Annual Graduate Student Conference

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Department of English 14th Annual Graduate Student Conference, University of Ottawa
The Art of Forgetting: Memory, Loss, and Revision

Conference Program: 14th_annual_graduate_student_conference_-_program.pdf (pdf, 1,299.85 KB)




The conference will be hosted online and will run on the following dates:

Friday, March 5th, 2021
Saturday, March 6th, 2021
Sunday, March 7th, 2021

The loss of memory can extend from the deeply personal to broader social and collective
experiences. The art of ‘forgetting,’ or ars oblivionalis, allows us to reflect on how we
memorialize this loss through both private and public monuments to our memories and shared
pasts. Umberto Eco believed an ars oblivionalis was impossible: he maintained that deliberate
forgetting couldn’t be achieved and that any framework erected to understand such an art would,
paradoxically, forestall the natural processes of oblivion. For Nietzsche, ‘active’ forgetting could
only be practiced as selective remembering. Nevertheless, many writers and theorists have
examined forgetting in diverse and productive ways. In Forgetful Remembrance (2018), Guy
Beiner has argued that forgetting is feasible, but Eco was not entirely wrong: forgetting exercises
do not result in total obliteration of memory, but in its diminution. Forgetting therefore gives
expression to the ethical responsibility memorializing confers on us in the present.

Forgetting exerts a considerable influence on storytelling. Writing about the Holocaust, Paul
Ricoeur has cautioned that forgetting will “kill the victims twice,” but remembering can “prevent
life stories from becoming banal” (Figuring The Sacred 290). M. NourbeSe Philip sees
significance in the “residue of memory” which remains after we forget, and draws an essential
analogy between loss, what is left, and “the attempted erasure of the memories of the Africans
brought as slaves to the New World” (“A Long-Memoried Woman” 146-147). Dionne Brand,
by contrast, narrates the conflict arising from deliberately forgetting trauma in her novel In
Another Place, Not Here (1996). Forgetting in Yoko Ogawa’s novel The Memory Police (1994)
creates possibilities for exploring the power of memory and the trauma of loss. These areas of
inquiry prompt us to ask what further possibilities the art of forgetting generates.

For this year’s conference, we hope to consider the ethical responsibility for remembrance and to
probe the relationship between memory and forgetting generally. Broadly, we ask what is the
textual relationship between cultural memory and forgetting? Do approaches to understanding
‘forgetting’ change when we examine collective remembrance rather than individual memory?
Why do different groups of people interpret the same events differently—even when the facts are
not disputed? What is the utility in exploring trauma and violence when we risk the activation of
painful memories? What remembrance do we owe people we have lost and how is that reflected
in the monuments we create to commemorate them? How does forgetting shape history, our
stories, and narrative?


Potential topics can include, but are not limited to the following:

"Forgetting as an aspect of memory Archival studies
Collective memory and social forgetting "Forgotten" stories, "lost" narratives and experiences (e.g. disability studies)
Loss of identity, culture, geographical or historical space (e.g. diaspora studies) Memoir studies
Nationalism and propaganda Trauma theory and psychoanalysis
Monuments, commemoration, and remembrance Dementia and mental health narratives
Holocaust/Shoah Episodic memory and mis-remembering
"Fake news" and rumour Sites of oblivion
Narratology and the unreliable narrator Literature of memory/mnemotechnic literature
Vernacular/alternative historiography Active forgetting
Performance and oral histories Testimony literature
Uncovering untold histories (e.g. queer and/or BIPOC narratives) Time and temporality

Feel free to contact our conference organizers at if you have any questions.


Past Conferences

(2020) Life After the Fall: Ruins in the Literary and Cultural Imaginary
(2019) The Age of Anxiety: Literary Studies in a Culture of Risk

Past EGSA Conferences




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