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DRPS : Course Catalogue : School of Literatures, Languages and Cultures : European Languages and Cultures - Common Courses

Postgraduate Course: The Sins of the Father: Legacies of Violence and Literature on the Family (ELCC11020)

Course Outline
SchoolSchool of Literatures, Languages and Cultures CollegeCollege of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences
Credit level (Normal year taken)SCQF Level 11 (Postgraduate) AvailabilityAvailable to all students
SCQF Credits20 ECTS Credits10
SummaryThe violence of twentieth-century history remains a major focus of European literary production. This course looks at one recurring feature of the literature of memory: texts that focus on the family unit in order to make sense of the past and historical responsibility. We will think together about how texts about familial relationships create an arena for contesting and expanding collective memory and what mnemonic tendencies are evident in such texts, as well as investigating how widespread these kinds of texts are.
Course description This course examines representations of intergenerational conflict in literary texts that responds to historical violence and collective guilt. The point of departure for the course is the genre of ¿father literature¿ (Väterliteratur) that emerged in West Germany in the late 1970s as a confrontation with the history of National Socialism and on similar literary phenomena that have emerged and continue to emerge in other contexts. Focusing on three case studies, autobiographical novels from the Netherlands and Germany, we will consider the following questions:

1. How does writing about the family help to advance the discussion of historical violence in the public sphere? How does literature relate to other forms of public discourse in these cases?

2. What does literature focused on the family bring to the collective engagement with the past? What does it mean to ¿filter¿ history through the family unit?

3. Do we think that confronting legacies of violence inevitably involves the examination of family dynamics?

We will take an interdisciplinary approach to these questions, working with literary theory, historical texts, and quantitative and qualitative data to enhance our understanding of these kinds of texts. We will also consider historical and philosophical questions around responsibility for collective violence, with a particular focus on the Second World War and decolonisation. In addition to working with the three set texts, students will be asked to investigate similar literary phenomena and think comparatively between different national and linguistic contexts.

Week-to-week reading assignments will include secondary literature, critical theory and author interviews. Consistent preparation is required. Classes will include discussion sessions, mini-lectures and small-group conversations about texts. Following an introductory session, the class project will be conducted online with each student assigned individual tasks contributing to the successful completion of the project.
Entry Requirements (not applicable to Visiting Students)
Pre-requisites Co-requisites
Prohibited Combinations Other requirements None
Information for Visiting Students
High Demand Course? Yes
Course Delivery Information
Not being delivered
Learning Outcomes
On completion of this course, the student will be able to:
  1. utilise knowledge of the genre of father literature in its socio-historical and cultural contexts with reference to existing scholarship, and summarise and evaluate existing theoretical frameworks.
  2. draw on relevant literary analyses, historiography and critical theory to produce a detailed analysis of one or more literary texts.
  3. carry out independent research tasks according to an assigned brief and summarise research findings within the framework of a collaborative project.
  4. synthesise information and original analysis to produce a coherent and persuasive summary suitable for a general audience.
  5. use project management techniques and work collaboratively.
Reading List
In My Brother¿s Shadow by Uwe Timm (Am Beispiel meines Bruders, 2003; English translation Bloomsbury, 2006)

The Son and Heir by Alexander Münninghoff (De stamhouder, 2014; English translation, Amazon Publishing, 2020)

The Interpreter From Java by Alfred Birney (De tolk van Java, De Geus, 2016; English translation Apollo, 2020).

N.B. In class we will refer exclusively to the English translation of the texts, all German and/or Dutch terms and specialist vocabulary will be explained.

Erin McGlothlin, Second-Generation Holocaust Literature: Legacies of Survival and Perpetration (Camden House, 2006)

Geert Oostindie, Postcolonial Netherlands: Sixty-Five Years of Forgetting, Commemorating, Silencing, translated by Annabel Howland (Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 2011)

Carson Phillips, ¿Väterliteratur: Remembering, Writing and Reconciling the Familial Past,¿ in Remembering the Holocaust in Educational Settings, edited by Andy Pearce, 60-75 (London: Routlege, 2018)

Michael Rothberg, The Implicated Subject: Beyond Victims and Perpetrators (Redwood City, CA: Stanford University Press, 2019)

Ernestine Schlant, The Language of Silen
Additional Information
Graduate Attributes and Skills By the end of the course, students will have further developed their skills in the areas of research and enquiry, personal and intellectual autonomy, communication, and personal effectiveness. For further specification of these skills see the university's graduate and employability skills framework at
KeywordsMemory,literature,autobiographical writing,German,Dutch,the Netherlands,World War II
Course organiserMiss Jennifer Watson
Tel: (0131 6)50 2226
Course secretaryMiss Kara McCormack
Tel: (0131 6)50 3030
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