Dr. Sladja Blažan (Julius-Maximilians-Universität Würzburg): "Ghosts and Their Hosts: Spectrality in American Romantic Literature"

Wednesday, 16.11.2016, 4:15 - 5:45 p.m., U2/00.25

The period chosen for this study, the peculiar stretch between the American Revolution and the Civil War, is a time in American history that is marked with narratives of liberation, change, and rejuvenation. It is also a period of missed encounters, wasted chances, and rejection. It is a period marked by a search for a new language to address the existence of slavery and genocide in face of pronouncing freedom for all within the grand narrative of establishing a "new" nation. So what language, what style, what images do leading writers of the post-revolutionary period choose? More often than not, it is the language of spectrality.

In her presentation, Dr. Blažan will offer a careful study of ghost-seers in American literature of the early national period. Rather than concentrating on ghosts, she will think about their hosts. The plurality of the first person in the face of a spectral presence is not unique to Shakespeare's Hamlet. Many a ghost-seer before and after this famous son has found herself confronting the question: "wherefore, what should we do?" The ghost comes with a task, and it is the ones still in their bodies, who are to respond with action. The apparition creates a relationship of responsibility through its return. Its appearance marks the seer as a survivor. What is the survivor's responsibility toward the dead who return to haunt the living? The responsibility of the ghost-seer towards the revenant marked within the act of entering a conversation with a spectral presence will be central to my reading of these encounters in the literature of the New Republic. How did American writers imagine these strange encounters with something that is not there, but wants to be marked, remembered, promised? And why did they decide to raise, conjure or summon what we agreed to call a ghost, embedded within a secular narrative? How does this spectral presence fit in the grand nation building narrative so prominent in the few decades after the American Revolution?

Dr. Blažan is Assistant Professor at the English and American Studies Department, University Würzburg. Since 2007 she has also been a member of the Summer School Faculty Language & Thinking at Bard College. Dr. Blažan is the author of numerous articles and reviews, and her book American Fictionary: Postsozialistische Migration in der amerikanischen Literatur was published in 2006. Her research interests include American romanticism, speculative fiction, transnationalism, ethnic literature, narrated communities, and trauma studies. Sladja Blažan also contributes to art catalogues and has participated (as writer, actress and/or dramatic advisor) in the production of plays in Germany, Switzerland and the USA.