Launch of new research cluster on 'Life Writing'
Researchers from across the University with an interest in Life Writing are invited to the launch of a new research cluster, dedicated to exploring life writing in all its forms. The Life Writing cluster focuses on the inscription of ‘selves’ and ‘others’ and the recording of memories and experiences in auto/biography, autofiction and memoir, diaries, letters, new media and the visual arts. The launch will feature papers by Rebecca Braun (Lancaster University) and Helen Finch (University of Leeds), followed by a roundtable discussion.
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The Past, Present and Future of Life Writing
Rebecca Braun, Lancaster University
This talk explores the different ways in which societies construct attitudes towards authors and authors construct attitudes towards society, both in literary texts and in the many interpersonal relationships beyond them. Drawing on the case-study of post-war Germany (particularly in the 1960s and 1970s), I outline four dominant modes of authorship that underpin these constructions on both sides: celebratory, commemorative, satirical and utopian. I then consider how the foundation of the modern European novel is driven by articulating ways of orienting ourselves in the world that make us better actors, individually and collectively, in the present and with a clear view to the future – authors of our own stories, as it were. This idea is explored through discussion of the genesis of Miguel de Cervantes’s Don Quixote (1605/1615). Analysing life, writing, chronology and resilience alongside one another like this allows us to trace shared core values and ethical blind spots that go well beyond an individual’s biography or a particular literary text and into the very fabric of society.
Life writing in the aftermath of the Shoah: an undisciplined genre?
Helen Finch, University of Leeds
What is a ‘life’ in the aftermath of severe trauma? What form might the writing of this life take? What uncomfortable links might life writing make between a time of extreme violence and the time of writing? This paper investigates the works of German-speaking survivors of the Shoah Fred Wander, Edgar Hilsenrath and Ruth Klüger to argue that life writing after the Shoah intertwines transgressive political criticism of the postwar world with the shadow of trauma. The world that the three Jewish survivors bear witness to after 1945 is structured by disturbing parallels, in their accounts, to the one they saw slip into catastrophe in the 1930s. At the same time, the survivors are constantly negotiating a shattering of selfhood in the wake of extreme violence. The person of the survivor-author is a haunted, elusive figure, and the survivors’ writing struggles to find a coherent standpoint from which to narrate a ‘life’.