russia ?’
In the age of flourishing commemoration practices the simplicity and minimalism of the Gulag memorials as well as a practical lack of secular and coherent commemoration language of the Gulag past, seems significant. Especially, since the Gulag, as the common heritage of the East-West past, has the potential to be the subject of a new memory language. Moreover, at the end of the 1980s, in the light of the political and social changes, the theme of Soviet repressions became widely discussed, it has a great influence also on the perception of the heroic deeds of the war, and there were plans to erect the memorials to the victims of Soviet repressions in many parts of the former Soviet Union.
However, most of the memorials and monuments dedicated to the Gulag memory which one may find nowadays on the territory of the former Soviet camps are simple, rigid and use religious symbolism. However, the textural emptiness of the representations is only apparent. While the visual level of the memorials is quite simple, rigid and similar, they differentiate on the semantic level. In fact, this deeper significance, hidden in the memory projects, seems to be their essence. Additionally, correlation between particular monuments located in one place makes the commemorative situation even more complex and unclear.
In my paper I will focus on a description of how the memory of the Gulag has been shaped and represented in memorials from the end of the 1980s till nowadays in order to establish what is the texture of the Gulag memory in Russia. My goal is to establish: what kind of interpretation of the Soviet repressions do these monuments offer? Which topics do they display and which omit? What kind of cultural and ideological argumentation do they use to explain the ambiguous experiences? And to what extent do these monuments offer a new language of commemoration? The presentation offers an anthropological and sociological approach to the problem of visual representations of the Gulag and is based on the field research that I have been carrying out in Russia from 2006.
Bohm-Duchen, Monica (Birkbeck College, University of London), ‘Creativity against all the odds: art and internment during World War II’
As I am currently completing a 100,000 word volume on Art and the Second World War (to be published by Lund Humphries, London, in association with Princeton University Press), the issues raised by the representation of war – and World War II in particular - in the fine arts are much on my mind. For the purposes of this conference, I should like to offer a paper comparing the art produced in different internment situations during World War II: in other words, not only the artworks produced by victims of the Nazi Holocaust, but also by Allied prisoners of war in Japanese and German camps, Japanese-American internees in the USA and “enemy aliens” in British internment camps. While the specific context for the production of each body of work cannot and should not be overlooked, the motives for creating images in the most inauspicious of circumstances are surprisingly consistent, as are the ethical dilemmas faced by cultural historians in assessing these images’ status as testimony and/or aesthetic objects. The problematic insights they provide into the relationship between trauma and creativity, and between work of art and historical document remain of crucial importance.
This is very much work in progress, and I am still crystallizing my thoughts on what seems to me a fascinating and innovative area of cultural enquiry. (To my knowledge, no such comparisons have yet been attempted.)
Bowd, Gavin (University of St Andrews), ‘Living in delirium: Marin Preda and Romanian remembrance of the Second World War’.
In 1975, Marin Preda’s novel Delirul shook Communist Romania. The text explored events previously treated with great circumspect by official historiography: the brief alliance between the Iron Guard and Marshal Ion Antonescu, the latter’s complex involvement in the Axis Powers’ war against Stalin’s Soviet Union, and the question of ‘Greater Romania’’s lost province, Bessarabia. Through the eyes of the central character, a young journalist on the Eastern Front, history emerges as both an ideological fiction and a deadly ‘delirium’ gripping its participants. This paper returns to the publication of a book that was an instant best-seller, and almost just as instantly seized and censored, examining the conflicting responses to it, and placing the Delirul phenomenon in the context of Communist Romania’s evolving remembrance of the Second World War. We will also look at the subsequent fate of what had been planned as the first tome in a socio-historical fresco cut short by the author’s violent and still mysterious death in 1980. Given present attitudes towards Preda’s novel, as well as towards Antonescu and Romania’s role in the Second World War, has the ‘delirium’ ceased?
Braganca, Manuel (University of Manchester), ‘The French and WWII: the end of the obsession?’
In recent years, French novels about WWII have received considerable acclaim from the public and critics alike. Indeed, this is the case for The Kindly Ones (2006) by Jonathan Littell, Le Rapport de Brodeck (2007) by Philippe Claudel, and, more recently, HHhH (2010) by Laurent Binet. Their popularity seems to indicate that the French are still obsessed with WWII. Yet, the purpose of this paper is to suggest that the French are no longer in the ‘obsessive phase’ which characterizes France since 1974, according to Henry Rousso. On the contrary, this paper will argue that the new wave of WWII French novels exemplify a new phase in the way the French now look at WWII. This new phase is characterized with a bigger emphasis on other experiences of WWII in Europe, which are then put in context with the now well-known (and assumed) French one. Special attention will be given to HHhH whose success, we will argue, owes far less to its literary qualities than to the different (para-textual) discourses that accompany it and to the context of its publication.
Brandon, Laura (Canadian War Museum, Ottawa), ‘Unfinished Business: What does Canada's most important First World War painting tell us about conflict, art, and memory?’
Canada’s war art collection acts as a nationally popular ‘site of memory’ in formulating Canadians’ understanding of their participation in the First World War. Recently, what is arguably the conflict’s most important Canadian commission was presented in public for the first time. What it depicts challenges some current interpretations of the war and raises questions about the intersection of war, art, and memory.
Celebrated British artist, Augustus John, was occupied painting a massive 12 x 40 foot canvas about Canadian participation when the war ended. A landscape panorama of hills, ruins, and shattered trees frames his more than 50 individual figures of allied and enemy troops, refugees, and the wounded. Commissioned in 1917 as the centrepiece for a war memorial art gallery in Ottawa that was never built, the painting was unfinished when John died in 1961.
Sold at auction, the painting was cut in half to be used as a wall covering in a private house in London, England. After the death of the house’s second owner in 2009, the Canadian War Museum purchased the mural and transported it to Canada where it was unveiled by the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, Prince William and his wife Catherine, in July 2011.
The painting’s total absence from public view for nearly a century provides in its subject matter an opportunity to explore issues of public amnesia as far as the Great War is concerned. Over time a selective process that involves both art critics and the historical profession has marginalized some of what is depicted in John’s enormous mural; his emphasis on refugees, for example. The painting’s recovery challenges us to consider the similarities and differences in how Canadians remember the war today compared to 1919.
Brown, Judy (Cambridge University), ‘Performing Cultural Memory: 9 May Victory Day celebrations in Sevastopol, Crimea’
This paper examines 9 May ‘Victory Day’ celebrations in Sevastopol as a current day example of performative cultural memory of the Great Patriotic War 1941-1945. Drawing on fieldwork in May 2012, the author analyses the main commemorative activities undertaken by both state and civil society actors – military parades, naval displays, wreath-laying, remembrance initiatives and battle reenactments.
Firstly this paper examines the cultural layering of memory, whereby the ‘Defence of Sevastopol’ 1941-1942 is inseparably linked in artistic and cultural representation to the ‘First Defence of Sevastopol’ 1854-1855 during the Crimean War. This leads to a strong local memory culture regarding war in the naval city. However this section goes on to foreground the transnational dimensions of Victory Day in Sevastopol. It presents what I call the cultural import-export model, whereby Sevastopol is located firmly within the sphere of Russian cultural influence, leading to a high degree of homogeneity in commemorative practice surrounding 9 May.
The second key theme is the intergenerational transmission of memory. The paper looks in particular at the ‘patriotic disciplining’ activities of Sevastopol veterans’ associations (by which every school is linked with a veterans group) and at the mobilization of the school system for the undertaking of commemorative initiatives. Lastly this paper highlights areas of cultural amnesia (regarding, for example, the fate of the Crimean Tatars) as well as regional contestation of the dominant Victory Day narratives.
Brown, Kathryn (Tilburg University, The Netherlands), ‘Remembering the Occupation: Pierre Jahan and Jean Cocteau’
This paper analyzes the relationship between documentary photography, sculpture, and
poetic language in La Mort et les statues (Death and the Statues), a book published jointly
by the French photographer, Pierre Jahan, and poet, Jean Cocteau, in 1946. The
book comprises Jahan’s photographs of the destruction of Parisian public monuments that
had been requisitioned by Nazi occupying forces for scrap metal during the Second
World War. Cocteau wrote a preface and series of short texts to accompany this
visually abstract record of destruction.
Jahan’s photographs of the metaphoric ‘death’ of these monuments are typically
Interpreted as a form of documentary realism. In this paper, by contrast,
I focus on the ‘abstract and surrealist horror’ that Cocteau found in these images
and unravel the singular narrative that they convey in the immediate aftermath of
the war. This narrative combines different historical perspectives: recent memory
of the Occupation is refracted through France’s longer cultural history
symbolized by the destroyed statuary. While La Mort et les statues commemorates
violence done to the Parisian landscape, its juxtaposition of artistic creation
and industrial destruction, the human form and its sculptural representation,
constitutes a unique aesthetic language in which documentary realism shades
into surreal effect. This combination makes them distinctive in the context of
Jahan’s other photographs of everyday life in wartime France. I locate
La Mort et les statues against the artistic output of the book’s authors, having
regard to their personal experiences and allegiances during the Occupation. For
Cocteau, in particular, participation in this project constituted an important public
statement about his own immediate political and artistic past. When viewed in
the light of other documentary photography of the Second World War and its
aftermath, La Mort et les statues stands as both a unique construction of cultural
memory and powerful personal statement by a photographer and poet with
contrasting artistic styles and motives.
Bru-Domínguez, Eva (University of Birmingham), ‘Repressed Memories and Desires: The Monstrous Other in Agustí Villaronga’s Pa negre (2010)’
This paper examines the (de)construction of historical memory in Agustí Villaronga’s film adaptation of Emili Teixidor’s (2003) post-Spanish Civil War novel Pa negre. By drawing on the Freudian concept of the uncanny and Barbara Creed’s notion of phallic panic, the paper suggests that Pa negre draws attention to society’s fears about sexual difference and denounces the mechanisms whereby the deviant socio-sexual Other has habitually been excluded, cleansed as it were, from the memory of the collective. Pa negre, with its deployment of the ghostly, the monstrous and the sickly – and their clear associations with the feminine – incorporates many of the elements particular of the aesthetics of the horror film genre. More than this, because of its focus on the experience of a child who is haunted by the ghosts of a traumatising past, reminiscent of Víctor Erice’s El espíritu de la colmena (1973) and Carlos Saura’s Cría Cuervos (1975), and allusions both to the castrated woman in Buñuel’s Tristana (1970), and the abject stepmother in Mercè Rodoreda’s novel La mort i la primavera (1986), Pa negre is read as a film that dialogues with a range of texts that have employed monstrous imagery to address issues about collective memory.
Burešová, Jana (Institute of Germanic and Romance Studies, University of London) ‘From a Far-off Country: Some Aspects of Czechoslovak Cultural Life in Britain During WWII’
This paper will examine selected aspects of the little-known cultural activities of Czechoslovak refugees in Britain during WWII, noting their role, significance, and impact within the exile/host communities.
Culture was an emotive political tool, bound up with the dilemma of integration, versus the patriotic desire of both preserving a Czechoslovak national identity in an alien environment, and actively promoting it. Paradoxically, however, the arts could also alienate Czech and German-speaking compatriots, and those of diverse political allegiances, rather than unite them by transcending differences.
Nevertheless, social/cultural organizations served three major functions. Firstly, they enabled refugees to recreate (partly at least), a cultural life enjoyed in the homeland and in their mother-tongue, helping to counter the stresses of war by providing a vital source of information, moral support and camaraderie - a ‘home away from home’. Secondly, they showed British citizens, including British wives of Czechoslovak men, that Czechoslovaks possessed a history and culture, while giving exiled Czechoslovak artists, writers and musicians an opportunity to display their talent; and thirdly, they helped to imbue children/youths with an awareness and appreciation of their culture prior to repatriation - crucial in the transmission of cultural memory on a generational basis in exile. Commemorative events were therefore especially important.
Drawing upon archival material, oral histories and some illustrations, the Paper would address the topic within a socio-historical and political context, focussing on contrasting entities such as the Czechoslovak Institute, the Czechoslovak-British Friendship Club, and Young Czechoslovakia, as well as others.
Cardin, Katherine (University of Pennsylvania), ‘Legacies of French WWII Collaboration: A Multi-Generational Study’
Nearly seven decades after WWII, the complex problems and startling choices of the années noires continue to captive citizens and scholars alike. Numerous studies concerning French collaboration with German occupying forces have been published. Yet, one aspect of collaboration has received little attention: its impact on descendants of French WWII collaborators.
Beginning in 1971, children of collaborators joined France’s national dialogue about the war years. These children sometimes turned to writing as a means of elucidating their parents’ decisions and reflecting on the impact of those decisions on their own lives and identities. Moreover, writing allowed the authors to confront conflicting images of the collaborator as national traitor and member of a particular family.
A handful of scholars have studied literature by descendants of French WWII collaborators. Their research has focused overwhelmingly on texts published between 1970 and 1980 by three authors (Jardin, Chaix, Le Garrec) who are children of collaborators. Such texts constitute what I consider to be the “first wave” of publishing by descendants of French WWII collaborators. The “second wave,” consisting of literature by both children (Vitoux, Jamet, Fernandez) and grandchildren (Jardin, Carrère) of collaborators, began around the turn of the century and, as of 2011, continues to unfold.
When one takes into consideration both waves of publishing, two key issues emerge. First, literature by children of collaborators is a distinct, coherent body of work that has a set of defining traits and concerns. Second, literature by grandchildren of collaborators resembles that of the children of collaborators in several ways. Nevertheless, a crucial shift takes place in terms of the nature of the overriding concerns expressed in the two generations’ works. Ultimately, the literature produced by descendants of French collaborators attests not only to the lingering impact of WWII, but also to the dynamic evolution of memory and identity.
Chaktsiris, Mary (Queen’s University, Kingston, Ontario), ‘Extending the “Invitation to Manliness”: Manhood, Empire, and the Great War in Canada, 1914-1919’
‘The empire needs men, money, and munitions – which are you supplying?’ In
Canada, as in other parts of empire, First World War posters with slogans such as this
appealed to notions of manhood that valorized courage, duty, and sacrifice. Influenced by
literature on masculinity and the war (Bourke; Mosse; Myer; Roper), and incorporating
research both in Canada and the United Kingdom, this paper explores (1) how
constructed wartime roles for men and women either as nurses or soldiers, financiers or
knitters, were represented in war posters, the press, and government policies in Canada
and the United Kingdom, and (2) how these constructed roles played a critical part in the
Canadian and imperial war effort as women entered industry, returning veterans struggled to re-adjust to civilian life, and communities dealt with rising civil tensions.
Set against the backdrop of community relations in Toronto, then the largest
English-speaking city in the Dominion of Canada, this paper explores how the war
shaped conflicts about gender, race, and empire on both sides of the Atlantic. Largely
marginalized in broader histories of the “European War,” this paper demonstrates the
participation and inclusion of Toronto in imperial gendered circuits encouraging men and
women to participate in the war effort along gendered lines. Involvement in this
conference would also place Canada, and its 60,000 war dead across the fields of
Flanders and France, within the broader umbrella of research about the Great War. Fitting the themes of Session 1 and Session 2, this paper invites further discussion of the
commemoration and memory of the conflict in Canada as moment of transition from
colony to nation, especially considering the segregation or absence of Canada from larger
scholarship on the Great War.
Choi, Sung (UCLA, USA), ‘We Came from the Colony to Save the Patrie! Settler Historiography and Memory of World War II North Africa’
It has often been said that the memories of the Second World War in France are much
more far-reaching than the memories having to do with colonialism. But this statement
overlooks the fact that one of the most important sites of World War II happened to be
colonial North Africa, making it impossible to detach the memories of World War II
from the memories of a colonial frontier. While the D-day landing in Normandy has been
noted as the turning point in the Second World War, the former soldiers of the African
Army remember a very different watershed in the history of World War II: that of the
Allied amphibian landing in Vichy controlled Algeria in November of 1942, which
ultimately allowed de Gaulle’s ‘return’ to France. Remarkable accounts of the transition
from Vichy to Free France in North Africa have been written by former French settlers or
pieds noirs. This paper explores these accounts.
These amateur historians recount their adventures and contribution to the African
Army, a mnemonic site for recounting the weaknesses of the ‘other army’, or de Gaulle’s
Free France. The latter is discreetly written off as less competent and far less numbered
than the settler troops from Algeria. In part political and in part strategic, the pieds noirs
have unwillingly shored up a forgotten aspect of France’s World War II history having to
do with the leadership of the African Army by powerful Vichy generals who were left in
their ranks by the Allied supreme command. Some of these names conjure the most
powerful men of Vichy North Africa. This paper weaves memory and history together to
show how the French Algerian past has been used, suppressed, retrieved, and rewoven
together not only by the pieds noirs but also by the Allied forces. It also points to the
ways in which the pied noir identity draws from historical events and not just from
nostalgic accounts of colonial life. And these historical events continue to keep alive the
history of the indelible ties between France and Algeria.
Cornick, Martyn (University of Birmingham), ‘A Writer at the Front Line: Armand Petitjean and Jean Paulhan's Nouvelle Revue francaise, 1939-1940.’
With the publication of the correspondence between the neglected writer and critic, Armand Petitjean, and Jean Paulhan, director of the NRF, we now have much raw material from which to draw evidence for an analysis of the myth and reality of war, when it broke out in September 1939. Like Sartre, Petitjean attested voluminously to Paulhan from the very beginning to the sense of 'freedom' which the declaration of war imparted. The correspondence affords an insight into the way the war affected writers and the production of reviews as the days, weeks and months of the conflict unfolded. Petitjean, at this time a more prominent figure at the NRF than Sartre, and with the complicity of Paulhan, also published witness reports on the war in the pages of the NRF, pages which were censored by the authorities. The paper will draw on these published and other unpublished materials, with a view to enriching our knowledge of the NRF as a site of memory for the French experience of the Second World War.
Correia, Silvia (University of Lisbon), ‘Monuments: the precarious face of the myth. Politics of the memory of the First World War in Portugal’.
Recognizing the existence of an European culture of war, both homogenous and hegemonic, it seeks to understand the nature of the myth of the war experience in Portugal in an analysis that considers the profound divergences within Portuguese participation in the conflict within Europe, such as the disastrous effects that determined the specific process of commemoration and those that relegated to the possible condition of a mutilated victor.
The political war memory would reveal itself quite polemic. From the insufficient official receptions of the returning soldiers and the ceremonies later introduced to the difficulty in the official determination of a commemorative day. In Portugal, monuments have been ignored as the most obvious traces of the Myth of War Experience. As lieux de mémoire, they have interest, more than artistic, as propaganda tools and mirrors of an official ideology, helpful in the consolidation of an official memory in the face of the conflict devastation.
This presentation seeks to structure an interpretive map of the monuments, posing particular questions. Firstly, if there is relation between the First Republic’s incapacity to project a consistent political memory and to deal with the traumas inflicted by the war and its political fragility, precipitating its collapse in 1926. Secondly, considering the historical definition of public spaces of memory, whether it is possible or not to identify in the official conception of commemoration an agent of political legitimacy.
Daly, Selena (Manchester Metropolitan University, UK), ‘Representing the Borderlands: Italian Futurists and Trentino (1914-1916)’
Irredentism was one of the cornerstones of the Futurist ideology and the so-called ‘unredeemed lands’ surrounding the cities of Trieste and Trento were the focus of Futurist attention from the movement’s foundation by Filippo Tommaso Marinetti in 1909. The city of Trieste was quickly established as the symbol of the irredentist cause; consequently it is the Adriatic city, rather than the Alpine one, that has received the most scholarly attention in relation to Futurist political engagement before, during, and after the First World War. Upon Italy’s intervention in the war, Marinetti and other prominent Futurists, such as Umberto Boccioni, Luigi Russolo, and Antonio Sant’Elia, joined the Lombard Battalion of Volunteer Cyclists, and were sent to fight at the Austrian front-line at the border of Trentino, near Lake Garda. This was their first experience as Futurist soldiers, and represents the realization of their dreams of warfare. While Trieste was the focus of Futurist rhetoric on irredentism, Trentino became the locus of action. This experience had a profound impact on the development of Futurist art, music, and literature.
In this paper, I will examine artistic representations of the Trentino region by prominent Futurists, particularly Marinetti, in order to analyse the role played by the borderland environment in their artistic production. While Trentino had featured in some Futurist artwork before the intervention of Italy, it was the period fighting at the border in 1915 that proved most fertile for the Futurist imagination. A series of diary entries, sketches, ‘words-in-freedom’ paintings, and photographs, all produced at or inspired by the Trentino front line, will be analysed, demonstrating how the physical reality and proximity of the frontier were uppermost in their minds, and how the border affected their experience of war and their negotiation of its meaning.
Davis, Vicky (University College, London), ‘Memory for Sale: Local and national interpretations of Brezhnev’s “Malaia zemlia”’
The battle to free the strategic Black Sea port of Novorossiisk from German occupation during the Great Patriotic War was fought from the beach-head of Malaia zemlia, held by Soviet landing troops, including the young Leonid Brezhnev, for seven months in 1943 prior to the liberation of the town. The significance attributed to the campaign retrospectively is largely dependent upon Brezhnev’s interpretation in his memoirs.
My paper will demonstrate how the specifically local myth of Malaia zemlia was appropriated by the state’s cult of war memory during the Brezhnev era, mainly for the self-promotion of Brezhnev himself, as its figurehead. For most Russians, the myth of Malaia zemlia died with Brezhnev and the Soviet Union, but it lives on in Novorossiisk as local history. With increasing nostalgia for the past and the advent of a new war cult in the twenty-first century, however, the myth of Malaia zemlia is coming back into its own on the national level.
I shall argue that, just as there is a tension between local collective memory and the interpretation of Western and dissident historians, there is a similar polarity between the understanding of Malaia zemlia locally and nationally, and with it a substantial difference between the judgment of Brezhnev on the local and national levels. I shall demonstrate that, if at first the national interpretation subsumed the local, the local myth then re-appropriated the national, while today the state has a renewed vested interest in reviving the once ridiculed myth of Malaia zemlia.
Declercq, Christophe (Imperial College, London), ‘From gallant guests to wonderful bother: Belgian refugees in Britain during WW1 and a meaningful identity’.
When Germany invaded Belgium on 4 August 1914, Britain declared war on Germany. In the subsequent weeks the German forces moved through Belgium from east to west, leaving behind a trace of destruction, which in itself initiated stories about alleged atrocities.
These stories helped trigger a mass movement of unprecedented scale, in which more than a million and a half Belgians sought refuge abroad. Most of them fled to the Netherlands and France, but over a quarter of million Belgians went to Britain.
Meanwhile in Britain one of the responses to the war was by Charles Masterman who assembled two dozens of renowned authors to be involved in what later on was considered to be a propaganda move furthering public support for the war effort.
Both the atrocities stories and Masterman’s men of letters have been studied in much detail. However, by entering Belgian refugees and Belgian exiled men of letters into the equation new dimensions arise. First the rather repetitive-stereotypical representation of Gallant Little Belgium by British authors is measured against contributions by Belgian authors in exile that were published in British newspapers, but also against publications in exile.
The extent to which the two traits of literary representations also represent societal realities is analysed, as is the question whether or not they are conflicting images or complementary ones. It is argued that in exile Belgian refugees constructed a meaningful identity that no longer could be maintained as soon as the war was ended.
Diłanian-Pinkowicz, Karina (Polish Academy of Sciences), ‘Visualizing the Armenian Genocide’
“In order to know, we must imagine for ourselves. (…)
Let us not invoke the unimaginable.
Let us not shelter ourselves by saying that we cannot,
that we could not by any means, imagine it to the very end.
We are obliged to that oppressive imaginable”1.
Does the image tell the truth? Can it bear witness to the past? Without doubt, when one cannot find words to describe what one can see or experiences, the image remains the only means of expression. Furthermore, as Georges Didi-Huberman points out, the picture becomes important evidence in attempts to understand and imagine the ‘unimaginable’.
The visual record was crucial for the 1915 Armenian genocide survivors. The enormous psychological burden caused by the trauma and the world's 50 year long amnesia regarding the genocide have prevented Armenians from talking about the tragedy no one had seen before. It is worth finding and analyzing the images taken then and published at the risk of life. These pictures are in fact one of the first and extremely important evidence of the crimes committed during the Great War. They seem to be the only adequate language to talk about the past.
This paper will focus on studying the visual representation of the Armenian genocide – from the first pictures taken by Armin Wegner, a nurse and second lieutenant in the German World War I army, who collected unique photographs illustrating the Armenian fate during the extermination and deportations, through the first silent film about the Armenian genocide, the art representations made already in the 1960s after the explosion of the memory of the Armenian genocide, to the recent representations of the 1915 great catastrophe. By that means, I will examine the way by which cultural memory of the Armenian genocide survived nearly a century and contributed to collective memory building.
Dodd, Lindsey (University of Westminster), ‘Black hole or memory comet? The Allied bombing of France (1940-1945) as vivid but neglected experience’
While the Allied bombing of France during World War II has been described as a ‘black hole’ in French collective memory, it could, and perhaps should, be seen as a ‘memory comet’: a hot, vivid experience at the core, rarely but regularly appearing, leading a trail of memories across time.
This paper illustrates the limits of the hegemonic ‘collective memory’ of war in France, which has ignored the experiences of those outside the resistance-collaboration discourse that has steamrollered its way over representations of war since 1944. This discourse has fostered a cultural climate of suspicion towards war memories for decades, which leaves non-hegemonic memories, such as bombing, little public space for articulation. Has France left it too late, given the dwindling of the survivor generation, to gain scholarly insight into the experiences of parts of its population excluded from the dominant narrative of war?
After commenting on the Allied bombing of France and collective memory, Part 1 uses oral narratives to illustrate how public representations of war in France have created the illusion of a ‘black hole’ in memory. First, dominant narratives overlay memories of bombing, which become perceptible only obliquely through often-told stories of war (‘cold memories’, e.g. concerning food shortages); second, narrators push traumatic memories down a hierarchy of hardship which chimes with more commonly accepted understandings of victimhood (e.g. Jewish persecution); third, public recognition of bombing is rare, and arenas of commemoration remain local and restricted. Part 2 introduces the ‘memory comet’, first using oral narratives to illustrate the memory of bombing as ‘hot’, vivid and emotional; second, showing that survivors see bombing at the root of irreversible changes to life trajectories; third, that memories have strong interim-period and present-day behavioural links which maintain bombing’s presence in survivors’ lives.
This paper contributes to understanding the interaction of private and public memories of war, in particular illuminating the way that France’s post-war ‘memory wars’ have damaged the construction of an inclusive national history of war.
Drapac, Vesna (University of Adelaide), ‘Layered memories of war and the history and historiography of Yugoslavia’
War ‘made’ Yugoslavia on two occasions but the dominant or official memory of those wars led to the suppression of competing visions of what it meant to be Yugoslav. The result was that the potentially integrative memory of the experience of total war was fragmented. This paper will argue that conflicting or mutually exclusive memories of both world wars contributed to the failure of successive governments to establish their legitimacy and to create a socially cohesive Yugoslav citizenry. The problems related to the memory of war, and evident in political and cultural life in Yugoslavia in the interwar years, were exacerbated when the country collapsed in 1941. The layering of memories of the Great War onto those of the Second World War occurred in some quarters while elsewhere there was a tendency to focus exclusively on the Partisan Epic as the foundational narrative of the new Yugoslavia. The significance of this divergence became obvious at the time of the demise of the state in the 1990s with the abuse of the memory of war permeating nationalist and populist propaganda. In order to illustrate my case I will focus on the examples of King Aleksandar and Tito. Much of their authority and their international standing derived from their status as war heroes. Their wartime experiences shaped their political vision and it will be seen that the conflation of memory, propaganda, popular and academic history, and official commemorative practices had unforeseen consequences in both Yugoslavias.
Duffy, Helena (University of Wroczlav), ‘The Jew as St Christopher. The Holocaust and the Soviet Jews’ Participation in the War Effort in the Oeuvre of Andreï Makine’
If all of Makine’s novels are intensely preoccupied with military conflicts, World War II remains the Franco-Russian author’s main point of historical reference. Makine’s reason for repeatedly revisiting what in Russia is known as the Great Patriotic War is, as the author implies, to reject the idea of History as a unitary past and to offer ‘histories’, that is what Jeffrey N. Cox and Larry J. Reynolds have termed ‘an ongoing series of human constructions’. In doing so Makine strives to oppose both the official Communist historiography that while mythologising the Great Victory often victimised the conflict’s actual survivors, and the misconceptions concerning the Soviet Union’s role in World War II that have accumulated in the West. In this context, this paper sets out to investigate whether Makine’s representation of the Great Patriotic War allies itself with the postmodern treatment of historical material, which consists in releasing history from the influence of dominant ideologies, in revising, reinterpreting and demystifying the authorised version of the past, and in giving voice to those who have been excluded from the making and writing of history. Apart from filtering the past through the prism of an individual perspective, a process that E. Wesselling calls ‘subjectivisation of history’, Makine’s highly self-referential novels combine an investigation of the past with the protagonist’s quest for an identity. They also question the documentability of historical events by exposing the unreliability or even the fallacy of evidence such as newspapers, eye-witness accounts, artefacts and photographs. However, despite these and other rhetorical procedures that potentially point to the ‘revisionist’ character of Makine’s historical novels, this paper endeavours to demonstrate that the Franco-Russia author’s works, which, importantly, are destined primarily for Western readers, do little more than perpetuate the Soviet version of World War II. They do so by emphasising the Red Army’s pivotal role and sacrifice in liberating Europe from fascism, at the same time systematically glossing over the atrocities committed by Soviet soldiers, such as massacres of civilians and POWs, lootings or mass rapes, not to mention the Soviet domination of countries belonging to what was to become known as the Eastern Bloc.
Fell, Alison (University of Leeds) and Debruyne, Emmanuel (Université catholique de Louvain), ‘Model Martyrs? Remembering First World War Resistance Heroines in Belgium and France’
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org; email@example.com
This paper will focus on women who were engaged in resistance activities in occupied France and Belgium during the First World War. Some of these women, especially those who died, became national heroines. Edith Cavell was the most famous of these martyr-heroines, but there were others whose memory persisted after the Armistice, and whose memory played a role in the postwar construction of national identities. After outlining the historical context, this paper will discuss two aspects of the memory of these Resistance heroines. Firstly, we will consider the features of their representation in literature, cinema and monuments, discussing the extent to which they conform to pre-existing models of female heroism such as Joan of Arc, and/or contribute to an evolution of women’s social roles. The case-studies from France will include Louise de Bettignies, Marie-Léonie Vanhoutte and Louise Thuliez, who were all imprisoned in Germany for espionage or for their roles in organizing Allied soldiers’ escape networks. For Belgium, it will deal with figures like Gabrielle Petit, national heroine par excellence, but also Marie de Croÿ, Marthe Cnockaert or Lucie Dejardin, who survived the war and experienced very different forms of heroisation. Secondly, we will discuss the ideological and political uses of these national heroines. In France, this will include a discussion of the evocation of Resistance heroines in the discourse of right-wing nationalist associations such as the Croix du Feu in the late 1920s. In Belgium, the public use of these figures will outline the diverging memories between the Flemish and French-speaking communities during the interwar period.
Freeman, Kirrily (Saint Mary's University, Halifax, Canada),‘Silence and Memory: The Lost Bells of Europe’
In May 2009, 127 plaster casts were discovered at the Canadian Museum of Civilization in Ottawa. These casts, made by Nazi art historians, are the last known traces of medieval and early modern European church bells melted down in Germany during the Second World War. In June and July 2011, these casts were displayed for the first time in the exhibition Silence and Memory: The Lost Bells of Europe at the Saint Mary's University Art Gallery, in Halifax, Nova Scotia. 2
This exhibition, of which I was curator, explored the layers of memory associated with these artifacts: post-war memories of the war experience in Germany including the mobilization of German memories of victimhood; ecclesiastical memories of the Second World War in Europe and questions of church complicity with the Nazi regime; the more recent romanticization of war and genocide in public memory and commemoration; but also an earlier Nazi “memory” of Germanic culture in the High Middle Ages. The plasters in the exhibition were all created to preserve a trace of Germanic art and history that, though revered, was being sacrificed to the Nazi war effort. All are impressions of bell decoration dating from the thirteenth to the eighteenth centuries, but the variety of their imagery is striking. In addition to saints and madonnas, there are Green Men, mythical beasts, knights and dragons, and a selection of secular, political and decorative themes. The choice to preserve this particular imagery reveals a great deal about the Nazi mobilization of medieval and early modern Germany during the Third Reich.
This paper proposes to use the exhibition Silence and Memory: The Lost Bells of Europe as a lens through which to examine these layers of memory and their role in the construction of meaning and identity in Germany, and indeed in North America, in the Nazi and post-war periods, but also in the present day.
Gehrhardt, Marjorie (University of Exeter), ‘The Destiny and Representation of Facially Injured Soldiers in the Interwar Period’
New weaponry and changes in warfare during the First World War dramatically increased the number of facially injured soldiers while medical advances enabled many of these soldiers to survive their wounds and, at least on paper, to return to civil life. However, as with many other injured and crippled soldiers, society was not always prepared for the long-term confrontation with these walking reminders of the war. This conflict is reflected in the 1920s and 1930s media and in the arts.
Studies that take facially injured soldiers of the First World War as their focus of attention are scarce and often limited to medical questions. My paper, which is based on my postgraduate studies to date, explores historical documents as well as artistic representations of facially injured soldiers. With an interdisciplinary perspective I aim to compare the destiny and representations of facially disfigured soldiers in France, Great Britain and Germany.
My emphasis rests on the strategies facially injured soldiers developed to overcome their trauma, both on an individual and on a collective level. For this purpose, literary and artistic depictions (such as novels by Vicki Baum and Renée Girard, pastels by Henry Tonks, drawings by Raphaël Freida and photographs) will be set against the documentation of ‘real’ cases in order to highlight similarities and discrepancies within European arts and societies. My proposed paper explores the interface between historical accounts and artistic representations, along with the role played by gueules cassées — as they came to be known in France — in remembering the war.
Goldberg, Harold J. (The University of the South, Sewanee, Tennessee), ‘Reconstructing D-Day Memory: How Contemporary Politics made Germans Victims of the War’
In 1944 the divide between the Allies as saviors of Europe and the Germans as aggressors, occupiers, and oppressors of the continent was clear. Nevertheless, in 1984 and again in 1994 Chancellor Kohl hoped to be invited to the D-Day ceremonies in Normandy; he was disappointed when he was left out of the remembrance events. Ten years later in 2004, a grateful Chancellor Schroeder was included as a symbol of European cooperation.
While keynote speeches have continued to mention sacrifice, the inclusion of the former enemy prioritizes the European Union and Germany’s place as leader of the new Europe. Veterans groups have protested this intentional historical amnesia, but the disappearance of the WWII generation has permitted politicians to reconstruct history to serve ideological and political purposes. Chirac and Schroeder argued that the Germans of 2004 had the same right to remember 1944 as Allied nations did, creating a wartime paradigm that transformed Germans from enemies of the Allies to victims of the Nazis and gained for Germany an equivalency with other European nations that reflected Germany’s role in the present rather than the 1940s.
My presentation will explore the political and cultural transformation of the D-Day ceremony from a commemoration of a decisive battle to a celebration of unity in Europe and the reconciliation between France and Germany. I plan to analyze the deliberate manipulation of the memory of June 6, 1944 by politicians committed to improved relations rather than historical honesty. Further, my paper will explore why these changes took place, examine the controversies involved, investigate why the Russians were excluded from the June remembrances, and analyze the way in which D-Day commemorations have become a symbol for a united Europe while the memory of the war itself fades with the generation that fought it.
Goldberg, Nancy Sloan (Middle Tennessee State University), ‘The Aryan on the Cutting-Room Floor: American Cinematic Reconstruction of German Ideology in The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse’
One of best-selling novels of the First World War was Vicente Blasco Ibañez’s Los cuatro jinetes del apocalipsis, published in Spanish in 1916 and in English translation in 1918 as The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. Written at the request of French President Poincaré, Blasco Ibañez’s novel examines the effects of the war on an Argentine family with relatives fighting on both the French and German sides. While themes of self-sacrifice and patriotic duty are common among novelistic accounts of the war, Blasco Ibañez adds a unique aspect to his story: impugning the racialist philosophy of Pan-Germanism as the motive for German militarism. Blasco Ibañez portrays German imperialist designs fueled by theories of Aryan ‘superiority’ and ‘degeneracy’ of non-Aryan Europeans as a fundamental threat to the survival of Western Civilization. His novel demonstrates that these ideas, associated now with Nazi ideology, were widely held among German intellectuals before the First World War.
Two film versions of the novel exist, both made by American directors. Although the 1921 version by Rex Ingram and the 1962 version by Vincente Minelli both reproduce the book’s theme of war as a powerful agent of personal redemption, they abandon Blasco Ibañez’s emphasis on German racialist theory. Moreover, the setting of the 1962 film, recast in Nazi-occupied Paris, renders Minnelli’s cleansing of German racism and benign portrayal of Germans as particularly problematic.
My paper will analyze why these American filmmakers chose to eliminate Blasco Ibañez’s original representation of German war aims and retained only the novel’s commemoration of self-sacrifice as redemption for personal failings. By removing politics and ideology, the films reconstruct both world wars as transhistorical spaces where individuals freely choose their destinies. Such deliberate restructuring effectively rewrites history to eradicate the role and accountability of nations, their governments and policies in the legacy of war.
Gordon, Bertram M. (Mills College, Oakland, California), ‘ “Defensive Architecture” and World War II Memory: The Maginot Line’
Although much is written about literary, cinematographic, and artistic representations of World War II and their influence on the changing cultural memories of that conflict, less attention is paid to the role of "defensive architecture," in the words of Luxembourg's European Institute of Cultural Routes. This paper uses literary and cinematic sources to analyze the ruptures and continuities in the historical images of the Maginot Line and their role in the construction of memory of the war.
While most accounts of the Line focus on its construction and failure to protect France in 1940, few examine its role in the construction of postwar memory of the war in France, Germany, and the English-speaking countries. To many, the Line came to symbolize a defensive posture that ultimately proved futile. This image persists to the present, although challenged by Roger Bruge's Blow up the Maginot Line [Faites sauter la Ligne Maginot] in 1973, which cast a more positive light on the role of the forts in 1940.
The Line also became an architectural symbol of French-German postwar reconciliation when aging French and German war veterans jointly placed a commemorative plaque at the La Ferté fort in 1973. With the war receding in memory, the British magazine After the Battle in 1988 highlighted the forts, including those along the Franco-Italian frontier, addressing another dimension, the Italian memory of the 1940 campaign.
Annually, the Maginot Line attracts some 300,000 visitors, whose perspectives are shifting from the more intense memory of the participants and their contemporaries to a more distant focus placing the forts into a long sequence of memorials dating to Alésia and the war against the Romans in France. Authenticity and preservation are now key issues shaping the role of the forts in the formation of memory.
Grayson, Richard S. (Goldsmiths, University of London), ‘Myth and the Battle of Messines: Building a New Memory of Ireland’s Great War’
Prior to the opening of the Island of Ireland Peace Tower at Messines in 1998, there had been no all-Ireland First World War memorial. Those on the Somme specifically focused on the memory of the soldiers from one community: the 36th (Ulster) Division at Thiepval and the 16th (Irish) Division at Guillemont. Both commemorated overtly political divisions and drew on cultural forms which could not be inclusive.
With the opening of the Peace Tower (a cultural icon recognised and accepted both north and south of the border), a new phase of memory was initiated. The significance of the site was as the location of a joint operation by the 16th and 36th Divisions in June 1917, one of the most effective allied attacks of the war. It can be (and is) held up as a symbol of a shared Irish story across religious and political divides.
As a contribution to section two of the conference, ‘National Historiographies’, this paper will discuss how the Peace Tower came to be built. The project drew on changes in national historiographies which were already taking place, but has also contributed to their continuing development. The paper will discuss associated initiatives such as the International School for Peace Studies at Messines, and the Fellowship of Messines which aims to reconcile former paramilitaries from republican and loyalist traditions. It will also argue that the new ‘ideal’ of Messines rests on a partial reading (or ‘myth’) of who fought at Messines in the 16th and 36th divisions. Using statistics of fatalities it will show that the two divisions were far from being uniformly ‘Irish’ and drew in soldiers from across the UK. As such, memories of Messines are arguably just as partial as previous histories of the war which focused on the battle of the Somme.
Grenaudier-Klijn, France (Massey University, NZ), ‘Street names in Patrick Modiano’s Second World War novels – Unconcealing the Occupation’
The German Occupation of France lies at the core of French novelist Patrick Modiano’s narratives. Yet, Modiano, born in 1945 of a Jewish father and a Belgium mother, did not have first-hand experience of the event. His relation to this period of French history is therefore largely fictional; a (re)construction. It is also obsessive, as illustrated by the quasi-compulsive peregrinations of the homodiegetic narrator through the streets of Paris, and palimpsestic, the protagonist interweaving his own (literal and figurative) itinerary with the life-story of others: direct family members, historical figures and writers.
Focussing in particular on the ambivalent ‘places of memory’ that pepper Modiano’s novels, I will examine more closely the symbolism of recurrent street names. Street names bear the traces of history and act therefore as a palliative to oblivion. They testify, attest and, more often than not, glorify and exalt. Yet, they can also disturb and provoke. As a result their name is sometimes changed; streets are stripped of their identity and given a new one. But what of those ‘banal’ streets whose names are not explicitly associated with any dark figure or episode, but are nonetheless prone to trigger anxiety and guilt?
One street in particular – la rue Lauriston, headquarter of the French Gestapo – recurs with great frequency. Rather drab and unpretentious, this street does not stand out in any way from Parisian topography. Yet, the simple uttering of its name makes present a troubled past, both at a collective and personal level. Given its concomitantly epistemological and imaginary dimensions - however referential, it is also a retrospective representation - could Modiano’s rue Lauriston represent a form of aletheia 3or unconcealedness typical of this author’s specific relationship to Occupation France, exhortative preoccupations with the misdeeds of the past and need to resist cultural amnesia?