A conference jointly organized by the Department of English and Comparative Literature, Goldsmiths, University of London, and The Centre for the Study of Cultural Memory, Institute of Germanic & Romance Studies, University of London
This conference marks the inauguration of The Centre for the Study of Cultural Memory.
Date: 4-6th February, 2010.
Venue: Institute of Germanic and Romance Studies, University of London
Astrid Erll (University of Wuppertal)
Andrew Hoskins (University of Warwick)
Dirk Moses (University of Sydney)
Michael Rothberg (University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign)
Susannah Radstone (University of East London)
Skeptical reactions to the rise of memory studies have focused on the viability of concepts such as “collective” memory. Can societies really remember collectively? More to the point, can individuals really remember what they have not directly witnessed or experienced? Is to speak of collective memory simply to speak of ideology or political fantasy? The concept of cultural memory has overcome this binary opposition between the individual and the collective, attending to their reciprocal relationship and the cultural grounds on which their mediation takes place (Assman). How, though, does memory work when events are remembered across and between cultures? In an age of globalization, is it still possible to speak of local and national memory, or do the local and national always exist in implicit and explicit dialogue with the transnational? Holocaust- and memory studies have begun to address these questions in tracing the globalization of Holocaust memory as a trope by which other modern atrocities are shaped and remembered, and, of course, the Holocaust has been incorporated into national memories in order to forget indigenous genocides and shore up ideals of nation (Huyssen and Patraka). Conversely, theories of vicarious witnessing have posited an ethical dimension to the remembrance of events across cultural boundaries. The ideas of “prosthetic” and “post” memory conceive of the remembrance, by those born afterwards or elsewhere, of events not witnessed, and of mass- mediated memory as something that does not wholly belong to (and define) the familial, ethnic or national group (Hirsch and Landsberg). (The idea of witnessing across cultural borders has not been without controversy in the academy.) Recent innovations in comparative historiography (Moses, Stone, Moshman), laying vital groundwork for developments in memory studies, have sought to remove the “conceptual blockages” in comparing modern atrocities, moving beyond notions of the Holocaust’s uniqueness that might inscribe a hierarchy of suffering across modernity, eliciting the structural continuities and discontinuities between atrocious events – between genocide and colonialism. Just as Moses has configured modernity in terms of a racial century, so in sociology and literary studies “race” has constituted an overarching narrative that brings together diverse modern spheres of both culturally creative and violent activity and identification (Cheyette and Gilroy). In postcolonial studies, concepts such as trauma have enabled a spatial rather than linear approach to the experiences of colony and postcolony (Durrant). In philosophy, conceptions of “bare life” have allowed an international consideration of state sovereignties and their biopolitical regimes (Agamben). In architectural and urban studies, city development and its architecture is found to articulate a globalized vernacular, which has implications for spaces and places of memory and memorialization. All of these disciplines find that it is increasingly difficult and problematic to isolate representations of past, which in turn calls attention to the need for the comparative study of memory as it takes an increasingly transcultural form – as Rothberg’s recent ground-breaking work on the multi-directionality of memory has shown.
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Conference organizers: Lucy Bond, Rick Crownshaw and Jessica Rapson (Goldsmiths); Katia Pizzi and Ricarda Vidal (Institute of Germanic and Romance Studies).
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