Cultural memory and literature: re-imagining Australia’s past

2017-02-03T03:57:40Z (GMT) by Molloy, Diane Leah
This thesis sets out to demonstrate that literature that uses dialogic and syncretic methods to describe a collectively shared experience contributes to cultural memory by recalling the absent and the forgotten and by proposing alternative ways to access and represent the past. I further argue that the intertextual nature and memory work of the texts I evaluate as memorial novels build a complementary and reciprocal relationship with each other and with other texts that respond to Australia’s past to allow for the growth and dispersal of meaning. Understanding how literature contributes to cultural memory has significance for contemporary understandings of Australian culture. As literature is involved in a continuous looping back to establish and reinforce cultural memory I argue that it takes a particular type of literature to challenge the common opinion and to insert into cultural memory alternative voices and stories, rather than reinforce official culture that insists on fixed or hierarchical forms and adheres to strict boundaries between genres. Following shifts in historical consciousness and theoretical debates about memory in the nineteen-eighties and nineties, there was a corresponding shift in Australian novels that respond to our past, particularly our violent past. The result was a number of what I call memorial novels, novels that articulate the interplay of history, trauma and memory in an effort to move beyond the familiar and the universal, to step outside official history, language and modes of storytelling, and through a process of reimagining the past recognise and expose narrative and linguistic frames of remembrance, and sometimes propose new ways of remembering. I use Renate Lachmann’s theory of cultural memory and intertextuality to trace the way the mechanisms of forgetting and remembering in literature construct cultural memory and how literature as a memory medium recalls previously silenced knowledge, restores outdated knowledge and reintegrates knowledge that was once considered unofficial, such as oral history and family memories as well as those aspects of the past that had been silenced, forgotten or misunderstood. The narratives are pluralist, ambivalent, heterogeneous and unresolved as narrators and characters re-imagine the past to transgress the traditional boundaries of form and content. Memorial novels rely less on the common polarities of good and evil, left and right, and black and white and recognise that Australian culture has “layers of identity” that can exist in a “pluralist and united world” (Pearson, “White Guilt” 245). History, trauma and memory come together in narratives that use hybrid storytelling modes to re-imagine the past, celebrate survival and offer hope for the future. To support my thesis I present a new evaluation of some well known Australian texts and evaluate some more recent texts against my definition of the memorial novel.