Dynamics of Memories: Remembering and Forgetting. Narratives coping with traumatic pasts

Date: 21 January 2009

Dynamics of Memories Research Seminar

Date: 21 January 2009 Time: 5.00 pm

21 January 2009

Ruth Wodak, Distinguished Professor of Discourse Studies, LAEL, Lancaster University

Remembering and Forgetting. Narratives coping with traumatic pasts

Venue: IAS MR3


In this lecture, I will discuss the complex dialectics between individual and collective memories, using narratives of former German (Austrian) Wehrmacht soldiers interviewed in a German-Austrian exhibition on the German Wehrmacht 1995 ("Vernichtungskrieg der deutschen Wehrmacht 1941-1944 ) as an example. (See Heer et al. The Discursive Construction of History. Remembering the Wehrmacht's War of Annihilation. Palgrave 2008 [Wie Geschichte gemacht wird, Vienna 2003].) In these narratives - also used for a film by the Austrian film producer Ruth Beckerman ("East of War") - former soldiers talk about their war time experiences and frequently deny "having seen or known anything in relationship with the extermination of Jews, Gypsies and civilians".

The narratives are frequently not contextualized and thus of a more general nature: "how to survive a normal war". During the interviews, however, time and location become specified, through the confrontation with the pictures of the exhibition and also through the questions of the interviewer. Negotiations about time and place start, usually emphasizing that the respective interviewee was NOT at a place where crimes had been committed or NOT at the specific time suggested by the evidence; or the interviewees denied that crimes had taken place at all (Wodak 2006a, b).

Such discursive strategies of denial and justification are, of course, not new; they appeared whenever aspects of the NS past were debated in the Austrian public sphere (de Cillia & Wodak, 2008). They also occur nowadays, whenever traumatic incidents are reported and discussed and photographs of war crimes are published in the media. The impact of photographs for "remembering and forgetting" thus has to be focused upon. The justification discourse also includes the analysis of knowledge structures, which are intertwined with "time" and "space". "Knowing or not knowing" the time, the location, or specific orders, groups of people or ideologies, becomes a central issue in "dealing with traumatic pasts".

The data for this analysis stem from an interdisciplinary project ("The Making of History", 1999 - 2002), where 40 hours of video interviews, as well as TV documentaries, films, schoolbooks, newspapers and other genres were analyzed in great detail.

Contact: j.strachan@lancaster.ac.uk>


News website: http://www.lancs.ac.uk/fass/groups/dynamicsofmemories/event/2633/


Further information

Associated staff: Ruth Wodak

Associated projects: DYLAN: Language Dynamics and Management of Diversity EU-Sixth-Framework Integrated Project (IP)

Associated departments and research centres: Language, Ideology and Power Group (LIP), Linguistics and English Language