Thinking about literature to write history : common paths, tensions, and encounters between historical and literary writings
This Post-Scriptum’s conference wishes to address different ways in which the relationships between history and literature are thought out as sources of tensions, interrogations, and mutual influences. Two questions underlie this perspective: how can literary texts deal with historical events, and, conversely, in what way(s) works of historiography borrow elements from literature, both formal and narrative? Hence, problems that are related to these questions can be addressed. These problems concern the theoretical, formal, narratological, epistemological, etc. consequences of the encounters between history and literature.
From Walter Scott’s first attempts to reconcile history and literature to contemporary authors such as Philippe Artières (2019) and Régine Robin (2016) that redefine the limits of genres and disciplines, multiple creative paths were deployed not only to approach history through literary gestures, but also to think about the epistemological and methodological implications of such an encounter. From this perspective, different questions emerge: how to think and categorize contemporary works which, in the wake of certain texts by authors like W.G. Sebald, borrow at the same time from the novel, from the essay, from historiography and from the biography? What can such works teach us about the possibilities and the limits of literature and the limits of historical writing?
To this question of hybrid texts that fall between historiography and literature, another question can be asked, that of the importance, in these texts, of the subjectivity of the author. Indeed, this subjectivity occupies an increasing central place in the works that interest us here.In a recent essay on the question (2020), Enzo Traverso qualifies this tendency as subjectivist: the author shows their work-in-progess, exposing the different stages of the historical and archival research that they carry out, the results thereof being accompanied by a narrative in the first person : this approach adds an important narrative dimension to the text. The historical data found and reported are, in that way, presented from a critical perspective which situates them and confronts them with the author’s contemporary reality; a dialectic between past and present is then being put forward, recalling the words of Walter Benjamin who writes from a similar point of view that “[...] it is not a question of presenting literary works in the context of their time, but rather of showing, in the time when they were born, the time which knows them--that is, ours.”(Benjamin, 1931)
Thus, the past is considered in these texts in the light of new interpretations that reflect ethical or epistemological issues specific to the contemporary position of the author; the author’s contemporary experience is in turn perceived from a new perspective that is fed by this new knowledge of the past, both on family and collective levels. Indeed, as it is the case in works such as Lose Your Mother: A Journey Along the Atlantic Slave Route (2008) by Saidiya Hartman, this type of texts combines historical and archival research with a narrative and intimate writing, this combination making it possible to cast light on different kinds of knowledge.
Alongside history, these works also offer reflections on different memorial contexts, including how the recollection of the collective past in a given country or region can be manipulated and controlled. These texts take testimonies and archives and use them to make memorial contexts more known. Such contexts have often been for political or other reasons, condemned to oblivion or neglected, the memory of the victims having for example been abused or distorted. A rereading, or even a decolonial and/or feminist rewriting of history can in this sense be proposed by participants to Post-Scriptum’s conference. We would therefore like to stress that any proposition in this direction would be welcome.
Propositions may relate to the following topics (without having to be limited to them):
- The thematization or problematization of the relations between history and literature within literary texts
- The representation of historical events and historical or memorial contexts in cinema (fiction and documentary) and in other artistic mediums
- Memory and political agenda: studies of memorial contexts where collective memory is institutionalized and manipulated
- The different interactions between individual memory and collective memory
- The decolonial rewriting of certain hegemonic forms of history
- Hybrid works between fiction, “non-fiction”, journalism and essay
- The place of the historian or archival “investigation” within contemporary fictions
- The relationship between fiction and historical reality in literature
- Works that, from a post-memorial perspective, address the transmission of historical and family trauma from generation to generation
- Historiographical issues and academic writing of history
- Scientificity and legitimacy of literary writing of history
We welcome proposals from research and creative research, and by undergraduate, graduate, and postgraduate students, Ph.D. candidates as well as post-docs and professors. We accept talks in French or English. Each talk will be allocated 20 minutes and each participant will be given time for questions from the audience.
Potential participants must send their 300-word proposals by November 15, 2021 at: firstname.lastname@example.org. Proposals must be sent in two distinct files: in the first file, you must include the title of your proposal and the proposal text itself. In the second file, you must include your name, your institution, your email address, a short biography, and the title of your proposal. Proposals will undergo a blind review by the reading committee.
Please note that travel and accommodation will be at the expense of participants. No participation fee will be charged.
November 15, 2021: Deadline for submitting a proposition.
December 2021: Final decision of the committee.
April 21-22, 2022: Conference in Montreal.