British award enables research on ‘cosmopolitan memory’ in South African and German literature

1 Sep 2014 - 13:30

Literature written in the aftermath of trauma and political struggle may unsettle the rhetoric of nation-building and bring to view a more complicated sense of citizenship. This is the premise of a new, 3-year research collaboration involving a team of scholars in Leeds and Cape Town, and funded by a British Academy award of £30 000. 

The team, led by Dr Sandra Young (Department of English Language and Literature, UCT) and Professor Stuart Taberner (German Department, University of Leeds), will explore the emergence of ‘cosmopolitan memory’ in German and South African literature, that is, forms of memory-making that unsettle categories of belonging that are defined by the nation-state, ethnicity and sexuality. 

The project offers an opportunity, twenty years after the first democratic elections, to reflect on the continued marginalisation of those who appear to threaten the cohesion of the nation, such as immigrants, refugees, and those considered ‘deviant’.

A strong parallel between the two countries is the complex history that both nations are working to overcome. Of particular research interest is the impact of a traumatic past on current appeals to national identity and belonging. A series of workshops over 3 years will consider how this conflict is expressed through literature in post-unification Germany and post-apartheid South Africa. Sandra and Stuart will hold a series of workshops with the team of collaborators, culminating in an edited collection of essays on ‘Contemporary Literature from Germany and South Africa: Critiquing the Narrativization of Trauma as Nation-building’. The collaboration thus offers an opportunity for South African research into post-traumatic literature and testimony to help to shape the development of trauma studies internationally. 

The research collaboration will commence in 2015 and run for a period of three years.