Academic journal article Indiana Slavic Studies

The Fabric of Memory: Ewa Kuryluk's Textile and Textual (Self-)Respresentations

Academic journal article Indiana Slavic Studies

The Fabric of Memory: Ewa Kuryluk's Textile and Textual (Self-)Respresentations

Article excerpt

Much of the recent interest in trauma and its representations is rooted in early psychoanalysis and psychoanalytic approaches to trauma and literature. Women critics such as Shoshana Felman, Dori Laub, and Cathy Caruth have contributed to the intense debate on the nature of trauma and its effect on the ability to create narratives. This article explores the ways in which Ewa Kuryluk uses foldable images and metadiegetic narrative to re/create memory and identity in The Fabric of Memory: Ewa Kuryluk, Cloth Works, 1978-1987 (1987) and engages the same issues in the novel Century 21(1993). Both verbal and visual texts address the themes of circular recollection and the processing of memories. Kuryluk's novelistic and textile representations, linked by the theme of symbolic cutting of the skin surface to mark and excise a traumatic past, comprise an indictment of various forms of traumatic oppression, from domestic abuse to political traumas, including the Holocaust and communism. The two works may be read as one larger creative project meant to mount a revisionist challenge to the traditional, objectified presence of women in Western culture.

Ewa Kuryluk, born in Krakow in 1946, a graduate of the Academy of Fine Arts in Warsaw (1970), is a versatile, prolific, and widely exhibited artist and author of poetry, prose, essays, and art criticism. (1) Since 1995 she has divided her time between the United States and France, regularly returning to Poland to exhibit her works. Kuryluk's oeuvre defies easy classification: She belongs to the generation of artists and writers shaped by the Spring of 1968, emigre intellectuals in Paris who started Zeszyty Literackie. Her cloth works, however, are akin to the feminist art explorations of the seventies and eighties in the United States. Although her postmodernist novels situate her close to such younger writers as Izabela Filipiak and Manuela Gretkowska, the referential world in her works involves multiple European literary traditions and beyond, setting her apart from the aforementioned writers.

Ann Kar, one of Kuryluk's fictional doubles and the protagonist of Century 21, observes: "The world is broken, and so am I, but I keep talking with immortals" (125). Kar exists in a memory maze with such figures as Sextus Propertius, Goethe, Joseph Conrad, Italo Svevo, Osip Mandelshtam, and Anna Karenina, who meet and interact at their exclusive Society of International Vanity. Kuryluk reveals and reinvents these characters' lives, including their companions, their weaknesses, diseases, and multiple suicides. Disregarding chronology, Kuryluk superimposes fictional and historical events to create a palimpsest of history and memory. She strives to reveal the intimate experience of the silent, often victimized participants in the events recounted. An Afghan character in the novel states, "History is a series of holocausts and in their essence they resemble each other.... To feel the victims' pain, we have to recall their faces and fates, and slip into their skins ... we must remember the details. Clothes covered with blood" (44-45). In both her texts and drawings, there is tension between the unrealized, often traumatic, experience and empirically verifiable reality.

In his discussion of the nature of trauma in Beyond the Pleasure Principle, Freud cites the example of Tancred from Tasso's Gerusalemma Liberata, who inadvertently kills his beloved Clorinda in a duel while she is disguised in the knight's armor of the enemy (24). Finding refuge in a magic forest, out of despair he strikes at a tall tree with his sword. The cut bleeds and the voice of Clorinda, whose soul resides in the tree, tells him that he has wounded her again. The speaking wound confirms Tancred's compulsion to reenact his trauma and informs him that there is a sphere of experience to which he has no immediate access. Cathy Caruth observes, "The parable of the double wound reflects the repetitive quality of trauma, since Tancred is equally shocked and dismayed each time" (3). …

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