The Art of Forgetting: Memory, Loss, and Revision

deadline for submissions: 
January 8, 2021
full name / name of organization: 
University of Ottawa English Department

The Art of Forgetting: Memory, Loss, and Revision

Department of English, Fourteenth Graduate Student Conference

University of Ottawa, March 5-7, 2021                                                                         


The loss of memory can extend from the deeply personal to broader social and collective experiences. The art of ‘forgetting,’ or ars oblivionalis, allows us to reflect on how we memorialize this loss through both private and public monuments to our memories and shared pasts. Umberto Eco believed an ars oblivionalis was impossible: he maintained that deliberate forgetting couldn’t be achieved and that any framework erected to understand such an art would, paradoxically, forestall the natural processes of oblivion. For Nietzsche, ‘active’ forgetting could only be practiced as selective remembering. Nevertheless, many writers and theorists have examined forgetting in diverse and productive ways. In Forgetful Remembrance (2018), Guy Beiner has argued that forgetting is feasible, but Eco was not entirely wrong: forgetting exercises do not result in total obliteration of memory, but in its diminution. Forgetting therefore gives expression to the ethical responsibility memorializing confers on us in the present.


Forgetting exerts a considerable influence on storytelling. Writing about the holocaust, Paul Ricoeur has cautioned that forgetting will “kill the victims twice,” but remembering can “prevent life stories from becoming banal” (Figuring The Sacred 290). M. NourbeSe Philip sees significance in the “residue of memory” which remains after we forget, and draws an essential analogy between loss, what is left, and “the attempted erasure of the memories of the Africans brought as slaves to the New World”  (“A Long-Memoried Woman” 146-147). Dionne Brand, by contrast, narrates the conflict arising from deliberately forgetting trauma in her novel In Another Place, Not Here (1996). Forgetting in Yoko Ogawa’s novel The Memory Police (1994) creates possibilities for exploring the power of memory and the trauma of loss. These areas of inquiry prompt us to ask what further possibilities the art of forgetting generates.


For this year’s conference we hope to consider the ethical responsibility for remembrance and to probe the relationship between memory and forgetting generally. Broadly, we ask what is the textual relationship between cultural memory and forgetting? Do approaches to understanding ‘forgetting’ change when we examine collective remembrance rather than individual memory? Why do different groups of people interpret the same events differently—even when the facts are not disputed? What is the utility in exploring trauma and violence when we risk the activation of painful memories? What remembrance do we owe people we have lost and how is that reflected in the monuments we create to commemorate them? How does forgetting shape history, our stories, and narrative?


Potential topics can include, but are not limited to:


  • “Forgetting” as an aspect of memory
  • Collective Memory and Social Forgetting
  • Loss of Identity, Culture, and Geographical or Historical space, e.g. diaspora studies
  • Nationalism and Propaganda
  • Monuments, Commemoration, and Remembrance
  • Holocaust / Shoah
  • “Fake news” and Rumour
  • Narratology and the unreliable narrator
  • Vernacular/Alternative Historiography
  • Performance and Oral Histories
  • Uncovering untold histories (queer & BIPOC narratives, etc.)
  • Erasure
  • Archival studies
  • “Forgotten” stories, “Lost” narratives and experiences, e.g. disability studies
  • Memoir Studies
  • Trauma Theory, Psychoanalysis
  • Dementia and mental health narratives
  • Episodic memory/Misremembering
  • Sites of Oblivion
  • Literature of Memory / Mnemotechnic literature
  • Active Forgetting
  • Testimony Literature
  • Time & temporality


The EGSA invites proposals from graduate students and emerging and established academics working in any discipline, period, and geographical region to consider the art of forgetting in its various formulations. Please send 250-word abstracts and a short bio by 8 January 2021 to