- Steve Addazio's inaugural press conference as Boston College head football coach (pg. 9)
- Wake Forest University president Nathan Hatch's keynote address at the Sesquicentennial symposium "Religion and the Liberal Aims of Higher Education" (pg. 34)
- David B. Couturier, OFM Cap., on "New Evangelization for Today's Parish" (pg. 42)
- Guerilla Orchestra: the Callithumpian Consort and student musicians rehearse John Zorn's Cobra (pg. 10)
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RL 357/EN 084—Memory and literature
Memory—it forms as well as extends one’s identity. This is true also for the collective identities of family, society, religion, and culture. Two contemporary works, a novel by the German writer W.G. Sebald and a memoir by Norman Manea (translated from Romanian), open this core literature course and invite reflection on the specificity of literature in relation to film (Christopher Nolan’s 2001 Memento) and scientific research (excerpts from psychologist Daniel L. Schacter’s 1996 Searching for Memory: the Brain, the Mind, and the Past and his 2001 The Seven Sins of Memory: How the Mind Forgets and Remembers). With this introduction in place, we move back to an important beginning for Western culture, the Joseph story in Genesis, and proceed chronologically to a literary turning point in the early 20th century, Marcel Proust’s In Search of Lost Time (“remembered” by Sebald and Manea in their own writings), passing by way of Augustine’s meditations, tales from the 12th century by Marie de France, essays by Montaigne, poems by 19th- and 20th-century Americans (Emily Dickinson, Walt Whitman, Robert Bly, and Kay Ryan), and ending with a brief coda: Jorge Luis Borges’s short story, “Funes, His Memory.” The readings for the semester thus mirror the essential dynamic of memory—moving from the present back to the past and then forward again, as past and present interact to yield the future.
By W.G. Sebald
Translated by Anthea Bell (2001)
Published in English just before Sebald’s accidental death at age 57, Austerlitz casts the reawakening of memory within the story of a young Jew from Prague, Jacques Austerlitz, sent by his mother on a kindertransport and raised in Wales by a couple who hide his previous identity from him. Retired as an architectural historian, Austerlitz experiences a breakdown that leads him to rediscover his own and his parents’ past, destroyed by the Holocaust but partially recoverable through encounters with places and people connected to them. Fiction and reality mix in the complex pattern of voices: Austerlitz’s fragmented retelling of his life is reported by a narrator whose own story of wandering and discovery strangely parallels it and also mirrors the life and character of Sebald, a German soldier’s son who chose to emigrate to England. This narrative of trauma and suppressed memory thus belongs not only to the millions of Jews displaced and murdered by the Nazis but to a generation of Germans who, like Sebald, were born toward the end of World War II and must come to terms with their country’s past.
The Hooligan’s Return: A Memoir
By Norman Manea
Translated by Angela Jianu (2003)
Memoir is today one of the most popular literary forms, in fiction and nonfiction alike. While this memoir is not fictional, Manea uses the resources of literary invention to recount his difficult return to Romania in 1997 after emigrating in 1986 at age 50 and subsequently moving to the United States—a return that forcibly exposes memory’s contents and obsessions. This is a personal story but also an account of family, Romanian Jewry, and a country under fascism in the 1930s, under communism after World War II, and then under communism’s chameleon-like successors after the fall of Ceauşescu in 1989. Engulfed in anamnesis (compulsive remembering, his own as well as his culture’s), Manea plays with chronology and abandons the first person to describe himself in third-person roles as Augustus the clown, Romeo the lover, Noah, Ulysses. His past, present, and imagined future echo with the voices of Homer, Joyce, Proust, and Kafka joining his own. As a writer, Manea’s home is language.
The Joseph story (Genesis 37:2–50:26)
The Five Books of Moses: A Translation
with Commentary (2004)
By Robert Alter
Joseph is well known as dreamer and dream interpreter but his story also demonstrates the powers of memory operating on multiple levels. He and his brothers move on different timelines of memory, forgetting and remembering their past at different moments, most crucially when Joseph recognizes his brothers (and his dream’s fulfillment) even as they fail to recognize him behind the Egyptian mask of his new identity. The family’s struggles to reintegrate memory set the stage for future recall: The Israelites’ recollection of exodus from Egypt will form the cultural and religious bedrock of Jewish identity and will contribute, through typological reading of the Old Testament, to Christianity’s identity as a sibling religion. Robert Alter’s new translation, buttressed with copious notes on language and literary play, aims to reconnect modern readers with the outlook and aesthetics of the Hebrew text.
Confessions of Saint Augustine (Book 10)
Translated by Garry Wills (2006)
In a new translation that brings the Confessions into a modern idiom without losing touch with its late antique context, Wills identifies Book 10, on memory, as the pivotal chapter that caps the narrative of Augustine’s life (354–430) and introduces his reflections on the Trinity. Augustine, now bishop, has not forgotten the lessons learned as a teacher of rhetoric. Imagery, word play, repetition, Scriptural citation, selective juxtaposition—all amplify his inventory of memory’s varied contents and configurations—its fathomless depths, vast breadth, hidden nooks. Augustine’s exercise in self-analysis shifts in emphasis from memory as a container to the kinetic act of remembering. This leads him directly to the quest for happiness and the blessed life and ultimately God, who paradoxically is located within human memory yet cannot be contained by it. For Augustine, forgetting is both a lack and a presence, a force that compels our search to remember what we have lost.
The Lais of Marie de France
Translated by Glyn S. Burgess and Keith Busby (1986)
Writing in 12th-century francophone England, Marie de France, whose historical identity remains the object of speculation, was the initiator of a new genre. Before her, the lay designated an instrumental musical composition commemorating an adventure (sometimes marvelous, always connected to love). Taking their place in the line of transmission begun by Breton storytellers, Marie’s lais are short verse narratives that recount her characters’ romantic adventures, successful and unsuccessful. She assembled her 12 stories as a gift for Henry II—a singular creative act that anticipated Boccaccio’s Decameron and Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales two centuries later. To engrave her versions of familiar tales in the reader’s memory, she devised an art of suggestive brevity—combining the lively directness of oral storytelling with the layered texture of written composition. Her lais gain in weight as the dialogue among them sets up echoes and variations. Readers must interpret metaphor, ellipsis, emblematic objects, and narrative design to plumb the complexities hidden in these stories’ deceptive simplicity. By Marie’s lights, the work of the heart—where memory resides—is not only to remember the past but to reinvent it for those who come after.
By Marcel Proust
Translated by Lydia Davis (2003)
This first volume of Proust’s In Search of Lost Time, published in 1913, contains in germ the entire scope of his monumental work. “Combray,” the section that begins Swann’s Way, introduces the first-person narrator Marcel, who shares the author’s name and many autobiographical attributes but remains a fictional character. One day, counter to habit, the grown-up and dispirited Marcel takes a bit of madeleine with a spoonful of tea and suddenly feels overwhelming joy. Failure follows failure as he tries repeatedly to understand the source of that indeterminate bliss. Finally, when he has given up, the forgotten memories of his youth in the fictional village of Combray, captured in the chance meeting of tea and buttery pastry, emerge to furnish an account of his life and society, as Marcel remembers and recovers his vocation as a writer. While Emily Dickinson’s representations of memory—as dusty closet, or deep cellar—emphasize its terrors, Proust sees memory as a key to the joys associated with the wholeness of childhood, often lost and sometimes rediscovered by accident. Through the work of remembering, but also through imagination and writing, the riches of the past can be re-created and fixed in metaphor. n
Matilda Tomaryn Bruckner is a professor of French and the author most recently of Chrétien Continued: A Study of the Conte du Graal and Its Verse Continuations (2009).