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Interview with Carol Bernstein

Mary E. Garrett Alumnae Professor of English and Professor of Comparative Literature


Carol Bernstein (Ph.D., Yale) specializes in the nineteenth century, teaching courses in Romantic and Victorian literature. She has published on the poetry of George Meredith, on the nineteenth century urban novel and on literary theory. Her teaching reflects her interest in the connections between literature, philosophy and psychoanalysis; her courses examine a variety of modern critical theories. She is active in the program in Comparative Literature; among her courses cross-listed in the program is The Politics of Cultural Memory.



FH: - Could you remember the time when you started to think about memory?


Carol Bernstein- Yes. It was in 1995, and a German friend and colleague and I had organized a conference on cultural memory in a very odd place in the Adirondack mountains in New York and we had a group of people who were scholars in memory come from a number of places in the North East. But also we had two people from France and two from Germany. I can name them, for you if you want to know who they are. From Germany they were Lutz Niethammer and Borghard Knieger and from France, they were Robert Franck, and Henri... I'm forgetting his last name, but he's a major scholar in cultural memory and it will come to me soon... And then we had people like Jeffrey Harman, and Andreas Hussan and Barbie Zelizer. It was a wonderful group of people. And we also had Philip Gourevitch, who had just come from Rwanda and he was reporting on it for The New Yorker but he gave us a preview of the genocide that was happening there. The genocide had been the year before, but he had done some work into it, that was his cultural memory contribution. So that was the beginning of it.


- 1995.


- 1995. Ten years ago.


- And at what point are you now in working on rationality and cultural memory?


Carol Bernstein- - Well my main, my major interest, because my discipline is comparative literature, is to work with various forms of literature with memorials and other art forms and and with dance. And what I've worked out is a design for a book that runs along those issues and which are very close to the ones I outlined today. And for some of them it means finding a new language, like dance, which hasn't entered into it but um I've also written some pieces, some segments of it but I'm sure they'll all be changed when they get put into the book itself.


FH: Forsythe in Frankfurt, he had an experimental... in a theater which closed, where he worked, but he's not really working on memory but sometimes he tries to. He's contextualizing in the pieces he's doing, the situation in which his company is... The last piece he did in the theater that was closed was "We Live Here".


Carol Bernstein- - I saw him in 2000 and didn't think of him then as a memory person, Sasha Waltz and "Körper" as a kind of...


FH:- And you worked together with Sasha Waltz?


Carol Bernstein- I didn't work with her, I just ...That was before I even thought of using dance in my work. There are a couple of African American dancers who have done a lot of work on memory, dances on memory, Alvin Ailey and Ralf Lemon, and Bill T. Jones and there is a French dancer, Maguy Maran, who has done a piece on South America. It's called "One Can't Eat Applause". It's based on the work of Eduardo Galliano and there is another person, another group - The Cambodian National Dance Theater which was decimated during the Kamir Rouge regime and reconstructed its entire national tradition so it's a different kind of question that one asks. Dance seems to be so much a part of the life of the people. One anthropologist's report said that during the period of exile, Cambodians had hardly any water and were guarded by the troops of the Indonesians where they had taken refuge, were teaching dance to their children. I think it's a sign of when you're dancing there or under fire, you know, outside another exile camps, of how much it means to the group.


FH: could you remember the time when you started to work about, to think about dance?


Carol Bernstein- It's a long and a short story. The long story is that I've been studying dance since I was in High School, secondary school, and then when I stopped dancing, I just followed it in many forms and when I began to teach courses in cultural memory at my college, I began looking at videos and began with Bill T. Jones and also Tango: Carlos Torres' movie has something about that. So those were the two things and I started with film and then moved into performance and it's only in the last year or two that it's become very important to me as a kind of limit condition for cultural memory. In other words, it's something that doesn't require verbal articulation but it's something which is conveyed to, you know, through the body, and so it provides a different kind of language.


FH:- Yeah, yeah, that's right. How the body is incorporated with memory probably...


- Yes. Yes.


- Interesting and behavior is changing...


Carol Bernstein- - You know, sometimes you'd think it out, sometimes as a choreographer just can tell you about memory that you didn't know you had, like the one I mentioned this afternoon. But there are others. Alvin Ailey has a dance called "Rainbow Round My Shoulder" which is about chain gangs in the American South. The rainbow is a shape of the arc shape of the pick axes chain gangs use. It's not a beautiful image.That dance was choreographed by Donald McKayle but Alvin Ailey has a dance called "Revelations" where he worked with a number of the African American church-goers and he had the parasols, the hats, the dresses they would wear, the gestures they would make became part of this dance. So I think in a way, dance is that medium that can tell you something about it... I suppose Cole Taylor would work into that too, because when he uses popular dance forms like American Boogie Woogie and that's really a form of World War II dance.


FH: Thank you very much.