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Title: Affective affinities : memory, empathy and the weight of history in the work of Herta Müller
Author: Watson, Jennifer R.
ISNI:       0000 0004 7425 5030
Awarding Body: Swansea University
Current Institution: Swansea University
Date of Award: 2016
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Herta Müller’s writing forms a densely interwoven body of work that merges fiction, autobiography and political commentary. Previous analyses have failed to develop a critical framework that encompasses her self-consciously difficult texts’ forms, contents, intents and impacts. This project was designed to test the potential of recent theories of memory (notably the work of Alison Landsberg, Michael Rothberg and Griselda Pollock and Max Silverman) as a critical framework for interpreting Müller’s work. The imageworlds and affective resonances of texts such as Niederungen (1982), Herztier (1994) and Atemschaukel (2009) allow specific histories of National Socialism, Romanian Communism and Stalin-era forced labour to stand for something larger: all the suffering of history’s unknown Others, all the mental and physical violence human beings perpetrate on one another. Müller’s approach to memory is orientated around the possibility that attention to the past and to our shared vulnerability can mobilise ethical engagement. Her texts rework memory as a route towards imagination and empathetic engagement, not a mere imitation of history, bound to facts. She prioritises “authenticity” – meaning larger structures of experience – over reality or specificity. Pushing her reader to attend to memories which are not their own, and engage with patterns of perception that uncover a common humanity, her work represents specific experiences but presents them as iterations. Thus memory alludes to the present and demands action. Empathy is Müller’s ultimate concern: memory serves to foster ethical engagement. My critical framework captures the way her writing exploits universal experiences of memory and historically located subjectivity, encompassing core elements of her themes and aesthetics and offering a new perspective on her work. Affective Affinities represents a first step in holistic readings of Müller and reframes memory as the engine rather than the fuel of her ethical and literary projects.
Supervisor: Haines, Brigid. Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral