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Bearing Witness

Bearing Witness is a lecture by Thomas Cooper (Eger) on the two Nobel laureates and their reflections on mechanisms and languages of oppression and their individual experience in witnessing these mechanisms in operation.

After completing his doctorate in Central Eurasian Studies and Comparative Literature at Indiana University in 2003, Thomas Cooper taught for two years in the Department of Slavic Languages and Literatures at the University of North Carolina before accepting a research and teaching fellowship at the Center for Comparative Literature and Society at Columbia University. He served as the Assistant Director of the Center before becoming a member of the faculty at the Eszterházy Károly University in Eger, Hungary. He has published in a variety of forums on the literature of Central Europe, translation theory and history, and the comparative study of literary traditions. He has also translated works of poetry and prose by numerous authors, including Dezső Kosztolányi, Zsuzsa Rakovszky, Imre Kertész, and 2009 Nobel Prize winner Herta Müller.

In his lecture, Dr Cooper analyzes literary accounts of the horrors of the Holocaust and atrocities endured by people living under communist regimes in Central and Eastern Europe. These have often met with the criticism that attempts to represent such traumas trivialize them by transforming experience into artifact. Traditional forms of narrative, whether historical or literary, are seen as inadequate to tragedies of unprecedented scale and brutality. In this context, the work of Nobel Prize winning authors Herta Müller and Imre Kertész assumes particular significance. As unremitting interrogations of formalized language, their novels and stories frustrate established interpretative reflexes, inviting inquiry into the sources of the credibility of conventional narrative and forcing re-examination of received versions of the past.

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