Memory, Activism and Social Justice USB 2.022
Jul 07, 2023 11:00 - 12:30(Europe/London)
20230707T1100 20230707T1230 Europe/London 9.9. Testimony, art and memory activism USB 2.022 MSA Conference Newcastle 2023
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Past Imperfect: Editing and Teaching Memory Studies
Individual paperBeyond Disciplinary Communities 11:00 AM - 12:30 PM (Europe/London) 2023/07/07 10:00:00 UTC - 2023/07/07 11:30:00 UTC
During this academic year Hannah Grayson and Nina Parish are co-editing a special issue of Modern and Contemporary Francefor publication in 2024. In this special issue, we respond to the important call to action, launched by the publication of Postcolonial Realms of Memory: Sites and Symbols in Modern France (Achille, Forsdick and Moudileno, 2020), to scholars working in languages, Memory Studies, history and beyond to systematically postcolonialise and unsettle Pierre Nora's well-established lieu de mémoire. Our special issue, to be published in a French Studies context, aims to demonstrate how these memory practices are entangled in global, material systems, and argues for the need for globally-inflected memory practices which go beyond disciplinary communities. 

In tandem with this special issue, we have put together an Honours module, 'Past Imperfect: Memory Cultures in the French-Speaking World' that we are co-teaching for the first time this semester. The aims of this module are to familiarise students with key theoretical debates in Memory Studies and to provide them with an opportunity to apply critically the insights which emerge from these debates to case studies in the French-speaking world. The module draws on our own interdisciplinary research and focusses in particular on the role of testimony, archives, the state, museums, literature and the visual arts in the fashioning of collective memory, and on the relationship between collective memory and identity construction.

The experiences involved putting together this special issue and undergraduate course have given rise to some challenging questions in relation to disciplinary communities and also to teaching contested memory work which is often violent and traumatic in its nature. We both position ourselves as French Studies academics, yet how does this sit with Memory Studies and case studies which are not from the French-speaking world? As academics, we may be comfortable working with transnationally and globally-inflected representations and practices but how can we help our students to feel confident faced with these complexities which often involve graphic depictions of violence? In this paper we would like to reflect on these questions in relation to our teaching, publications and ideas of institutional belonging.
Nina Parish
Professor Of French And Francophone Studies, University Of Stirling
Hannah Grayson
Lecturer, University Of Stirling
Witnessing the Witness: Campbell and Arendt on testimonial ethics and politics
Individual paperMemory, Activism and Social Justice 00:00 Midnight - 11:00 PM (Europe/London) 2023/07/06 23:00:00 UTC - 2023/07/07 22:00:00 UTC
This presentation addresses testimony from a philosophical perspective. The philosophy of testimony has largely been divided into two approaches (Krämer & Weigel 2017). On the one hand the analytic tradition focuses on the epistemology of testimony. It reflects on testimony as an individual or social source of knowledge and is mainly concerned with how to assess the reliability of knowledge produced through the words of others. The continental tradition, on the other hand, reflects on the ethical and political dimensions of bearing witness to extreme violence and political injustice. It focuses on the impossibility to capture the personal experience of the survivor witness. Both traditions lay bare the deeply precarious position of the witness. The analytic approach leaves the testimony open to being doubted and denied. In the continental approach the witness risks not being heard at all because he bears witness to something that cannot be represented or communicated. However, both approaches are to some extent indebted to an epistemic individualism that does not factor in the interpersonal nature of testimony (Schmidt 2017).
This presentation outlines a third approach to testimony that takes into account the relational quality of memory. This approach takes Sue Campbell's concept of 'relational remembering' (Campbell 2003) as its starting point and adds Hannah Arendt's analysis of appearance to reflect on the implications of this interdependence for testimony (Arendt 1981).
First, I use Campbell to highlight how the way we narrate our past is deeply entangled with our ideas of personhood, selfhood and autonomy and to stress how our ability to remember develops within social relationships and institutional practices. The success with which we grasp the significance of the past depends on the social positions we occupy and the public practices in which we participate. To deny someone access to those positions and practices and to systematically discredit them as witnesses is also to challenge their status as persons, their sense of self and even their cognitive abilities (Jacobsen 2019).
Secondly, Arendt's concept of appearance is brought into dialogue with Campbell to raise the stakes even higher. Arendt allows us to understand how deeply dependent the witness is of the spectator. The spectator is a guarantee of reality, meaning, identity and a shared world. Without the spectator the witness and their testimony are denied reality and are condemned to a shadowy and ghostlike existence. Arendt allows us both to conceive of a politics of (in)visibility and of an ethics of witnessing the witness.
The advantage of this approach is that it accommodates epistemological, political and ethical elements of testimony. It provides an interesting view of the repercussions of testimonial injustice and helps to develop an ethics of witnessing that factors in the testimonial position of the witness and of the spectator.
An Dufraing
PhD Researcher, University Of Antwerp
Toward the experience of commemorating. Challenges of creating the memory-based artistic practices
Individual paperMemory, Activism and Social Justice 00:00 Midnight - 11:00 PM (Europe/London) 2023/07/06 23:00:00 UTC - 2023/07/07 22:00:00 UTC
The proposed paper concerns a question of creating commemorative practices grounded in memory activism. Yifat Gutman considers memory activism a social movement research which not only investigates historical and cultural memory of a local community and its use of local heritage, but also intends to reframe the public debate about the past and to project possible visions for the future. Therefore, practices of memory activists differ from more "traditional" and official commemorative practices by their interactive nature, as well as their accessibility, since their goal is to reach the current residents who are struggling with the difficult past of their places of residence.
In my paper, I will present an example of memory-based art activities which are conducted in a small town of Szczekociny in southern Poland. These art interventions have been part of a local Jewish culture festival since 2011 and they triggered commemorating by developing performative actions and engaging local participants in them. Before the Second World War, Szczekociny was a shtetl which in Yiddish means a small town and specifically refers to a place inhabited by both Polish (Christian) and Jewish communities. In Szczekociny, Jews constituted more than half of the pre-war population of this town and influenced its economic, social, and cultural life. On September 20, 1942, as part of the "Reinhardt" Action, about 1,500 Jewish residents were deported to the Treblinka extermination camp and murdered there. Only about 200-300 people survived the Holocaust. After the war, the traces of the local Jews were removed or covered in the public space (the former synagogue was transformed into a warehouse and then into shop; the Jewish cemeteries were destroyed during the war and afterwards built over with private properties). This process reflected a typical phenomenon for the communist Poland. As a consequence, there was no evidence of the former Jewish community in the town.
The aforementioned memory-based activities use ephemeral artistic forms (especially happening and performance) as a way of restoring the public memory about Jewish inhabitants as well as encouraging an experience of commemorating and remembering. These artistic activities combine two dominant tendencies in Holocaust studies: hauntology (Powidoki [Afterimages], Uobecnianie nieobecnych [Making absentees present]) and materiality of the traces (Tożsamość miejsca [Place identity], Miejsca. Kolory ciepłe, kolory zimne [Places. Warm colors, cold colors]). The chosen case study enables to examine challenges of creating the memory-based artistic practices, such as: conditions of an interactive relationship between different actors (activists-residents-place), role of a contemporary politics of commemoration in a local and ultimately national community, and different strategies of interactive commemorating.
Karolina Koprowska
PhD Student, Jagiellonian University
Activist art as historical lens to the Austrian memories of the Nazi past
Individual paperMemory, Activism and Social Justice 00:00 Midnight - 11:00 PM (Europe/London) 2023/07/06 23:00:00 UTC - 2023/07/07 22:00:00 UTC
In recent years, historians have broadened their focus on Austrian cultural responses to the legacy of the Holocaust. The scope of research has included texts, film, music and plays as subversive responses to the marked silence around the Austrian complicity in Nazi criminality. Within the emerging literature, visual art has largely been neglected. Accordingly, the focus of this presentation is memory artivist Gottfried Helnwein (1948-), who has spent his artistic career challenging the Austrian memories of the Nazi past.[1]Helnwein's provocations have, oftentimes, been met with hostility: they have also been met with silence. The proposed presentation will examine Helnwein's artistic engagement witha protractedand ultimately unsuccessful campaign to bring'euthanasia' doctor, Heinrich Gross, to justice. 
'The Gross Affair' played out in the Austrian courts and press over 20 years. As the former head of a neurological clinic, Gross was accused of authorising the deaths of hundreds of children during his wartime employment.Led by Gross's former victims and their families, as well as outlying medical professionals, Helnwein was the only artist to directly address Gross during this period (1979 – 1999). The public silence that marked the campaign was compounded by the vested interest that Austrian elites had in silencing the memory of the Nazi past. A staunch commitment to post-war silence allowed former Nazis to retain powerful positions and continue to marginalise Nazi victims. 
For two decades, as new evidence about the psychiatrist was revealed, neither reporting, nor Helnwein's provocative responses received overwhelming public attention. Yet, this does not negate the vital and confronting work of Helnwein's interventions. Acting as an agent of historical memory, Helnwein's strength as a memory artivist was in visualising reminders of historical truths silenced by society. Working in the realm of affect, Helnwein sought to probe the individual's conscience in profound and shocking ways. It could be argued that to measure the efficacy of a memory artivist on public responses to art addressing a society largely committed to silence would be missing the point. Rather, by using Helnwein's art as a historical lens, it is the observable manifestations of silence in the face of artistic provocation that reveal fresh insights into a dark chapter of Austrian history many would rather ignore.
[1]'Memory Artivist' draws on historian Carol Gluck's definition of the 'memory activist' and 'artivism' which is the portmanteau of art and activism. C. Gluck, 'Operations of Memory: "Comfort Women" and the World', in S. Miyoshi Jager & R. Mitte, eds., Ruptured Histories: War, Memory, and the Post-Cold War in Asia, (London: Harvard University Press, 2007), 56-57.

Emma Parker
Independent Scholar
PhD Researcher
University of Antwerp
PhD student
Jagiellonian University
Independent Scholar
Professor of French and Francophone Studies
University of Stirling
University of Stirling
Dr Joanne Sayner
Senior Lecturer in Cultural and Heritage Studies
Newcastle University
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