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Symposium Transnational Memories, Cultures & Identities

Singularity: Diffracted Memories in Transnational Literature

Organised within the Transnational Memories research line of the Utrecht focus area Cultures &
Identities (convenor: Birgit M. Kaiser)

Dates/Time: Thursday 23 and Friday 24 June, 2011
Locations: see below

In contemporary Western societies, recollections, according to which positions of articulation and
identities are constructed and upon which literary fictions draw, are increasingly diffracted. That is,
they are dispersed and transnational because they exceed any limited national framing and draw
on a variety of imaginations that pertain to different locales and different personal inflections. As
Jean-Luc Nancy holds, our increasing heterogeneity and cultural diversity in postcolonial Europe
allows us to realize that being means being singular plural, it means that we realize that not
only are all people different but they are also all different from one another (Nancy 8), unique and
singular. At the same time, we also recognize that we share precisely this.

This symposium wants to investigate singularity as a way to study practices of writing that
perform this heterogeneity and diffraction of memories and help to envision a we, which takes
the coexistence of each and every singularity into account. Nancy calls such a we a being-with
that affirms the infinite plurality of origins and their coexistence (10) and a necessarily plural,
diffracted (14) world, in which each singular articulation constitutes one expression of this
plurality. With this in view, the symposium will examine the diffraction and (re)collection of
memories in transnational literatures. We will ask, looking at different literary cases, how this
comes to bear, in a unique fashion, on different texts. How do these writings challenge our
categories of national identities, and how do they experiment with new forms of (re)collections and
memories? Do they weave singular articulations from this? And if so, what do they look like? With
the help of transnational literatures mainly Dutch-Moroccan, Turkish-German, and French-
Maghrebian literatures we will inquire if and how we can account for cultural heterogeneity by a
focus on concrete, singular, contextualized literary practices, which are embedded in networks of
relations and at the same time exceed these relations by way of imagination (of the future) and
memories (of the past).

Convenor: Birgit M. Kaiser (UU)

Symposium Transnational Memories, Cultures & Identities


Thursday 23 June, 10.00-17.00, Drift 21, zaal 0.05 (Sweelinckzaal), Utrecht

10.00 Introduction and opening words (Ann Rigney; Birgit Kaiser (both Utrecht))

10.30 Panel one
Nancys Being Singular Plural Transnational literature and our lives in
hybridized spaces

Speakers: Bart Phillipsen (Leuven); Jane Hiddleston (Oxford)
Respondent: Emmanuelle Radar (Utrecht)

12.30 Lunch break

14.00 Interview Hafid Bouazza interviewed by Henriette Louwerse (Sheffield)

15.30 Coffee break

16.00-17.00 Lecture Leslie Adelson (Cornell)
Rusty Rails and Parallel Worlds: Trans-Latio in Yoko Tawadas Das Nackte
Auge (2004)

With a response by Michael Rothberg (U of Illinois, Urbana)

17.00 Reception

Friday 24 June, 10.00-16.30, Janskerkhof 13, zaal 0.06, Utrecht

10.00 Panel two
Transnational literary imagination and diffracted memories:
metamorphoses of selves and witnessing of others

Speakers: Henriette Louwerse (Sheffield); Rosemarie Buikema
Respondent: Birgit M. Kaiser (Utrecht)

12.00 Lunch break

13.00 Panel three
Moving Memories and literatures new mother tongues

Speakers: Yasemin Yildiz (U of Illinois, Urbana); Liesbeth Minnaard
Respondent: Gaston Franssen (U of Amsterdam)

15.00 Coffee break

15.30-16.30 Closing discussion

For more information see:

Symposium Transnational Memories, Cultures & Identities

Literature and the profane community in/of Being singular plural
Bart Philipsen (KU Leuven)

This paper reads Jean-Luc Nancy's tre singulier pluriel/Being singular plural not just as a
theoretical ! philosophical, ontological ! treatise which might be a useful methodological frame for
looking at a literary corpus and investigating literary practices of writing in which the problem of
singularity in the context of cultural hybridity and heterogeneity is addressed. Nancy's extensive
essay addresses Literature as the discursive mode par excellence, a practice of reading and
writing to testify of this being singular plural: "'Literature' means the being-in-common of what
has no common origin but is originally in-common or with." (90)
Philipsen situates this seemingly 'emphatic' notion of literature in Nancy's work in general and
in a certain modern philosophical tradition as well as goes into the specific function of Literariness
in relation to the stake of Being singular plural. What has literature got to do with the almost
aporetic attempt to address a "we" that is not determined by a myth, which means "the infinite
presupposition of its own identity and authenticity" (Eulogy for the Mle, 158)? Given the research
questions of the workshop and the intention to investigate the literary strategies of imagination (of
the future) and recollection (past), it is crucial to stress Nancy's attempt to think and speak of "an
earth and a human such that they would be only what they are ! nothing but earth and human !
and such that they would be none of the various horizons often harbored under these names, none
of the 'perspectives' or 'views' in view of which we have disfigured humans [les hommes] and
driven them to despair" (xii) The "we" can only be the name of a reality that addresses the singular
plural by thoroughly questioning such strategies that envisage a whole through projection onto an
origin and anticipation of a final horizon of community. Literature seems to be the name of a
language that is "the plural touching of the singular origin" (14). It refuses any eschatological !
religious or secular, transcendent or immanent, mythological or institutional ! appropriation and
signification of the finitude of the singular plural, affirming the fact that there is "no meaning
beyond this very Being of the world". 'Literature' therefore articulates a community that is utterly

Nancy and Djebar: Being Singular Plural in (Post)colonial Algeria
Jane Hiddleston (Exeter College, Oxford)

In some of the more politicised passages of Being Singular Plural, Nancy denounces the retrograde
and potentially destructive impact of homogeneous conceptions of terms such as culture or the
nation. He suggests that collective terms such as these rest both on a restrictive demarcation of
belonging from non-belonging, of inside from outside, and on a drive to represent the self as a
specific identity founded in, and in turn founding, its society. He proposes instead a retreat of
political thought from these concepts, and he recommends a renewed understanding Being not as
defined by any specified community but as constituted by its singular-plurality. Concomitantly,
although Assia Djebar writes extensively about her upbringing in Algeria on the eve of
decolonisation, she nevertheless, in accordance with Nancys thinking, seeks less to situate herself
within the specific culture of the emergent postcolonial nation, than to explore how her experiences
of living in the hybridised space of (post)colonial Algeria engenders a more open-ended
understanding of relationality (in particular relationality within the family) and, indeed, of the
singularity of her own autobiographical voice.
This paper will draw on two aspects of Nancys thinking in Being Singular Plural and will how
these are developed in Djebars most recent, and most apparently autobiographical work, Nulle
part dans la maison de mon pre [Nowhere in my Fathers House]. First, this latest work is
Djebars most intimate and personal narrative of her childhood and adolescence, but rather than
focusing on a search for origins, the text repeatedly refers to its narrator as sans lieu. In
particular, Djebars repeated references to rootlessness bring a series of complex reflections on the
narrators attachment to her parents and it is this relationship that might be understood with
reference to Nancys conception of complicity without communion or sameness. In addition, the
narrative voice of the narrator herself is figured as singular, at least partially opaque, and beyond
the confines of any notion of rootedness or cultural identity. Being singular plural, in its very
absence of engagement with any particular cultural context, surprisingly offers a mode of thinking
through relationality and voice more suited to Djebars singular autobiography than more specified,
postcolonial theories of cultural identity and practice.

Rusty Rails and Parallel Worlds: Trans-Latio in Yoko Tawada's Das nackte
Symposium Transnational Memories, Cultures & Identities
Auge (2004)
Leslie A. Adelson (Cornell University)

A close reading of this multilingual, cosmopolitan, and pointedly transnational novel in German will
provide the springboard for methodological reflections on new approaches to translation studies,
comparative method, and literary analysis in relation to migration as a mode of movement. The
lecture will focus on literary motifs of parallelism in Tawada's novel, beginning with train tracks
(real and imagined) and extending to ostensibly parallel analytical paradigms such as
"postcolonialism" and "post-socialism" after 1989, for example. The lecture will discuss how
Tawada's literary exploration of lateral movement challenges us to consider the directionality of
diffraction and to reconceive the trans-latio of contemporary translation studies. Tawada's singular
Denkbild of parallelism in literary prose arguably signals a sea change in our critical options for
understanding movement as a trope of collective experience.

Infinite Resistance. Metamorphosis in the work of Hafid Bouazza
Henriette Louwerse (Sheffield University)

One of the essays in Hafid Bouazzas most recent collection Heidense vreugde [Pagan Delight] is
entitled Diversiteit uw naam is zwendel[Diversity thy name is swindle]. Bouazza discusses the
initiative Poems for the waiting room: a project in which posters of poems of diverse cultures are
printed both in the original language and in English translation to be displayed in doctors waiting
rooms and other public places. Bouazza disapproves. For him diversity is all too often a cover-up
for folklore: the hollow acting out of cultural stereotypes swathed in traditional dress and smelling
of sentimental foods.
Anybody familiar with Bouazzas work will not be surprised at this response. In the Dutch
cultural landscape Bouazza is well-known for his position as an advocate of absolute individualism.
Shared culture, or even community are suspect and prone to repression of the individual. Yet
Bouazza does show the desire, or the possibility, to connect, to seek common ground: his land of
the imagination, where encounters can take place, where connection can be established away for
all ethnic, religious or cultural markers, must be seen as an attempt to approach community away
from predictable categories and essentialist suppositions.
Bouazza pleads for a boundary free universe and in addition to the imaginary it is the physical,
the boundaries and limitations but also the celebration of the sensual l that plays an important
role in Bouazzas work. Against the background of Jean-Luc Nancys thinking on human infinitude
and limitations, I will attempt to engage with Bouazzas treatment of the out of body experience,
of metamorphosis as a way to describe the self in relation to the other, in particularly in connection
with this 2009 novel Spotvogel.

Political fiction and the paradoxes of witnessing
Rosemarie Buikema (Utrecht University)

As South African literary critic Doroty Driver has pointed out, David's Story is a quintessentially
South African novel, but in its literary and other allusions it not only proclaims itself part of a South
African literary tradition but also explicitly sees that tradition as a transaction between European
imperialist power and a colonised world. In my paper I will diffractedly read those two discursive
genres while at the same time following the novels incorporation of literary criticism alongside the
narrator's amateur detective work as vain attempts at some certitude or truth.

The Fictitious Singularity of the Mother Tongue and its Postmonolingual
Yasemin Yildiz (University of Illinois)

This talk seeks to distinguish between a rhetoric of singularity that underwrites what Nancy calls
common being, on the one hand, and practices of singularity that open up to a mode of being-
in-common and allow for difference as constitutional, on the other. Specifically, I argue that the
fictitious singularity of the mother tonguethe idea that there is only one language into which
one is born and to which one is uniquely connectedis a key idea constraining more plural visions
of singularity. I elucidate how this fiction is tied to the emergence of monolingualism as a
structuring principle of modernity, but also how the multilingual experimentation of transnational
writing challenges this monolingual paradigm.
Symposium Transnational Memories, Cultures & Identities
Discussing German-Jewish thinker Hannah Arendt and Turkish-German writers Aras ren and
Emine Sevgi zdamar, I sketch the tension between the monolingual paradigm and varied
multilingual practices as constitutive of what I call the postmonolingual condition.

Moving Memories. Undoing Distance in Bouazzas Story De oversteek
Liesbeth Minnaard (University of Leiden)

This contribution to the symposium focuses on the Moroccan-Dutch writer Hafid Bouazzas
enigmatic short story De oversteek [The Crossing]. This story, that was added to the reprint of
Bouazzas succesful debut Abdullahs Feet, six years after its first appearance in 1996, can be read
as a particularly moving story, both in the literal as well as in the figurative sense of the term. As
such De oversteek offers an insightful demonstration of David Hermans statement that stories
not only assume a relation between texts and contexts but sometimes work to reshape it (Herman
2002: 336). The actual reshaping of Abdullahs Feet as story-collection not only disturbs (or
redoes) the balance of the collection as a semantic whole, but the added story also reshapes the
context of understanding the other stories in the collection. The story De oversteek, that jauntily
but effectively appeals to an interpretative frame of discourses on and realities of Mediterranean
migration, insists on other readings, readings that re-member what has been compelled to silence
in a unilateral and divisive politics of memory.

This event is made possible by the financial support of

Cultures & Identities, Utrecht University
Stichting Literatuurwetenschap Utrecht University
Department of Dutch Studies, Utrecht University

Symposium Transnational Memories, Cultures & Identities
Related event for advanced MA, RMA, and PhD students

Masterclass Leslie Adelson (Cornell U)

Migration Stories and Analytical Method:
Emine Sevgi zdamar's "Courtyard" in the Classroom
How would you teach this text?

The masterclass will focus on Leslie Adelsons work on transnational literature and take as a special
example the literature contemporarily produced in German by writers of Turkish cultural and
linguistic background. With special focus on a short story by German-Turkish writer Emine Sevgi
zdamar ("Der Hof im Spiegel" and Adelsons English translation available in electronic
publication), you will also dive into parts of her book The Turkish Turn in Contemporary German
Literature: Toward a New Critical Grammar of Migration (2005), and examine the cultural labor
performed by these texts, a labor whereby writers imagine and create new spaces of cultural and
literary articulation as Adelson argued in her text Against Between: A Manifesto. The
masterclass will discuss the labor of literary imagination, its evocation of phantasmatic spaces, and
the potentials for articulation of heterogeneous voices in postcolonial Europe. These processes can
be equally perceived in contemporary writers of migratory background who write in other European

In preparation of the master class, students are invited to send in focused questions beforehand.

A reader will be made available via OSL, register via :

Leslie Adelson is Professor of German Studies at Cornell University since 1996, where she is also a
Graduate Field member of Comparative Literature; Feminist, Gender, and Sexuality Studies; and
Jewish Studies. She teaches modern German literature, with an emphasis on literature since 1945,
and postcolonial theories of culture and history. Much of her research focuses on minority
discourses and migrant cultures in postwar Germany, especially those concerning Jews and Turks,
and on interdisciplinary German cultural studies. Her English-language edition of Zafer "enocaks
essays on politics and culture, Atlas of a Tropical Germany (2000), introduced a new sort of public
intellectual in Germany to an international audience. An edited volume titled The Cultural After-Life
of East Germany: New Transnational Perspectives (2002) raised new questions about the proper
contexts for thinking GDR studies and transnationalism together. Supported by a fellowship from
the National Endowment for the Humanities in 2003, a seminal monograph addressed the
significance of Turkish migration for contemporary German literature and migration studies
alike. The Turkish Turn in Contemporary German Literature: Toward a New Critical Grammar of
Migration was published by Palgrave Macmillan in 2005. Newer projects published under the rubric
Experiment Mars revolve around the literary imagination as a form of labor and the conceit of
futurity in German literature in the 20th and 21st centuries.

Date/Time: Wednesday, 22 June 2011,
15.00 to 17.30

Location: Kromme Nieuwegracht 80,
Ravensteinzaal (1.06),