With no effort, he had learned English, French, Portuguese and Latin. I suspect, however, that he was not very capable of thought. To think is to forget differences, generalize, make abstractions. In the teeming world of Funes, there were only details, almost immediate in their presence. ― Borges, 'Funes el memorioso', in Labyrinths, trans. by James E. Irby (London: Penguin Classics, 2000), pp. 87-95 (p. 94).
The eponymous character of Borges’ 'Funes el memorioso' [Funes the Memorious] has the Midas Touch in mnemonic form. His mind is an encyclopaedia involuntarily updated in real time, each experience another page in a tome with no page limit and no editor. Midas’ gift, as we know, was also his downfall, and Borges’ protagonist would also go on to be shackled by this extraordinary ability to retain knowledge. Weighed down by the volume of minutia, by the burden of recollection, Funes could not think.
Taking inspiration from Funes’ ‘problem’, this issue of the MHRA Working Papers in the Humanities explores not memory, but its loss — intentional, accidental, pathological, coercive, natural, endemic, etc. — across diverse forms of artistic media. Associated since the Greeks with the river Lethe, forgetfulness is often seen as a negative despite also possessing powerful creative potential. Elliptical narration provides a device for rendering crucial but traumatic moments implicit; literary omissions invite readers to complete the narrative themselves. Memory’s ‘blanks’, it turns out, need not lead to blanks on the page.
We invite papers in which the notion of forgetting is brought to the fore. Amongst the many possible areas contributors may wish to discuss are:
- Historical & political amnesia
- ‘Forgotten’ inspirations: rewritings & plagiarisms
- Memory lost-in-transmission: variations on postmemory, multidirectional memory, palimpsestic memory, prosthetic memory, etc.
- Collective forgetting as a counterpart to collective memory
- Memory loss & identity
- Unreliable narrators & elliptical narration
- Cultural history & memory
- Oral literary/cultural/historical traditions (& the loss of such traditions)
- Memory as book/act of writing as memory
- ‘Fake’ memoirs & self-conscious artificiality
- Fragmented memory
- Textual transmission: the loss & recovery of texts
- Trauma & forgetting as release
Proposals may cover a range of periods (from the medieval and Early Modern to the twenty-first century) and different national contexts (including English-, French-, Germanic-, Hispanic-, Italian-, Portuguese-, and Slavonic-speaking cultures). We hope to attract scholars working in a variety of fields (Modern Languages, English Studies, Comparative Literature, Cultural History, Film and Media Studies and the Digital Humanities, Art History, Performance and Reception History).
Working Papers in the Humanities is an electronic open-access journal intended to allow researchers to present initial findings or hypotheses that might, at a later stage, be eligible for publication in established scholarly journals. As such it will be of particular interest to postgraduate researchers, although established scholars are also invited to submit papers.
We invite proposals for papers of up to 4000 words in MHRA style, with completed essays to be delivered to the editors by 2nd July 2022. Abstracts of no more than 250 words should be sent, accompanied by a short biographical statement on the same page, to firstname.lastname@example.org by 15 March 2022.