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Provincializing European Memory – Abstracts

Provincializing European Memory

NITMES-Conference at Goethe University Frankfurt
Organized by NITMES: Network in Transnational Memory Studies, led by Utrecht University, and the Frankfurt Memory Studies Platform (FMSP)

– Abstracts –

Paul Bijl (University of Amsterdam)

“Dismantling the Empire of European Memory (Studies)”

The project of provincializing European memory (and the related project of provincializing European memory studies) is vast and multifaceted. It shares with Chakrabarty’s project of provincializing Europe the need to uncover the at least partial rootedness of memory studies’ concepts in European culture, but should be more attentive to the ways in which European and outer-European histories, memories and concepts are connected. Important is to see Europe (and therefore European memory) as a signifier operating in different contexts (in Europe and the (former) colonies; in white Europe and Asian, African, Caribbean and Latin-American Europe), leading to different histories and memories of inclusion and exclusion. Racism, the European colonial past and histories of migration are key issues. Taking examples from cultural memories within the space of the (former) Dutch empire (particularly from (colonial) Indonesia and the (postcolonial) Netherlands), I want to distinguish three interrelated sub-projects which together help us work towards the provincialization of European memory (studies): 1. the de-isolation and connection of memories, histories and concepts from the European and outer-European world; 2. the de-centralization of European memories through the investigation of memories outside (white) Europe; 3. the de-universalization (or: historicization) of European memory studies’ concepts (e.g., with respect to memory, time and subjectivity).

Paul Bijl is an assistant professor of literature at the University of Amsterdam and an affiliated fellow at KITLV/Royal Institute for Southeast Asian and Caribbean Studies in Leiden. He specializes in European and Indonesian colonial and postcolonial history and memory. His book Emerging Memory: Photographs of Colonial Atrocity in Dutch Cultural Remembrance (Amsterdam UP, 2015) traces the social biography of photographs from the Aceh War (1873-1914) in colonial Indonesia and analyses how it is possible that the Dutch keep on rediscovering, with surprise, their colonial past, especially its violence, without it ever becoming memorable for them. He is currently working on a project, funded by NWO/Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research with a Veni scholarship, on histories and memories of justice within the space of the (former) Dutch empire, particularly Indonesia and the Netherlands. His focal point is the transnational afterlife of the Javanese woman writer of letters Kartini (1879-1904), whose writings were appropriated in the Netherlands, Indonesia, and through UNESCO in the United States and France over the course of the twentieth century. She is a national hero in Indonesia where everybody knows her, making her one the most famous original Dutch-language authors in the world. In the Netherlands, however, she is all but forgotten.

Uma Dhupelia-Mesthrie (University of the Western Cape)

“Re-Locating Memories: Narratives of Indian South Africans in Cape Town”

This paper plays on the word re-location to examine the memories of Indians in South Africa as revealed through oral histories with respect to their relocation to the former Indian group area in Cape Town, Rylands, to memories of parents and grandparents relocating to South Africa from India and to memories of journeys to India and back. It begins with a survey of oral history practices in South Africa and the different intellectual approaches adopted by oral historians in the writing of South African histories and the more current use of oral history in heritage and public history. It then shifts to a specific analysis of Indian memories of place and space in Cape Town. Dispossession has been a significant thrust of oral history research in South Africa and this paper locates Indian narratives of dispossession and relocation against broader South African narratives of destruction of community and loss. Additionally, it explores transnational memories and the place of India in life narratives. The idea is to identify ways of narrating, themes of narration and the meaning of such memories noting the (re)location of memory construction against the backdrop of South Africa’s democratic transition and the 150 commemorations of the arrival of indentured Indians to South Africa.

Uma Dhupelia-Mesthrie is a Senior Professor in the History Department at the University of the Western Cape and the Deputy Dean of Research and Postgraduate Studies of the Arts Faculty. She is author/editor of From Cane Fields to Freedom: A Chronicle of Indian South African Life (Cape Town, Kwela Books, 2000); Sita: Memoirs of Sita Gandhi (Pretoria and Durban, Local History Museums and South African History on Line, 2003); Gandhi’s Prisoner? The Life of Gandhi’s Son, Manilal (Cape Town, Kwela Books, 2004). She has recently edited a special issue of the journal Kronos titled Paper Regimes in Southern Africa (2014). Her recent research focus has been on Indians in Cape Town. Recent articles include “Gujarati Shoemakers in Twentieth Century Cape Town: Family, Gender, Caste and Community” (2012); “Cultural Crossings from Africa to India : Select Narratives of Indian South Africans from Durban and Cape Town, 1940s to 1990s” (2012) ; “Speaking About Building Rylands, 1960s to 1980s: A Cape Flats History” (2014); “False Fathers and False Sons: Immigration Officials in Cape Town, Documents and Verifying Minor Sons from India in the First Half of the Twentieth Century” (2014),”Split-Households: Indian Wives, Cape Town Husbands and Immigration Laws, 1900s to 1940s” (2014).

Sébastien Fevry (Catholic University of Louvain)

“Beyond National and European Frames: The Commune’s Memory in Films”

My purpose is to show how the Paris Commune’s memory could constitute an alternative mode of remembering, allowing us to understand several films and cultural productions that echo contemporary protest movements, such as Indignados or Occupy Wall Street. Inspired by the work of Kristin Ross, and particularly her latest book Communal Luxury: The Political Imaginary of the Paris Commune (2015), I would like to suggest that the Commune’s memory constitutes a template for remembering which doesn’t meet the predominant concepts developed by the field of Memory Studies (e.g. with trauma as central category, the Nation State as determinant framework). Deviating from these concepts is what I call the Commune’s memory, which designates a memorial dynamics turned towards the future, one that is characterized by a utopian dimension and that goes beyond national and European frames to link micro- and macro-levels (from the Commune to the Universal Republic).
To go further in this direction, my attention focuses first and foremost on Rabah Ameur-Zaïmèche’s film, Les Chants de Mandrin (2012), which tells the story of the followers of the famous 18th century brigand, Louis Mandrin, loved by the people and feared by the powerful. After Mandrin’s death, his friends developed his utopian project, creating free markets across the French countryside. Even though the film takes place in a distant past, prior to the Commune and the contemporary protest movements, I would like to show how Les Chants de Mandrin can be connected to these two events. The film has an exemplary value, which allows me to add several narrative elements to the Commune’s memory: the importance of celebration rather than commemoration, the presence of media which disseminate the memory of the struggles within the film itself, and the importance of delimited places which are the scale models of the new society to come.

Professor at the School of Communication in the Catholic University of Louvain (Belgium), Sébastien Fevry works in the field of Memory Studies, focusing on cinema and image. He has recently co-edited a collection of articles on the images of the Apocalypse in cinema (2012). His latest book, La comédie cinématographique à l’épreuve de l’Histoire, has been published by L’Harmattan (2013). He is also the author of numerous articles, including “Immigration and Memory in Popular Contemporary French Cinema. The Film as ‘Lieu d’Entre-Mémoire’” (2014), published in Revista de Estudios Globales y Arte Contemporáneo.

Birte Heidemann (University of Potsdam) & Pavan Kumar Malreddy (Goethe University Frankfurt)

“Subaltern Memories? Gender, Nation and ‘Immediation’ in Sri Lanka’s Ethnic Conflict”

In the spirit of Dipesh Chakrabarty’s (in)famous proclamation that “European thought is at once both indispensable and inadequate in helping us to think through the political modernity of non-Western nations”, this paper examines the relevance of the decolonizing turn in memory studies to postcolonial societies. In particular, it focuses on the controversial public discourse on the authenticity, authorial ethics and representational impasses surrounding Niromi De Soyza’s memoir Tamil Tigress: My Story as a Child Soldier in Sri Lanka’s Bloody Civil War (2011). While much of the controversy on De Soyza’s book stems from normative claims over truth, trauma and victimhood, the paper points to both the limits and merits of memory studies’ approaches in registering submerged voices of the gendered subaltern that unfold deep within nationalist discourses, local traditions and regional power structures. For instance, instead of acknowledging the role of female soldiers in the insurgency as portrayed in Tamil Tigress, the ongoing controversy surrounding De Soyza’s memoir has evolved into a discourse of competing memories between former (male) LTTE insurgents, diasporic Sri Lankans and Sinhalese nationalists.
Corresponding to these debates, this paper argues that the existing approaches in memory studies, particularly those built on European examples, require further theoretical realignment to fruitfully engage with the memory practices of non-European societies. For instance, although memory studies debates on both sides of the Atlantic have moved away from the lieux de mémoire model for its reductionist tendencies, the paper suggests that memory practices in a postcolonial society such as Sri Lanka cannot be understood in isolation from an ethno-national framework. This is largely due to the fact that, unlike the post-national turn in Europe, nation-building projects in the postcolonial world have remained unfulfilled, if not incomplete, due to their complex colonial legacies. To that end, this paper proposes ‘immediation’ (unrelated to ‘immediacy’ which pertains the medial effect of “unmediated memory”; Erll and Rigney 2009: 4) as an analytical category that helps uncover subaltern memories from the masculine discourses of postcolonial nation building. Accordingly, ‘immediation’ refers to the urgency of constructing memory practices where no apriori institutional memory exists, or where censorship regimes have selectively deinstitutionalized or destroyed ‘sites of memory’ through the use of necropolitics and genocidal violence.

Birte Heidemann has recently completed her doctoral dissertation on negative liminality in contemporary Northern Irish literature at the University of Potsdam. From 2008 to 2014, she has taught at the Department of English at Chemnitz University of Technology. Her research interests are in postcolonial theory, literary and cultural expressions of post-conflict societies, particularly Northern Ireland and Sri Lanka, and the post-9/11 novel. She has co-edited two special issues of the Journal of Postcolonial Writing (2011; 2012), and the volumes ‘From Popular Goethe to Global Pop’: The Idea of the West between Memory and (Dis)Empowerment (Rodopi, 2013) and Reworking Postcolonialism: Globalization, Labour and Rights (Palgrave, 2015). She is currently preparing her doctoral dissertation for publication (with Palgrave Macmillan).

Pavan Malreddy is a Researcher in English Literature at Goethe University Frankfurt. He has previously taught at Chemnitz University of Technology, York University, Toronto and the University of Saskatchewan, Saskatoon, and has worked with various research organisations (Canadian Council on Learning, Ottawa, Aboriginal Education Research Center, Saskatoon) as a commissioned writer and editor. He is the author of Orientalism, Terrorism, Indigenism: South Asian Readings in Postcolonialism (SAGE, 2015) and co-editor of Reworking Postcolonialism: Globalization, Labour and Rights (Palgrave, 2015). He has co-edited special issues with the Journal of Postcolonial Writing (2012) and ZAA: Journal of English and American Studies (2014), and has authored over twenty academic essays and chapters on terrorism, race and postcolonial theory in journals such as The European Legacy, Third World Quarterly, Journal of Postcolonial Writing and Intertexts.

John Njenga Karugia (Goethe University Frankfurt)

“Connective Indian Ocean Memories: Towards a Braver Afrasian History”

How do Afrasian memories travel, crisscross and connect across the Indian Ocean and beyond, and how do such memories inform ‘African’, Chinese and Indian memory cultures today? Who are the keepers and carriers of connective Indian Ocean memories? What contemporary remembrance activities connect Africa and Asia? Why are certain Afrasian memories kept alive? In the past two decades, transcultural and transnational memory projects have been undertaken in the Indian Ocean world with the support of local, state and transnational actors. In the course of these efforts, we have witnessed the travelling of memory practices, and a gradual yet subtle shift from competitive memory towards multidirectional memory. Furthermore, negotiation of various national, transnational and transregional Indian Ocean imaginaries are ongoing amongst Afrasian societies. This paper conceptualizes the Indian Ocean as a connective memory space. It analyses the aforementioned processes as being aimed at a braver Afrasian history that connects South(ern) and East(ern) Africa, Mauritius, Indonesia, China and India amongst others. It attempts an understanding of identity and heritage politics tied to individuals and groups connected to and by the Indian Ocean. It debates concepts related to remembering and forgetting and how these interact within the Indian Ocean as a memory space. It dissects the political economy of ‘connective Indian Ocean memories’ in light of contemporary Africa-Asia relations in a transregional and transnational perspective. A couple of insights related to the nexus between policy and ‘doing memory’ in the Indian Ocean world are proposed.

John Njenga Karugia is a postdoctoral researcher and lecturer at Goethe University Frankfurt within the AFRASO project funded by the German Ministry of Education and Research. He is also a member of the Frankfurt Memory Studies Platform. He acquired his PhD in African Studies from the University of Leipzig after research on Chinese Migration to Tanzania that involved research stints in China, Tanzania and American Chinatowns. At Goethe University he is involved in two projects; Indian Ocean as Memory Space and Indian Ocean Imaginaries. His current work has so far involved research in India, Malaysia, China, East Africa and South Africa. He has been a visiting scholar at various Asian and American universities.

Rosanne Kennedy (ANU, Canberra, Australia)

“Provincializing Post-Memory: Memoirs from Sierra Leone and Palestine”

My paper approaches the topic of Provincializing European Memory by examining two memoirs that map the legacies, promises and limits of European conceptions of truth, justice and memory in two previously British protectorates – Sierra Leone and Palestine. Aminatta Forna’s memoir, The Devil That Danced on the Water: A Daughter Remembers and Raja Shehadeh’s Palestinian memoir, Strangers in the House: Coming of Age in Occupied Palestine, were both published in 2002, in a global era of transnational justice and human rights. These memoirs merge postmemory with a forensic quest for evidence on which juridical truth can be grounded. The attempts of these memoirists to bring European concepts of truth and justice to an investigation of the murders of their politically active fathers, in contexts shaped by British legal tradition, reveals, however, what Anna Tsing calls ‘friction’ as their efforts to discover the ‘truth’ through archival and investigative research in local courts produces ‘sticky engagements’ in practice. My aim is to uses these cases to consider the larger tension between the transnational and the local in memory studies, especially in case in which national institutions such as courts may be implicated. What do these cases reveal about cosmopolitan memory? About how European concepts of truth, justice and rights travel, and how they are mediated in local contexts, and particularly by cosmopolitan writers whose memoirs are written in English, to be translated to a broader world.

Rosanne Kennedy is Associate Professor, Head of Discipline, Gender Sexuality & Culture at the Australian National University (ANU) College of Arts and Social Sciences (Canberra, Australia). Her research interests are trauma, memory and witnessing in Australia and transnational contexts; Holocaust studies; Stolen Generations; life-writing studies; feminist theory; cultural theory; literary theory; 19th and 20th century novel; women writers; law and literature; gender and modernity. Recent publications include “Moving Testimony: Human Rights, Palestinian Memory, and the Transnational Public Sphere”, in Chiara De Cesari and Ann Rigney (ed.), Transnational Memory Circulation, Articulation, Scales, Walter de Gruyter, Berlin and Boston 2014, pp. 51-78; and a special issue of the journal Memory Studies on “Memory Studies in Australia” (ed. with S. Radstone) 2013 (6,3).

Ann Rigney (Utrecht University)

“The Reception of Walter Scott in India: Remembering as Anti-Colonial Resistance.”

This talk will examine some of the ways in which the work of Sir Walter Scott, the putative inventor of the historical novel, was appropriated and adapted as a model by writers in British India. It will show how the Scottish writer’s works was adapted and indigenized in the service of an anti-colonial counter-memory, and reflect on the implications of this case for our understanding of the transnational circulation of cultural memory.

Ann Rigney is Professor of Comparative Literature at Utrecht University, the Netherlands, and founder of the Utrecht Forum for Memory Studies. She has published widely in the field of cultural memory including The Afterlives of Walter Scott (Oxford UP, 2012), Commemorating Writers in Nineteenth-Century Europe (edited, with J. Leerssen; Palgrave 2014), and Transnational Memory: Circulation, Articulaton, Scales (edited, with C. De Cesari, De Gruyter, 2014).

Frank Schulze-Engler (Goethe-University Frankfurt)

“When Remembering Back is not Enough: World War II and the Dual Agenda of Provincializing Europe in Indian and New Zealand Literature”

In a recent essay exploring possible avenues of overcoming the Eurocentric bias that has characterized much of the disciplinary history of cultural memory studies, Michael Rothberg has proposed the concept of ‘remembering back’ as a category that might stimulate productive dialogues between postcolonial studies and memory studies and point the way forwards towards the emergence of ‘postcolonial memory studies’. The first part of my paper critically engages with the notion of ‘remembering back’ and argues that this term replicates a central flaw in contemporary postcolonial studies: by suggesting that the central task and significance of ‘postcolonial’ cultures, literatures (and, possibly, memories) lies in undermining imperial (or Eurocentric) ideologies and perspectives, ‘remembering back’ (just like the notorious idea of ‘writing back’ in literary studies) freezes memory in a historical phase of resistance to Empire and ultimately fails to ‘provincialize Europe’. If the central insight of Chakrabarty’s felicitous injunction lies in making European modernity visible as one modernity among others (rather than as the normative core of modernity ‘as such’), the desire of much of the postcolonial critical industry to stage ‘postcolonial’ cultures and literatures as perennially resistant or subversive paradoxically reinscribes the centrality of Europe in the very practice allegedly dedicated to its subversion.

The second part of my paper takes World War II as a test case and looks at the mnemonic politics at play in two novels that intricately engage with World War II and its legacies in the non-European world: Amitav Ghosh’s The Glass Palace (2000) and Patricia Grace’s Tu (2004). Both novels, the paper argues, follow a dual mnemonic agenda: they seek to ‘provincialize Europe’ by highlighting the contributions of non-European people (and soldiers) to the war effort and actively seek to reinscribe these contributions into a global memory of World War II, but at the same time they engage with the significance of World War II in the context of local (Indian and New Zealand/Aotearoan) modernities, with mnemonic struggles within India and New Zealand/Aotearoa and with the transformations engendered by global war in local contexts. ‘Remembering back’ is too simplistic a concept to capture the mnemonic and literary complexities engendered by this dual agenda and to explore the significance of multidirectional memory in a multipolar world of globalized modernity.

Frank Schulze-Engler has taught at the Universities of Frankfurt, Bremen and Hanover. In 2002 he became professor of New Anglophone Literatures and Cultures at the Institute for English and American Studies at Goethe University Frankfurt. His publications include his doctoral thesis on East African literature, co-edited volumes of essays on African literature, postcolonial theory and globalisation and the teaching of the New Literatures in English, as well as numerous essays on African, Asian and indigenous literature, comparative perspectives on the New Literatures in English, Indian Ocean Studies, postcolonial Europe, postcolonial theory, and transculturality in a world of globalized modernity. He is currently joint project leader of “Africa’s Asian Options” (AFRASO), a major collaborative research project funded by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research involving more than 40 researchers from 6 faculties at Goethe University Frankfurt. His most recent book publications include Beyond ‘Other Cultures’: Transcultural Perspectives on Teaching the New Literatures in English, (Trier 2011, co-edited with Sabine Doff), African Literatures, (Trier 2013, co-edited with Geoff Davis) and Habari ya English – What about Kiswahili? East Africa as a Literary and Linguistic Contact Zone (Leiden: Brill 2015, co-edited with Lutz Diegner)

Barbara Törnquist-Plewa (Lund University)

“Memory Politics in Contemporary Ukraine. Some Reflections from a Postcolonial Perspective”

Reporting from the events of the so-called “Euro-Revolution” in Ukraine 2013, the Western media were prompt to point out the excessive use of national symbols, including those connected to the Ukrainian nationalist organizations “OUN” and “UPA”, which for some periods of time had cooperated with Nazi Germany and were involved in the killing of civilians. The paper aims to explain this phenomenon as well as some other elements of the politics of memory in contemporary Ukraine by using a postcolonial perspective. Special attention is paid to Homi Bhabha’s idea of hybridity and its realization in Ukraine.

Barbara Törnquist-Plewa, professor of Eastern and Central European Studies, head of the Centre for European Studies at Lund University in Sweden and chair of the COST-action “ In Search for Transcultural Memory in Europe”. In her research she focuses on nationalism, identity and collective memories in Eastern and Central Europe. She is the editor and author and of many books and articles in English, Swedish and Polish, all with dealing modern history and culture of Eastern and Central Europe. The latest one is “Which Memory, Whose Future? Remembering Ethnic Cleansings and Lost Cultural Diversity in Central, Eastern and South-eastern European Cities” to be published by Berghahn: London – New York 2016.

Paolo Vignolo (National University of Colombia, Bogota)

“On the Ruins of a Foundational Myth. Postcolonial Paradoxes of a Memorial Site of the Spanish Conquest in Colombia”

On July 2015 The Colombian Ministry of Culture declared Santa María la Antigua of Darién a cultural heritage site and started the creation of a Cultural and Archeological Park in the area of the “first Spanish city of the American continent” (1510-1525).
It would be the first large-scale cultural intervention of the Colombian state in a territory traditionally controlled by illegal armed groups (guerrillas, paramilitaries, criminal gangs) and inhabited by rural settlers, indigenous and afro-descendent communities.
A number of questions then arise. What kind of participatory process can lead towards a shared construction of a non-Eurocentric narrative? Can the history of Darien be interpreted from a transnational memory perspective, deconstructing established foundational myths both in Colombia and Panama? How to articulate a place of memory of 500 years ago with the contemporary quest for historical memory related with the ongoing armed conflict in the region?
The hank of entangled paradoxes generated by different memory policies and practices makes of Santa María la Antigua of Darién a very problematic challenge. At the same time it can become an extraordinary laboratory both for international networks and local communities, since it offers the opportunity to engage with social change and active citizenship through a collective exercise of public history.

Paolo Vignolo is associate professor of history and humanities at the National University of Colombia, Bogota. His fields of research and creation deal with public history, cultural heritage and memory studies with a focus on live arts, play and performance. He holds a PhD in history at the EHESS (School for Advanced Studies in the Social Sciences) of Paris, and has been 2012-13 Santo Domingo Visiting Scholar of the David Rockefeller Center for Latin American Studies (DRCLAS) at Harvard University. He is director and co-founder of the research group ‘Play, Fiesta and Power’ of the Hemispheric Institute of Performance and Politics (New York University) and co-founder of the Colombian chapter of the Cultural Agents Initiative (Harvard University). Among his forthcoming publications: Festive Devils of the Americas (co-editor with M. Riggio and A. Marino, Seagull-University of Chicago Press); “A Place for the Dead in the City of the Living: the Central Cemetery of Bogota.” In: Reflections on Memory and Democracy (Grindle M. S. editor, Harvard University Press); “The Dark Side of Mooning: Antanas Mockus’s transgressive bet.” In: Cultural Agents Reloaded: the legacy of Antanas Mockus (Tognato C. editor, Harvard University Press).