Desperate Affirmation: on the Aporetic Performativity of Memoria and Testimony, in the Light of W.G. Sebalds Story Max Ferber; with a Theological Response

L. ten Kate, B. Philipsen, E. Borgman

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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.
    Original languageAmerican English
    Pages (from-to)200-220
    Number of pages21
    JournalLiterature & theology
    Issue number3
    Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2005

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