Dimensions of memory objects and spaces in novels by Grass, Perec, Modiano and Walser
Item statusRestricted Access
Embargo end date31/07/2023
Arguing that embodied human experience of the physical world has shaped thought and language used in relation to memory, this thesis asserts the importance of not only the metaphors of the storehouse and the writing-surface in Western thinking about memory but also the spatial forms from which they derive their meaning, the container and the surface. An original reading strategy is developed centring on the identification of surface and container motivic chronotopes of memory with a view to more comprehensively accounting for the textual significance of objects and spaces in literary texts concerned with the negotiation of past and present than has hitherto been possible. This reading strategy is used to analyse novels by Günter Grass (Die Blechtrommel), Georges Perec (La Vie mode d’emploi), Patrick Modiano (Dora Bruder) and Martin Walser (Ein springender Brunnen). In each instance, original insights are revealed not only in relation to how ideas about memory are articulated by objects and spaces in the text but also concerning which specific ideas about memory are present and how the work relates to its respective context. In the first part of the thesis, I survey and supplement scholarly work exploring how objects and spaces feature in memory practice and theory. After reviewing work on their potential to mediate information about the past, I assess the role objects and spaces have played in metaphorizations of memory processes. Exploring the cultural genealogy of the important memory metaphors of the storehouse and the writingsurface, I show that the images articulate distinct conceptions of memory. Proposing that our embodied experience of the physical world has shaped the way we think and talk about memory, I ascribe the enduring significance of the storehouse and the writing-surface images to the spatial forms with which they are associated, the container and the surface. I argue that different spatial dimensions are associated with different conceptions of memory and construe the relationship between the present and the past in different ways: while three-dimensional forms typically claim inertia, preservation and continuity, two-dimensional spaces connote the present’s connection to the past in terms of exertion, production and discontinuity. Identifying a common source of the storehouse and writing-surface metaphors, a pervasive root metaphor of memory (the record and repository metaphor) within which the two sub-metaphors operate, I demonstrate that these two ways of thinking about memory are in fact different ways of construing and framing the same putative procedure. As well as explaining how and why it is foreseeable that the two conceptions of memory will coexist in differing proportions rather than exist binarily, exploring the root metaphor also exposes how their respective spatialities are fundamental to the two metaphors. On the basis of these insights, I propose and theorise the surface and container motivic chronotopes of memory which form the core of an original reading strategy that makes it possible to better understand the significance of objects and spaces in literary texts in which the connection between present and past is a key theme. Crucially, I show that, even when they are not functionally involved in memory-work, intradiegetic objects and spaces are meaningful in relation to memory on account of their spatial dimensions, as they expose a tendency and preference to conceive memory in particular terms. In the second part of the thesis, I deploy this reading strategy in discussions of novels by Grass, Perec, Modiano and Walser. My analyses reveal not only how the surface and container chronotopes of memory are established through a great multitude and variety of objects and spaces in the texts, but also how their meanings mutate according to context. Reading for chronotopes of memory allows me to more fully understand the underlying postulates about memory in each novel, including claims made about what is possible and what is desirable in terms of the role of the past in the present. Although in very different ways, each of the primary texts is marked by – and writes in response to – the legacy of National Socialism, engaging a key concern of European literature in the second half of the twentieth century. While the predominance of either spatial imaginary of memory does not automatically indicate the text’s adoption of an ethical or unethical position, it does – when considered in the specific context of its production – serve as a means to identify the politicised positions assumed and articulated in it as well as a basis to make specific situated ethical evaluations about it. In the case of Die Blechtrommel, I reveal how objects and spaces can be read to articulate – through their physical dimensions – an insistence on a more active form of engagement with Germany’s National Socialist past in the post-war period. I show that spatial dimensions are likewise integral to a reflection on the usefulness of the past for present life in La Vie mode d’emploi, which I suggest as a response to the modernisation of Paris in the decades following WWII. Although I highlight the importance of container spaces in both Dora Bruder and in Ein springender Brunnen, I argue that in the former they are linked to the pursuit of an ethically legitimate form of remembrance in accordance with prevailing moral paradigms, while in the latter they form the basis of an attempt to resist demands in contemporary memory culture to remember the National Socialist period in a particular way. Facilitating a more adequate account of the contribution of intradiegetic objects and spaces in relation to individual and cultural memory in literary texts than would have otherwise been possible, my reading strategy enables me to more precisely situate the novels within the historical moments and memory cultures from which they emerged and to which they contribute.