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Translating Memories: The Eastern European Past in the Global Arena

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - TRANSLATING MEMORIES (Translating Memories: The Eastern European Past in the Global Arena)

Reporting period: 2020-01-01 to 2021-06-30

The project offers a new understanding of transnational memory as a process of translation by focusing on post-Soviet Eastern European attempts to make their local histories of the Second World War and the Socialist regime known globally. It examines these efforts through aesthetic media of memory – literature, film and art – that circulate globally and bring local experiences to global audiences and through the heated public debates that these works of art have provoked in different national and transnational contexts. It argues that the recently reinforced comparative and competitive political discourses about twentieth-century totalitarianisms in Eastern Europe can be better understood by exploring the arts that have developed more productive comparative and translational approaches and can therefore help to untangle the most recalcitrant nodes of confrontational political discourses and addressing the ethical and political complexity of remembering war and state terror. The project innovates methodologically by bringing together transcultural memory studies, translation theory and world literature studies to offer translation as a new model for conceptualising the transnational travel of memories that operates through transcultural memorial forms. What memorial forms have been used to make Eastern European memories intelligible in the global arena? What is gained and what is lost in this translation? What can the different ways that aesthetic acts of memory are received nationally and transnationally tell us about the frictions between these scales of memory and within the national itself? How has the globalisation of memory practices reinforced national memory in Eastern Europe? In providing the answers to these questions the project offers a transnational view of Eastern European attempts to negotiate their entangled histories of twentieth-century totalitarianisms within the global framework.
In the first quarter of the project the research has focused on the (trans)cultural memorial forms that have been used in post-socialist period in Central and Eastern Europe to articulate the Eastern European memories of the Second World War and of Socialism and make them intelligible in the global arena. The theoretical framework of the project has been laid out by drawing on cultural memory studies, translation studies, world literature and film to offer translation as a new model for conceptualising the transnational travel of memories that operates through transcultural memorial forms (Laanes 2021). The research on the first case studies has shown that the use of transcultural memorial forms has domesticating and foreignising effects on remembering of the events in the global and local context respectively. Translation of and travel of memories have huge potential for solidarity between people, but they also raise ethical and political questions about homogenization and dehistorisation of local past including that in Eastern Europe.
The case studies explored in the first quarter of the project include the entangled remembering of human rights violations in the past and in the present in North-Eastern Europe (Estonia, Russia, Finland) (Laanes 2020); the representation of violence against women under Stalinist state terror in Sofi Oksanen’s novel Purge; the representation of Soviet mass deportation of Baltic people in film; early representations of “marginal” incidents of historical violence such as deportation of entire population of Sõru peninsula, Estonia by Nazis in 1944; representation of the Gulag in Jaan Kross’ short fiction;
The theoretical discussion of transcultural memorial forms and their domesticating and foreignizing effects and the introduction of the concept of ‘born translated’ brings together in a novel way a variety of concepts and approaches which will enrich the lexicon of transnational memory studies. The study of the ways in which transnational memorial forms can flatten a local memory and make it unrecognizable to locals in the service of interesting a global audience in a little-known history offers productive insights into travelling memory in Central and Eastern Europe. Remaining tuned to specific Eastern European cultural and political contexts, the project offers a rare transnational view of Eastern European attempts to negotiate local historical legacies in a global framework. The study of a substantial number of case studies in different media of memory (literature, film, video art and monumental art, memorial museum) and in different Central and Eastern European contexts will offer not only a comparison of different national contexts, but also a synthesis of some tendencies and trends common to Eastern Europe, and by highlighting the differences.
At a time when conservative nationalist discourses about the legacies of the Second World War and the Socialist regime are making a powerful return in many Eastern European countries, the project hopes to contribute to a public understanding of the processes of remembering and their relevance for defining the political present.
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