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  1. University of Toronto Quarterly
  2. Prague Palimpsest: Writing, Memory, and the City
  3. the curtain witness and memory in wartime holland life writing Manual

Ukrainian 'historical memory' was something to be negotiated. Those who participated in the dialogue were able to achieve at least a certain range of flexibility and independence, despite the strictures of Stalinist orthodoxy. Yekelchyk's is a rich and nuanced account, built on a solid foundation of archival sources. This is a book not just about the production Project MUSE promotes the creation and dissemination of essential humanities and social science resources through collaboration with libraries, publishers, and scholars worldwide.

Forged from a partnership between a university press and a library, Project MUSE is a trusted part of the academic and scholarly community it serves. Built on the Johns Hopkins University Campus. This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. Without cookies your experience may not be seamless. No institutional affiliation. LOG IN. University of Toronto Quarterly. A Johnson Robert E. In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content: Reviewed by:. It bears repeating: disaster de-scribes. Which does not mean that disaster, as a force of writing, excludes itself, is beyond writing, outside text.

For this reason I find it necessary to choose artistic research as a way to explore the fragmentary. In my presentation I will examine the role of affect in language, image, and sound, and discuss its position in theorising disaster and war. In my research, I take cue from the method of fragmentary — or writing at the limit. I introduce two works-in-progress: first a 3D radio play about the Finnish civil war in that I am currently co-writing and directing. Secondly I introduce a series of texts and photographs taken at the prison Patarei in Tallinn, Estonia.

Through this project I wish to explore the question of affect in terms of materiality and substance in the poetics of fragmentary. Much has changed since the break-up of the Soviet Union in An empire has vanished from the maps, while economic and social changes proceed in unprecedented and uneven ways. Yet, in spite of such turbulence, one of the most iconic and eerie places of Soviet memory still remains. Vladimir Lenin, the first leader of the Soviet Union, died in and has been lying in an open coffin in the centre of Moscow for over ninety years.

If the grave marks the passage between the living and the dead — what might a body that is perpetually waiting for burial signify?

University of Toronto Quarterly

Particularly, if the regime that the leader founded no longer exists, why is he still revered as a modern day relic? After all, Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov was not just any leader, but the first leader of the communist party, founder of the Cheka, father of the Russian Revolution, advocate of violence and embodiment of a totalitarian regime.

The public political culture commemorates WWII anti-Soviet resistance in museums, public events, and national holidays. Soviet suppression of Lithuanian partisan resistance is considered a genocide and is institutionalized as such in the Lithuanian Criminal Law. I will ask how archival data and Soviet constructions of crime and civilian suffering divert from post-Soviet conceptualizations of crime and suffering and how people who remember post-WWII atrocities navigate different official interpretations by remembering their own lives as children and teenagers after WWII.

I will argue that memory is constituted in the context of competing sovereignty projects, through which people re-experience the past and reinscribe themselves into the present as political subjects.

One can see, in the symbolism of fire, a strong dualism of life and death, creativity and destruction. These monuments not only carry cultural memory of wars, but also have more ancient roots: for example in Ancient Rome every house had an altar that featured an eternal fire where penates , the household gods, were thought to live. In the eternal fires of ancient Iran, fire was worshipped as an emanation of divinity. Every four years in the Olympic Games the torch is lit in Greece and carried to the site of the event, symbolizing the link between modern and ancient times. What the millions of followers of this spectacle probably do not know is that this tradition was inaugurated by Adolf Hitler, who ordered the torch ritual the first time for the Berlin Olympic Games, in It belonged, therefore, to the same symbolism of fire that the Nazi party notoriously used in its ceremonies, for example in Nuremberg rallies.

In a way, the torch rituals prepared the German Volk for its near future, when the whole world was set on fire. There is a link between the eternal flame of the Olympics, the firestorms of the Second World War, and the flames of the Holocaust, a link that we prefer not to remember. In my paper, I will map out some uses of fire in memorization of wars.

I will show how the imagery of purifying fire has been used in war rhetoric, how military attacks have been remembered as firestorms, and how fire continues to serve as a trope for memory and oblivion in contemporary memory practices. The paper belongs to a larger project with a working title Memory of Elements: Material Poetics of Cultural Remembrance. The experience of storytelling as an interaction, which requires active participation both from the tellers and listeners, is central to the understanding of how memory is mobilized.

Memory, conceptualized as the past which has been made present Terdiman , is evoked affectively by museums in their programmes, exhibitions, communication strategies, and politics Arnold de-Simine Particularly, the importance of storytelling as an interactive practice of mobilizing memory will be analysed as a means of inviting multiple perspectives on the local past. The travelling project, Museum on Wheels MoW , has since visited over sixty towns and villages all over Poland. MoW fits into the broader developments in the museum sector, in which institutions seek to become more open, inclusive, participatory and engaging through community projects Crooke or transmedia storytelling Kidd In the stories that emerge locally, memories of atrocities, suffering, the Holocaust, occupation and displacement are central themes.

Attempts to deal with difficult knowledge Lehrer and Milton through storytelling, or the inability to do so, evoke affective reactions ranging from empathy, nostalgia and mourning through guilt and shame, to fear and anger. The paper discusses a recent phenomenon in Eastern European cultures of remembrance — art work that deals with local history but is addressed to an international audience and which uses transcultural memorials to translate the local experiences for a wider audience. In viewing the transnational travel of cultural memories as a translation, the paper draws on translation studies as well as on contemporary debates concerning the problem of untranslatability in world literature, and asks if and how cultural memories are translatable, and what is the role of transcultural memorial forms in the process of translation.

An Alien in the Stream of Refugees , Similarities and differences are tested out through historic parallels in order to understand, explain, critically examine myths, and possibly provoke, — in ways that challenge our interpretation of the text. In its echoing of negative reactions and prejudices towards the refugees, massively referred to in the media, the novel also reminds us of how language and images are performative powers in the public negotiations on how to address the crisis.

There are mass killing places of around Jews killed in Lithuania during the Nazi occupation. The first attempts, by the Lithuanian General Administration, to register data on the sites of mass killings of Jews, were recorded in late and took the form of correspondence between local institutions on the issues of management and supervision of the sites of extermination.


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After investigations of the Holocaust sites by the Soviet Extraordinary Commission, the local authorities encountered extreme poverty that prevented financial investment into a decent reburial of victims and commemoration of the sites of mass killings. To be more exact, most probably it did not even hurry to allocate resources to commemorate the victims of the Holocaust. The mass killing sites of Jews had to become the sites mobilising the victorious efforts of the Soviet Union in its fight against Fascism, thus legitimating the Communist rule and promoting the Communist ideology.

In the post-war period, a small share of the mass killing sites named as cemeteries of victims of fascism were put on the List of Valuable Cultural Property of the LSSR, as historical objects. However, their maintenance was in the hands of maintenance units of local executive committees, which did not take proper care of the sites, and local religious communities also were not allowed to interfere with their maintenance.

The fall of the totalitarian regime in Lithuania encouraged the ridding of prevailing ideology in the areas of difficult heritage. In , the reconstituted Lithuanian Jewish Community and the Lithuanian State Jewish Museum, with the support of the Supreme Council of Lithuania, and with the assistance of the Administration of Lithuanian Municipalities, started taking care of the commemoration of Holocaust victims and the necessary arrangement works at the mass killing sites of Jews.

The aim of this paper is to analyze the monuments for the Holocaust victims through the collective memory perspective and to reveal the influence of Soviet public rhetoric on the formation of the historical consciousness. The study will try to answer how and what kind of Holocaust memorial monuments had expressed Soviet public memory, how Soviet memory was conceptualized, what kind of historical myths were expressed in the monuments, and how it made its influence on the society. The paper will discuss the concept of collective memory, highlighting its main parts, place, history and memory.

The location gives a sense of collective memory, while the history of collective memory helps to construct it. It also analyses the institutional aspect of the construction of monuments and their influence on the development of monuments. The figure of the refugee as a shared platform for understanding the traumatic experience and afterlives of both the Shoah and the Nakba is central to the works of Lebanese writer, Elias Khoury.

For Bashir Bashir and Amos Goldberg this is brokered upon a sense of disruptive empathy which they argue might offer a means of articulating an inclusive and ethical binationalism in Israel-Palestine. Drawing on post-civil war Lebanese memory cultures which inevitably encounter matters of Israel and Palestine as well as internal sectarian divisions, I suggest that far from making a simplistic analogy of suffering or administration of roles, the disruptive empathic figure of the refugee functions as a transcultural paradigm of memory whose literary utterances necessarily involve sensory confusion, floating between dreaming and waking and seamlessly transferring from past to present.

In this way, I seek to demonstrate how these shared traumatic experiences, however uneven they may be, might begin to attempt to dialogue rather than confront each other and offer understanding about contemporary refugee crises in Europe and the Middle East. Marked by strong anti-Christian sentiment, the uprising has also been interpreted by historians as an instance of civil warfare which saw the massacre of thousands of Chinese converts, as well as foreign missionaries.

The novel thus presents the perspectives of both victims and perpetrators, and characters such as Little Bao or Father Bey, a French missionary, inhabit, by turns, both subject positions. In conversation with cultural memory scholars such as Alison Landsberg, Michael Rothberg, and Ann Rigney, our paper explores the transcultural and trans-temporal strategies employed by the novel in order to make the events of the Boxer Rebellion intelligible to contemporary Western readers, as well as the ethics of adapting such a complex historical event.

Finally, on a formal level the novel employs two different yet familiar registers: while Boxers depicts the gods of the opera as brightly colored kung fu superheroes, Saints utilizes a more muted color palette, reminiscent of American autobiographical comics. This paper analyses the difference between subsumptive and non-subsumptive conceptions of narrative understanding. While poststructuralist thinkers tend to conceive of all understanding in terms of a subsumptive model that links understanding to appropriation, assimilation, and subsumption of the singular under the general, the tradition of philosophical hermeneutics explores the possibility of non-subsumptive understanding and its ethical potential.

In both cases, storytelling has a performative dimension: it is not just about representing the past, but takes part in constructing intersubjective reality and in shaping historical imagination. Only non-subsumptive narratives, however, self-reflexively make visible their own performative, explorative and interpretative nature. The byproduct of that assertion is varied and complex cultural production existing irrespective of boundaries and borders. How does trauma act as a unit of measurement?

Can knowledge of the past bridge chasms of inequity? How does contextualizing shared experiences of conflict, war, and displacement act as a binding agent, opening channels for cross-cultural global discourse? Paralleling how trauma and remembrance is memorialized and taught in African-American communities, specifically to indicate a response to loss and disenfranchisement felt by diaspora populations in America, and the implementation of Holocaust education in low-income classrooms, which I posit situates memory within a new paradigm by establishing agency, and fostering empathy.

I will ask; is trauma the great global medium? The child plague which visits the ghetto with such devastating consequences can be seen as a metaphor for the disastrous events of World War II and the extermination of European Jewry. But it is also part of a biblical palimpsest. When her affair incurs the wrath of God, Rabbi Loew finds himself trapped between two manifestations of vengeance, the romantic desperation of a Christian ruler Rudolf and the moral indignation of a Jewish deity.

This predicament was also the historical fate of the Prague Jews caught between the Czech and German populations of the city. The stories dramatize these historical tensions but also attempt to resolve them through the imaginary relationship between Rudolf and Esther, the female intercessor between God and humanity. That this attempt is doomed is borne out by the tragic events themselves.

Prague Palimpsest: Writing, Memory, and the City

Only at the end of the stories does the rabbi acknowledge the omnipotence of God in the affairs of man. Just as Loew finally breaks the spell he has cast on the lovers, so does the author bring his stories to a close. The breaking of the spell corresponds to the final removal of the shem from the mouth of the golem. Yet his denouement reveals that Perutz has actually set his narrative in reverse: the end of the first story witnesses the great rabbi tearing the rosemary out of the ground while the close of the novel shows him planting the rosebush and the rosemary.

The eponymous hero of the novel is an eccentric Czech collector of Meissen porcelain, which he stores and protects through years of political turmoil by moving it from residence to residence. Bruce Chatwin, Utz Harmondsworth: Penguin, But the compulsive Utz is also reminiscent of Rudolf II, whose vast Kunstkammer of artistic treasures and curiosities has made him synonymous with art collecting and eccentricity.

Throughout his novel Chatwin draws a series of ingenious parallels between the art collector and the legendary creator of the golem: the urge to create a clay monster is akin to the need to collect porcelain. Utz is akin to the traditionally rootless Jew who transcends national or ethnic labels. When it serves his purpose—which is always to augment and collect his precious collection—he will adopt whichever identity will allow him to survive the numerous regime changes that have characterized the history of Czechoslovakia in the twentieth century. Utz complies with the rule of the Nazis and the Communists in order to save his priceless collection for posterity.

In this sense these fragile figurines serve as a metaphor for Prague itself, a city that—unlike Dresden, another city famous for its porcelain—has survived war and destruction more or less intact. There was a stubborn side that refused to be bullied. He detested violence, yet welcomed the cataclysms that flung fresh works of art onto the market.

The novel also explores the continuity between the compulsive desire to collect things and the sexual urge to have anonymous partners. Both are hopelessly compulsive in their craving for novel stimulations. Chatwin seems to be drawing an implied parallel between promiscuity and art collecting. After all, Wagstaff had typified both of these practices at once, his priceless collection of photographs complementing his need for anonymous sex in the bath houses of New York City. This fascinating spin-off conflates two distinct and separate narratives: the myth of artificial creation and the folkloric narrative of the vampire-lover who is brought back to life by his grieving bride.

In the X-Files episode the bride who defies the divine prohibition by bringing the dead back to life is the young Hassidic Jewess Ariel, the daughter of a Czech Holocaust survivor named Jacob Weiss. The original twist of the television version, which is set in present-day Brooklyn, is that the golem is not created by the patriarchal figure of Weiss himself—as we might expect—but by his grieving daughter, who wishes to be reunited with her recently murdered betrothed. In turning the legend into a romantic tale of doomed lovers, both the film and television directors were responding to the needs of a popular mass audience.

This new element in the story has nothing to do with the golem legend per se but incorporates the traditional folktale of a deceased lover who is resurrected through the tearful prayers of his grieving bride. Of course, memory is central to all the versions of the legend we have explored. What makes the function of memory in the television episode unusual is its personal and collective dimension.

In effacing the aleph at the end of the episode, Ariel is not simply returning her golem-lover to dust; she is attempting to erase the traumatic memory of the Shoah itself. Instead of creating a flawed male golem—as in the standard versions of the legend—the rabbi mistakenly produces a murderous Lilith. The story of the murderous female golem is framed and paralleled by the tragic story of a Dutch biologist named Viktor Werker.

Mourning the death of his stillborn baby daughter, Werker creates a complex organic clay crystal that can reproduce and has a metabolism. As the interpolated retelling of the golem legend makes clear, Werker is conceived as a literary descendant of Rabbi Loew. But as his Christian name implies, he is also descended from the hubristic scientist Dr.

Victor Frankenstein. Another literary ancestor of Werker is Old Rossum, the mad inventor who tries and fails to create the original protoplasm in R. Werker, Frankenstein, and Old Rossum are all similar in their desire not only to usurp the role of God as creator of mankind but also to bypass the procreative function of women as mothers.

Or, more precisely: in deciphering. Talk of deciphering! Although the fact was never advertised in those days, Franz Kafka had lived in this little house for a short period as a guest of his sister Ottla so that he could have the peace and quiet he needed to write. In the very attempt to consign Kafka and his work to oblivion, the authorities were tacitly acknowledging his enduring relevance. Like many ambitious and hardworking postemancipation Jews, he escaped the poverty of his rural origins for a better life in Prague, where he established a flourishing haberdashery business.

At home the Kafka children spoke German, the official language of the Habsburg monarchy and the vehicle of social advancement. But German was not the exclusive language of the Kafka household. Since his wife needed to help him run the family business, Hermann employed a poor Jewish nanny, named Maria Werner, who spoke only Czech.

In spite of his familiarity with the Czech language, Kafka was not perfectly bilingual and did not write in it as a rule. His sense of linguistic alienation would have been reinforced by the profound and bitter ethnic divisions that characterized everyday life in Prague in the last two decades of the nineteenth century. In addition to the anti-German atmosphere that pervaded the city, there was also the serious problem of anti-Semitism among the Germans and Czechs alike. It goes without saying that the concomitant of alienation is the yearning to fit in.

As we shall see, dissidents like Havel and Kundera tended to project their own situation of political alienation onto Kafka, overlooking the fact that his situation as a Jew was rather different from theirs. Yet Kafka could not identify fully with his Jewish roots. I barely have anything in common with myself? These childhood texts provided a link to a lost Czech Heimat as well as a source of nostalgia for the innocence of childhood.

And yet, unlike some of his more idealistic Jewish friends, Kafka had no illusions about a culture that was frequently anti-German and anti-Semitic. Just as Kafka was unable to identify too closely with Jewish culture, so was he reluctant to identify too intimately with a culture that, by the end of the nineteenth century, had become intensely nationalistic. Even the progressive, cosmopolitan Czech writers sometimes betrayed traces of the bigotry that was so often the concomitant of the small nation. Ich habe kaum etwas mit mir gemeinsam. The fact that the period — also represented a vibrant phase in the development of Czech modernism has frequently been overlooked.


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  • But a good twenty years earlier other Prague German writers had evinced the same enthusiasm for Czech literature. A chamber lacking hearth and rug, Yet for the spirit large enough: A chair, a table plain and rough, A bed, a wooden cross, a jug. But even for a thousand Louis He could not bear to go away. My translation. A brief light flickers now and then Down in the noisy urban gloom. As Judith Ryan has pointed out, many of the poems in Offerings to the Lares are not original at all but are adaptations of familiar German texts.

    Through the narrow courtyards peep Flirtatious chinks of sky. On every staircase, high and low, A smiling cupid dozes; And round the rooftop vases grow Chains of dangling roses. Some of the poems in Offerings to the Lares suggest a growing detachment from the patriotic discourse Rilke felt obligated to reproduce as a fledgling Prague writer.

    Rilke may be paying patriotic lip service to the great men of Czech literature, but his heart is increasingly elsewhere. But even here Rilke appears to be looking back—rather than forward—to a lost ideal. This distinction is carefully drawn by R. Only by leaving the city altogether could he break out of this discursive prison.

    Yet he left it on a discursive level by effacing all traces of Prague from his mature fiction. In this sense style and content complement each other. Kafka had not yet developed the pared-down anonymity for which he is justly famous. The first version seems to have been written in the winter of —4. After publishing various chapters of the story in the literary magazine Hyperion in and , Kafka set out to rewrite it from scratch in Pawel, The Nightmare of Reason, As Czech literature became more cosmopolitan in taste and outlook, their literary treatment of Prague changed accordingly.

    No longer synonymous with Czech identity, as it had been during the National Revival, Prague was increasingly experienced as a space of alienation and difference. He derived no more from the view than the impression of a vague, tumultuous space. A great weariness ascended from it all. Everything seemed vain and empty.

    What was colorful merged with the colorless, the clear with the dark, the light with the shadows. He stood there for a long time, without a thought, his eyes transfixed. Only by going uphill can both protagonists begin to find themselves. The stranger sat down on the bench close to him and involuntarily, the two men looked at each other.

    Something seemed to draw them together at once, yet they did not speak and indeed, they scarcely dared give each other a second glance. Moreover, Kafka never completed the story and appears to have abandoned it in favor of other projects. Famous for his desire to make Czech literature more cosmopolitan, Neruda injected a strong element of realism into his fiction. The local residents boycott the shop, driving the young Mr. Vorel into bankruptcy and eventual suicide. The men took down the suicide with the help of Mr. The whole quarter feels like a series of interconnected interiors from which the characters can find respite and fresh air only by going onto the roof.

    There is no staircase to the upper storeys off the passageway leading from the street; the only way to reach them is to take the steps leading down to the courtyard, turn right, follow the short balcony to a winding staircase, climb to another short balcony and proceed to a small corridor.

    This floor, from the street to the courtyard, consists of a single flat occupied by a retired agricultural official and his wife and daughter. Kafka takes this ambiguity further by effacing the distinction between business and home to create a nightmarishly paranoid world in which friendship is precluded and everyone becomes a rival. They also consist of a room and an anteroom, with a kitchen, however, thrown in—the room and the anteroom, I would certainly have found some use for, my two girl clerks feel somewhat overdriven as it is—but what use would a kitchen have been to me?

    We first encounter this claustrophobic world of cramped cohabitation and mutual surveillance at the beginning of The Trial, where Josef K. There is a similar scene of people looking out of the window when Josef K. On this Sunday morning most of the windows were occupied; men in shirtsleeves leaned there smoking, or held small children with tender care at the windowsill.

    Other windows were piled high with bedding, above which the disheveled head of a woman briefly appeared. People called across the street to each other; one such exchange directly over K. White curtains vanished from windows; a window opened here and there. Figures appeared, looking up at the sky Knopf, , — Resting his weight on the window ledge, he leaned out so far that his shirt opened to reveal a powerful chest still wrapped in flannel despite the June sun. He glanced over at the window next door, but found its curtains drawn.

    In other words, close habitation with others can work both as a reassuring feature of modern urban life and as an index of exclusion. If Mr. At regular intervals he gets up from his table to watch a beautiful girl dancing inside. Although the setting of the story identifies it as Prague, the isolation of the narrator and his voyeuristic interest in the girl make the story more universal than any other in the collection.

    Kafka simply went one step further by creating an anonymous city which effaces all topographical references and reduces all its inhabitants to a status of exclusion. There was only one tower as far as he could see, whether it belonged to a dwelling-house or a church he could not determine. Swarms of crows were circling round it. Nevertheless, I was always able to distinguish its boundaries and limits on all sides.

    The city was constructed in a circle, arranged with walls and ramparts, but instead of moats there was a certain dark abyss that seemed to be without sides or bottom. There was light only above the city; beyond the walls it was pitch dark. Like the Pilgrim who goes through the world in the search for truth, K. But in distinction to The Labyrinth, this quest is not linear but circular.

    In fact, as the beginning of the novel makes clear, K. Josef K. As Ripellino has pointed out, the two companions Ubiquitous and Delusion who lead the Pilgrim through the depraved world in The Labyrinth foreshadow K. Anticipating his later language textbooks Janua linguarum reserata The gates of languages unlocked and Orbis pictus The world in pictures , The Labyrinth was conceived not to induce despair but to inspire hope through learning and education. The Labyrinth was composed at a low point in the life of its author. Comenius composed The Labyrinth as a work of comfort or consolation for his coreligionists, who were faced with the prospect of enforced conversion or exile.

    But examining them more carefully and touching them with my hands, I saw that they were made of nothing but paper, the cracks revealing occasional patches of tow. From this I judged that the walls were partly hollow and filled with stuffing. Kafka highlights this sense of baroque vanitas by suggesting from the outset that the castle glimpsed by K. The village was deep in snow. The Castle hill was hidden, veiled in mist and darkness, nor was there even a glimmer of light to show that a castle was there. On the wooden bridge leading from the main road to the village K. But from this moment of convergence The Labyrinth and The Castle diverge.

    Typical of their divergent fates is the function of their companions. By contrast, in The Castle there is no such development, since the two assistants remain constantly at K.

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    Their ubiquity is not merely a feature of K. Another textual trace of The Labyrinth in The Castle is the elusive and powerful figure of Klamm, the official to whom K. Even after K. In distinction to The Labyrinth, where the Pilgrim gradually sheds his negative companions until he remains alone on the brink of access to the truth, K. If the doomed K. As his initial implies, K. Like Cain, K. Significantly, the land surveyor features in the list of denigrated human professions in The Labyrinth: From there we went on to another hall where they sold fingers, spans, ells, fathoms, scales, measures, levers, windlasses, pulleys, and similar tools and which was full of people measuring and weighing.

    Some measured the length, width, and depth of a shadow; others weighed it on a scale. In sum, they said that there was nothing in or out of the world that they could not measure. After observing their trade for some time, I recognized that there was more boasting than practicality in all this activity.

    Shaking my head, I left. The profession of land surveyor functions simply as an empty signifier in a world devoid of religious transcendence and social justice. In this respect, the land surveyor also recalls the Jewish religious tradition, with its similarity between the Hebrew word for Messiah mashiah and the Hebrew word for land surveyor mashoah. She writes to her mother to invite her to move in with the family and spend the rest of her days with the grandchildren she has never seen.

    Granny acquiesces, moves in with her daughter, and becomes the symbol of the village community. Her arrival in the village provides a curiously inverted parallel to K. Whereas K. While K. The occupants of the manor house are not invisible and inscrutable like Klamm but are integral members of rural society. Granny was written in at the height of the Bach reaction. To this extent, the idealized Czech village depicted in Granny is an inverted reflection of the oppressive, alienating conditions of life in Prague itself. For example, when K.

    Lurking below the surface of both texts—one a classic of nineteenthcentury Czech literature, the other a classic of European modernism—are the indelible traces of Prague as a city of political repression and personal alienation. As Nancy Wingfield has shown in Flag Wars, within a few days of the establishment of the interwar First Republic on October 28, , Prague had become the flash point of major ethnic conflicts between Germans and Czechs as control of the new state passed from the former to the latter.

    The most shockingly visible manifestation of these conflicts was the felling of the Marian Column on the Old Town Square by a crowd of anticlerical fanatics on November 3, Medieval chronicles usually begin with the construction of the Tower of Babel, and premodern histories of Bohemia are no exception. For But in marked distinction to the original account in the Hebrew Bible, here the desire to build the tower is not motivated by human pride but as a defensive reaction to the preceding biblical account of the Flood.

    In the book of Genesis it is the hubris of human civilization rather than human fear of extinction which provides the instigation for the building of the Tower of Babel, the biblical writers seeing it as a sign of the separation from God that followed the expulsion from the Garden of Eden. This emphasis is peculiar to the Czech author, but it is reflective of the collective anxiety of his audience, faced with the growing influence of German immigrants and the German language in the affairs of state. In fact, the reference to incremental progress may be a satirical allusion to President T.

    The president of the newly constituted state, which comprised Czechs, Germans, Slovaks, Hungarians, and others, faced a formidable challenge in holding together such an artificial patchwork of distinct cultures and languages. A myth based on Enlightenment principles could not efface within the space of a few years ethnic tensions which had bedeviled Czech-German relations for centuries. We have already seen evidence of these tensions in the fourteenth-century Dalimil Chronicle chapter 1. But they continued to fester well into the next century, culminating in the Hussite Wars. Although not created by ethnic discord, the Hussite disturbances fed off ethnic hatreds.

    The leader of the reform movement, Jan Hus, encouraged the use of the Czech language in sermons and prayers and systematically replaced German loanwords with their Slavic counterparts. The city coat of arms emblematized the arrogance of the nobility and the urban patriciate. The just punishment for such arrogance was the destruction of the city. Preston Warren Lewisburg, PA, The new state could not tolerate a writer who described so accurately and wittily the all-pervading presence of bureaucracy in the modern world and the eclipsing of the individual by the totalitarian state.

    As a consequence the complete works of Kafka in Czech translation became available only in the fall of , almost a decade after the fall of Communism in central Europe. More significant was the reinvention of Kafka as a dissident avant la lettre, a prophet who predicted the plight of the intellectual in the Communist state. His work became a source of inspiration and hope for many Czech writers and filmmakers, who saw their own political fate reflected in that of the doomed protagonists of The Trial and The Castle. These dissident writers and intellectuals tended to insert Kafka back into a familiar Prague setting.

    One of the earliest Czech writers to reveal familiar While his family and fellow Jews are sent to their deaths, he survives through a mixture of luck and determination. By the end of the novel the protagonist pretends that he has committed suicide and goes into hiding for the duration of the war. Although Life with a Star is clearly set in occupied Prague, Weil rarely identifies the city by name.

    Here too we see an interplay between preservation and effacement: the film represents the plight of two Jewish boys on the run from a transport train during World War II without referencing their Jewish identity or experience. For a discussion of the film, see Thomas, The Bohemian Body, ff.

    Prague has become a palimpsest of alien symbols and hieroglyphs even to its own inhabitants.

    the curtain witness and memory in wartime holland life writing Manual

    A similar tension between the imperative to keep the memory of the past alive and the desperate desire to repress the humiliating memory of the Nazi occupation characterized the Czech people as a whole during World War II. As Benjamin Frommer has pointed out, this act of repression resulted in a frenzy of revenge when the war finally came to an end. Written just two year after the Liblice As Frommer points out, a major reason for the deep sense of humiliation felt by the Czechs, and their correspondingly powerful desire for revenge against the Germans, was the fact that Czechoslovakia was occupied for more years than any other European nation.

    The opening passage, in which Hrma feels that he is being watched as he walks to work, recalls Josef K. But its tension between preservation and effacement also reflects the status of writing itself in the city of memory and forgetting. Too Loud a Solitude was completed in , during the period of political repression known as the Normalization and was not published in Czechoslovakia until the fall of Communism in Rather, like Kafka, he remained in his native land. It was precisely this small-nation function of the writer as the guardian of the written word that motivated Kafka to efface all traces of Czech literature from his work.

    I have a physical sense of myself as a bale of compacted books Too Loud a Solitude, 7. With the rise to power of the Communists in he finds himself sidelined by political events. In his novel, Prague is a city without memory. The city has even forgotten its name. No one there remembers or recalls anything, and Josef K. The point is that Kundera is not analyzing Kafka as an artist but recuperating him as a dissident intellectual, ironically, an extension of the tradition of the committed smallnation writer which Kafka sought to escape by effacing Prague from his c h a p t e r three work.

    For all its apparent spontaneity, the city he depicts is less a real place than a textual space mediated by earlier texts. At first glance it seems curious to find these old postcards in an avant-garde publication, but in a sense their inclusion is very significant. Vortel, , — See the appendix for my translation of this poem. These images of Paris underscore the fact that a literary city can never be imagined for the first time but is always an incarnation of previous perspectives.

    Such has been the fate of the writer since at least the eighteenth century. But by the beginning of the twentieth century Prague had come to assume a similar role within the French imaginary. In the interwar years Prague achieved an iconic status for many French writers and artists. The dramatist and lyric poet Paul Claudel — lived in Prague from to , where he as served general consul of France and met many local writers, including the young Franz Kafka. Heitner Princeton: Princeton University Press, , But the fascination of Prague for Breton did not consist simply in its magical quality; it was also reflective of a particular moment in the history of the avant-garde which linked Paris to Prague in an axis of shared political as well as aesthetic values.

    Breton found in his Czech counterparts confirmation of his own revolutionary, left-wing project in which art becomes a tool of radical societal transformation. This reinvention of Prague as a modernist center coincided with its newfound political prominence as the capital of an independent nation-state following the Versailles agreement of If this was a pipe dream, it was one reflective of the Czech as well as the French surrealist movement; and Prague seemed to incarnate this utopian accommodation of personal artistic freedom to political conformity.

    Just as the young Czech poet evokes his native city as a claustrophobic prison, so does Apollinaire depict Paris as an emblem of decayed European civilization. All subsequent citations refer to this translation. When the visitor tries to communicate with the inhabitants in German he finds no one who is able—or willing—to speak that language. The sixth stranger he asks for help replies in French that he should speak French rather than German, since the former is the language of a beloved ally and the latter the language of the traditional enemy.

    Here the speaker is merely recycling a myth that has its origins in literature rather than in life. But I do not follow roads to Calvary; mine are happy. Immortal and unique witness to the fact that Christ was once on earth, I prove to mankind the reality of the redeeming and divine drama which unfolded itself at Golgotha. What a glory! What a joy! But I am also, and have been for nineteen centuries, the spectator of Humanity, which procures for me wonderful diversions.

    Ahasuerus—or Laquedem, as he prefers to name himself—is the incarnation of the Baudelairean flaneur. Even when eating or having sexual intercourse, he is in perpetuum mobile: He chose a big-breasted, broad-bottomed Hungarian girl, and soon halfnaked, carried her off. She was clearly frightened of the old man. They returned after a quarter of an hour. He walked about all the time! With his multilingual longevity, Laquedem is a living embodiment of the city-book.

    Like Prague, Laquedem is akin to an ancient book that has undergone numerous redactions. The tomb of the astronomer Tycho Brahe is in the church over there. My portrait, painfully outlined, is there, by the bronze door on which hangs the ring that supported St. Wenceslas when he was martyred. I had to leave the chapel. I was pale and distressed to have seen myself as a madman, I, who am so afraid of becoming one. This is not entirely true, since Czech writers as far back as the s had begun to explore the phenomenon of the anonymous, lonely metropolis in a modernist, subjective vein.

    The artistic movement known as Poetism heralded a completely new and hedonistic response to everyday life, and this sense of joie de vivre transformed Prague from the gloomy, introspective habitat of the traditional artist into the playground of the avant-garde. But as we shall see, the Poetist reinvention of the city as a pleasure ground of the artist created a split in the identity of the Czech artist.

    In spite of their eagerness to reinvent Prague as an exciting and anonymous modern metropolis, shorn of its familiar landmarks and monuments, the Czech poets of the avant-garde could not entirely repudiate their debt to tradition. This split would explain the prevalence of the double motif in many works of interwar Czech literature and film; but it also explains why Prague seems to be simultaneously present and absent, remembered and forgotten, in many avant-garde texts and films of the period.

    The effect of this unstable, shifting perspective is to create a split in the identity of the speaker: One day in April I arrived in Prague for the first Time At the station as sad as ashes huddled a dejected crowd They were emigrants. Ceasing to be the timorous teenager from the provinces, Nezval has found his voice as a metropolitan poet. Night came rushing upon me. The magician of the title is born from the crystal belly of a mysterious nun who was fertilized by the fragrance of a sick anemone blossom.

    He goes through many metamorphoses: water jet, statue of Buddha, stalagmite, and the moon. Whereas nineteenth-century writers had traditionally restricted their movements to the historic center of the city, with its familiar monuments Prague is now remythologized as the city of night, mystery, and death.

    In the opening passage of the first canto an inebriated gambler stumbles home from a bar through an urban landscape akin to a collage of memories and fragmented associations: Our mournful lives are full of woe. One night a gambler left his casino. Monstrancelike bars shone through the sleet In the moist air where spring and winter meet.

    But the night still rumbled like a buffalo Beneath the pounding of the stars and snow, Overheard by drinkers at their glass, Heads inclined as at a sodden mass; Half-naked girls in peacock plumes, Melancholics of late afternoons. Such traditional imagery of old Prague alternates with imagery associative of the New World The city has ceased to constitute a unified and coherent space and has become a montage—and here innovations in avant-garde Czech photography and film come to mind—of diverse cultural fragments and memories. As he crosses the Bridge of Legions on his way home, the gambler sees a shadowy figure leaping into the water.

    I asked him who he was and whence he came; He answered, just a gambler from his game. From far away a bright nocturnal fan Waved to us its alcoholic dance; But on we went as in a silent trance. Once at home, however, the double dissolves, prompting the intoxicated gambler to wonder whether he was just a figment of his imagination: I climbed the stairs and opened up the door, And showed my shade a mattress on the floor. Was he a vision, trick, or simply self-deceit?