44th Annual Convention: Boston, MA

Thursday, 2:15-4:15 (Hyatt Marlborough)

2.12 A Literature of Historical Guilt?

This seminar seeks papers on an emerging form of narrative written in the aftermath of atrocity that is best described as literature of historical guilt. Texts in this tradition ask how to come to terms with historical atrocity committed by one’s ancestors. Focusing on fiction from the United States and Germany, we will explore how these literary texts confront historical responsibility, indictment, guilt, shame, evasion or repression, and instances of moral ambiguity.

  Chair: Peter Becker, Harvard University


“Guilt, Love, and Forgiveness in David Hare’s The Reader

Naglaa Abou-Agag, University of Alexandria

Holding a Ph.D. in English Language and Literature from the University of Alexandria, Naglaa has taught a wide range of courses on Drama from the Beginning till the 16th Century, Shakespeare, the Novel, World Literature, Literary Criticism, and she has translated literature into Arabic and English. Naglaa’s most recent publication is “Haunting Pasts and Evasive Present in Nuruddin Farah’s Knots,” which appeared in a collection of essays entitled Creoles, Diasporas and Cosmopolitanisms: The Creolization of Nations, Cultural Migrations, Global Languages and Literatures.


“When the Personal and Political Intersect: Reevaluations of Erwin Strittmatter”

Christine Evans, Lesley University

Holding degrees from Stanford and Harvard, Christine is a comparatist who has published in the area of French Wartime Writers and French Writers in Exile during World War II (Simone de Beauvoir, Simone Weil, Jules Romains, among others), and the debate over the meaning of the Debacle from 1940 to 1943. Her most recent publication is “Les Américains et la bonne chère: Ce que pour eux manger veut dire…” (Americans and Food: What Eating Means to Them) Archicube 11 (December 2011).


“Destiny Being Destiny, How Can It Be Otherwise: Historical Guilt and Philip Roth’s Counterfactuals”

Brian K. Goodman, Harvard University

Brian studies the history of twentieth-century American literature, thought, and culture in comparative perspective at Harvard’s American Studies Program. He first experimented with transnational approaches to American studies as an undergraduate at Stanford, where he wrote his thesis on the influence of Beat literature on Czech dissident culture. His master’s thesis at Oxford focused on Philip Roth and counterfactual history, reflecting an ongoing interest in the links between literary form and political history. His current research attempts to map the literary and cultural relationship between the U.S. and the Eastern Bloc during the Cold War in order to discover what happens when artists and their work move between supposedly free and unfree political spaces.


“Returning from Exile to a Hostile Post-War Germany in Ursula Krechel’s NovelLandgericht (2012)”

Dawn Kremslehner-Haas, Fachhochschule St. Pölten

Dawn received her BA from Wheaton College and her MA and PhD from the Universität Wien (Vienna). She now teaches at the Fachhochschule St. Pölten. She is interested in African American Studies, Urban Studies, Globalization, and WWII.


“‘Alone in Deserts of Parchment’: Historical Guilt/Historical Traces in W.G. Sebald and Susan Howe”

Robert Reginio, Alfred University

Robert is Assistant Professor of English at Alfred University, Alfred, NY. He received his PhD in English from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst in 2008. His research interests include American and European Modernism, Critical Theory, Modern Drama, and Memory and Trauma Studies. Robert has published on a variety of authors such as Samuel Becket, Virginia Woolf, and Bob Dylan. His essays “Nothing Doing: Samuel Beckett and Conceptual Art” and “Beyond ‘Never Again:’ Teaching the Literature of the Holocaust and Human Rights” are forthcoming in 2013.


“History – Source or Threat? Memory in Martin Walser’s Ein springender Brunnen and Speech-Scandal”

Regina Roßbach, University of Mainz

Regina received her MA in 2012 and completed a thesis entitled “Scandalous Love: Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s Die Wahlverwandtschaften, Honoré de Balzacs La Cousine Bette and William Makepeace Thackeray’s Vanity Fair.” She currently serves as academic assistant and doctoral student at the Universität Mainz, where she has begun research on her dissertation on the Literaturskandal in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Regina’s interests include the nineteenth-century novel, the history and aesthetics of reception, and ethics and literature.


“Rescuing Nostalgia: Screen Memories and the Drama of Guilt in Christa Wolf’sPatterns of Childhood

Aleksandar Stevic, Hampshire College

A literary and cultural historian specializing in 19th and 20th century fiction, Aleksandar has recently received his doctoral degree in Comparative Literature from Yale University. At Yale, he has also served as a Whiting Fellow in the Humanities and a Graduate Affiliate of the Whitney Humanities Center. While most of his research is in the fields of Victorian fiction, Modernist studies, and French realism—he is at work on a new history of the English and French Bildungsroman between 1830s and 1920s—he maintains significant secondary interests in literary theory, intellectual history, tragedy, translation studies, the Holocaust, and post-1945 British culture. Two of his papers, one on Dickens and one on the role of nostalgia in Holocaust representation, are scheduled to appear in print in 2013. Later this year he will be joining King’s College at the University of Cambridge as a Junior Research Fellow in Literary Studies.


“Myth as Cathexis: Coping with Historical Shame and Guilt in Kindred andPastwatch

David Watson, Michigan State University

With a BA is in medieval history, and an MA in Early Modern literature on the question of monarchal legitimacy in Shakespeare’s plays, David is currently working on his Ph.D. at Michigan State. His research examines the representation of medieval just war theory in the British fantasy literature of the first half of the twentieth century as a response to the aesthetic and philosophical action of Modernism.


The seminar intersects with current debates over the distinction between history and memory, between fact and fiction, and the possibility of representing trauma. We will approach these controversies from a new angle, the perspective of the perpetrators’ descendants. The requirements for the representation of the ineffable, the experience of the Holocaust, the breach in civilization, are specific to those victimized and to their successive generations, who, as Susan Suleiman or Marianne Hirsch have demonstrated, are affected in particular ways and struggle to express and cope with their legacy of suffering. The aesthetic expectations for the literature written by those who perpetrated these crimes and their successive generations differ. The underlying hypothesis of this seminar is that the progeny of the perpetrator generation face a dissimilar situation that calls for an acknowledgment of retroactive involvement more complex than a facile disowning of one’s ancestry and responsibility. Instead, it implies liability not in a legal but in a moral sense and the owning up to a legacy of guilt.The seminar seeks to transcend separate national narratives and to create an awareness of transnational ethical imperatives, acknowledging that, in the words of Charles Maier, “singularity and comparability need not be contradictory.” Focusing on texts about slavery in the US and the Holocaust in Germany, we will analyze the ways in which the perpetrators’ progeny deal with the ancestral committing of or involvement in atrocity, an intergenerational realm that legal institutions cannot regulate and legal language cannot master, and we will examine the following questions: How do the descendants of the perpetrators live with the burden of their culture’s past? How do they cope with the self-inflicted destruction of their cultural heritage and how do they envision recreating community across generations?

The 2013 NeMLA convention continues the Association’s tradition of sharing innovative scholarship in an engaging and generative location. The 44th annual event will be held in historic Boston, Massachusetts, a city known for its national and maritime history, academic facilities and collections, vibrant art, theatre, and food scenes, and blend of architecture. The Convention, located centrally near Boston Commons and the Theatre District at the Hyatt Regency, will include keynote and guest speakers, literary readings, film screenings, tours and workshops. Interested participants may submit abstracts to more than one NeMLA session; however, panelists can only present one paper (panel or seminar). Convention participants may present a paper at a panel and also present at a creative session or participate in a roundtable.  http://www.nemla.org/convention/