It’s not every day we have the chance to see a new opera and I had no idea what to expect in the Guildhall’s production of The Tale of Januarie. I knew the libretto, written in Middle English, was based on Chaucer’s unfinished The Merchant’s Tale, adapted by playwright Stephen Plaice. I knew the composer, Julian Philips, but I’d never heard his music. How would the opera be staged and performed? What would it look like, how would it sound? In the event, it was a gripping, sumptuous experience lasting three hours, a joy to hear and behold. The costumes, the lighting, the scenic effects, and above all the edgy music and singing, made this a memorable performance. Full credit is due to the director Martin Lloyd-Evans, conductor Dominic Wheeler, the orchestra and the singers, especially John Findon as old-man Januarie and Joanna Marie Skillett, his young bride, May. This is the story of a sex-obsessed Januarie who marries a pretty girl and is made a laughing stock when she deceives him with his handsome young servant. For the purposes of this blog, however, I want to draw attention to the complex interaction in the opera between music and text. What were the challenges and opportunities faced by Stephen Plaice when adapting Chaucer’s famous tale? How did Julian Philips match his music to a Late Middle English text? These questions form part of the AHRC’s Open World Research Initiative’s research project on modern languages, communities and translingual practices led by the IMLR.
In the opening Q&A, chaired by Cormac Newark, Guildhall’s Head of Research, Stephen and Julian shared their creative experience. They emphasised the strange familiarity of Middle English – seemingly English but not quite, with its obvious Anglo-Saxon and Norman French roots jarring on modern sensibilities. Middle English, said Stephen, is like a foreign language you know fairly well, and writing Middle English was like writing two or three languages at the same time. It was a treat for him to work on the libretto, to create a final act in an unfinished tale, and to recreate the sense of fizz produced by the collision of the old and the new. For Julian, every single word in the libretto had to be weighed for its sound and its meaning, so that accents would fall in the right place, alliterations stressed, and the sonorous and highly coloured quality of the language maintained by the music. Elisions were important, eliding vowels as in Italian or German texts. Words ending in consonants, so unhelpful for singers, retain their final vowels in Chaucer’s English – so sickness is sicknesse, which gives the composer and singer scope for triple rhythm, sound and emotion. The composer can mine the text for its rhythmic qualities, for metric flow and tempo. For Stephen the challenge was how to keep the momentum of the strong narrative drive; for Julian the challenge was how to respond to the language in his music. Both agreed that Middle English had had a profound effect on the opera at every level: structure, rhythm, text and music all interacting in sympathetic dialogue.
To quote the programme notes, ‘Bringing Middle English to opera, a genre that didn’t exist when it was spoken, reveals how languages are never “dead”, that they still have unexplored colour and vibrancy’ and, I would add, can still communicate – especially when much can still be learned from Chaucer’s tales.
Catherine Davies, Professor of Hispanic and Latin American Studies Director, Institute of Modern Languages Research
For the third year in a row the IMLR, in cooperation with the DAAD and supported by the Goethe Institut and the Swiss and German Embassies, successfully hosted the prize-giving ceremony of this year’s German writing competition on 1 March in Senate House. Here Stephan Ehrig talks about the competition and awards ceremony:
Ulrike Ulrich (l) & Anja Tuckermann (r)
At a time when the media has been full of heart-rending tales of human flight as well as heated debates on migration and the so-called refugee crisis, it seems all the more important to widen one’s perspective and empathise with the human destiny and personal stories behind the numbers. Consequently, for this year’s German writing competition the entrants were asked to continue storylines on themes of migration and flight, based on launchpad texts provided by German-speaking authors Anja Tuckermann (Berlin) and Ulrike Ulrich (Zürich).
Very much to the jury’s delight, the competition attracted a wide range of interest: of the 69 entries, 39 came from secondary school students and sixth-formers, and 16 from undergraduates, amongst several postgraduates, native speakers and others. The judges commented that submissions in all categories were surprising, touching, complex, and a joy to read.
Prize winners with authors Anja Tuckermann and Ulrike Ulrich
This became clear during the awards ceremony in Senate House on 1 March which provided a great opportunity for all prize winners not only to meet the two authors but most of all to present their endings to a wider audience. Having already spent the afternoon in writing workshops with both authors, reading out their own texts certainly was the highlight of the evening. The range of creativity and linguistic skills was most impressive, and each author found their very own personal way of approaching the difficult task of seeing the world from a migrant’s or refugee’s perspective – a perspective that mostly was very far from their own experience – and on top of that in German. All prize winners mastered this difficult undertaking gracefully. Some of the texts displayed a variety of hopes and fears at the immigration desk, while others set out to confront the audience with the impossible demands refugees face when meeting their new neighbours who want to discuss their traumatic experience with them, at a time where this is the only thing they try to escape. Some texts describe the overpowering feelings and the impossibility of communication when one is only left with the fading image of what used to be home, “where my son follows the streams into the mountains and the horizon promises all or nothing.”
The evening also gave the stage to Anja Tuckermann and Ulrike Ulrich who then read out their versions to the stories, and the surprising new endings to the plot left everyone excited that they had taken part in this literary and cultural endeavour. At the end of the evening, all participants were awarded various books for future encounters, and all organisers and supporters shared the uplifting sense of seeing so many (young) talents in Britain engaged in writing texts on such a difficult topic, and in a foreign language.
Stephan Ehrig, Fellow in Modern Languages (Germanic/Central European), IMLR
‘Academic’, in daily conversation, tends to mean ‘of no consequence, irrelevant’; and yet, to disprove conversational language, there are people who, more traditionally, think of ‘Academic’ as synonymous with ‘concerned with the pursuit of research, education, and scholarship’, to the extent that they devote their lives to Academy and the study of its historical background and social meaning. ‘Chivalrous’ is similarly not a more fortunate idiom, since it has generally come to mean ‘ridiculously old-fashioned’; and yet there are people who think of chivalry as an aristocratic ideal, referred to a time when women and men were more generous and courteous.
The book was launched at the IMLR on 15 February 2017, with talks given by Professors Corinna Salvadori (Trinity College Dublin), Diego Zancani (Oxford) and Martin McLaughlin (Oxford), introduced by Katia Pizzi, in the presence of Professor Everson. The event combined scholarly engagement and personal tribute in a way that it would be impossible to discern whether the main focus was the dedicatee or the book itself. Far from being a collection of scattered essays, the book aims to mirror Professor Everson’s scholarly interests in chivalric poetry, the Italian academies and Anglo-Italian relations, often explored in an archaeological manner (in Foucaultian terms) to ascertain their legacy in our time.
In a brief introduction, Stefano Jossa explained the genesis, both professional and emotional, of the book, bridging between Italian early modernity and European modernity to pay homage to a scholar who always worked on the ‘success of the unsuccessful’ as a means to contrast pop drifts of University culture in the contemporary media-dominated world. Admonishing that we learn more from diversity than homogeneity, Professor Salvadori tantalisingly explored the first section of the book, highlighting the presence of a chapter on Professor Everson’s lifelong scholarly interest, Il Mambriano by Francesco Cieco, as well as on Ludovico Ariosto’s masterpiece, the five-hundred-year-old Orlando Furioso (three chapters), Francesco’s Berni’s Rifacimento of Matteo Maria Boiardo’s Inamoramento de Orlando, and some fifteenth-century cantari.
Following on from this, Professor Zancani stressed in an illuminated way the connection between Professor Everson’s work on the Italian Academies and the six essays included in section 2, exploring a number of personalities, academies, works and fine-art practices, from Giulio Camillo, Marcantonio Piccolomini and Angelo Ingegneri to Galileo and from the Thesoro politico to copper engraving. Finally, Prof McLaughlin affectionately recalled his friendship with the dedicatee, taking it as symptomatic of the route of Italian Studies in the UK, in order to introduce the third and final section on cultural communities and Anglo-Italian relations, including essays on oral Petrarchism, Machiavelli’s use of jokes, Sebastiano del Piombo’s hieroglyphs in the portrait of Andrea Doria, Shelley and Dante, Gramsci and Kipling and Soldati and music.
This was a most successful event: best wishes to Professor Everson to carry on and go further in her research. The plus ultra reproduced on the frontispiece of the book, from the original Atlante Veneto (1691–97) by Vincenzo Coronelli, is a reference to the Argonauts’ journey and an appropriate motto of Professor Everson’s life and works.
Dr Katia Pizzi, Senior Lecturer in Italian Studies, IMLR
Dr Stefano Jossa, Reader in Italian, Royal Holloway University of London
Trauma and nostalgia are displaced migrants’ common everyday experiences, particularly in these recent years of EU refugee and security crisis, says cultural memory studies fellow Dr Matthew Mild, who will look at neurological and intertextual memory on 23 March, 4pm-6pm, and at French-Turkish-Muslim exchanges on 11 March, 11am-6pm.
Grande Mosque, Paris
About a month ago I had to switch off the radio for a few days to reduce my daily intake of comments on the – to everyone’s relief – overruled Muslim travel ban across the pond. Meanwhile, on our side of the ocean, a young Turkish-French film director has been widely acclaimed for her debut, which is a brilliant addition to the impressively long list of highly successful migrant European films made by film directors who are originally from the same Muslim-majority country.
Motion pictures have the potential to transform cultural memory into a cathartic journey. Deniz Gamze Ergüven’s 2015 film Mustang keeps this promise. This dark parable on trauma and self-overcoming has won the César awards for Best Original Screenplay, Best Editing, Best Original Music, and Best First Feature Film. With its cinematic rewriting of classical tropes from the French fairytale Bluebeard in rural Turkey, the film raises the issues of women’s rights, faith, identity, family, and trauma on the screen.
Perhaps post-traumatic stress is an area of study whose liminality between neurological and cultural memory can play a part in fostering an aesthetic estrangement from othering ideologies – a critical re-engagement with a piece of the French/European self in its non-Christian neighbour. Everyday radical thinking and the social reinvestment in interfaith understanding give rise to multiple lieux de mémoire beyond established definitions of identity and belonging. This rebuilding of cultural memory is represented by neuroplasticity in political, literary, and filmic discussions of racism and sexism, in which learned fears and cultural traumas/nostalgias give way to a rewiring of perceptions and experiences. Such neuroscientists as Eric Kandel, Vilayanur Ramachandran, and Norman Doidge have found evidence of the key function played by the so-called neuroplastic rewiring of memory and learning for the brain’s activity. In such cases as the treatment of obsessive compulsive disorder, learned fears stored in the brain’s cingulate gyrus and reflected in the orbitofrontal cortex are unlearned by activating the gearshift supplied in the brain’s caudate nucleus. In this and other instances, new neuronal networks replace old ones thanks to the neuroplastic property of neurons and synapses processing information.
We’ll be looking at neurological and intertextual memory on 23 March, and (with the Cassal-Staunton Trust’s generous support) at French-Turkish-Muslim exchanges in Senate House on 11 March. From Muslims in French banlieue cultural memory and in medieval chronicles of the crusades to Barbe-bleue-like visions of trauma vs. belonging in the film Mustang, our discussion will span several centuries of French/European relations with Turkey and Islam. The film screening will crown the day.
Both events endeavour to question existing demarcations between disciplines, media, and cultures. I hope that numerous fellow questioners will take this chance to challenge intangible walls.
Dr Matthew Mild is a fellow in cultural memory studies at the Institute of Modern Languages Research, School of Advanced Study, University of London. Dr Mild previously lectured in Italian and European history in Northwest England and Wales. He has published in the field of contemporary history of fiction and performing arts from France, Italy, and Germany. His current research deals with migrant cultural memory in cinema and literature.
Famously, Barbara Honigmann does not like to be defined – as she often is – as a ‘German-Jewish’ writer, or as a ‘GDR writer’ or an ‘emigrant writer’ (though born in Berlin, she now lives in Strasbourg). She herself declared during the conversation that she preferred to be asked about her texts, rather than what for her were now ‘boring’ details about her life or status as a writer – tellingly, she felt this might clarify things for her too. Robert Gillett responded to this invitation through the format of the conversation, which developed in the main from readings in both English and German of excerpts from her recent book Chronik meiner Straße.
Her powerful sense of both displacement and familiarity, in both Berlin and Strasbourg, is striking in her writing as well as in the way in which she describes her everyday experience – as a confusing state where places transform themselves while essentially remaining the same. This sense of confusion, she admitted, might entail a fear of confronting the contradictions in herself over the complex subject of her Jewishness and her rootedness in German language and literature, as well as her life in France.
Some of these issues were explored in the initial discussion of her early essay on three female Jewish writers – Glückel von Hameln in the late seventeenth century, Rahel Varnhagen in the early nineteenth, and Anne Frank. All three were interestingly characterised as ‘not really writers’ who were ‘not really writing in German’, and in this context a reference was also made to the Dutch essayist and diarist Etty Hillesum.
Despite her biographical caveat, the author mentioned in passing fascinating details about her background (for example, her remarkable, elusive mother’s second husband was Kim Philby) and her own early life (such as the ambivalent relationship between the intellectual and cultural – and often Jewish – elite and the East German authorities). As she described it, it was relatively easy to lead a kind of parallel, Brechtian artistic life in the GDR, but the bubble burst with the forced exile of Wolf Biermann in 1976, and she was among those who decided to leave rather than make the necessary compromises in order to further their careers. We also touched on the influence of her theatrical background and her work as an artist in creating vivid, memorable images and focusing on the significance of everyday domestic objects, which sometimes take on a life of their own.
Chronik meiner Straße is a meditation on time passing, as revealed in series of anecdotes linked by the perspective of the writer seated, over a period of more than thirty years, at her desk in front of her balcony, perceptively observing her gradually changing, varied and mainly immigrant neighbourhood while also playing an active role in the lives of these neighbours, and reflecting the wider changes in society. This small-scale but incredibly vivid historical montage of unforgettable characters and scenes is the author’s response to the daunting ‘big history’ lived by her parents in the twentieth century. As she put it, the composition of the population in this area, so close to the German border, changed from ‘melting-pot’ to ‘salad bowl’, with the complementary flavours of different ethnicities, but it was a form of ‘de-territorialisation’ rather than homogenisation – not an easy situation for immigrants in France where assimilation is seen as a requirement for successful social integration. Yet her book suggests that the small cosmos of her street still manages to live in peace and the melting-pot had never been a reality.
Overall, the most powerful impression I gained from this rewarding event was of a thoughtful, gently humorous, compassionate observer of humanity. Barbara Honigmann’s deceptively simple, calm, conversational prose matches her public persona of warmth and sincerity to an extraordinary degree.
When I joined the Institute of Modern Languages Research (IMLR) as a visiting fellow in the fall of 2016, my intent was to find the right place to work on my manuscript with the provisional title ‘Geopolitics of Memory and Transnational Citizenship. Thinking Local Development in a Global South‘. I take memory as a powerful dynamic engine to deconstruct citizenship while connecting beyond borders. I am currently at the end of a chapter about diaspora politics and the particular involvement of Haitian-Americans in the past US election.
I quickly immersed in this dynamic and friendly academic environment, host of several centres of particular interest to me such as the Centre for the Study of Cultural Memory. I attended a one-day workshop titled ‘Reconfiguring Black Europe’ where I challenged the many categories too reductionist to grasp human complexity. I also participated for the first time in the two-day conference of the Society of Postcolonial Studies. It was a great opportunity to interact with scholars with whom I shared my positionality as an independent researcher originally from Haiti. It was a great opportunity to introduce my first monograph along with the re-editing of my late dad’s Geographical Dictionary of Haiti. At the School of Advanced Study, the Institute of Modern Languages Research offers a great site to make interesting contacts through the rich events it organises and sponsors. On March 31 2017, I’ll present a paper entitled ‘Circularity, Creolization and the Spatial Practices of Belonging’ where I aim to uncover how the interdependence of territories from both Commonwealth and Francophone Caribbean collide to meaningfully expand a creolized world.
After being awarded my PhD in Political Geography at the University of Poitiers (France) in 2013 and living for about four years in the Gulf, I was looking for a multicultural environment where I felt at ease with an interdisciplinary background which encompasses migration and environment studies, civil society and south-south cooperation. Today, I am quite enthused with the progress of my manuscript given the precious help I got in proofreading. IMLR is truly an ideal site of cutting-edge interdisciplinary research for a citizen of the world whose research interest spans from the Caribbean to the Gulf passing through Europe.
Clara Rachel Eybalin Casséus, IMLR Visiting Fellow, 2016/17
The next call for applications for both funded and non-funded Visiting Fellowships is now open! Full details of application procedures are available online. The deadline for applications is 31 March 2017, for the fellowship to be taken up between September 2017 and June 2018.
Kate Willman is a Visiting Fellow at the IMLR during the academic year 2016/17. Here, she gives a personal insight into being awarded a Visiting Fellowship and the benefits gained, both to her research and to the IMLR.
After being awarded my PhD in Italian Studies at the University of Warwick about a year ago, I was looking for an academic home while I prepared my doctoral thesis for publication and embarked on a new research project, so the fellowship at the Institute of Modern Languages Research was the perfect fit. My forthcoming book based on my doctoral research addresses the recent literary phenomenon known as the New Italian Epic, a label used to describe a corpus of hybrid texts mainly published after the year 2000 in Italy, which merge genres, styles and media, and whose writers aim to effect change in society by depicting and re-assessing the past and present. My new comparative project draws on the New Italian Epic texts that employ what has been called autofiction, blurring the boundaries between the author’s real-life experiences and fictional elements, but I am now interested in looking beyond Italy to examine the explosion in popularity of this mode of life-writing in the 21st century, with a focus on work in Italian, French and English. My fellowship at the Institute is attached to the Centre for the Study of Contemporary Women’s Writing, as I’m particularly interested in how women have employed autofiction in recent years. Like many research projects, this interest sprang from a sense of annoyance, in this case after reading a blogpost on The Guardian website that asked ‘Is auto-fiction strictly a boy’s game?’, in which the author observed that, despite ‘a surge in popularity of late’, those authors who insert a character bearing their name into a work tend to be men. On the contrary, a huge number of women writers have employed autofiction in innovative and experimental ways to explore subjectivity and selfhood.
I don’t think I realised just how useful the fellowship at the Institute would be, not only from the point of view of the shared office space and access to Senate House Library, but also in terms of having a range of experts on hand for friendly and practical advice and discussions about research. Being a fellow at the Institute means coming into contact with researchers from across the different institutes housed at the School of Advanced Study and from beyond, as well as having access to a wide variety of academic and public engagement events. The Institute is truly interdisciplinary, so it’s a great place to look beyond the confines of a national culture or to find out about a new discipline to incorporate into your research. Since starting here in September, I’ve not only attended a number of diverse events, but I’ve also made friends and contacts with whom I am already planning future collaborations.
Part of the fellowship is the opportunity to organise an event, but I’m actually organising two, as fellows can book a room and invite speakers on a subject that interests them. My event as part of my fellowship is a half-day workshop on Friday 10 March 2017 entitled ‘Women’s Self-Representation in the Digital Age’, when the other speakers and I will be looking at autofiction not only in terms of books, but also across platforms, from online videos to social media to images, exploring how the advent of the internet and the growth of celebrity culture has influenced representations of the self in the 21st century. On Tuesday 14 February 2017, I’m organising an event entitled ‘What Is A Modern Author? Evolutions in Authorship from the 19th Century to the Present’, when there will be five speakers offering snapshots from different points in the modern period that examine the impact of developments in the book market on how writers have portrayed themselves in their texts, negotiated their role as public figures and been perceived by the reading public. Preparing these workshops has given me more experience of organising events and brought me into contact with researchers working on comparable topics, as well as helping me to take a significant step forward with my new postdoctoral research project.
Kate Willman, IMLR Visiting Fellow, 2016/17
The next call for applications for Visiting Fellowships is now open! Full details of application procedures are available online. The deadline for applications is 31 March 2017, for the fellowship to be taken up between September 2017 and June 2018.
The seminar took its cue from the fact that in England, Modern Languages, along with area studies and related languages, were considered “Strategically Important and Vulnerable Subjects” in the 2005 report of the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE). The aim of the day’s discussions was to investigate the notion of ‘strategically important’ languages, in a comparative perspective focusing on the UK and France, and the impact of that notion on higher education and research, as well as school education.
The introduction by Christine Lorre-Johnston recalled the existence of the parallel institutions that frame research and teaching in the UK and in France. The first panel, on European languages, was chaired by Janice Carruthers (Queen’s University Belfast) and Ricarda Schneider (Sorbonne Nouvelle). Andrew Hussey (University of London Institute in Paris) started with Juan Goytisolo’s novel Landscapes after the Battle (1982) to destabilise the notion of linguistic identity in France in the 21st century, with the omnipresence of Arabic. Catherine Davies discussed “The Growth of Spanish and Portuguese in the UK,” pointing out that because British universities are autonomous, government “encouragement” is not enough to sustain language degree programmes: dialogue with university management is important. Tatiana Matzenbacher (Sorbonne Nouvelle) stressed the diplomatic and political importance of learning Portuguese. Godela Weiss-Sussex (IMLR) described various initiatives that have been taken to emphasize German culture in an effort to counter the decline in the number of students of German.
The next two panels, chaired by Charles Forsdick and Stefan Sperl (School of Oriental and African Studies [SOAS]), dealt with non-European languages. Stefan Sperl explained how the SOAS Arabic Programme aims at transcending stereotypes for indigenous (English-speaking) students, and at gaining comparative perspective for heritage students (with an Arabic background). Luc Deheuvels (Institut National des Langues et Civilisations Orientales [INALCO]) retraced the long history of the teaching of Arabic in France, and pointed out that even though Arabic is taught in some 20 universities in France, there are still few Arabic teachers in secondary schools. Stephen Hutchings (Manchester), discussing Russian in the UK, evoked two current concerns: the notion of ‘securitisation’ of public discourse, and the need to explore the possibilities of research and teaching across language areas, because transnational and transcultural exchanges have spawned new geopolitical configurations. Nalini Balbir (Sorbonne Nouvelle) analysed the status of Hindi as a ‘rare’ or ‘small’ language in France, except in overseas departments with a population of Indian origin: in Guadeloupe, Hindi is taught at secondary level, and at the University of Réunion, a diploma in Hindi is available.
A whole panel, chaired by Charles Forsdick, was devoted to Chinese. For Derek Hird (Westminster), one challenge is to integrate Chinese language and another area of study, to offer a larger range of combined programmes. Li Wei (University College London) focused on the English Baccalaureate that was created in 2011, enabling high school students to join the “Mandarin Excellence Programme,” in the context of the ‘Golden Era’ between the UK and China. Joël Bellassen (INALCO) described the surprisingly long history of teaching Chinese in France, a language that ranked 5th in secondary schools in 2007, and has kept gaining ground since then. Because Chinese is so different from European languages, a better reference framework is still needed for it in the European Common Framework for languages.
The third panel, on “National Strategies,” was chaired by Janice Carruthers. Clíona Ní Ríordáin (Sorbonne Nouvelle) insisted on the need, in the case of the Irish language, to disentangle language from religion and politics and to acknowledge the presence of various traditions. Bernadette Holmes (Speak to the Future, UK) brought out the importance of a second language from employers’ viewpoint, and the value for young people of having cultural insight into another culture. Jocelyn Wyburd (Cambridge) explored the utilitarian aspect of the term strategic, including the importance of languages in the Army and the British Listening Services.
Catherine Davies chaired the fourth and last panel on “Strategic Usage of Languages.” Hilary Footitt (Reading) discussed the importance of languages in NGOs and the sense of temporality attached to it, of the need to learn a language now. Christopher Stone (Wolverhampton) noticed the same sense of immediate necessity with sign languages, often for economic reasons, notwithstanding the fact that sign language is a language of its own. Anna-Louise Milne (ULIP) evoked the variety of linguistic experiences that English students have when they spend three years in Paris, and how it changes their relation to the language. Charles Forsdick closed the seminar by stressing the need for a shift from ‘strategically important’ languages to the strategic importance of languages. He emphasised the intrinsic value of studying languages, as opposed to its utilitarian value, and the need to challenge the ‘linguistic muteness’ in research, policy and practice.
The Cold War left indelible marks on many cities. My new co-edited volume, Cold War Cities: History, Culture and Memory (Oxford: Peter Lang, 2016), investigates global and local Cold War polarities with a view to countering received paradigms.
City living and urban culture are relatively novel and advantageous stances from which to explore the Cold War and its legacy. Our aim is to integrate memory and history in order to shed light on the histories, memories, daily lives and forms of cultural exchange, consumption and production across and within cities during and after the Cold War. In particular, we focus on magazines, films, photographs, commercial fairs, choral societies, as well as memorial sites such as monuments, artefacts, cemeteries, ruined industrial sites and museums.
Several chapters address collective memory as a social framework through which individuals organise their history. Jan Assmann elaborated on the relationship between social and public memory, introducing the notion of ‘communicative memory’ to indicate memories orally mediated between living generations and ‘cultural memory’ to indicate monuments, museums, commemoration, rituals and a variety of cultural products. Assmann’s conclusion that cultural memory transcends human generations and is accessible across time is particularly pertinent to our aims. Mindful of this research, our book examines a large body of work, both public and private, material and immaterial, including commercial mobilisation of the past, tourism, commemoration and leisure time activities.
We examine twelve cities: Belgrade, Berlin, Bologna, Cairo, Helsinki, Izmir, Pripyat, Richland, Tampere, Trieste, Vienna and Vilinius. Our cities sit at the epicentre of the Cold War, contended in Second World War and post-Second World War geo-political negotiations (Vienna, Bologna, Berlin and Trieste). These cities are misaligned within their particular local and regional contexts, re-configured to suit a new state identity or subsequently pushed to the margins of history. As a result, their Cold War credentials were and, in many cases still are, skewed and ambiguous, yet absolutely key. These are nodes of ideological and geo-political confrontation. As such, they deserve reassessment. Other cities included here bear a complex and dynamic relation with Cold War history and memory, whether as a result of their technocratic stakes (Richland and Pripyat), shifting peripherality (Cairo, Izmir and Belgrade) and interfacing from within the Eastern (Vilnius) or Western (Helsinki, Tampere) Blocs. Several cities are explored through the lens of the Cold War for the first time here.
Without presuming to exhaust what remains a vast and complex field, Cold War Cities: History, Culture and Memory aims to reinvigorate Cold War historiography. Our examination of city life at this key juncture in world history and its construction and transmission in memory opens new perspectives.
Dr Katia Pizzi, Senior Lecturer in Italian Studies, and Director of the Centre for the Study of Cultural Memory, IMLR
This term, a student of mine decided to write her dissertation on the topic of language change prompted by mass migration and, having spent her Year Abroad in Germany, she opted to look at the impact of the migrants’ languages on the German language. Her research, which will be as linguistically oriented as it is culturally, is underway and I look forward to her observations on one text in particular. It is Israeli author Tomer Gardi’s novel “Broken German” (Graz: Droschl, 2016 ), the story of Radili, a young immigrant of Jewish-Romanian descent in an unnamed German-speaking city. We follow Radili on his visit to said city years after he’d spent his youth there, trying to consolidate his memories of growing up as fair game for Neo-Nazi thugs and, at the same time, as an adolescent having the same dreams and problems as every other teenager in the world. “Broken German” presents an interesting take on German-Jewish history with elements of crime – and a coming-of-age novel intertwined with aspects of an urban novel – all of it positioned off the beaten track of Eurocentric, realist writing.
What makes Gardi’s novel so interesting is his language. He uses a style that emulates the ‘broken’, grammatically incorrect yet understandable German of migrants who live in Germany or Austria and only use the basics of language in order to get by, to communicate and to survive. Most of these men, women and children, who have often been coerced to leave their home country by political or economic crises or war, don’t seem to be, and should not have to be, principally concerned with mastering the intricacies of elaborate stylistic embellishments or, indeed, the often counter-intuitive German spelling and case-endings – at least not for the purpose of engaging with the German-speaking world around them. That said, everyone who agrees with the common Western European and particularly German understanding of literature which, in its reliance on the written word, subscribes to an aesthetics of ‘Sprachkunst’ (linguistic artistry) and ‘Sprachgewalt’ (eloquence, but in German associated with power and violence –‘Gewalt’), is bound to take issue with a literature that puts more emphasis on basic communication than on the ideal of linguistic accuracy.
“Das ist kein Deutsch!” (“This isn’t German!”), Gardi lets the Nazi-thugs who chase Radili and his friends around the block shout. But it is German – the kind of German that has established itself alongside the norm of a linguistic standard which, itself, has always been subject to change and fluidity.
What Tomer Gardi’s novel “Broken German” does, is to challenge the notion of language standards in its grammatical brokenness beyond the measure of avant-gardist writing, as it is commonly known and often showcased in literary competitions such as the Ingeborg Bachmann Prize, one of the most prestigious and long-running literary competitions in the German-speaking world.
The Austrian Bachmann prize event provides the stage annually for a competition between often rather conventional texts in contrast to texts and reading performances that truly challenge the audience (such as Rainald Goetz’s literally bloody reading in 1983, or Urs Allemann’s very controversial literary account of a pedophile’s thoughts in 1991). The event takes place in the southern Austrian town of Klagenfurt– Ingeborg Bachmann’s birthplace (hence the name) – at the shores of Lake Wörth, and is regarded as a seismographic measure instrument of what is rocking or about to rock the German literary sphere. At this year’s Bachmann Prize the jury made a point in highlighting a new literary paradigm in the making – the so-called migrant writer. They awarded the prestigious main prize to British-Ghanaian writer Sharon Dodue Otoo, who lives in Germany and writes in English and German, and they labelled Tomer Gardi’s text “***”, a text without a title , an “aesthetic landmine” in the discussion, much to the delight of Klaus Kastberger, the jury member who had suggested Gardi.
That Gardi’s entry, a dialogue between mother and son in said ‘broken German’ that Otoo, for example, does not use at all, centres on the ‘babylonian’ aspect of language. “Wir sind babylonisch.” – “We are babylonian”, his character says and represents this stance in the way he speaks and programmatically hurts the minds of all of us who are so used to be bound and directed by the rules of language. What makes Gardi’s writing eminently political and very effective is the simplicity of his approach: it’s not only the characters’ stories that show the brokenness and fragmentary nature of their existence, it is their language too, that breaks and is mended in the wrong places. No one has a ‘mother tongue’ anymore, Gardi lets the son in his nameless story say: “Meine Muttersprache ist nicht die Muttersprache meiner Mutter. Die Muttersprache meiner Mutter ist nicht die Muttersprache ihre Mutter. Die Muttersprache ihre Mutter ist nicht die Muttersprache und so weiter. Und So viel viel weiter. (“My mother tongue is not my mother’s mother tongue. My mother’s mother tongue isn’t her mother’s mother tongue. Her mother’s mother tongue is not the mother tongue of and so on. And on and on and on.”)
Comparatists and literary scholars in the field of Modern Languages have long taken note of the reality of this category of writing that thematically centres on the lived experience of migration or bi-lingual upbringing, cultural displacement . The existence of a poetics of ‘migrant writing’ is currently being debated and new terrain is being explored. What has become clear in the past ten to fifteen years, is that there is a great number of authors whose work is the literary representation of a linguistic process of change and adaptation. It is a change that is very real and that concerns us all, because language is central to our existence and, in its ever fluid state, bears a lot of surprises. Who would have once thought that linguistic hybrids, spoken by minorities at first and by many later, such as all the cross-overs of English with the regiolects, dialects or socioloects of non-European countries would find their way into the literary canon – look at celebrated pidgin Youruba-English writing by Amos Tutuola (Palm Wine Drinkard, 1952) for example? Who would have thought that a novel in ‘broken English’, that simulates the English language learning process of a Chinese native speaker within the narrative framework of a love story – I am thinking of Xiaoli Guo’s success from 2008, “A Concise Chinese-English Dictionary of Love” – would sell very well and prompt critics, albeit reluctantly, to grapple with linguistic problems to get to the heart of a good-quality love story?
The world is changing, and so is Europe. And the literary establishment’s flinching at linguistically more radical writing by authors who let us participate in their migratory experience, is symptomatic for a declinist discourse that seems to stand in the way of finding the cultural and political tools to adapt to the situation of a world in which 240 million people are on the move . The discussion around Tomer Gardi’s text in the German-speaking media shows that there is a need to demonstrate willingness to engage with societal change on various levels – also, and especially on the level of language – before we become able to successfully respond collectively and individually to the challenge. Once more, literature is the field that invites and provokes us to cross it with an open mind, dodging the mines, bullets and pitfalls of populism, fear and short-sightedness. Without ignoring the importance of continuity and the preservation of tradition, Gardi, Guo et.al. invite us to engage with what is transient, fragmentary and looking for stability in our human condition.