How does writing that emphasizes its own subjectivity—whether poetry, fiction, or memoir—add to our archives of individual or collective trauma? This talk addresses the role of memory and forgetfulness in subject-centered writing on the 1988 prison massacre in Iran. While the massacre has been documented and condemned in more outwardly objective genres like historiography, journalism, and legal activist writing, little critical attention has gone to subjective or imaginative literature (broadly conceived) that memorializes the same event. Introducing a corpus of such writings and proposing theoretical and methodological considerations for their study, Alavi argues that subjectivity in literature invokes not only acts of remembering but also modes of forgetting that are integral to living through and beyond the trauma. Attention to this dialect of memory and forgetting suggests how literature can both articulate the singular nature of each loss suffered in an event like the 1988 massacre and, at the same time, invite a reading of the event as universal, in this case as one episode in what is increasingly and more openly invoked as a collective national trauma that spans multiple decades and neither begins nor ends with the prison massacre.
Samad Alavi is senior lecturer in the Department of Culture Studies and Oriental Languages at the University of Oslo. His research focuses on modern Persian literary cultures, prison writing, and translation. His writings and translations have appeared in journals including Iranian Studies, World Literature Today, Michigan Quarterly Review, and the anthology Global Modernists on Modernism. He holds a PhD from the University of California, Berkeley (2013) and was assistant professor in Near Eastern Languages and Civilization at the University of Washington in Seattle from 2013 to 2018. He is author of the TRAFO blog article Against Remembering: The Fictional Truth of a Massacre.
This event is part of the activities of the SYRASP Working Group. more information
The event will consist of an on-site and a virtual component. Space for on-site participation is limited. Please register in advance via syrasp(at)trafo-berlin.de to attend on site or virtually.
The Prison Narratives of Assad’s Syria: Voices, Texts, Publics (SYRASP) is a five-year project funded by the European Research Council (ERC) under the European Union's Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme (Grant Agreement No. 851393), hosted by the Forum Transregionale Studien (Forum), and related to EUME. more information