Transnational European circulations:

contemporary, historical and Holocaust literature

With Professor Stuart Taberner and Dr. Helen Finch

Stuart Taberner and Helen Finch are researchers in German literature at the University of Leeds. Both recently received funding for to new research projects; Professor Taberner for the project “German-Language Literature and Transnationalism” and Dr Finch for the project “The politics of transmission of Holocaust testimony in the German cultural field”.

Course description:
The increasing interaction and mutual exchange across the borders of national cultures and languages today means that contemporary literature to an ever lesser extent reflects the context of one single nation and culture, but operates in an open and transnational field. Transnational literature reflects the permanent flow, transfer or circulation of people, cultures and ideas. These border crossings also imply tensions and ambivalences resulting in constant negotiations, reinventions and remediations of national traditions in new literary forms. As the term suggests, transnational literature usually is located in the era of the nation state. However, similar phenomena also took and take place on pre- and postnational conditions. Historical as well as contemporary examples of transnational literature will therefore be included in this course, which also contains a section on Holocaust literature.

The workshop will examine the theoretical and methodological implications of the concept of transnational literature and discuss its aesthetic forms based on case studies from European contemporary and historical literature. Furthermore it is one of the aims of this course to discuss the precise definition of transnationalism and how it is different from concepts such as globalization, internationalization, and cosmopolitanization.

Holocaust literature is one of those genres, which cannot be comprehended in the terms of a national literature. As the entire publication of Europe was split of into Jews and non-Jews by Nazi-Germany, the experience of prosecution, exile and extension in itself was a transnational one. Furthermore, many authors, who were forced into exile, started to write in the language of their host countries. Others continued to write in German after the war while taking permanent residence outside of Germany. Migrations back to or out of Germany with shift of writing language as consequence continued in the following generations, further complicating the field and undermining the idea of a national Holocaust-literature.

Course structure:
The course is divided in two sections. The first section of the workshop will focus on contemporary an historical transnational literature, also including overall terminological considerations. The second section covers Holocaust-literature with a special focus on transnational and migration aspects... Each section will begin with a keynote speech by the invited fellows from Leeds University followed up by presentation from PhD. Students.

Themes which could be discussed:

• Contemporary transnational literature

• Literature of hybridity, migrant- and postmigrant literature

• Literatures in translation, translational transnationalism

• Historic views on and cases of transnational literature

• Literature as a renogiation of national past

• Holocaust-literature as transnational literature

• Presentation of single authors of Holocaust-literature (eyewitnesses as well as authors of the second and third generation)

• The relationship between Holocaust remembrance and remembrance of slavery and colonialism

• The travelling of the Holocaust into other literatures

Date and Venue: October the 25th from 3 to 6.30 pm and October the 26th from 9 to 11 pm in room 22.0.11

Further information: Anna Sandberg or Jessica Ortner


Friday 25th of October 2013:


15 – 15.15: Short introduction by Anna Sandberg: transnational literatures. Historical and contemporary perspectives.

15.15-16: Keynote: Professor Stuart Taberner: Transnationalism and contemporary German literature


16.30-45: Short introduction by Jessica Ortner: Holocaust as a transnational phenomenon

16.45- 17.30: Keynote: Dr. Helen Finch: Holocaust literature in transnational remediation

Ph.D.-presentations, 1st session:

17.30-17:45: Samantha Reive, University of Leeds: ’Beyond the Atlantic Triangle: Black & European Transnationalisms in Caryl Phillips’s In the Falling Snow’

17:45-18:00: Astrid Rasch, University of Copenhagen: “Caribbean End-of-Empire Autobiography as Transnational Literature”. Abstract

18:00-18:15 discussion

Ph.D.-presentations, 2nd session

18:15-18:30: Lizzie Oliver, University of Leeds: ’The worlds in the words: Holocaust literature and Far Eastern Prisoner of War discourse’

18:30-18:45: Martin Carlshollt Unger, University of Copenhagen: Transnationales Gedächtnis in Zafer Senocaks Gefährliche Verwandtschaft

18:45-19:00: discussion

19.30: Dinner

Saturday 26th of October:

Ph.D.-presentations, 3rd session:

9:00-9:15: Anita Pluwak, University of Lund: Melodrama in Polish Holocaust representation from late 1970s till the present: form and function. Abstract

9:15-9:30: Elizabeth Ward, University of Leeds: ’A borderless ghetto? Understanding space and place in Jurek Becker’s Jakob der Lügner

9:30-9:45: Discussion

Ph.D.-presentations, 4th session:

9:45-10:00: Joseph Ballan, University of Copenhagen: Meridians: Towards the Question of Geography in the Poetry of Nelly Sachs. Abstract

10:00-10:15: Hannah Copley, University of Leeds: ‘”…any human place”: transnational landscapes in the poetry of Geoffrey Hill’

10:15-10:30: discussion

10:.30-11: Final discussion


Astrid Rasch: Caribbean End-of-Empire Autobiography as Transnational Literature

Since their colonisation, the British Caribbean islands have been sites where a constant flow of people has meant the coexistence and negotiation of a number of narratives and worldviews. This is evident in autobiographies written by West Indians who have experienced the decolonisation of the British Empire. These texts negotiate several narratives of national identity; narratives that are often characterised by elements that on the surface seem contradictory.

On the one hand are the values of the imperial institutions that have framed the writers’ upbringing and which have promoted an ideal of Britishness across the globe. On the other is the anti-colonial and sometimes isolationist rhetoric that serves as an important booster of collective identity in the newly independent island states. Finally, some of the autobiographers from the region are also marked by their migration to other parts of the world and the confrontation between varying conceptions of Britishness. In other words, the autobiographies are affected both by the transnational flow of ideas as experienced locally and by the transnational flow of people and the ensuing effects on ideas.

In this paper, I will examine the negotiation of these various local and global narratives of British, Caribbean and island identities in individual life stories. I will also discuss to what extent the concept of the ‘transnational’ is applicable to the imperial idea of Britishness. Back

Anita Pluwak: Melodrama in Polish Holocaust representation from late 1970s till the present: form and function

My project explores examples from literature, films, and contemporary installation art. It establishes how melodrama is realized (tropes, techniques, plots) in popular Holocaust narratives; melodrama’s trajectory in post-war culture; what qualities have made melodrama a primary style of Holocaust narrative for broader audiences, and how melodrama adapts to fast-changing circumstances of late-Communist and post-Communist society.

Polish Holocaust representation is a central albeit complex part of the global artistic responses to WWII. Since the mid-1940s and the work of writers like Tadeusz Borowski this area had been associated with ‘high’ modernist aesthetics. Meanwhile, in the 1970s and 1980s works that apply more traditional melodramatic strategies of writing, like those of Andrzej Szczypiorski or Hanna Krall, became internationally successful and were oft-quoted as co-instrumental in disrupting Polish society’s perceptions of the Holocaust. After 1989, amid changes connected to democratization, altered market conditions, and the growing significance of transnational popular culture, melodrama has gained in prominence.

I argue that an understanding of the examined works’ usage of melodrama, incl. patterns of generic transformation and continuity, is prerequisite for their interpretation as well as any consideration of their broader social impact. My theoretical framework is based on Peter Brooks, Andreas Huyssen, a.o. Back

Joseph Ballan: Meridians: Towards the Question of Geography in the Poetry of Nelly Sachs.

In Paul Celan’s 1960 Büchner prize speech, he famously takes “Meridian” as title and organizing figure for his reflections on poetics. In the context of the speech, this geographical term belongs to a conceptual constellation having to do with spatiality (more specifically, “Toposforschung”) and with immaterial poetry’s potential to effect encounters across material spaces. Before it played this conceptual role, this term appeared in a letter that Celan received from Nelly Sachs. Dated 28 October 1959, the letter thanks the poet whom she sometimes called “brother” for a recent letter that had been of some significance to her: “Zwischen Paris und Stockholm [their respective places of residence] läuft der Meridian des Schmerzes und des Trostes.” The “Meridian,” as a figure, would be a traversal of national boundaries, then, or, as Todd Samuel Presner suggests in Mobile Modernity, the articulation of a place that “cannot be nationalized.”

The proposed presentation approaches “Meridian” as a poetological principle in Sachs’s work. We focus on Sachs’s implicit construal of poetry as a practice of measuring distances in certain of her poems and letters, especially those that deal with the condition of the refugee or exile. Taking time limitations into account, we proceed in two steps: first, we examine her characterization of Harry Martinson’s poetry, in the somewhat enigmatic notes to her anthologies of Swedish poetry in translation, as exemplifying what Sachs takes to be a typically Nordic orientation toward distance and the distant, the precise significance of which we attempt to infer from her selections and translations of Martinson (and, where relevant, other Swedish poets). In a second step, we offer a close reading of a poem that concerns her situation in Sweden, and that is especially relevant for the theoretical questions we attempt to pose: “Und wir, die ziehen". Back