Journal Article

Desperate Affirmation: On the Aporetic Performativity of <i>Memoria</i> and Testimony, in the Light of W.G. Sebald's Story ‘Max Ferber’: With a Theological Response

Erik Borgman, Laurens ten Kate and Bart Philipsen

in Literature and Theology

Volume 19, issue 3, pages 200-220
Published in print September 2005 | ISSN: 0269-1205
Published online September 2005 | e-ISSN: 1477-4623 | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/litthe/fri035
Desperate Affirmation: On the Aporetic Performativity of Memoria and Testimony, in the Light of W.G. Sebald's Story ‘Max Ferber’: With a Theological Response

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Is ‘remembering’ an intentional activity, residing in the subject's autonomy, or does it belong to the realm of receptivity, interrupting the subject? Or is it both at once? This jointly authored paper sets these questions in the context of a recently renewed interest in memoria in cultural theory and the humanities, as well as of an increasing pluralism in Western societies. The impossibility of sharing memories as a common good and a common truth is explored by putting the theme of historical responsibility, to which every gesture of memoria is tied, in a new light. The paper first demonstrates that the concept of performativity, as developed in particular by Jacques Derrida through a critical reading of Austin and Searle, can be a fruitful theoretical model in the analysis of memoria and of its double status: active and receptive at the same time. A reflection on the practice of testimony, again starting from Derrida, will further articulate this coherence between performativity and memoria. After this theoretical clarification, the value of performativity as a model for memoria will be tested through a detailed reading of the German writer W.G. Sebald's (1944–2001) story ‘Max Ferber’, focussing on the delicate way this story stages an impossible testimonial drama. The authors will, finally, enquire as to the relevance of the performative model for a theological view of memoria and testimony.

Zerstöret das Letzte die Erinnerung nicht—W.G. Sebald

    (freely rendered from Hölderlin1)

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Subjects: Literature ; Religion and Art, Literature, and Music

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