"Aesthetic Afterlives: Memory Transfiguration and the Arts"
Keynote Speaker: Jonathan Holloway, Dean of Yale College and Professor of History and
African American Studies
The last four decades have witnessed a phenomenal upsurge of interest in memory and memory studies. Spurred on by the unprecedented destruction of World War II, memory studies as many know it today has evolved in a largely Euro-centric context. But the last two decades have seen groundbreaking work in overcoming regional as well as disciplinary boundaries. Many scholars now reject the so-called "competition" model of trauma, which implicitly pits one community's suffering against another, finding instead that the study of commemoration can affirm and encompass the full diversity of human experience and loss. Scholars have also taken new interdisciplinary strides, blending critical study of the arts with the study of memory as well as personal narrative, as our keynote speaker, Jonathan Holloway, does in Jim Crow Wisdom.
Recent developments in the study of memory, from Michael Rothberg’s Multidirectional Memory to Benjamin Stora’s La gangrène de l’oubli, highlight the struggle between the desire to remember and the need to forget, which has taken center stage in discussions about memory and its uses. Pierre Nora's concepts of lieux and milieux de mémoire have inspired both praise and controversy regarding the relationship between memory and history; memory and space; and memory and artifacts in societies’ efforts to institute archives or commemorate important events. Between the preservation of sites of commemoration, such as Ground Zero and Parque de la Memoria, and the state-imposed silence on commemorative spaces under repressive governments, memory has become a much more self-conscious societal focus.
All these developments have strong aesthetic dimensions. The third annual conference of the Department of Comparative Literature at Princeton will undertake a two-day reflection on these issues of memory in artistic works and practice, broadly conceived. We see opportunities for new exploration of the way memory is preserved, transmitted, changed, resignified, and reinvented in works of art, and especially in "translation" from one work or medium to another.