Jessica Ortner

Jessica Ortner

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I studied comparative literature, German and Cultural Studies in Odense (DK), Zürich and Copenhagen. In 2012, I finished my doctoral thesis on representation of the Holocaust in the magnum opus of the Austrian writer Elfriede Jelinek Die Kinder der Toten (1995). The thesis has recently been published under the title Poetologie “nach Auschwitz”. Narratologie, Semantik und sekundäre Zeugenschaft in Elfriede Jelineks Roman ‚Die Kinder der Toten.‘ (Berlin: Frank&Timme, 2016).

Currently, I am working on a project on German-language migrant-literature. See below for more information.

In my previous postdoc-project, I have examined contemporary literary representations of the Holocaust. In this, I investigated the mnemonic shift that has taken place due to the passing away of the eyewitnesses. Jan Assmann conceptualized this development as a shift from the communicative to the cultural remembrance of the Holocaust. I have worked with a wide corpus of writers who were born after 1945, but who - even though they don’t have experienced the event itself - suffer from a transmitted (family) trauma.

I investigated which narratological strategies writers of the second and third generation use in order to compensate for their lack of authentic knowledge about the past. One of those strategies is the adoption of postmodern characteristics such as metafictional reflections about the possibilities of writing about an unknown past. Another strategy is the use of grotesque and magical realistic representations where the atrocities of the past haunt the aftermath and where the traumatic nature of the events is inscribed in the structure of the writings. Finally, I also examined to which extent present Holocaust literature develops in relation to, or across, national boundaries.

Current research

Transcultural Memory as Battlefield of European Identity –

The Making of Europe in Contemporary German-Language MigrantLiterature

The purpose of my current research project is to investigate the interrelations and frictions between imaginations of Europe in contemporary German-language migrant literature and those brought forth on the political level of EU’s memory politics The project will focus on the transnational memory formation initiatied by the memory politics of the EU, which increasingly is occupied with forging a shared European understanding of the past. In the course of the last decades, the Holocaust has become a core element in the construction of such an overarching European identity (Rigney 2014, A. Assmann 2013). Perceived as the central trauma of the 20th century, the Holocaust symbolizes the opposite of Europe’s values of democracy and human rights and thus functions as a moral imperative for future political actions (Levi/Sznaider 2002; Sierp 2014; Pearce 2014). However, the political events of 1989 as well as the Eastern Enlargement of the EU has provoked a memory competition in which the Eastern European nations call for the Stalinist mass murders and labour camps to be acknowledged much more explicitly.

Basing my approach on the assumption that there is an intrinsic interconnection between political, cultural, and social formations of memory (Gutman et al. 2015) and that narrations are able to propel an understanding between conflicting versions of the past (Rothberg 2009, Rigney 2014), I want to investigate how literature written by authors who have migrated from Eastern to Western Europe intermediates this current memory competition. Migrants are here understood as “carriers of memory” (Erll 2011) who bring along memories and historical burdens of their homeland and adopt cultural memories of the host countries (Rothberg 2011). In expressing this complex interrelation between various individual, national and cultural frameworks of remembrance, literature functions as medium of a transcultural understanding of the past.


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