“Memory, Amnesia, Commemoration”
Special Issue, ELN (English Language Notes) Fall 2019 (Duke University Press)
Editors: Ramesh Mallipeddi, University of Colorado Boulder and Cristobal Silva, Columbia University
This proposed special issue takes as its focus the topic of memory and its cognates, amnesia and commemoration. Memory has witnessed a remarkable efflorescence in the past few years, both in scholarly work in the humanities and in popular efforts to address the collective forgetting of traumatic pasts. While the interrelationship between history (the study of past events) and memory (the ways in which the past is remembered and accessed), and the role of institutions such as museums and monuments in memorialization have been staple topics of academic historiography, scholars in recent years have turned their attention to how catastrophes—colonization, slavery, war, genocide, and disease pandemics—impact memory, and how traumatic events are remembered by victims, survivors, and descendants. Indeed, as Didier Fassin and Richard Rechtman have recently argued, in modern societies, trauma—in its twin senses as a physical scar and metaphorical trace—is synonymous with the “tragic” insofar as the term marks a “new relationship to time and memory, to mourning and obligation, to misfortune and the misfortunate” (The Empire of Trauma, 277). No longer a diagnostic category confined to psychiatry and psychopathology, the language of trauma is being increasingly mobilized to speak of “the wounds of the past” in ongoing demands for recognition, reparations, and justice.
We solicit essays addressing the place of memory, forgetting, and remembrance in what Fassin and Rechtman have called “the moral economy of contemporary societies.” We invite scholars to reflect on the following questions, encouraging them to broach the topic in its broadest terms and from a range of methodological perspectives:
- Although traumatic neurosis as a diagnostic category is internal to nineteenth-century psychoanalysis, cognitive disorders have a long pedigree. Historically, nostalgia and melancholy were emotional upheavals related to the workings of memory, caused, in turn, by social upheavals such as war and enforced migration. Indeed, melancholy and nostalgia were psychosomatic, deemed by contemporary physicians to be fatal. How do we understand pathologies of memory as they manifest in specific historical contexts, including Early American literature, Antebellum America, the eighteenth-century Atlantic world, and contemporary societies?
- How do the temporalities and geographies of memory and amnesia shape the boundaries of specific fields, especially as they relate to studies of indigeneity?
- In “The Site of Memory,” Toni Morrison locates the print origins of African American slave narratives in acts of self-recollection. Historically, autobiographies, memoirs, and elegies have been the privileged vehicles of remembrance for various marginalized groups. More recently, the genre of testimony has become the primary means of documenting the horrors of the Holocaust, of reversing the omissions and distortions of official history. How do individual memories in testimonies trouble and reconfigure public narratives? How do they undertake the project of mnemonic restitution?
- Memories are not only individual but also communal. Through practices of mourning—funeral wakes, burial ceremonies, mortuary rites, and songs of commemoration—communities historically sought to make sense of loss, suffering, and death; to establish links between past and present; and to maintain continuity in the face of disruption. In this context, how do we understand memory as a historical practice?
- What are the affinities and differences between historical practices surrounding grief-work and mourning, on the one hand, and more recent accounts of melancholy, developed in the wake of Freud and Benjamin, on the other?
- Positing “historical injury” as constitutive of queer subjectivity, Heather Love has urged critics to resist the temptation to forget the dark and shameful moments of queer pasts, because to disavow “backward” feelings—nostalgia, shame, regret, loneliness, passivity, despair, and self-hatred—is to ignore “the ongoing suffering of those not borne up by the rising tide of gay normalization” (Feeling Backward, 10). In this context, what consequences does queer theory’s reconceptualization of temporality have for memory, amnesia, and commemoration?
- The efforts of Jamaicans to secure legislative restitution for the descendants of former slaves and the UN’s call to redress historical wrongs conceptualize traumatic memory “as the incessance of injury” (Gregg Horowitz, “A Late Adventure of the Feelings,” 38). Moreover, as Jay Bernstein has recently argued, the idea that traumatic events are “suffered long after the inaugural event is over” enjoins us to grasp trauma as a moral rather than a psychoanalytic category (Torture and Dignity, 123). How do these recent developments offer opportunities for rethinking the place of memory as well as for reevaluating canonical theoretical formulations, including Derrida’s account of the politics of memory, inheritance, and generations in Specters of Marx; Avery Gordon’s reflections on “the lingering inheritance of racial slavery” in Ghostly Matters; and Cathy Caruth’s theorization of trauma, narrative, and history in Unclaimed Experience?
Papers are due July 31, 2018. They can be of varying lengths, including position papers and longer research articles. Please use Chicago Style formatting. Contact Ramesh Mallipeddi (firstname.lastname@example.org) for more information.
A refereed journal housed in the University of Colorado Boulder English Department, ELN has been dedicated to pushing the boundaries of scholarship in literary and cultural studies since 1962. More recently, as this issue suggests, the journal has actively promoted new theoretical speculation and interdisciplinary collaborations crossing geographies, histories and practices. Published bi-annually, the journal is moving to Duke University Press and its digital platform, along with Project Muse, beginning in Spring 2018. This issue will appear as a Duke UP imprint.
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