“Different Ways of Telling a Story”: Memories as Representations and Representations of Memories in Barnes, Woolf and Tolstoy

Proceedings of The 7th International Conference on New Findings in Humanities and Social Sciences

Year: 2022



“Different Ways of Telling a Story”: Memories as Representations and Representations of Memories in Barnes, Woolf and Tolstoy

Elena Bollinger



Reflecting upon the limits of verbal representation, Tolstoy struggles to grasp a meaning of the relationship between language, ‘silence’ and memory: “It’s precisely what is not ‘I’ that is immortal” (Tolstoy, 49:129). Tolstoy’s argument also raises complex questions about the relation between social and individual memory. While the role the arts and other media play in shaping the way people think about the past is undoubtedly important, the concept of a shared memory (A.Erll, 60) becomes one of the most reliable ‘cliches’ of the modern novel, as Woolf critically states: “where is music, imagery, and a voice speaking from the heart?” (Woolf: 267).

This paper examines the interplay between a unique, nonspeaking self and its verbal representation in literature, as experienced in memoirs written by Barnes, Woolf and Tolstoy. Considered as a source for cultural memory, memoirs provide valuable critical insights into the processes responsible for the construction and circulation of memory cultures. In Saunder’s perspective, “memories are always textualized” (323), recorded as mediations or narrativizations of the experienced events. According to R. Lachmann, life-writing is tendentiously intertextual, to the extent that the attempts to narrate a self do necessarily imply a (counter)-productive transformation – often unacknowledged – of the remembered past beyond the limits of any form of textuality: “You took life and turned it, by some charismatic, secret process, into something else…” (Barnes: 7).

Sharing a common belief in art as one of the most valuable “means of intercourse between man and man” (Tolstoy: 39), these novelists seek to (re)address the dominant memory of one’s subjective self, experiencing a “completely new liberation from personality” (Tolstoy, 59: 89). Such a non-linear sequel, thus established between three literary contexts, could actually become a productive dialogic site of counter-memory, concerned with the ethical implications of remembering and forgetting and directed towards the dynamic movement of memory across time and space. Focusing on silences and omissions, it offers a kind of an inter-generic displacement of (hi)stories and cultures which, as Tolstoy states, “could only be read abroad, in a foreing language, but one would certainly read [it].”

keywords: Memory, Counter-Memory, Literary Representation, Remembering, Forgetting.