blog posts Memory in Complicity Mar 8, 2015 10:00 am by Debarati Sanyal Images This post is part one of a four-part forum: "Transnational Memories: Sites, Knots, Methods." An earlier version was presented as part of a roundtable at the Modern Language Association's 2015 Convention in Vancouver that featured Rosanne Kennedy, Ann Rigney, Michael Rothberg, and Debarati Sanyal.DeleteEdit embedded media in the Files Tab and re-insert as needed.align image leftalign image centeralign image rightThe imperative to remember foundational violence such as the Holocaust, slavery, apartheid, partition, or colonialism has often led the study of memory to compartmentalize these events as singular ethno-cultural or national traumas. Yet in the past two decades, we've seen a shift from memory contained to memory unbound. Spatial models of remembrance such as Pierre Nora's lieux de memoire, or “sites of memory,” and the containment that they can presume, have been yielding to figures of process and motion. Richard Crownshaw describes this as a shift from centripetal models of memory, where group or national identity coalesces around collective memories of events, to a centrifugal movement that releases cultural memory from ethnic, territorial, and national particularisms into transnational flows and cosmopolitan contents. Today, memory is on the move, and national histories are being rethought through models of motion, entanglement, crossings and linkage in order to capture the fluid practices of remembrance in a postcolonial age of globalization, mass migration, and technological connection. These include the compelling models developed by my co-panelists: Rosanne Kenney's moving testimony, Ann Rigney's transnational memory, and Michael Rothberg's multidirectional memory. In the few minutes that I have today, I'd like to sketch out how complicity can be a useful term as we consider memory's movement across national and ethno-cultural borders.In a time of unprecedented connection with other peoples and histories, complicity and solidarity may be two sides of the same coin. Today, the recognition of marginalized histories of violence and loss remains an urgent task. But this is not to say that an additive model of recognition and remembrance is enough, or that memory's movement is inherently progressive or inclusive. If this movement can shake up traditions of remembrance, allowing new identities and affiliations to emerge, its pathways can also lead to dangerous intersections, where identification leads to appropriation, where political uses of memory collide with the ethical obligations of testimony, where difference is eclipsed into sameness, or where particular pasts are absorbed under one paradigm of historical trauma. We see a particularly dangerous intersection in the transnational movement of memory in France right now, where the shootings at Charlie Hebdo and an Hyper Cacher are referred to as "the French 9/11" and analogized to Nazi Germany's Kristallnacht... All this to say that even as we look at memory's movement across nations, histories and identities, we must also look out for the range of causes that this movement serves, the solidarities that are opened but also those that are foreclosed. If, as Daniel Levy and Natan Sznaider have observed, "the container of the nation state is in the process of slowly being cracked," memory still moves within the political constraints of an often national or identitarian field whose channels are limited by competing political interests and ideological investments. Charlie Hebdo, "The French 9/11"DeleteEdit embedded media in the Files Tab and re-insert as needed.align image leftalign image centeralign image rightComplicity, I want to suggest, helps us track the complexity of memory's movement across national borders and ethno-cultural difference. Now, complicity usually means participation in wrongdoing, or collaboration with evil. But its Latin root, complicare, 'to fold together' reminds us of its secondary and now archaic usage, which is 'the state of being complex or involved'. In French, the word complicité also means understanding and intimacy. Complicity as a term can help us think about the folding together or gathering of subject positions, histories and memories, that characterizes the emerging methods of transnational, transcultural memory studies. The recognition of complicity—of the folds that bring different histories into contact, but also of the places we occupy in a historical fold— requires us to consider our contradictory position within the political fabric of a given moment, as victims, perpetrators, accomplices, witnesses, bystanders, consumers or spectators, and more often than not, an uneasy combination of the above (as Rosanne Kennedy suggests on this panel, in the context of the "Say Sorry for '65" campaign). Since the 1990's, memory studies in conjunction with trauma theory has tended to address historical violence, from the Holocaust to 9/11, primarily through the perspective of the victim. Yet more recently we've witnessed a turn towards complicity and perpetration, a turn that might well be a return, since in the aftermath of World War Two, at least in the French-speaking context, complicity was a key vector of transnational memory (e.g. the folding together of Nazi atrocity and French colonial violence). On the contemporary international cultural scene, examples of this renewed turn to testimony's "darker side" include Bernhard Schlink's The Reader, Rithy Panh's documentary on the Khmer Rouge, S21, Joshua Oppenheimer's The Act of Killing, or Jonathan Littell's Les Bienveillantes, to which I'll return. This potential reorientation of cultural imaginaries towards complicity and perpetration rather than trauma and victimhood is valuable provided it doesn't congeal into facile pronouncements on– and handwringing about– our structural complicity with global violence. An animating, rather than paralyzing, awareness of complicity can alert us to what legal scholar Christopher Kutz calls "our mediated relationship to harms." It can lead to a better understanding of the past's reverberations in the present, a clearer grasp of the many forces that mediate our agency. Complicity, as I understand it, is not a fixed stance but a structure of commitment that provides an alternative to affect-based discourses of trauma, melancholy or shame, and opens up a robust, yet self-reflexive, engagement with the violence of history.DeleteEdit embedded media in the Files Tab and re-insert as needed.align image leftalign image centeralign image rightI only have time for one literary example here: Franco-American author Jonathan Littell's monumental Les Bienveillantes, translated as The Kindly Ones. Published in 2006, this bestseller unleashed polemics in France and beyond due to its transgression of several taboos on Holocaust representation. I will simply evoke its transgressive treatment of identification. Holocaust testimony is usually understood to be the account of a survivor and victim; its reception is theorized through models of intimacy and identification. Readers or viewers are invited to become secondary witnesses and hosts to the representation of a victim’s trauma. The Kindly Ones, however, is a first-person narrative that coerces us into complicity with its Nazi protagonist for over 900 pages, even if this identification with the perpetrator is constantly sabotaged by the text's irony. Thus, we are asked to sustain the tension between intimacy and irony, identification and distance, as we witness the atrocities of the Third Reich in their visceral horror and bureaucratic abstraction. To readers who inhabit a potentially reified culture of Holocaust memory, this alternation between complicity and irony forces us to reimagine Nazism in relation to ourselves, without abdicating to facile claims about the banality of evil or that "we are all perpetrators."The Kindly Ones is also a historical investigation of transnational atrocity. It explores the colonial archive of Nazism's Eastward expansion, reminding us that for Hitler the Russian space was analogous to British India. In doing so, it highlights the conceptual and strategic complicities between the Final Solution, other Nazi programs of extermination, and the massacres and genocides of Western imperialism including American settler genocide, the US in Vietnam and France in Algeria. The novel aims to create a sounding board ("une caisse de résonance," as Littell puts it) between these distinctive legacies of racialized violence while gesturing towards the contemporary horizon. Its author is also a journalist who has written about current sites of conflict such as Syria and the Democratic Republic of Congo. The interplay of complicity and irony in The Kindly Ones, its cognitive, affective, and ultimately ethical demands on readers, reminds us that if fiction can experiment with historical archives and practices of remembrance, the responsibility to animate these virtual memories lies in their reception. Reading is where an ethics of memory in motion can develop.To conclude, last year at an MLA presidential panel on vulnerability, Andreas Huyssen asked us to think about the relationship between memory discourses and human rights in order to energize present and future-oriented struggles. It seems to me that complicity has a role to play in this as well. An attunement to one's complicity with both catastrophic and slow forms of violence that one might seek to prevent, challenge or repair would nuance the universalism of humanitarian discourses and help to identify the constraints under which certain subjects are produced as objects of intervention, compassion and assistance. Here too complicity and solidarity may be two sides of the same coin. Richard Crownshaw, Introduction to the special issue on transcultural memory, Parallax 17, no. 4 (2011):1. Rosanne Kennedy, "Moving Testimony: Human Rights, Palestinian Memory, and the Transnational Public Sphere," in Chiara de Cesari and Ann Rigney (ed.), Transnational Memory Circulation, Articulation, and Scales (Berlin and Boston: Walter de Gruyter, October 2014); Ann Rigney, Introduction to Transnational Memory Circulation, Articulation, and Scales (Berlin and Boston: Walter de Gruyter, 2014); Michael Rothberg, Multidirectional Memory: Remembering the Holocaust in the Age of Decolonization (Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 2009). For an expanded version of this argument, see Debarati Sanyal, Memory and Complicity: Migrations of Holocaust Remembrance (New York: Fordham University Press, 2015).  Daniel Levy and Natan Sznaider, The Holocaust and Memory in the Global Age (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2006), 195  Christopher Kutz, Complicity: Ethics and Law for a Collective Age (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007), 2. Jonathan Littell and Pierre Nora, “Conversation sur l’histoire et le roman,” in Le débat 144 (March/April 2007): 43–44.