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ISSN 1409-6900 | UDK 82+7     Blesok no. 89 | volume XVI | March-April, 2013



                     Peer-reviewed journal
Blesok no. 89March-April, 2013

Competitive and/or Complementary Memories?

(Literature and History)

p. 1
Marija Gjorgjieva Dimova

There is probably a rule according to which one remembers or forgets, but since the narratives of memory are most often history or fiction, we avoid thinking of such rules.
    Miljenko Jergović, A History Reader

The literature-history-memory triad, among other things, has challenged the traditional distinction existing between literature and history, by embracing certain types of memory identified in historical and literary contexts, respectively. The complementarity this triad was founded on has been corroborated on two levels: firstly, literature and history stand as two discursive practices whose relation, in the past few decades, has been subjected to multiple redefinitions that, among other things, were founded on the emphasis on shared mnemonic aspects; secondly, literature and history are identified as two discourses of/about the past,[1] namely, as two modes of remembering, thus of reshaping historical reality. Тhrough the scope of this relation literature is perceived as supplementing history—its empty, blank spaces, its “dark areas”—by fictionalisation, revision and reinterpretation. Hence, several theoretical categories come to the forefront as useful interpretive tools, i.e., illustrative of the transgression present between literature and history and the shared mnemonic aspects.
    In a historiographic context, the relation between history and memory has been elaborated and argued many times over.[2] Within the research of testimony as one of the crucial sources of history, Dominick LaCapra established the distinction between primary and secondary memory: primary memory is “that of a person who has lived through events and remembers them in a certain manner”, whereas secondary is “the result of critical work on primary memory whether by the person who initially had the relevant experiences or, more typically, by an analyst, observer or secondary witness as the historian” (1998, 20-21). Thus, in relation to trauma, memory is always secondary: what happened has not been integrated in experience or remembered directly, so the event is reconstructed based on its effects. Literature also has the capacity to utilise the traumatic event as a model and thus transform its testimony in a literary context. The mnemonic aspects of literature have been underscored in various theories of intertextuality, which in turn assign it great mnemonic power. In that sense, intertextuality is viewed as the memory of a text: through intertextuality, the memory space is inscribed into the text, just as the text is inscribed into the memory space, placing itself between the texts. On that note, the intertextually-marked text gets inscribed into the textual memory of culture,


1. Hayden White considers the relation between literature and history through the scope of their status as competitive narratives, alluded to in the title of this text.
2. Dominick LaCapra, History and Memory after Auschwitz, Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press, 1998; J. le Goff, History and Memory, New York: Columbia University Press, 1992.

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