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Responding to Violence: Hierarchies of Memorialisation in Post-colonial Africa

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Organizer: Eloise Brezault

Co-Organizer: Hannah Grayson

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Literary-cultural production in the 20th and 21st centuries has gone a long way to memorialise and represent international conflicts and instances of mass violence.   From the “Rhodes Must Fall” movement in South Africa to the representations of historical violence in postcolonial Sub-Saharan Africa, memory has become extremely political. Similarly, post/memorial literature is a growing genre in which writers create spaces for the memory of historical traumas in particular, that can sometimes exaggerate or downplay how history is remembered. Indeed, certain ‘disasters’ are only fleetingly on screen, and then forgotten. As Vergès recalls, "'contacts of memories,' a space where diverse memories enter into contact either by chance […] or through the deliberate actions of groups or individuals" (“Wandering Souls” 138) can encourage multiple readings and critical examinations of a disaster. This seminar seeks to interrogate that inherent hierarchisation in the memorialization process, by focusing on cultural responses to commemorate and bear witness to those events. Chamoiseau justly argues that “monuments always bear witness to a powerful [...] strength” (Guyane 17), expunging voices that do not fit in the grand narrative of memorialization. However, those voices or “memory-traces” can resurface in the works of artists, they are designed to spark memories that may not be allied with national narratives.   Where catastrophes such as the Genocide of the Tutsi in Rwanda have seen collaborative literary and cultural responses such as the “écrire par devoir de mémoire” project and problematic Hollywood blockbusters such as Hotel Rwanda, other disasters, such as the ongoing Ebola epidemic in sub-Saharan Africa, the civil wars in Congo DRC, do not receive similar attention. Anglophone and Francophone scholarly and cultural spaces have both parallel and divergent patterns of historicisation. This seminar seeks to bring those linguistic spaces together, and to encourage discussion of ‘mémoires croisées,’ as we examine literary and filmic responses to these crises from different perspectives.   What is it about the construction of literary and cultural modes which allow them to constitute contemporary, timely, incisive contributions for a certain moment (immediately after a crisis, for instance), at the same time as standing the test of time? How do some texts become part of the memorial landscape of a particular event? How, in addition can certain texts or films alter and reorient historiographical trends and provide new lenses for revisiting historical moments?   Topics pertinent include:   Narratives of violence Role of literature in recovery Forms of response to trauma and disaster Texts as monuments; literature as memorialization Inscriptions of pain and illness in cultural memory Memory traces and national narratives New ways of rethinking the past  

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