Women’s Life Writing in Eastern and South-Eastern Europe/ Literatură auto/biografică feminină în Europa de Est şi de Sud-Est/ Récit de vie féminin dans l’Europe de l’Est et du Sud-Est
In the form of memoirs, autobiographies, diaries or correspondence, or given a literary spin as autofiction and biofiction, the experiences of East and South-East European women during wartimes and under the oppressive regimes of the twentieth century (a period laden with contrasts, which in the West was hailed as “acentury of women”, Rowbotham 1997, but also framed as an “age of testimony”, Felman and Laub 1992) have been surfacing in the past two decades. The transmission of these narratives followed sinuous paths, taking both verbal and non-verbal forms, relying on both “filial” and “affiliative” networks (Hirsch 2012), and coming from both female victims and female perpetrators (Schwab 2010). If deciphering most of what came to light requires the careful eye of a literary or cultural studies scholar, the broad perspective of a historian, or the attentive ear of a psychoanalyst, some phenomena of resurfacing bring back not only traumatic legacies, but also extremist ones, pushing towards repeating a history of perpetrations (Pető 2020), a concerning tendency which calls for a political scientist’s perspective.
The persistence of women’s psychic wounds, passed on through “postmemory” (Hirsch 1997 & 2012) has generated “haunting legacies” (Schwab 2010) as it shaped the next generation’s unconscious reflexes, and has found a forceful outlet in works of life writing coming either from second-generation witnesses or from the publication of previously censored works by victims of totalitarian regimes. The transmission of these narratives happened against the backdrop of an uneven social progress, which created gender gaps and accentuated women’s vulnerabilities, despite the presence of emancipation movements, which received official support from some political regimes.
This issue will look at how traumatic memories (lived, inherited, or transmitted) are transformed through the aesthetic agency of literature (sometimes with additional support from photography or visual art), thus building a safe space where the revisiting of the past allows room for both reflection and learning. The volume focuses on a triad of aspects of life writing: witnessing (following distinctions made by Derrida and Agamben, and recently refined by van der Heiden 2019, between the Latin testis, superstes, martyr – derived from the Greek martus – and auctor), enduring (which brings together suffering and duration or survival), and recovering (connoting healing in the intransitive form, but also rescuing or preserving in the transitive). We also want to take into account the influence of censorship and self-censorship on the process of witnessing and the way “missing memory” (Schwartz, Weller, and Winkel, 2021) finds a compensation in fictional forms of life-writing. Contributions should cover the large life writing spectrum (biographical and autobiographical narratives, memoirs, diaries, letters, biofiction, or autofiction), including posthumously published or retrospectively written accounts.
The memory of past trauma or past guilt seeped in through gestures, images, whispers, storytelling, silences. Life writing (broadly conceived to include photography, correspondence, and archival material) has offered the main instrument to access, reassemble, and give meaning to these traces of history. Deciphering the “communicative legacies of trauma and resilience” (Hannah Klieger, in Mitroiu 2018), the relationship between memory and history (Radstone and Hodgkin 2003), but also between witnessing and literature (Felman and Laub 1992, van der Heiden 2019), are some of our main goals for this special issue. The impact of local context on form (Mrozik & Tippner 2021) has modelled the categories of life writing in Eastern and South-Eastern Europe, providing a vantage point for formulating new theories on the development of genre. We too are very interested in highlighting the local and regional background and the specificity of these political, social and cultural environments, with their impact on women’s life-writing.
We invite submissions on topics including, but not limited to:
- The value of testimony, persistence, and survival in women’s life writing and of life-based literary narratives (biofictions and autofictions) as related to historical traumas;
- The role of literature, but also hybrid genres (life writing accounts including photography and visual art) in recovering Eastern and South-Eastern European female experiences of the twentieth century and in recording the postmemory of these experiences in contemporary times;
- Politics, women’s emancipation movements and their backlashes: 19th century origins, Marxism and the Cold War.
- The involvement of women from Eastern and South-Eastern Europe in political movements (leftist or rightist adherence, even extremist groups) and, if the case, the resulting traumatic repression as it is portrayed in various media.
- The impact of the World Wars and the Cold War as well as communist/fascist repression and censorship on the evolution of women’s life writing and memory preservation;
- The body as site of trauma, recovery, and witnessing in women’s life writing that reflects the historical atrocities of the twentieth century;
- The transition from suffering witness (martus) to storytelling witness (auctor) in women’s life writing;
- Establishing transnational connections and routes of memory within Eastern and South-Eastern European women’s life writing;
- The conflicted identities of descendants and / or close friends of victims but also of perpetrators of historical trauma.
Please submit your proposals to the editors as follows:
- Dr. Andrada Fătu-Tutoveanu, Lecturer, email@example.com
- Laura Cernat, PhD candidate, firstname.lastname@example.org
- Dr. Bavjola Shatro Gami, Associate Professor- email@example.com
Deadlines for submissions: ABSTRACTS (around 300 words): February 10, 2022.
FULL PAPERS (around 8000-9000 words): June 30, 2022.
Fătu-Tutoveanu, A. (2015). Personal Narratives of Romanian Women during the Cold War (1945-1989): Varieties of the Autobiographical Genre. Edwin Mellen Press.
Felman, Shoshana, and Laub, Dori. Testimony: Crises of Witnessing in Literature, Psychoanalysis, and History. New York & London: Routledge, 1992.
Hirsch, Marianne. Family Frames: Photography, Narrative, and Postmemory. Cambridge, MA & London: Harvard University Press, 1997.
Hirsch, Marianne. The Generation of Postmemory: Writing and Visual Culture After the Holocaust. New York: Columbia University Press, 2012.
Mitroiu, Simona (ed.). Women’s Narratives and the Postmemory of Displacement in Central and Eastern Europe. Cham: Palgrave, 2018.
Mrozik, Agnieszka, and Tippner, Anja. “Remembering Late Socialism in Autobiographical Novels and Autofictions from Central and Eastern Europe: Introduction”. European Journal of Life Writing. Vol 10, 2021, pp. 1-14.
Pető, Andrea. The Women of the Arrow Cross Party: Invisible Hungarian Perpetrators in the Second World War. Cham: Palgrave, 2020.
Radstone, Susannah, and Hodgkin, Katharine. Regimes of Memory. London & New York: Routledge, 2003.
Rowbotham, Sheila. A Century of Women: The History of Women in Britain and the United States. London: Viking, 1997.
Schwab, Gabrielle. Haunting Legacies: Violent Histories and Transgenerational Trauma. New York: Columbia University Press, 2010.
Schwartz, Matthias, Weller, Nina, and Winkel, Heike. After Memory: World War II in Contemporary Eastern European Literatures. Berlin/ Boston: De Gruyter, 2021.
Van der Heiden, Gert-Jan. The Voice of Misery: A Continental Philosophy of Testimony. New York: SUNY Press, 2019.