Ethics of Storytelling: Historical Imagination in Contemporary Literature, Media and Visual Arts

Research project “Ethics of Storytelling and the Experience of History in Contemporary Arts”; Emil Aaltonen Foundation, 2013–15; Department of Comparative Literature, University of Turku
04.06.2015 - 06.06.2015
Dr. Kaisa Kaakinen

What strategies do contemporary arts (such as literature, film, visual, media and performative arts) employ to narrate experiences that resist telling and imagining, such as experiences of traumatic histories and limit events? What ethical issues do their processes of storytelling involve?

The international conference Ethics of Storytelling: Historical Imagination in Contemporary Literature, Media and Visual Arts invites scholars to address the ethical dimension of storytelling and its intertwinement with the historicity of experience. It investigates how different modalities of storytelling enable diverse ways of coming to terms with traumatic historical experiences, including war and political conflicts, and the intersecting histories of violence linked to colonialism and migration. The conference explores ethics of storytelling particularly in relation to the ways in which the contemporary arts work with historical imagination and the realm of the possible, from the perspective of subjects of experience and of cultural processes of meaning-formation.

While much of poststructuralist and postmodern theorization endorsed an aesthetics of the ineffable which regarded narrative as a violent form of appropriation, the recent years have seen a surge of interest in the ethical potential of storytelling. For example, the work of thinkers like Jan and Aleida Assmann, Paul Ricoeur and Dominick LaCapra has shown the relevance of narrative for cultural memory and for working through cultural trauma; Adriana Cavarero has explored the desire for one’s story in relation to an ontology of relationality and vulnerability; and the recent work of Michael Rothberg and Max Silverman foregrounds the multidirectional and palimpsestic character of memory: the ways in which fictional narratives produce new insights by bringing together different times and places into new constellations of similarities and differences.

In relation to these recent debates, the conference endeavours to shift the emphasis of the discussion on the ethics of representation to the ethics of storytelling as a form of imagination. How do differ-ent artistic practices of storytelling contribute to cultural memory by creating new constellations of the past, present and future? What ethical potential does storytelling have as a process of imagining the past that opens up new possibilities of experience, action and thought? We invite scholars across disciplines and cultural contexts into a conversation that highlights the potential of storytelling to unsettle dominant historical narratives by mobilizing the imagination of alternative realities, possi-bilities, courses of action and orientations towards the future. The conversation takes place in the increasingly global context of artistic production and reception, where the relationship between subjects of experience, cultural memory and ethics of storytelling is evermore timely.

The possible topics include but are not limited to:
- the contribution of arts to cultural memory and historical imagination
- narrative and memory as multidirectional/palimpsestic
- the ethical and violent potential of storytelling
- narrative imagination in relation to history, politics, the everyday and the literary/artistic
- ontology of vulnerability as a basis for rethinking violence
- artworks as constellations of intersecting histories of violence
- the crisis and return of storytelling
- different forms of narrative and issues of power
- the arts as forms of alternative historiography
- ethics of storytelling in relation to narrative studies, trauma studies and Holocaust studies, their interrelations
- the dialogical, relational aspects of storytelling
- art and the dimension of the possible
- forging the past and future in the present, issues of futurity
- the presence of the past (such as the experience of war) in the present
- affectivity, embodied experience and storytelling
- changing conditions of production and reception of stories in the globalized world
- how do the arts probe, explore and develop alternative modes of storytelling as ways of working through historical traumas
- arts as inquiry and arts studies as a form of imagination

Confirmed keynote speakers:
- Aleida Assmann (Universität Konstanz)
- Michael Rothberg (University of Illinois)
- Leslie A. Adelson (Cornell University)
- Anna Reading (King’s College London)
- Ernst Van Alphen (Leiden University)
- Molly Andrews (University of East London)

Proposals for individual papers or panels
Please provide the title and the abstract (max. 300 words) of the paper you are proposing; your name, institutional affiliation, and email address; and a brief statement (max. 100 words) about your work and your publications. If you are proposing a panel, also include a brief statement of the panel’s objectives.

Please send the proposals (PDF or Word) to the conference secretary, Dr. Kaisa Kaakinen,, by 15 November 2014.

The conference is organized by the research project “Ethics of Storytelling and the Experience of History in Contemporary Arts” (Emil Aaltonen Foundation, 2013–15, Project Leader: Prof. Hanna Meretoja), in collaboration with:
- Comparative Literature, University of Turku
- Cultural History, University of Turku
- Media Studies, University of Turku
- School of History, Culture and Arts Studies, University of Turku
- Narrare: Centre for Interdisciplinary Narrative Studies, University of Tampere

The event is the 3rd Rethinking Arts Studies Conference (University of Turku).


Kaisa Kaakinen

Ethics of Storytelling: Historical Imagination in Contemporary Literature, Media and Visual Arts, 04.06.2015 – 06.06.2015 Turku, in: H-Soz-Kult, 24.09.2014, <>.
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