Online Lecture 3 "COVID-19 beyond Borders"

Julia Pröll and Benjamin Dalton

Tuesday, 15 June 2021, 4:30 pm

Julia Pröll (University of Innsbruck)

"Challenging the Re-Nationalization of Memories forced by the COVID-19 pandemic?: Dynamics of Transnational Memory in the Francophone Lockdown Diaries of Nancy Huston, Leïla Slimani and Wajdi Mouawad"


Julia Pröll


Almost everywhere in the Western World, the SARS-Covid-19 pandemic gave rise to a fashionable new literary genre: the diary of (home) confinement. In France, also francophone migrant voices such as Canadian-born Nancy Huston, Moroccan-born Leïla Slimani or Lebanon-based Wajdi Mouawad, published their experiences of a life in lockdown in newspapers (Slimani in Le monde), as a collection of chronicles (Huston's Je suis parce que nous sommes) or as an audio diary (Mouawad). Explaining confinement to her children in terms of a fairy tale – "I said to my children that it is a bit like in The Sleeping beauty" (Slimani 2020) –, especially Leïla Slimani found herself harshly criticized for romanticizing the lockdown without sufficiently reflecting her privileged viewpoint. However, given the important role of (transnational) memory and its border crossing dynamics, it seems vital not to reduce these testimonies to disengaged expressions of a privileged bourgeois upper class, comfortably at ease in their (second) residencies and affording the luxury of naïve self-exploration. Solitude, broken daily rhythms and routines, as well as overwhelming questions about one's own responsibility and fault, trigger, as we will see, suppressed and uncanny memories, as, for instance, Mouawad's recollection of the Lebanese civil war. Against the background of the pandemic, these memories of (physical and symbolic) violence not only appear in a new light but might also challenge the patriotic "renationalization [...] of memory" (Erll 2020, 866) that was forced by the Corona pandemic and move beyond simplistic victim-perpetrator-dichotomies that would not do justice to the complexity of the pandemic. 


Julia Pröll is an associate professor of French and Francophone literature at the department of Romance Studies at the University of Innsbruck (Austria). From 2014 to 2016, she was Humboldt fellow at the Universität des Saarlandes (Germany), where she carried out research on French and Francophone Physician-Writers. Her fields of research comprise French and Francophone contemporary literature (with a main focus on Michel Houellebecq and migrant literature), postcolonial theory, and interactions between literature and medicine. She recently co-edited a volume on French and Francophone physician writers (Médecins-écrivains français et francophones. Imaginaires – poétiques – perspectives interculturelles et transdisciplinaires. Würzburg 2018) as well as on transcultural victim narratives (Opfernarrative in transnationalen Kontexten, Berlin 2020). Her habilitation thesis "Changer la menace en chance": Transkulturelle Narrationen von Krankheit und Medizin bei französischsprachigen Migrationsautor/innen asiatischer Herkunft in Frankreich (1981-2014) which is concerned with representations of illness and medicine in the novels of Asian-based migrant writers will be published by Königshausen & Neumann in 2022.