Spring 2017 Colloquium Series: Kulturwissenschaftliche Gedächtnisforschung im Dialog mit den Kognitions- und Neurowissenschaften. Aktuelle Ansätze und Untersuchungsfelder

April 14, 2017

Carsten Gansel

Carsten Gansel (Justus-Liebig-Universtät Giessen, Institut für Germanistik) presented work in progress titled “Kulturwissenschaftliche Gedächtnisforschung im (versuchten) Dialog mit den Kognitions- und Neurowissenschaften? – Drei Fallbeispiele” in the IGCS Colloquium Series on April 14, 2017. As the title indicates, his paper was situated between cultural-literary studies and cognitive science with the hope of bringing the findings of these disparate fields into contact. Specifically, three case studies focused on the relationship between memory and narrative, on aspects of episodic and autobiographical memory, and on ways in which these narrative processes are related to questions of coming to terms with traumatic experience. In particular, Gansel was interested in showing how narrative models used in literary works can be understood as attempts to depict traumatically disturbed memory by recovering traumatic psychic processes via literary or narrative configurations.  It is within this context of relationships between memory, narration and trauma that Gansel investigates how traumatic disturbances and consequent gaps in memory can be usefully brought into dialogue with theories of narratology, literature, and cognition.

Grounding his argument in the connection between the role of narrative and the development of memory techniques within the story of human evolution, Gansel then elucidated how structural features of narration, i.e., the ability to link and connect past events into coherent spatial and temporal wholes, are precisely what is lacking or disturbed within the memory of traumatized individuals. Gansel demonstrated how writing actually served as a process for recovering lost traumatic memory, exemplified in the cases of Hans Gerlach’s Durchbruch bei Stalingrad and Christa Wolf’s Nachruf auf Lebende. Gerlach’s case actually counted as two and therefore received the most attention during the colloquium.  This was because Gerlach recounted his memories of the Battle of Stalingrad in narrative form twice, once in the 1940s shortly after the end of the battle in a novel manuscript that was confiscated by the Soviets and only recently recovered from Soviet-era archives (with remarkable detective work by Gansel himself), and then again in 1956 after Gerlach’s release from a Soviet internment camp, this time with the aid of hypnosis.  The uniqueness of this story made for a probing discussion concerning questions of accuracy, recovered memory, trauma, form, and in Gerlach’s case also guilt. (Stephen Klemm)