Our five work packages are overarching specifications of thematical challenges, theoretical approaches, and methodological procedures: Work package 1: Postmemory, Work package 2: Postnationalism, and Work package 3: Post July 22 are main theoretical approaches to our contextually defined knowledge needs and research questions. Work package 4: Digital corpus and Work package 5: Exhibition are theoretically anchored but have a more practical and experimental profile.
The examination of World War II memories in contemporary culture must relate to lived experience, not directly, but as representations. Primary witnesses from the war are disappearing, leaving the second, third and fourth generation to make their own interpretations, often articulated as a responsibility to remember. This contemporary situation has, more specifically, been described by the concept of postmemory, which has proven extremely fruitful for the interpretation of various representations of past events. Initially coined by Marianne Hirsch, and further developed by her and others, it designates the inter- and transgenerational transmission of memories.
As mediated memory, postmemory is understood as moving across time and space, families, and generations. In their capacity as “travelling media”, postmemory aesthetic articulations depend on trans- and intergenerational transmissions of lived experience, but at the same time unfolds on the level of an intertextual and inter-artistic hermeneutics. This double commitment characterises the kind of aesthetics at work that we address in our material. On the one hand, references to historical events are mandatory to connect its theme to the WWII context. On the other hand, the postmemory position means that these references are transferred and mediated, thus creating a link to the past and communication with the present that requires both imagination and distant reflection. Postmemory artists, authors and curators are making memories that need to be critically examined precisely because they do not only refer to but forcefully construct images and understandings of the past that interfere with present life.
Our contemporary material is produced in a heterogenous postmemory context with challenging knowledge needs and competing intensions. It is characterised by reuse, on the one hand of texts, topics, conventions, and tropes known from pretexts, and a clear anchoring, on the other, in variable commitments to historical events. This aesthetic recycling can be embedded in very different intentions and, because of their implied claim of representing history, also provoke debate and opposition. This double bind is a recurring issue in public debate of the contemporary representations of WWII and stands in the centre of our project’s first research question.
Collective memories of World War II are closely connected to the formation and negotiation of national identities, and the contemporary situation is what we consider postnationalist. In Norway, the major narrative that emerged immediately after the war had a clearly antagonistic pattern with German occupiers versus the resistance movement, and the patriots versus the traitors. This dualism prompted an identification with the “good” Norwegians, while the “bad” were to be found in stigmatised groups like collaborators and women who had sexual relationships with German men. This stigmatisation was even “inherited” by the children of those who ended up taking the enemy’s side, and memories of the war have therefore remained an emotionally charged topic in public debate and family life. Some stories, notably about the Holocaust in Norway, were for a long time a blind spot but have now entered the aesthetic scene on a broad scale. This “national master narrative” is still influencing Norwegian conceptualisations of the war, but it is increasingly challenged from various angles, thus opening for a complexity of voices with different and adversative interests.
We approach this postnationalist situation informed by narratological methods. Firstly, we deploy the concept of master narratives and counter-narratives, which has been important in research on nationalism. This narratological approach was introduced in the early 1990s with reference to marginalized groups who objected to hegemonic narratives in which a minority is rendered voiceless or portrayed oppressively. Recent contributions to the concept of counter-narratives emphasize the dialogicity and tension-filled encounter. Secondly, we deploy the concepts of antagonistic, cosmopolitan, and agonistic modes of memory, which have recently proven useful in both memory studies and innovative exhibition practices. The antagonistic mode refers to the kind of nationalistic narrative, where the frontiers are not questioned but deepened and the heroes celebrated. The cosmopolitan mode emphasises instead the victims’ sufferings and the violation of human rights but is likewise characterised by dualities. The agonistic mode is instead a position where differences are recognized, and conflicts constructively addressed.
An intriguing aspect of contemporary aesthetic articulations of World War II in Norway is their references to the terror attacks in Oslo and on the island of Utøya on July 22, 2011. In this work package we examine in what ways the terror attacks of July 22 caused new frameworks for interpreting World War II, and the other way around.
After the 2011 terror attacks Norwegian politicians often draw comparative lines to World War II. This practice was a prominent part of political rhetoric in that critical moment. An immediate aim of this rhetoric is to construct a sense of unity in a collective national “we” experience. Indeed, poems and essays, written just after the terror attacks, frequently made references to literature and other aesthetic expressions about the time of occupation. A more complex comparison may take place in contemporary aesthetic articulations that not merely superficially allude to the two historical crises but make serious attempts to understand the causes of potentially anti-democratic developments. A not insignificant number of aesthetic articulations in contemporary culture constructs a relationship, or make references, between the two crises in modern Norwegian history.
Cultural memory studies have since the 1990s addressed the tendency to compare historical events. The relatively sudden, massive emergence of Holocaust representations in the 1980s and 90ties provoked, among other things, a reflection on the dynamics of collective remembrances and forgetting in general. Historical comparisons may enlighten and energise discussions of cultural memory but also work as “screen memories”, thus disturbing, distracting, or even blocking necessary cultural processes. In the wake of the 2011 terror attacks, the unifying effort turned out to often work contra-productively. Symbols, narratives, rituals, and signs of mourning proposed by the authorities and other cultural agents instead led to bitter confrontations. Traces of this burning issue tend to reappear in aesthetic articulations, which often seriously aspire to illuminate its emotionally charged and vast complexity. An important aim for us is to analytically and theoretically clarify and interpret these aspects of our material.
This work package is theoretically informed by digital humanities. It will establish a digital corpus with access to full text digitized material (where copyrights permits). The National Library has developed an API (Application Programming Interface) for accessing and analysing its digitized collection, which will be used in this project. The solution lays the framework for making different kinds of sub-corpora that can be explored and examined for many purposes and in varying contexts. It will for instance facilitate the detection of themes and conventions connected to our three “post”-perspectives, which again will lay the basis for an analysis of those traces by different research techniques, such as text mining and collocation-analysis. This will make it possible to discover thematic and conceptual trends and developments on a higher level than individual works, and to identify relevant patterns across a larger corpus of texts.
The objective of this work package is the creation of an innovative interactive exhibition that will be an integral part of the research project. The exhibition will be developed at ARKIVET (literally ‘The Archive’), a World War II memorial site and education- and documentation centre in Kristiansand, Norway. In this work package we will explore the relationship between contemporary aesthetic articulations of Norway in World War II and of 22 July on the one hand, and the personal and active making of memories on the other hand, within the context of an experimental, interactive, and dynamically evolving exhibition.
The idea is to invite the visitors to actively engage as cultural participants in our defined hermeneutic contexts, not passive consumers of memory culture related to a traumatic past. Rather than perpetuating ‘official’ modes of memorizing past traumatic events, the exhibition Memory Lab (working title) seeks to create a space for exploring the complexity of reality and engage with visitors as co-creators and meaning-makers; thus, allowing visitors to gain ownership of history, both the collective and their own.
This work package is inspired by theory of the museum as a participatory cultural institution as well as by participatory contemporary art practices. The visitors will be invited to present their own perspectives on how we remember past traumatic events, as well as personal and family stories, to a digital archive as an integrated part of the exhibition. Also, the exhibition will allow for cross-disciplinary dialogue and a practice-based approach to knowledge production and exchange within the project.
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