Making Memories is designed as an interdisciplinary project anchored in the humanities and informed by cultural memory theories. Our empirical material covers aesthetic articulations from different arts and media, and our team has a strong and differentiated expertise. An interdisciplinary design of the project is necessary because we not only intend to analyse and discuss separate works, but also explore their interrelationship and dynamic dialogue. This choice is justified by the definition of cultural memory as a product of representations and performances shaped by circulation, communication and competition between arts and media in the public sphere. It must be approached as meaning-making acts with multiple participants and analysed in an overarching perspective. To include interpretations of different aesthetic articulations – from avantgarde theatre to blockbuster movies – in a perspectivist, interdisciplinary approach is the essence of the project.
The voices of today no longer belong to, or are committed to, the first generation of lived experiences. This situation means that contemporary stories and interpretations are second, third, or fourth hand, and thus mixed up with representational strategies and genre conventions from different pretexts. Aesthetic articulations of WWII are also often adaptations from one genre or medium to another, or heavily informed by non-fiction material. As such, they either tend to provoke harsh discussions about historical veracity versus fictional freedom or smoothly tie in with perceptions and prejudices without making much ado. In the first case, discussions revolve around questions of empirical facts and interpretations of past events, often initiated by historians who respond to what they see as incorrect information or unfortunate misrepresentations. In the second case, fictional forms manage to articulate the past in words and images that seem plausible and real to such an extent that they avoid objections. Contemporary aesthetic articulations tend to use this past-present and fiction-fact dualism not as a schematic opposition but as a paradigm to be both questioned and deconstructed. A pressing knowledge need is to understand these articulations as formative agents in dynamic reconsiderations of the past.
The discourses and representations of WWII are often closely connected with notions of nationality. Post-war memory constructions in Norway were for a long time dominated by narratives about heroic achievements and the restoration of national independence. Aesthetic articulations today are still addressing national issues, but these are now contested in the public debate and challenged by counter- and polyvocal narratives. In the first case, discussions revolve around ways of representing key actions and symbolic ambassadors in the history of the nation, such as the sabotage action at Vemork and King Haakon’s refusal to resign. In the second case, stories from other perspectives occur, notably the destiny of the Norwegian Jews, the stories of women who fell in love with German soldiers, or the disastrous events in Northern Norway. Contemporary aesthetic articulations tend to use these stories and symbols to reconsider the strength of local and transcultural memory at the expense of, or in contrast to, national identities. It is important to understand this dynamic and analyse the web of nation-addressing narratives as well as their construction and deconstruction of collective identities.
Post July 22
The events of WWII are often used as a reference when acute societal crises occur. “Never again” and “Not since” as well as a unity targeting rhetoric of “we” and “our common past” are frequent formulations when WWII is called on in public discourse. Exactly this rhetoric was activated in the aftermath of July 22, 2011, when the terror attacks, conducted by a Norwegian right-wing fanatic, took place. Governmental representatives and other politicians compared the two crises in a unifying effort which quickly revealed a not so uniform picture. Mourning and remembering practices became issues of disagreement and conflict, and the monumental “we” dissolved in many different subjectivities. Interestingly, this comparative force continues to emerge in aesthetic articulations, hypothetically implying that an acutely felt threat in the present (terror) has a long-term cultural impact comparable to a war or is rooted in the past. A pressing knowledge need is to understand how the proposed relationship between WWII and July 22 whirls up a plethora of adversative responses, and how it addresses neo-nationalist and potentially anti-democratic developments.