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Svend Erik Larsen

Svend Erik Larsen is Professor Emeritus of Comparative Literature, Aarhus University and currently Visiting Professor at Sichuan University. His areas of research include: language philosophy and semiotics; literature and culture in the modern city; the role of literature in the shaping of the fundamental ideas by which we, in different ways throughout history,
interpret our individual and collective lives, for example nature, solitude, memory, personal formation or Bildung. His recent publications include: “Literature in its media context”, Chinese Semiotic Studies, Vol. 16, No. 2, 05.2020, p. 189-201; “A Post-Imperial Stress Syndrome or a New Beginning?”, European Review, Vol. 28, No. 1, 2020, p. 102-117; as coeditor
with Cao, Shunqing with “Special Issue: Literary Studies Across Cultures: A Chinese European Dialogue”, Orbis Literarum. Volume 73, Issue 4, 2018. p. 309-382.

‘Stunde Null’: naming and re-naming

“Stunde Null” – this expression is used to indicate the end of the German Nazi regime in1945 and the beginning of a new Germany. This historical turning point was marked by the re-naming of the former Germany: No longer Deutsches Reich, but Bundesrepublik Deutschland, no Reichstag but Bundestag. Nazi symbols, institutions, values and paraphernalia were out. Naming and re-naming were part this iconoclastic attempt to undo an entire collapsed though recent past by turning the memory of it into a negative memory soon to disappear out of sight. Easier said than done, as we know. While for some the iconoclastic gesture is part of a forward-looking struggle, for others the response to a social and cultural
break-down is an attempt to turn the wheel of history backwards in a restorative movement nurtured by nostalgia, and again helped by naming and renaming – as the Nazis did with a term like Das Dritte Reich and its mythological, biblical and historical associations. Vergegenheitsbewältigung is a cumbersome process.
After the eighteenth-century European discussions about the basic historicity and secular nature of human culture and society, iconoclasm is more than an event in a particular area of culture in which canonized authorities and norms are dismantled, and becomes a notion that captures the at times contradictory complexity of historical processes. In this perspective, discussions of iconoclasm may also be part of an understanding of human identity formation in a world of permanently changing traditions. This is where literature and the arts meets history and sociology. After a short reference to the French Revolution and its
repercussions in the nineteenth century with regard to processes of naming and renaming, I will move to the post-colonial iconoclasm in India with the short story “Lawley Road” (1956) by R. K. Narayan (Rasipuram Krishnaswami Iyer Narayanaswami), an ironic account of a back-and-forth process of re-naming of streets and places in the aftermath of Indian
independence. As a coda, I will return with the Haïtian writer Édouard Glissant and his post-colonial reflections to the issue of historicity as an iconoclastic process.

Key words: Historicity, changing traditions, identity formation