Memory, Activism and Social Justice NUBS 3.13
Jul 05, 2023 11:00 - 12:30(Europe/London)
20230705T1100 20230705T1230 Europe/London 3.18. Literary and artistic memory activism NUBS 3.13 MSA Conference Newcastle 2023
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Orality and Social Justice in Damon Galgut’s The Promise
Individual paperConflict, Violence and Memory 10:45 AM - 12:15 PM (Europe/London) 2023/07/05 09:45:00 UTC - 2023/07/05 11:15:00 UTC
Taking this year's conference theme of "communities and change" as my central focus, I intend to present on the titular "promise" of Damon Galgut's 2021 Booker Prize-winning novel. The Promise opens in 1986 South Africa, occupying the same temporal frame as the declaration of the nationwide State of Emergency by the apartheid state. It is a family saga structured around the deaths of several members of the Swart family, an Afrikaner family located near Pretoria. The novel tracks these deaths alongside the national events of South Africa through the early decades of the 21st century, noting major historical and sociocultural changes along the way. Of crucial importance to the novel are the racial dynamics at play in South Africa during that time; these dynamics find representation in the opposition of the Swart family with the character of Salome, who the family has employed in a domestic help capacity for some years, whilst also consistently denying her ownership of the land that she lives on. The promise that Galgut refers to is, in fact, the promise by the head of the Swart family to repatriate that land to her and the successive failures of multiple members of the family to fulfil that promise. Ultimately, the land is repatriated (with questionable outcomes) by Amor, the only member of the family whose death is not depicted within the scope of the novel.
            Of interest to me here are the ways in which Galgut situates the complex racial dynamics and the attendant economic disparities of that particular time and place within the framework of orality. The "promise" of the novel's title does much work to establish the unreliability of guarantees of social change within that context, and it is this component of orality in the context of social justice that I plan to interrogate. The notions of heritage and lineage are also central to this investigation, as opposing lineages become ensnared in competition for property under very unequal dynamics of power. The novel's narrative framework, being structured by the deaths of the Afrikaner family members in the way that it is, is also critical in setting up some of the novel's key questions: Who has the right to claim their heritage? How can competing heritages be accounted for in a postcolonial society? How can cross-cultural alliances be formed that enable positive social change to move forward?
            In interrogating these concepts, I will draw on Michael Rothberg's work in both Multidirectional Memory and The Implicated Subject, as well as Keguro Macharia's notion of "the genealogical imperative." Finally, I will also draw on theories of narrative and oral tradition to interrogate the oral component at the heart of this text, and the significance of "the promise" in bolstering the unequal power dynamics that the novel centrally depicts.
Holly Wielechowski
PhD Candidate, Wayne State University
Poetry as Memorial: Remembering Grenfell in Jay Bernard's "Surge"
Individual paperMemory, Activism and Social Justice 10:45 AM - 12:15 PM (Europe/London) 2023/07/05 09:45:00 UTC - 2023/07/05 11:15:00 UTC
The Grenfell Tower fire which took place in West London in June 2017 claimed the lives of at least 72 people, largely from ethnic minorities.  Grenfell bears all the hallmarks of a preventable disaster, of the heavy toll that neoliberal urban practices of austerity may take on social housing, and of the lesser value assigned to racialized and classed lives.  Indeed, some initiatives have been taken to align the tragedy with the Black Lives Matter protests, given the natural affinity between Grenfell and the causes embraced by this movement, and in an effort to bring public attention to the plight of  Grenfell's victims and survivors. 
Five years have elapsed since the tragedy, but the public inquiry established to bring justice and accountability has not been completed, and the work of the community commission created to decide on the future of the site as well as on an adequate memorial to commemorate the victims is still in a very early stage. What seems to be clear is that the understanding of the tragedy is politically controversial -in particular against the backdrop of the Windrush Scandal and Brexit.  A recurring argument conceptualizes the Grenfell Tower disaster as an example of institutional violence, seeing a pattern of continuity between the logic of empire and its manifestations in the contemporary global city. In addition to this, its memorialization is very likely to be conflicted. Disagreement on how best to commemorate Grenfell in public space and who should be part of the decision-making process has begun to emerge. The proposal of a London architecture firm to turn the tower into a sarcophagus by cladding it in black concrete slabs has been rejected the local MP on the grounds that it could have a traumatic effect on the community; other voices warn about the risk of building just another amnesiac, depoliticized monument which,  in its pursuit of  closure and healing, does not pose any questions and leaves the root causes of the disaster unaddressed; besides, the memorial commission's inclusive approach to decision-making is not preventing some of the members of a very diverse community to feel sidelined in the process.  
This paper intends to make two contributions. Firstly, I will provide an exploration of the ongoing memorialization process around Grenfell. Secondly, I will analyse London poet's Jay Bernard's response to the tragedy in their collection Surge (2019) to argue that the medium of poetry enables Bernard to memorialize the disaster with a level of sensitivity, complexity and historical depth that perhaps no material memorial will be able to achieve, in addition to filling the absence of a physical monument for the Grenfell community.   A prominent feature of this poetic sequence is the way the poet embeds Grenfell into a larger narrative that speaks of  systemic discrimination and institutional indifference to minority communities, pointing at patterns of continuity between past events like the New Cross fire of 1981 and Grenfell. 

Lourdes López-Ropero
Associate Professor, University Of Alicante
Memory, Activism and Social Justice: Jeannette Armstrong’s Breath Tracks (1991) and Canadian Modernism
Individual paperMemory, Activism and Social Justice 00:00 Midnight - 11:00 PM (Europe/London) 2023/07/04 23:00:00 UTC - 2023/07/05 22:00:00 UTC
Armstrong is an eminent writer, artist, musician, and activist, who creates a majestic movement between music and poetry in Breath Tracks in order not only to recover the 'sacred' memory of her Okanagan community, but also to ensure the continuation of the knowledge emanating from the mountains, valleys, and deserts of the region. Armstrong is keenly aware that due to the Okanagans' seasonal movement, they have to carry their art forms through a complex combination of image-creation with sound-generation in language. For conveying the community's heritage of the portability and adaptability of sound, Armstrong offers poems that can be read either horizontally or vertically. She also introduces a concept called 'oratory' for articulating the intersection of the verses with oral customs, which explains why she was able to transform her symbolism and allegory into audio recordings by drawing on her ability to sing, speak, and play drums. Ironically, this was classified by Canadian music industry as 'World Beat,' which relegated Native artistic achievements to a non-Western category. However, Armstrong writes for both Native and non-Native communities, because she has got two languages through which she wields humour and irony for reconceptualising the living memory of appropriation and exploitation that aims to bring about change towards social justice, at least within the circumference of her poetry. Thus, she communicates to the future generations the nurturing power of the words that her poetic self is able to decipher through delineating how the land of her ancestors speaks to those who continue to call the space, 'Home.' By relying on Northrop Frye's (2017) idea that the making of Canadian modern poetry involves 'a vision beyond nature, a refusal to be bullied by space and time, an affirmation of the supremacy of intelligence and humanity,' I will argue that Canadian modernism is only too strong due to Armstrong's poetic sensitivity. This sensibility reassures that the menacing forces of nature and the meaninglessness of human mind can be surmounted through constant story-making that foregrounds the expansion of history and memory.  
Presenters Rehnuma Sazzad
Research Fellow And Associate Fellow, Institute Of English Studies (IES) And Institute Of Commonwealth Studies (ICWS)
The Afterlife of Dissent: Nineteenth-Century Romanian Outlaw Fiction and its Communist Remediations
Individual paperMemory, Activism and Social Justice 00:00 Midnight - 11:00 PM (Europe/London) 2023/07/04 23:00:00 UTC - 2023/07/05 22:00:00 UTC
Departing from the hypothesis that one the most characteristic democratic "postures" is the posture of dissent (according to Terry Eagleton), the present proposal bridges a 19th-century Romanian literary and political myth ("the national hajduk"/ the outlaw who is present in a large corpus of popular novels) with its Communist remediations in genre fiction, movies and "lăutărească"/ folk/ ethno-rock music. By retrieving a phenomenon of cross-medial continuity, we also aim to explore Aby Warburg's metaphor of memory functioning as dynamogram: we particularly endeavor to address the relationship between encoding (typical gesture) and emergence (pathos formulas) in a corpus of book illustrations and texts related to the myth of the "national" outlaw. We then would like to investigate if the proliferation of hajduk(outlaw) representations under the Communist regime in Romania was a way to re-enact the pathos of dissent and transmit it, in spite of censure and cultural erasure, across generations. 
Recent scholarship has developed a strong interest in the history of the Balkan outlaws, labeled as "social bandits" (Eric Hobsbawm) or, recently, as "rural outlaws" (Joep Leerssen et alii) but it has not been connected yet with anti-Communist dissidence. Taking action against despotism around 1800, hajduks were spread throughout the entire Central and South-Eastern Europe. They were organized in paramilitary organizations championing democratic decision-making, rebellion against the feudal privileges, and chiefly against the Ottoman rulers, a sort of alternative proto-socialist economy and a nomad lifestyle. Announcing the fall of empires (both the Ottoman empire and the Communist block), the recycling of the hajduk epic in 19th-century popular fiction, then into Communist "remediations," proceeds according to similar patterns in all regions. The specificity of the Romanian case lies in the fact that the proliferation of the hajduk art developed the readers' sensibility for the pathos of dissent.
The remediation of the outlaw type (from fiction to movies and music) also serves as a solid case study for opening discussion toward more general aspects of memory transmission: Do emergent cultures have "a vocation" of memory? Are the so-called "cultures of memory" - "classical" by definition - better at encoding, storing, and retrieving political information than the emergent ones, which, because of their discontinuous development, are periodically blotted by collective forgetfulness? From this viewpoint, the problematic storage of political information within a Communist society and its transfer across generations must definitely be addressed by identifying heightened emotional gestures (pathos formulas) that preexist artistic agency and become effective only through contact with "the selective will" of a particular period. By identifying recurrent 19th-century representations of dissent (gestures and related objects/ technologies) and by discerning their traces in the Communist remediations of the hajduk myth we will be able to grasp a deeper layer of continuity among phenomena that are apparently too distant to be clustered together.
Loredana Cuzmici
Lecturer, "Alexandru Ioan Cuza" University Of Iasi
Senior Researcher, ”Alexandru Ioan Cuza” University Of Iasi, Romania
When Art [Re]Creates Communities: Contemporary Polish Art and the Lost Jewish Memory
Individual paperMemory, Activism and Social Justice 00:00 Midnight - 11:00 PM (Europe/London) 2023/07/04 23:00:00 UTC - 2023/07/05 22:00:00 UTC
The paper considers the artworks of three contemporary Polish artists who address the memory of Poland's Jews: [a] Łukasz Baksik (b. 1974); [b] Joanna Rajkowska (b. 1968); and [c] Rafał Betlejewski (b. 1969). Baksik's most prominent project, titled Matzevót for Everyday Use (Matzevót is Hebrew for "gravestones") documents a socially fraught phenomenon by which Jewish gravestones are plundered or misappropriated from cemeteries in Poland and transformed into everyday uses such as building materials and working tools. From Rajkowska's wide-ranging oeuvre, I discuss an art piece titled Greetings from Jerusalem Avenue, which consists of an artificial, 15-meter-high palm tree, mounted in Warsaw in memory of a lost 18th-century Jewish community. Through Betlejewski's commemorative-artistic project titled I Miss You, Jew! local individuals and groups were invited to inscribe the graffiti inscription "I Miss You, Jew!" in Polish all over Poland, mainly in pre-WWII residential areas of the Jewish population. Also, people across Poland were photographed by the artist next to an empty chair, as a visual symbol of the absent Jew.  
It is argued that despite lacking visual or formal resemblances, all three art projects - through addressing the lost memory of Poland's Jews - resonate in shared consciousness towards contemporary global issues such as migration, displacement, Otherness, solidarity, and nationality.  While each of the three artists addresses the memory of Poland's Jews differently, I contend that they converge in their attempts to critique Polish society to which they belong while working to 'correct' and change it, acting in favor of healing Jewish-Polish relations and mending past and future histories.  Through these artworks the Jewish memory is employed by the Polish artists as having the capacity to heal Polish society and assist in reconciling with its dark past by stimulating the Poles to look, see, and act differently, and to imagine different past, present, and future, by which hate, violence or anti-Semitism are no longer part of the foundational myths. In contrast to post-structuralist critique's deconstruction mechanisms of past grand narratives and social structures, what lies at the core of the artworks being discussed, I suggest, is the imagination [both political and visual] of alternative political and social forms of being and inhabiting the world, serving inter alia as a means of rectification and healing.
Tehila Sade
Dr./ Post-Doctoral Fellow, Ben-Gurion University Of The Negev
Research Fellow and Associate Fellow
Institute of English Studies (IES) and Institute of Commonwealth Studies (ICWS)
"Alexandru Ioan Cuza" University of Iasi
Dr./ Post-Doctoral fellow
Ben-Gurion University of the Negev
Associate Professor
University of Alicante
PhD Candidate
Wayne State University
 Guido Bartolini
FWO Postdoctoral Fellow
Ghent University
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