Culture unbound : Journal of current cultural research
Year of publication
In this essay I examine the en-gendering of cultural memory in Honoré de Balzac´s story Adieu (1830), which proceeds from a repressed trauma originating in historical events. Balzac wrote the story in the spring of 1830, i. e. at a time when the French discontent with the Restoration regime was soon to explode in the July Revolution. The story is considered to claim that the Restoration regime’s repression of revolutionary history will recieve serious consequences in the present. But the question is how the now of the Restoration can best be linked to the then of the Revolution and the Empire? How can history be represented in a productive way, without silencing traumatic memories? My suggestion is that the abyss be-tween now and then has to be met with an ethically informed respect for difference. Stéphanie, the protagonist, dies when Philippe creates an exact replica of the traumatic situation in which they were separated many years ago. She then became a sex slave to the retiring French army, dehumanized during the hard Russian campaign, an experience that also dehumanized her. This Philippe refuses to acknowledge, since he wants to retrieve the woman he knew. That can of course never happen, but in insisting on it, I would claim that he actually renders Stéphanies life after the trauma impossible. Instead of emphasizing the distinction between past and present, Philippe overlooks it, with the severe consequence of Sté-phanie’s death. In my analysis I relate to pertinent discussions in the interdisciplinary field of cultural memory studies (an expanding field of research within the wider frame of cultural studies), but since it rarely discusses gender aspects I find it essential to relate also to feminist scholars who continually have scrutinized issues concerning memory and history writing.
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