Showing posts with label memory. Show all posts
Showing posts with label memory. Show all posts

Monday, July 14, 2014

Listening to Somos Sur at the Green River Festival

Had the pleasure of attending the Green River Festival in Greenfield, Massachusetts this past weekend. Now in its 28th year, the festival combines the feeling of extended family holiday,  a day at the beach and a neighborhood block party --- if a lot of great musicians happen to live in your neighborhood.  It manages to be low key with high energy and to promote things like engaged community, renewable energy and progressive political causes without asphyxiating you with its self-righteousness.

There is usually a lot of acoustic/folk and Americana at the festival as well as some headliners who mix up the sound.  There are also always musicians you haven't heard of, but should. One of the most popular "new" acts this year was the Chilean musician, innovator, songwriter Ana Tijoux.
Ana Tijoux

Monday, June 23, 2014

"Seeing Through New Eyes?" Grappling with Identity/Identities

Is this a Derry granny?




Brought to you by British Telecom's "Portrait of a City,"an initiative designed to crowd-source community archives as part of the City of Culture events last year, this image of an older woman and sixteen children is one of eight photos that were enlarged last year, printed on heavy-duty tarp material and hung on the exterior wall of the Orchard Street entrance to the local shopping center, Foyleside.

It sits in the wall of the building just like a photo sits in a frame.

I took this photograph while going to catch a bus to visit my friend Bryonie, who is one of the most creative, effervescent and astute thinkers I know.

When it comes to thinking about Northern Ireland, I often get this Rumi quote in my head (I know, I know, the cliché of it all!!!!) "Out beyond right doing and wrong doing, there is a field.  I'll meet you there." I always think of Bryonie on that field.  Partly because she writes about landscapes and maybe because in my mind, a part of her own identity is intertwined with the fields of Leitrim.  Mostly because she doesn't just reject, she simply enters into, gently scrutinizes and then deconstructs prescriptive, rigid, essentialist thinking about the histories, cultures and cultural politics of this place.  All the dichotomies: them/us, north/south, Éire/UK, belonging/not belonging --- they lose resonance and are revealed as the caricatures they are.  But she does it in a way that also affords the processes of their very construction respect.  Like I said, formidable.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

On Trigger Warnings, Landmines and Memory

Everyone's talking about trigger warnings in college classrooms this week.  This has me thinking about how we navigate "triggers" in our daily lives. 

It also makes me reflect on the utter unpredictability of things -- stories, images, sounds, events --  that trigger painful and traumatic memories.  This week, we've had some insight into how those operate in places where people have experienced and lived through violent conflict.

The trigger warning issue occupies prime real estate in contemporary culture wars.  Of course it does. After all, it is highly emotive, intensely polarized and wide open for criticism on either side of the debate. Plus, it involves feminists, who always get mocked for taking things too seriously and who never take that bullshit quietly.

 If you haven't been following the debate, college students across the nation are saying that they want to know which class sessions and readings/assignments will contain content or address issues that potentially trigger the onset of symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder.  The movement to make trigger warnings mandatory got underway last February at University of California Santa Barbara. Bailey Loverin, a student, raised the issue after feeling "forced" to sit through a film that described rape graphically.  She wanted to leave because the film raised her experience as a victim sexual abuse, but felt that walking out would  be extremely public. 

Since then, proposals by student senates have been presented at a wide array of colleges and universities.  The movement has its roots in feminist approaches to social media.




I sympathize with feminists who have championed trigger warnings as a means of creating and nurturing safer online spaces.  Websites and videos warn readers and viewers about disturbing content so they can either prepare for the possibility of being disturbed or avoid. I also tend to sympathize with the fuming academics who consider trigger warnings "inimical to academic freedom." Yes, I also think it is idiotic that The Great Gatsby might demand a trigger warning for suicide, domestic abuse and graphic violence.  And I would be really annoyed if I had to tag basically every class meeting in world history with a trigger warning --  but pretty much everything from the Haitian Revolution to the Vietnam era anti-war protests could conceivably fall under this category, right?

Monday, May 5, 2014

The Politics of Remembrance in Northern Ireland

I have been thinking about the Troubles for fifteen years,  researching and trying to tell  histories of nationalists in Derry, Northern Ireland for ten.   As a result, many people have asked me what I think of the the recent news cycle, featuring Sinn Féin's Gerry Adams, murdered Belfast widow Jean McConville and the Police Service of Northern Ireland.   

My response has been a vague, "I think it's complicated."  There has been a rash of whataboutery out there, to which I am loathe to add even a syllable ( -- from Martin McGuinness's comment about the "dark forces" in the PSNI,  Northern Ireland's police force to the lachrymose recapitulations of the abduction and murder of McConville, a widowed mother of 10 accused of passing information to the British army whose body was missing until 2003 -- that sounds like "republicans are all evil" masquerading as sympathy for McConville's children.)


  There has also been intelligent and thoughtful discussion -- if you are interested in learning more or trying to understand issues of memory, victimhood and the Troubles, I recommend  Susan McKay's piece in The Guardian and Brian Walker's short op-ed on the Slugger O'Toole online journal.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

The Art of Memory: Jorge Luis Borges and "Funes the Memorious"

Access.  Access.  Access.  

Yesterday in class we explored digital history.  The plethora of digital documentation was on everyone's minds. We discussed how archivists will try to preserve and historians of the future will try to sort through all the video clips, recordings, tweets, texts, status updates, social media profiles, emails, blogs, etc. that we all produce.

Someone said people don't need to be educated formally anyone -- they can just go to the internet and become experts on topics that interest them. (I just resisted the urge to snort and harrumph.) Another person exhorted that people don't need to read anymore, don't need to know anything -- because everything is always accessible at the touch of a button.

I said I thought they needed more skills, not fewer, to make sense of all the information to which they have access.

It led to a conversation about how to make meaning from all this "stuff," how information requires interpretation, how the challenge of navigating material has replaced the challenge of accessing it. What is useful? What can be trusted?  How can we make sense of it all?  And how can we avoid the trap in which sifting through information -- consuming information --  comes at the expense of actually doing anything about the things that matter to us?

It reminded me of Borges. Well, actually, it reminded me of  Borges' Ireneo Funes. 

Thursday, April 3, 2014

The Art of Memory: Sean Tyrrell and the "Big Songs"

Had the pleasure of seeing Galway songwriter, troubadour and vintage instrument aficionado Sean Tyrrell last night in Somerville.  I was charting a path down memory lane, having seen him at least once at his regular Sunday night gig at the Roisin Dubh in Galway and a couple times at Sandinos in Derry over the years. Strange to listen to music remembering your younger self listening to the same music, trying to place not just where you were, but who you were the last time you experienced it.


Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Performing Memory

My mom has a habit that has become more pronounced over time.  If she doesn't want to do something, she makes herself late.  A strange, passive aggressive stalling tactic. You might think about it casually and consider her disorganized, or worse -- approaching senility.  The dillying.  The dallying.  A whole ritual involving socks.  But I don't think so - because I can see the intention behind it.  A quiet protest.  An insistence on her right to choose.




As I was sitting on the couch yesterday morning, in pjs, drinking tea -- a half an hour before I needed to be somewhere it takes me twenty minutes to drive to -- it occurred to me that I have inherited this particular habit.

When I first picked up Diana Taylor's wonderful book The Archive and the Repertoire, the idea that we perform acts of memory everyday in our speech, our silences, our habits and ways of being in the world  was new to me.  It kind of blew me away.  I think she actually talks about looking in the mirror and seeing her mom looking in the mirror in the introduction.

When I ask, "How's by you?"  I am performing memory.  I never ask anyone who is not in my immediate family this, but my association of the phrase with my mother and her mother and aunties -- five first generation Polish-American women -- comforts me somehow.  I usually ask the cat, though a. he cannot answer and b. how's by him is pretty much the same as it is for me, since we live in the same place. Never you mind that the etymology of the phrase is Yiddish and I have no idea why my mom's family adopted it. Maybe it was my German/Irish grandfather's.  I've adopted it to signify what I want it to -- probably changing the meaning and original purpose of the utterance.  Oh well --- memory is fluid, flexible and open to adjustments.

We all think about food as memory and traditions of other kinds as well.  But isn't it fascinating, and maybe just a little freeing, to consider your nervous ticks, procrastination and avoidance tactics, the armor you grab for whenever you get in an argument, etc.  performances of memory as well?  Doesn't it make you want to understand what attitudes and behaviors are yours and yours alone, and which ones are inheritances?


I've become more inclined to make hospital corners the way my mom taught me, to follow a particular choreography in the kitchen, to find it funny and oddly lovely that I hoard cans of tomato sauce and stockpile condiments just like my dad does.  It is still neurotic, but as a performance of neurotic memory, it makes it a little more OK.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

The Art of Memory: Eduardo Galeano

Eduardo Galeano is, to my mind, the very best kind of writer. Defying categories, playing with media, voice and form, he is a journalist, novelist and poet.  For me he is also, strangely enough, one of the clearest routes that brought me to public history.  




I found The Book of Embraces on the bookshelf at a friend's house almost 20 years ago.  I asked if I could borrow it and he said it wasn't his cup of tea, "Keep it."  Soon after, another friend saw it on my bookshelf and asked if he could borrow it.  Off it went, just a few short weeks after it had arrived.  

I still have that copy. In it, my friend had inscribed: "I loved this book so much,  I don't really want to part with it. Still, I don't want to hang onto it a second longer when you've not yet read it."

Thursday, March 20, 2014

The Art of Memory: Derek Mahon and Numinous Objects


Continuing our Thursday series on the art of memory, today’s poet is Derek Mahon. Born in Belfast in 1941, Mahon is a self-described "voluntary exile' from his home in Northern Ireland.  Having lived in Paris, Greenwich Village and in a handful of different cities in Canada and London, much of his work explores themes of displacement, loneliness and the alienated life of the artist in society. I love his work.  I am never bored by Mahon and I always find new things to explore.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

The Art of Memory: Szymborska

I became acquainted with  the art of memory by listening to my parents and grandparents, by following along the imaginative avenues of memories of Lake Woebegone on Prairie Home Companion, by asking strangers to tell me their stories.  But I really fell in love with memory, a love that endures, through the literary arts --- poetry, fiction, memoir, plays.  

Occassionally,  I introduce you to some of my favorite writers and poets and spotlight their memories or reflections on memory. I'll share a few thoughts on why I find each piece meaningful, provocative or striking.  I am not a literary scholar and I can't tell you about influences and patterns and the like.  Maybe I'll tell you how I came across a writer or poet. I hope I introduce you to a few wordsmiths or let you connect with those you may not know well.  And in the meantime, I hope that I reconnect with some of the things that inspired me to explore the art of memory.

We start with my favorite 20th century poet, Wisława Szymborska.  There aren't a lot of famous people I wish I'd smoked cigarettes and drank scotch with, but she is one:


Wisława Szymborska



Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Fun Home Follow-Up

A few posts back, I wrote about teaching Alison Bechdel's Fun Home for the first time.  I thought I'd follow up with a few reflections on how that went.





I love students' honesty.  Jabari commented as soon as we opened up the conversation that while he had originally had no intention of reading the book ("I was just going to read a summary",) he got engrossed and actually read it.  There were lots of nodding heads.  Aside from the whole, "I have no shame about telling you that I consider the syllabus purely as a set of vague recommendations," I considered it a win.  Fun Home had them hooked.

And then there's the motley band of students.  Of course, the debate began immediately with whether or not the dad had committed suicide. One student had spent eight years working in a funeral home and was adamant that a professional in the business would never choose a death as "messy" as getting run over by a truck.  "He never would have done that. Plus he was all about aesthetics and that is seriously not an aesthetically-pleasing way to go."


Thursday, February 20, 2014

Performing Violence: The Case of the James Meredith Statue

Imagine being the journalist assigned to call an eighty-one year old man to tell him that the statue of his image, erected close to the site where the governor of his state physically barred his access to college 52 years ago, had been draped in a vintage confederate Georgia state flag, had a noose wrapped around its neck -- in other words, had been symbolically lynched?  James Meredith received calls from journalists this week, after the memorial to integration at the University of Mississippi, Ole Miss, was vandalized on Sunday.

Let's traumatize him again, shall we?  

Meredith's response to the news of what was almost certainly a hate crime on the Oxford, Mississippi campus?  He told Shay Harris of WMCT that the crime confirmed what he already knew, " that Mississippi has a moral character breakdown."


As an historian who thinks a lot about the legacies of painful histories, I was concerned that the media might track down Meredith for his reaction.  To me, the story didn't lie there, however.  More important is the campus's response.  First, there is the alumni association's decision to offer a $25,000 reward for information that led to the arrest of the vandals.  Was this, I wondered, because they really wanted to find out what happened or because they knew they weren't going to? Was it an act of defiance against  hate crimes or an attempt to save face while also acknowledging the likelihood that the campus would keep its secrets?  Time will tell.  

Was the symbolic lynching a response to the Michael Dunn verdict?  There is no way of knowing, at least not unless the perpetrators are in custody.





PICTURE CREDIT : THOMAS GRANING/THE DAILY MISSISSIPPIAN/AP


Thursday, February 13, 2014

Teaching Fun Home as Public History

I assigned Alison Bechdel's Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic for the first time in Public History and my students are reading it now. It is an amazing graphic novel that just got turned into a musical.


I assigned it because I wanted to teach something about identity as it relates to the social frameworks of memory and to connect it to the ways in which we localize memories through landscapes, objects and images. I also wanted to do something on family history. 





So, what do I want students to get out of this reading experience?  What questions do I hope they ask and explore as they read the text and examine the graphics?  How do I encourage them to think beyond the coming of age/coming out/coming to terms with a gay dad stories to think about the structure of the text and the relationships between memory and identity?  The things that made the book so fascinating to me actually focused around Bechdel's literary relationship with her father --- she experienced the relationship through texts --- Joyce, Proust, Salinger, Faulkner, the ancient Greek myths. Her dad was an English teacher as well as a part time funeral home director.