Jessica Ortner

Jessica Ortner is an Associate Professor at the department of English, Germanic and Romance Studies at the University of Copenhagen. She is primary investigator of the research project Mnemonic Migration – Transnational Circulation and Reception of Wartime Memories in post-Yugoslav Migrant Literature, that is funded by the Danish Research Council (2019-2022). The project investigates the reception of literature on the Bosnian war in different social settings and thus explores the topic of reception in memory studies. Furthermore, Ortner’s research focuses on German and European memory politics, Eastern European migrant literature and German-Jewish literature. Publications include the monograph Transcultural Memory and European Identity in Contemporary German-Jewish Migrant Literature (forthcoming Camden House), “Flight, Expulsion and Resettlement in Contemporary German literature” (2018) and, together with Tea Sindbæk Andersen, Memory Studies – Special Issue. Memory of Joy (2019). During the summer school, prof. Ortner will present on the topic of Transcultural Memory and European Identity in Contemporary German Jewish Migrant Literature.

How to remember Europe? German Jewish Migrant Literature as a battlefield of memories

This lecture explores how German Jewish migrant literature by authors with background in Eastern Europe negotiates the mnemonic divide between Eastern and Western Europe that remained after the political unification of Europe. I will put forward the theory that this literature, which I want to call “literature of mnemonic migration”, participates in the debate how to remember the European past that arose after 1989 and “moved to the center stage of EU politics” with EU’s eastern enlargement in the year 2004 and 2007 from 15 to 27 member states (Littoz-Monnet, 1182). These new member states demanded a much greater recognition of their suffering under Soviet Communism that in their view was set aside when the EU turned the Holocaust into legitimizing master narrative. Indeed, after 1991, the Holocaust was turned into a “negative benchmark for European identity” (Sierp, 2014:111), replacing the “evil empire” of Communism (Jan-Werner Müller 2010: 32) that hitherto had served as Europe’s Other. In order to amend this asymmetric memory culture, the European Commission launched several top-down initiatives (e.g., the New Narrative for Europe project) that had the explicit aim to identify a new narrative for the expanded Europe. Using literature by Vladimir Vertlib and Katja Petrowskaja as examples, I will show that literature of mnemonic migration with much more success takes part in this memory battle by offering an Eastern European perspective on the past and by negotiating the role of the Holocaust in Europe’s shared memory. A brief introduction to Germany’s memory culture and the ethics of transcultural memory examined by Michael Rothberg and Dirk Moses (2014) will finally lead to a discussion how far we can go in comparing Europe’s histories of violence to each other.

Littoz-Monnet, Annabelle. “The EU Politics of Remembrance: Can Europeans Remember Together?” European Politics 35, no. 5 (2012): 1182–1202.

Müller, Jan-Werner. “On European Memory: Some Conceptual and Normative Remarks.” In European Memory? Contested Hstories and Politics of Remembrance, edited by Małgorzata Pakier and Bo Stråth, 25–37

Rothberg, Michael, and Dirk Moses. “A Dialogue on the Ethics and Politics of Transcultural Memory.” In The Transcultural Turn: Interrogating Memory Between and Beyond Borders, edited by Lucy Bond and Jessica Rapson, 29–38. De Gruyter, 2014

Sierp, Aline. “Integrating Europe, Integrating Memories : The EU ’s Politics of Memory since 1945.” In The Transcultural Turn: Interrogating Memory between and beyond Borders, 103–18. Berlin, Boston: De Gruyter, 2014.