Going to the archive is not always a conscious choice. As I write about the 2019 Graduate Symposium in Memory Studies (Friday 03/01/2019), I feel like a mediator between the notes in my notebook and my personal memory of the event. At times both forms of inscription work in tandem, but at other times they seem to be at odds with each other. Much beyond my own mediation, this year’s Symposium illustrated the potent research being conducted by Holocaust, Genocide, and Memory Studies (HGMS) members and scholars who are dealing with memory studies from a plurality of angles.
In her assessment of Agata Tuszynska, Lizy Mostowski made a compelling analysis about how the Holocaust blurred the frontiers between the sacred and the profane, as evidenced by the destruction of cemeteries. Her Derridian reading of Tuszynska allowed Mostowski to thread the importance of dream in the novel as contingent to the architecture of the Death Drive. Sarah Chitwood examined Patrick Modiano’s novel Dora Bruder, and her careful analysis pushed us to consider how archives might be public institutions, but their contents are mediated by private entities. I attempted to show how the walls of two prisons, one in Argentina (Caseros) and the other in Ecuador (Ex-Penal García Moreno), narrate archival practices that have been destroyed by the State.
After archive fever, the following panel brought some fascinating engagement with the body and memory. Helen Makhdoumian focused on the spatial demarcations created through the movement of the body in Susan Power’s The Grass Dancer (1994). Naomi Taub examined, through multiple articles by James Baldwin and Tony Eprile, the intersection between whiteness and Jewishness. Dilara Caliskan brought an ethnographic lens to discuss how a trans woman was memorialized through her funeral. Connecting the weight of guilt, the destruction of the body, and brutal state violence, Estibalitz Ezkerra discussed Twist (2018), the novel by Harkaitz Cano that narrates the assassination of two ETA militants in the Basque Country.
In between panels, keynote speaker Nafissa Thompson-Spires read some excerpts from her award-winning book Heads of the Colored People (2018). Her wonderful short story “Belles Lettres” shows how memory can be mobilized in the context of epistolary exchanges between two African-American mothers who have sent their daughters to PWI (Primary White Institutions). Thompson-Spires pointed out that writing about memory can be ludic and painful at the same time, but accurate engagement with time allows the mixture of registers.
The members of the panel about the state and memory sought to place into dialogue strategies to memorialize through and beyond institutions. Jorge Rojas assessed the role of Colombian “Acción de Cultura Popular” during the armed conflict that has affected Colombia since the second half of the Twentieth century. ArCasia D. James-Galloway focused on the connection between race and gender in different school desegregation processes between 1968 and 1980. Daria Semenova focused on children’s literature produced by emigré Ukrainian writers, and the function of those texts in creating alternative narratives about national identity. Piercing into the pistons of commemoration and erasure at work in post-dictatorship Chile, Ethan Madarieta theorized how different performers have embodied memory as an aesthetic and political tool.
The Symposium concluded with a deep engagement between memory and borders. Megan Smith inquired into speculative fiction, and the role of fiction in the production of utopian and dystopian politics. Ragini Chakraborty analyzed Saadan Hasan Manto’s well-known short story “Toba Tek Singh” (1954), examining how mental health institutions are connected with the formation of political borders. Sana Saboowala presented her fascinating research about the intersection between memory and genetics. This year’s Symposium was a wonderful occasion for intellectual solidarity and collaboration. Can’t wait for next year’s presentations!