Memory as Forgetting in the Prose Fiction of Serhiy Zhadan and Volodomyr Rafieienko
The preservation and dissemination of national memory has become а main concern of post-Euromaidan Ukraine, as it has faced (geo)political, economic, social, and cultural challenges inflicted by the ongoing military conflict in Eastern Ukraine. In response to the war, Ukraine’s state agencies and institutions began to regulate stratagems for the remembering and selective forgetting of the Soviet past. At the same time, contemporary Ukrainian writers have contributed differently to these issues, offering innovative approaches to memory as forgetting. This paper aims to conceptualize forgetting as a dominant mode in recent war narratives by Serhiy Zhadan and Volodymyr Rafieienko. Their novels, The Orphanage (2017) by Zhadan and Longitude of the Days (2017) and Mondegreen (2019) by Rafieienko, provide complex and interesting material upon which to consider the dynamics of memory and forgetting as something indispensable for Ukrainian society’s renewed identity. Both Zhadan and Rafieienko develop the tradition of Eastern Ukrainian literature. They are prominent writers and public intellectuals whose works have received national and international acclaim for their idiosyncratic style, imagination, and active civic position regarding the conflict in the Donbas. Through analysis of mnemonic poetics and narrative strategies in the novels, this article demonstrates how the authors’ protagonists, both of whom are displaced persons, engage with various modes of cultural and individual memory in order to make sense of their dislocation and become active subjects. Using the concept of “memory on the move,” as well as a phenomenological approach to memory, I show how individual memory and forgetting are mediated in texts and how aberrations, gaps, and loss of memory particularize the human experience of the war.