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300 Spartans vs. the Danaids: Competitive Memory and Classical Reception in the Contemporary Memory Wars

Maarten De Pourcq (Radboud University Nijmegen, Netherlands)

300 Spartans vs. the Danaids: Competitive Memory and Classical Reception in the Contemporary Memory Wars

Maarten De Pourcq (Radboud University Nijmegen)

 

This paper examines the changing role of classical reception in the ongoing ‘memory wars’ in Europe. Different social and cultural groups are competing nowadays for public attention with the aim of preserving their specific cultural traditions, memories and narratives. Michael Rothberg has termed this practice “competitive memory”, referring first and foremost to minorities lobbying for the acknowledgment of their traumatic losses in the course of a national history.

The idea can also be applied to a wider tendency in current identity politics. Conservative political movements have started to express their concern for the conservation of ‘their’ (previously believed to be) canonical national, regional or local traditions. They are disgruntled by the post-colonial and gender critiques of these traditions which have been adopted, usually in a mitigated form, by established, mostly left-wing, political parties, or have attracted much more media attention. These movements have started referencing classical traditions in the public domain much more openly and effectively than before. It is my hypothesis that they are doing so not just for the cultural prestige of these traditions but also for the very fact that they are being contested. In so doing, they are appealing to a cultural conservatism which in times of cultural change, globalisation and socio-economic distress may not only work as a solace but also as a moral statement that they are in their turn contesting the direction which their political opponents have taken and which is presented as an ill-fated and insolent attempt to disrupt the costly fabric of their cultural group, if not of society as a whole.

This paper will take two related cases as its starting point: the reception of Frank Miller’s 300 by the Europeanist Identitary Movement, and their reaction against the performances of Die Schutzbefohlenen, Elfriede Jelinek’s adaptation of Aeschylus’ Suppliants, with illegal immigrants on stage, playing the Danaids. It will look at these cases from the perspective of memory studies, more specifically by discussing Max Silverman’s concept of “palimpsestic memory” and Rothberg’s “competitive memory”.

300 Spartans vs. the Danaids: Competitive Memory and Classical Reception in the Contemporary Memory Wars

Maarten De Pourcq (Radboud University Nijmegen)

This paper examines the changing role of classical reception in the ongoing ‘memory wars’ in Europe. Different social and cultural groups are competing nowadays for public attention with the aim of preserving their specific cultural traditions, memories and narratives. Michael Rothberg has termed this practice “competitive memory”, referring first and foremost to minorities lobbying for the acknowledgment of their traumatic losses in the course of a national history.

The idea can also be applied to a wider tendency in current identity politics. Conservative political movements have started to express their concern for the conservation of ‘their’ (previously believed to be) canonical national, regional or local traditions. They are disgruntled by the post-colonial and gender critiques of these traditions which have been adopted, usually in a mitigated form, by established, mostly left-wing, political parties, or have attracted much more media attention. These movements have started referencing classical traditions in the public domain much more openly and effectively than before. It is my hypothesis that they are doing so not just for the cultural prestige of these traditions but also for the very fact that they are being contested. In so doing, they are appealing to a cultural conservatism which in times of cultural change, globalisation and socio-economic distress may not only work as a solace but also as a moral statement that they are in their turn contesting the direction which their political opponents have taken and which is presented as an ill-fated and insolent attempt to disrupt the costly fabric of their cultural group, if not of society as a whole.

This paper will take two related cases as its starting point: the reception of Frank Miller’s 300 by the Europeanist Identitary Movement, and their reaction against the performances of Die Schutzbefohlenen, Elfriede Jelinek’s adaptation of Aeschylus’ Suppliants, with illegal immigrants on stage, playing the Danaids. It will look at these cases from the perspective of memory studies, more specifically by discussing Max Silverman’s concept of “palimpsestic memory” and Rothberg’s “competitive memory”.

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