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Remembering Activism: The Cultural Memory of Protest in Europe


10 May 2021
Faculty of Arts of the University of Antwerp

Inaugural Lecture Francqui Chair

Stories in the Wild: How Public Life is Shaped by Narrative online

Inaugural lecture and seminar series by Professor Ann Rigney, laureate of the Belgian Francqui Chair 2020-2021 at the Faculty of Arts of the University of Antwerp.

“And together, we shall write an American story of hope, not fear.” As the closing words of President Biden’s inaugural speech in January 2021 illustrate, narrative is one of our most important sense-making tools. It is a central feature of literature and the arts, but also of many other domains. By ‘implotting’ real or imaginary events into beginnings, middles, and ends, we interpret experience and enhance its memorability. Where most studies of narrative have focussed on single texts, this lecture will instead approach ‘narrative in the wild.’ Combining narratology with insights from the field of cultural memory studies, it explores how narratives circulate in society; how they are re-produced and adapted across different media and platforms; and how they give meaning and direction to unfolding events.

Focusing on some of the most salient developments of 2020-21 – Corona, Black Lives Matter, QAnon – it will show how ‘making sense’ of the new involves re-using the old and explain why some narratives are more tenacious and have richer afterlives than others.

Finally, it will reflect on how narratives compete with each other and on the difficulties of removing them once they have taken hold of the imagination.