CfP I Literature and Democracy, or How to Read History Otherwise I Tunis I 18-19 April 2019







Literature and Democracy, or How to Read History Otherwise

18-19 April 2019

University of Tunis/ FSHST


Academy of Sciences, Letters and Arts Beit-Al-Hikma

I try to rewrite history in order to reflect the point of view of people who have been excluded, because the history we’ve had up to now has only been the history seen from on high, history from the point of view of politicians, generals, militarists and industrialists…

Howard Zinn

Over the past few decades, the legitimising of History as a truthful, totalising and scientific narrative has been seriously questioned. By this fact alone, the relations between History and Literature are being redefined. Far from bringing back the “old debate” that consists of confronting novelistic narrative and historical narrative, intelligence of the past is in need of writing in the literary sense of the term, just as literature is in need of history, sociology, anthropology, psychology, etc. At this conference, it seems to us judicious to study the relations between History and Literature as complementary channels of access to the past and to reflect on the various modes of production of narratives (fictional and/or historiographic) that specifically inform the realities underlying them.

This call for papers is restricted to the members of the GDRI

One of the objectives of the conference is to engage a comparative reflective history, a way of putting into perspective the low spots and high spots of established sources and the knowledge acquired (literature included) so as to go towards other reservoirs. Rereading History presupposes dwelling on various traces that crop up in order to take another look at historical periods, bringing out testimonies, writing practices and subjectivities as yet unknown, etc. The role of History as shared exercise, as a discipline of comparison through time and space can be put alongside literary narratives and artistic narratives in order to give a more interdependent vision of past and current situations of democracy in the world.

History as a discipline is in the process of opening up to new fields and uses; it is turning towards the private, the intimate, the domestic and even emotion. It is well-known that History has undergone falsifications and manipulations by those who are in power! Writers such as Claude Simon (La route des Flandres, 1960; Les Géorgiques, 1981), Rachid Boudjedra (Le Démantèlement, 1982; La Prise de Gibraltar, 1987), for example, seek to rewrite history in order to demystify it. It is not the major facts of history, great battles or even the famous pacts as they are related in school textbooks or in official texts that interest these authors; all that is important for them is individual, subjective, interiorised history, the painful experience lived by those to take part in making History. This is what Boudjedra calls “History steeped in human flesh and pain” (Gafaiti, 1987, 38). It is in fact less History as knowledge that is called into question in certain literary texts than the traditional forms of its legitimation. Writing is clearly situated within the historical context by which it is fashioned, a context that determines a point of view on the past but that also involves an image of the present, since the writing of History takes place in a determined time and space.

The relations between History and Democracy have constructed an erudite knowledge translated into textbooks around two commonplaces which have it that democracy began with Athens to touch down on the American and European experiences starting in the 18th century. Rereading History amounts to a reasoning that makes it possible to put alongside one another different political and cultural contexts that are nowadays confounded into an all-embracing globalisation. Writers such as the Peruvian Mario Vargas Llosa (La guerre de la fin du monde, 1981) or the Algerian Slimane Benaissa (Ecriture et démocratie, 1993) try to show in their writings that an imported model of democracy might not necessarily be adequate and able to adapt to a particular political context and that what was prepared progressively over decades in Europe might be a sudden shock in South America or in North Africa, the eruption of an already formulated reality that must be assumed in one fell swoop in the space of a few years in the form of rupture and violence. Manifestations of this violence today are expressed in forms that require us to link together readings of texts and traces of our various national histories, confined to narratives that are unaware of one another.

Revolts in general and those of the “Arab spring” in particular show a concern for dignity and well-being, a desire for equality and recognition. These recent events reactivate the values on which on which democracy is based by questioning their acquired experience and limits. The road to democracy now underway throws light on the symptoms of crisis in the older democracies. This calls for a rereading of History that would fulfil the needs of taking account of established histories, their authors and their uses as well as accumulated oversights, shortcomings, lies, misunderstandings and interpretations. To what extent does rereading History in literary works participate in a more solid basis for democracy? Such a link could highlight more than one relationship between literatures and historical knowledge.

One of the stakes of democracy lies in the management of memory. How can memory be kept alive (cf. the role of archives, testimonies) in order to compensate for shortcomings and pierce through a few “black holes” that might have engulfed History and its darker periods? Writing as a matter of memory becomes necessary, cathartic. Testimonies by political prisoners (Ahmed Marzouki, Gilbert Naccache), narratives about torture, descriptions of humiliations (Malika Oufkir, Carlos Liscano, Angel Parra, Liao Yiwu, Viet Thanh Nguyen, Samir Kourda), the atrocities of genocides (Franz Werfel, Caroline Salarian, Véronique Tadjo) require investigations in the direction of individual and collective memory in order to “march on forgetfulness”, to retrace both the history of conflicts and that of changes, to put oneself alongside the forgotten ones, the vanquished, the dominated.

Moreover, bringing up to date the founding narratives, through memory, appears to prefigure the work of producing historical memory. To what extent do historical narratives that retrace the horrors of wars, denounce the oppression of totalitarian regimes or obscurantist divagations contribute to proposing a new vision of the world, more modern, more democratic? Does reassessing historical events (wars of a independence, abolition of slavery, etc.) or sociological facts (working-class struggles, women’s emancipation movements, etc.) make it possible for collective memory to play its role in “recognition of the past as having been” (Ricœur, L’écriture de l’histoire et la représentation du passé, 2000, 747)?

By combining questions about contexts and questions about what might serve as a source or a document, this conference hopes to broaden the horizons of research with dialogues between literary scholars and historians from several countries in order to decompartmentalise problematics and institutions and to introduce a more cross-disciplinary approach into scientific milieus and political environments.

To satisfy these objectives, it seems necessary to take up the following lines of reflection:

1/ Rereading of History: lies, falsifications or interpretations?

2/ Role of sources and archives in rereading the past

3/ Rethinking democracy in “historical novels”

4/ Poetics of historical narration and languages of memory

Lectures can be given in French, English or Spanish.

We ask the members of the network who wish to give a paper at the conference to send us a title and an eight-line summary no later than January the 31th 2019 to the following addresses:



Scientific Committee:

BENDANA Kmar (ISHTC), BRUN Catherine, (ParisIII, Sorbonne nouvelle), COMBE Dominique, (ENS), DAROS Philippe, (ParisIII, Sorbonne nouvelle), GAHA Kamel, (Université El Manar, ISSHT), FITOURI-ZLITNI Sonia, (Université de Tunis, FSHST), LAKHDAR Latifa (Université de Tunis, FSHST), MRAD DALI Inès (EHESS), OMRI Mohamed-Salah, (University of Oxford, St. John’s College), Roussin Philippe, (EHESS), SKANDER Kamel (Université de Sfax, FLSH), VEG Sebastian (EHESS)

Organisation Committee:


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