Date of Degree
PhD (Doctor of Philosophy)
First Committee Member
Second Committee Member
Third Committee Member
Fourth Committee Member
What are the intersections between literary and memorial studies? This study interrogates that question by combining critical readings of contemporary American literature (1969-present) with national memorials. My method of reading moves between physical memorials that provide canonical representations of American historical events and textual memorials that provide literary counter-readings of the same events. These texts challenge traditional memorial-making by reframing the discourses for the ways memorials function in American culture.
The study of memorial traverses several disciplines and fields of scholarship. Within the broad field of memorial studies, this dissertation examines the concerns of physical monuments and memorials, memory and counter-memory, trauma and terror, place and community, and absence and haunting. Situating both literary and physical memorials within these interconnected frameworks offers an interdisciplinary and multidirectional understanding of what memorials can be, what they mean, and what they do in the contemporary era.
A useful way to understand how literature can be framed as memorial is through recognizing its overlap with Pierre Nora’s concept of “lieux de mémoire,” or sites of memory. Nora defines lieux de mémoire as sites where memory eternally lingers. These lieux “are fundamentally remains, the ultimate embodiments of a memorial consciousness” (12). Commemorative texts fall into this categorization because of their existence as purely symbolic objects that nevertheless address the many interests of history and memory. Literature utilizes imaginative and emotive modes to reframe the ways in which sites of memory can work in American culture. In this way, they become “the ultimate [embodiment] of a memorial consciousness.”
The literature analyzed in this dissertation enriches memorial studies by adopting forms of counternarrative as radical frameworks for thinking and rethinking American memorialization. Literature’s theoretical production of memorial contrasts with most national memorials’ physicality. Thus, it is worth considering how literary abstraction allows for different ways of responding to history and trauma. The literary memorial’s dialogic facilities allow it to be subversive without seeking legitimacy from the national organizations that typically approve of the nation’s large built memorials. Therefore, literature does not perform merely as memorial but also as countermemorial. The countermemorial challenges authoritative structures by questioning patriotic tropes, resisting nationalistic expression, and reconstructing historical understanding. In doing so, it posits lyric and fiction as valid methods of truth-telling and memorial-making.
history, memorial, memory, monument, narrative, trauma
x, 300 pages
Includes bibliographical references (pages 0284-300).
Copyright © 2016 Sarah Lindsay Livesay
Livesay, Sarah Lindsay. "Literature as memorial: challenging histories and reckoning with absences through contemporary American literature." PhD (Doctor of Philosophy) thesis, University of Iowa, 2016.