The René Wellek Prize Citations 2017

Viet Thanh Nguyen’s Nothing Ever Dies: Vietnam and the Memory of War co-wins the 2017 Rene Wellek Prize with Jeffrey Cohen’s Stone. The Rene Wellek Prize is annually awarded, respectively, to the best book overall in comparative literature. Article originally published by ACLA.

Viet Thanh Nguyen, Nothing Ever Dies: Vietnam and the Memory of War, Harvard University Press, 2016. 384 pgs.

Viet Thanh Nguyen’s Nothing Ever Dies: Vietnam and the Memory of War is a clearly and beautifully written meditation on the memory of what in the United States is called the “Vietnam War.” Nguyen persuasively integrates a significant argument about memory and war into his nuanced analysis of specific texts and objects. These include films, novels, and museums, from the United States, Vietnam, and the other fields of battle in what he reminds us was a war that spilled considerably over what are conventionally imaged as its temporal and geographical boundaries. In the very active field of memory and trauma studies, he offers exceptional clarity about how to remember devastating violence without falling into a self-deceiving black-and-white binary of victim vs perpetrator. He acknowledges that memory oversimplifies, forgetting the ways in which each side of a war is itself divided and multiple, and tending to privilege memory of one’s own over memory of the other. He insightfully shows the reader the ways in which what he calls the “strategic resources of memory and forgetting” are contested by governments and other groups. As well as a remarkable, path-breaking intervention in the debate on memory, this book is a welcome addition to the literature on Vietnam.

Jeffrey Jerome Cohen describes Stone as a contribution to ecotheory, environmental studies, posthumanism, medieval studies and the new materialism.  It is this, and more.  He conveys with knowledge, enthusiasm and lyricism the enchantment of stone in medieval writings. Stone is written in a style that is expansive, meditative, slow, and accessible even to readers with no background in the field or the period. By the end of the book Cohen has brought us to a point of revelation: stone “rebukes epistemology,” no less. Stone is an extraordinary work of discovery and scholarship. Readers will look differently at rocks, gems, mountains and buildings made of stone in their world and in texts after reading it.

 

 

The 2017 Rene Wellek Prize Commitee:

Gabriella Safran (Stanford University) (2016-2017 Committee Chair)
Rajeswari Sunder Rajan (New York University)
Rebecca Comay (University of Toronto)

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