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Remembering Violence:
Anthropological Perspectives on
Intergenerational Transmission
Nicolas Argenti and Katharina Schramm
How does violence affect remembering? How are the largescale
cataclysms, crises, disasters and dispersals that befall communities
entrusted by one generation of witnesses to the next? If bearing witness to
violence cannot be a disinterested act, and if memory despite its
relationship to the past is always deployed in the present, a question
arises regarding the mediation of memory, or the relationship of
remembering to forgetting: How is memory partially (and necessarily)
constituted by forgetting? What is the exact nature of the Faustian bargain
between transmission and obliteration? Looking at howIf memories of
largescale manmade catastrophes are passed on from the original
generation of victims and perpetrators to their children, the question arises
how do inchoate, individual experiences of political violence devoid as
they often are of any logic, structure or narrative sense coalesce into an
accepted body of knowledge that can be coherently uttered and invested
in collectively as legitimate and representative: how, in other words, do
individual memoriesy contributes to social memory before social memory
can once again now in the shape of postmemories (Hirsch 1997, 1999;
Hirsch and Spitzer 2006: 85) shape individual subjective experience in
the dialectic of self and society?.
The last few decades have seen a veritable explosion of studies of
memory, not only in the humanities and the social sciences but also and
first of all in public culture and contemporary politics. In popular culture
as in academia today, memory sometimes seems to apply to a
bewilderingly widening array of phenomena, some of which are
apparently only tangentially or metaphorically related to what we
commonly understand by memory. Increasing anxiety in academia
regarding what constitutes memory (or remembering, remembrance,
commemoration, and their everpresent antonyms, forgetting, obliteration
and oblivion1) and what qualifies as trauma or as posttraumatic stress
highlights the role of memory as a site of struggle outside of academia and
clinical practice, in society itself.


Memory is not a simple, unmediated reproduction of the past, but rather

a selective recreation that is dependent for its meaning on the
remembering individual or communitys contemporary social context,
beliefs and aspirations (Huyssen 1995). Indeed, individual memories
devoid of such contextualisation and the selective amnesia, telescoping
and transformations they entail are considered pathological in their
solipsistic detail and isolating particularity. At the collective level,
similarly, we could not imagine a social reality in which all of the events of
the past and all of the manifold ways in which those events were
experienced and interpreted by a multitude of different individuals,
factions and interest groups are somehow preserved in the present. By
their very nature, the recreations of the past produced by memory are
partial, unstable, often contested, and prone to becoming sites of struggle.
As Matt Matsuda puts it, memory is not a generic term of analysis, but
itself an object appropriated and politicized (1996: 6). At the individual
and the collective level alike, these can even be false memories, but this
does not mean that they are not memories for all that, nor does it mean
that the very real emotive and political salience with which these
memories can be endowed and deployed are somehow void. In this sense,
as Stephan Feuchtwang (2006) has recently demonstrated, even false
memories bear a relation to truths beyond their supposed originary
events; a form of metatruth about the present that is projected back in
Anxieties about the reliability of memory give rise to concerns
regarding the aims and consequences of focusing on memory.2 These
concerns have been played out in part in a strict separation between
memory and history (cf. Halbwachs 1992, Nora 1989, 1992), the former
considered subjective, living, continuous and organic, and the latter
objective, distanced, transformative and critical. Often, this distinction is
accompanied by a dichotomy between nonliterate or simple (i.e.
nonWestern) and modern or complex (i.e. Western) societies (e.g. Nora
1989, 1992). Some writers have refuted this essentialist view, insisting on
the areas of overlap between the two fields. Hirsch and Stewart (2005), for
instance, very usefully distinguish between history and historicity; the
latter term highlighting the manner in which persons operating under
the constraints of social ideologies make sense of the past, while
anticipating the future. Where history refers to an assumed empirically
verifiable past, historicity concerns the ongoing social production of
accounts of pasts and futures. (Hirsch and Stewart 2005:262).
The focus on memory in much emerging research similarly highlights
the social construction of the past across cultures. In his attempt to extend
the concept of memory beyond Maurice Halbwachs presentist theory of
social framing, Jan Assmann (1992) distinguishes between communicative
memory which is actively produced in social groups through everyday

Nicolas Argenti and Katharina Schramm 3

interactions and what he calls cultural memory, which reaches much

deeper into the past and is expressed in myths, genealogies or traditions
and lies outside the realm of the everyday. To him, the distinction between
societies that remember and those that have history, which underlies
Pierre Noras (1989, 1992) conception of lieux de mmoire, is a false
dichotomy that elides the historical consciousness of nonliterate societies.
Writing on the dynamics of memory, history and forgetting in Madagascar,
Jennifer Cole (2001) also blurs the clearcut boundaries between memory
and history, showing how historical consciousness might influence
memorial practice and vice versa. Joining the sceptics in questioning the
new ubiquity of memory, Michael Lambek (2006: 21011) warns us that the
very project of trying to locate a field of enquiry that escapes the
hegemony and the monolithic essentialisations of history might
paradoxically result in new discourses of authority that are themselves
reifications of the oppressed and marginalised to whom the researcher
seeks to give a voice:
The risk is that we assume that somewhere there exists pure and
unsullied memory, memory which accurately reproduces the
experience of its subjects and that is their unique possession, that holds
and moulds their essence, that is itself an essence. In making memory
the object of study, we run the risk of naturalising the very
phenomenon whose heightened presence or salience is in need of
investigation (2006: 211).

Clearly, memory cannot be assumed to represent an objective past that

has been excluded by historical practice and historiography. This would be
to reproduce the essentialisation of some historical writing from in
contradistinction to which memory is looked to as an escape.
Nevertheless, it may still be the case that memory in all of its
heterogeneity, its instability and its liability to contestation represents
the history that cannot be written (Lambek 2006: 211, see also Gold and
Gujar 2002). It is precisely because memory cannot be trusted as history
that it needs to be explored, not as a record of the past, but of the present
of those whose interests, views, experiences and lifeworlds are somehow
inimical to or have fallen outside of the historical project.
The contributions to this book restrict themselves to the specific
question of how political violence is remembered, how memories of this
violence are transmitted, and the uses to which the memories are put. So
far, despite the allpervading memoryboom, few collections have been
explicitly concerned with an anthropological exploration of this subject.
One of the early efforts in the field has been Richard Werbners (1998)
seminal edited volume on Memory and the Postcolony, the scope of which is
limited to African(ist) perspectives on the violent configurations of the


postcolonial state. Another, more recent volume, edited by Baruch Stier

and J. Shawn Landres (2006), is concerned with the connection between
religion, violence, memory and place, whereby the focus lies on mutual
implications between the sacralisation of violence and the violence of
religion, and not so much on the specifics of the relationship between
violence and memory. Silverstein and Makdisi (2005) make the connection
between violence and memory explicit; yet again their analyses are
restricted to one contemporary situation, namely that in the Middle East
and North Africa, where violence is a major factor of presentday politics.
Our This volume, which is global in its scope, aims to contribute to the
nascent anthropology of memory by focusing in particular on the issue of
the intergenerational transmission of memories of violence.3
In an age in which discussing the subjective experience of political
violence is impossible without reference to trauma and to posttraumatic
stress disorder (PTSD), this volume raises questions as to whether the
trauma paradigm is to be understood as an empirical description of a
universal human psychic response to violence, as a Western
culturebound syndrome, as a folk model of suffering, as a social
movement, or as a global discourse as manifold in its interpretations as it
is pervasive in its reach. Is trauma an analytical model, or the latest social
movement to which students of memory should devote their analytical
attention? Can one move from an analytical model of individual, psychic
trauma to one of collective or social trauma as one can between individual
and collective memory?4 Can trauma (in its association with
disruptiveness, inescapability and repetitiveness) and memory (in its
connotations with identity, continuity and selectivity) be analytically
joined to address the impact of past violence on the present? And if so, can
the collective trauma of a generation of victims be passed to their offspring
in the next generation, and how might this transference exactly take place?
To Ron Eyerman (2001) it is precisely the phenomenon of
intergenerational transmission that produces what he calls cultural
trauma. In his discussion of African American collective identity he
distinguishes cultural from psychological or physical trauma as follows:
Cultural trauma refers to a dramatic loss of identity and meaning, a
tear in the social fabric, affecting a group of people that has achieved
some degree of cohesion. In this sense, the trauma need not necessarily
be felt by everyone in a community or experienced directly by any or
all. While it may be necessary to establish some event as the significant
cause, its traumatic meaning must be established and accepted, a
process which requires time, as well as mediation and representation.
(2001: 2)

Nicolas Argenti and Katharina Schramm 5

In this model, presentday discrimination reproduces the trauma of

racism, while slavery is nothing more nor less than the historical reference
through which the ongoing contemporary experience is framed.
Thoughtprovoking and enlightening as humanist interpretations of
the trauma paradigm such as these are, they are culturally and historically
specific. Although the contributors to this volume, all of them
anthropologists, are cognisant with and, to a greater or lesser degree,
informed by recent theories of trauma, they have not started off with a
clearcut definition of what constitutes trauma or the memory of
violence, but rather inductively explored those questions on the basis of
concrete ethnographic case studies.

From History to Memory and Back Again

Despite the controversy surrounding the term, the origins of the notion of
collective memory in the social sciences can still be traced back to the work
of Maurice Halbwachs (1992) and ultimately to his mentor Durkheims
notion of collective consciousness. Halbwachs method is not to look to
individual memories as the building blocks of collective memory, but
simply to point out that individual memories cannot exist on their own, as
dreams do, but are the result of regular intercourse with others. It therefore
follows that what psychologists often take to be the most intimate realm of
human thought and experience is in fact a result of collective social
interaction. Individual memories are necessarily shared memories, and
memories that are not shared are rapidly forgotten; they are therefore not
memories at all (1992: 53).
Not only did Halbwachs make the case for collective memory, but he
also broadened the range of phenomena that were to be considered as
memories. In his case study concerning the Catholic rite of communion,
for example, he argues convincingly that a contemporary practice that is
engaged in and understood as such in fact reenacts the death and
resurrection of Christ that is believed to have happened in the past (1992:
90119).5 Unlike historical recording, this form of remembering or
commemoration is embodied, and as such it collapses the distance and the
linearity that history introduces to time; juxtaposing the past and the
present and returning a body of believers to the originary events of their
faith from which the passage of time would divorce them. Nor does such
commemoration necessarily entail a conservative outlook or a reactionary
stance. Halbwachs makes the argument that memory serves the purpose
of facilitating change in society even revolution by masking that
change in the guise of continuity. Hence, old rites and religious customs
often serve to give a sense of continuity and legitimacy to new political
systems. Halbwachs observes that the patrician titles, ranks and manners


of the feudal nobility in France were preserved even as the entire feudal
system was being radically supplanted by a bureaucratic one. In this way,
he tells us, the new structure was elaborated in the shadow of the old
The new ideas became salient only after having for a long time behaved as
if they were the old ones. It is upon a foundation of remembrances that
contemporary institutions were constructed. (1992: 125)
Halbwachs goes on to argue that in time, the memories that had been
held by or attributed to the nobility were passed on to the bourgeoisie, and
to society as a whole, which became the new repository of memory in a
meritocratic, republican France. Halbwachs thus demonstrates that social
practices or beliefs are also memories, and that it is because the
contemporary or synchronic can also be seen from a diachronic point of
view that it can be bathed in the hallowed aura of sanctity associated with
the timeless and traditional. To the contention that rites and embodied
practices are not memories because they serve only contemporary
purposes and interests, Halbwachs responds that the apparent
timelessness of ritual in fact conceals a chronology that makes the past
essential to the negotiation of the present.6
Halbwachs pioneering work on collective memory led to what we
might term a democratisation of history and of memory (Bahloul 1996;
Radstone and Hodgkin 2006: 2; Samuel 1994), in which some historians
(especially those of the annales school) used Halbwachs insights to suggest
that not only the elite, but also ordinary people, the illiterate and the
oppressed might be able to construct histories for themselves, and to act as
the guardians and repositories of accepted forms of knowledge about the
past. Accepting the voices of informants as valid sources, alongside
objective textual sources, signalled an ethnographic turn in history that
was later paralleled by a historical turn in anthropology a new
preoccupation with memory which once again was concerned with
establishing an alternative to histories seen to be too closely associated
with patriarchal discourses of the state and practices of state formation.7
In anthropology and history alike then, an emphasis on memory and
on oral history can be seen as an attempt to privilege voices that have been
marginalised or silenced by projects of stateformation and empire
building. Such a position can also implicitly be seen to privilege the
subjective experience of individuals and communities over the objective
social and historical processes that elide individuals and their fallible and
partial knowledge, experiences and beliefs. Additionally, the notion of
countermemories (Foucault 1977; ZemonDavis and Stern 1989; cf. Baker
1994) points towards the continuous struggle between dominant and
marginal voices in the production of history/memory. Where critics of the
annales school would object that the latters histories are based on
anecdotes and hearsay and consequently lack analytical rigour and
historical authority, advocates of the turn to memory would reply that

Nicolas Argenti and Katharina Schramm 7

orthodox historical approaches are needlessly positivistic in their

insistence on evidence and that their search for facts as a means of
shedding light on what really happened is pursued at the cost of eliding
the experience of ordinary people, which is ultimately the only historical
fact that there is (see Wilson 2002).
As Jan Vansina (1985) has argued for SubSaharan Africa, one of the
consequences of this turn to memory has been what one might term the
detextualisation of history and the replacement of often rather slender
archives with more loquacious informants. As recognition has spread
among historians that the past is not only encoded in written records and
archival documents, but that it can also be remembered in oral history, oral
tradition and other nontextual narratives and accounts, many peoples
who were deemed in academia not to have a past worthy of the name
were subsequently considered to be able to produce one, often in
partnership with (Western) ethnographers.8
As an historian interested in supplementing his knowledge of
objective history by means of oral tradition, Vansina remains faithful to a
conception of history in which the past and the memory thereof are
assumed to correspond with each other unproblematically. However,
others such as Jolle Bahloul (1996), Ann Gold and Bhoju Ram Gujar
(2002), Jean Comaroff (1985), Peter Geschiere (1997), John Peel (1979),
Charles Piot (1999), Rosalind Shaw (2002), and Ann Stoler and Karen
Strassler (2000) have been more interested in the ways in which the past
can live on perdure and take on new life in the contemporary contexts into
which it is recalled. Replacing the relatively static storage or hydraulic
model of memory (Stoler and Strassler 2000:7) with a processual one
enables us to see how memories are a source of negotiation and conflict in
society, perpetually open to revision and effectively rendering past and
present consubstantial (Wilce 2002: 159; Casey 1985: 254). Bridging
between these two poles, Marita Sturken keeps a close eye on the historical
veracity of the past in the collective memory of United States citizens while
recognising its presence as a political force in the present. The title of her
book Tangled Memories refers to her critique of Pierre Noras opposition
between memory and history. Memory and history are not opposed, she
argues, but rather entangled (1997: 47; cf. Cole 2001: 10234).9
The interest in the social transformations to which memory is prone
and in the political salience of the past in the present rather than in
memory as a historical record is not restricted to the field of verbal
accounts, but also finds its expression in the field of nonverbal, embodied
memory. Indeed, while the bodily practices exhibited in rites, dance and
everyday life are curiously gnomic with respect to the past they are
associated with, they are undeniably powerful factors in the social
relations of contemporary societies. Paul Connerton (1989) was among the
first to address the importance of bodily practice in and for social memory.


According to him, there are two dimensions to embodiment: on one hand,

he highlights the importance of ritual and ceremonial performances as
commemorative acts which allow a community to reassure itself; on the
other hand he refers to habitual memory through which a mnemonics of
the body (1989: 74) finds its expression. What was once referred to as
bodily techniques (techniques du corps, Mauss 1936) or as habitus
(Bourdieu 1990) becomes memory in Connerton. David Berliner (2005b)
has criticised this extension of the memory vocabulary for its uncritical
convergence with problematic notions of culture as mainly concerned with
continuity. Indeed, Connertons interpretation of embodiment does not
leave much room for a conceptualisation of memory which allows for
social transformation. Yet if one considers the impact of violence on
peoples cultural and political identities, as do the authors of this volume,
it becomes clear that embodied memory is not only relevant in terms of
social stability, but perhaps even more so as an indicator of social
disruption (cf. Argenti 2007; Shaw 2002; Stoller 1995; Kleinman and
Kleinman 1994).

Trauma, Time and CounterTime

Nietzsche, who says that only that which never ceases to hurt stays in the
memory (1899, in Sturken 1997: 15), also depicts the historical past as a
dark invisible burden that travels with man, preventing him from living
wholly in the present. For this reason, one must learn to forget the past in
order to be able to act in the present (Nietzsche 1957: 5, see also White
1973: 347). Here, Nietzsche lays the foundation for a theory of memory and
forgetting that pays particular attention to the importance of pain and
suffering in the relationship between past and present, an aspect that
would inspire and preoccupy later writers. As Maurice Bloch later put it,
the devices which select from the past what is to be remembered also
inevitably involve selecting what of the past is to be obliterated (1996:
229). Two years after Bloch published his observations, Marc Aug
developed this insight to its ultimate conclusion, radically challenging the
notion that forgetting is a failure of memory, and arguing instead that it
must be understood as constitutive of memory. In Augs fitting and
beautiful metaphor, memories are crafted by oblivion as the outlines of
the shore are created by the sea (2004: 20).10 James Wilce (2002) has added
concrete data to these insights by revealing how the genre of lament is
being systematically and wilfully forgotten in Bangladesh as a response to
global modernity and Islamisation. If oblivion is part and parcel of
memory in normal circumstances, however, its importance appears to be
magnified by experiences of colonial domination and of political violence.

Nicolas Argenti and Katharina Schramm 9

Looking at the effect of violence on memory and oblivion, Laurence

Kirmayer warns that if a family or a community agrees that a trauma did
not happen, then it vanishes from collective memory and the possibility
for individual memory is severely strained (1996: 18990).
Indeed, a good deal of the early psychological research on trauma,
starting in the nineteenth century with that of Charcot, Erichsen, Freud
and Janet amongst others on the victims of train accidents and shell shock,
suggested that there was something about the experience of violence by an
individual that placed it somehow outside of memory, beyond the normal
processes of remembering.11 According to this view, the psychic
phenomenon of trauma itself engenders amnesia and silence. This view
has been transmitted from early clinical theorists of trauma, through later
generations of physicians such as Bessel van der Kolk (see van der Kolk
and Grenberg 1987; van der Kolk and van der Hart 1991; Van der Kolk and
Fisler 1995; Van der Kolk, McFarlane and Weisath 1996), to contemporary
social scientists and literary critics, who have all dwelled on the silences
and the aporia brought forth by violent pasts (cf. Agamben 1999;
Bettelheim 1943; Caruth 1991a, 1991b, 1991c; Derrida 1976, 1986;
Friedlander 1992; LaCapra 2001; Felman and Laub 1992; Laub 1991, 1992;
Lyotard 1990; Unnold 2002; Vickroy 2002). According to this theory of
traumatic silence, one of the paradoxes of trauma is that those who live
through events of excessive violence seldom react to them emotionally at
the time of their occurrence or in their immediate aftermath.
Janet and Freuds research in the late nineteenth and early twentieth
century showed that some trauma patients became amnestic, believing
since they could not recall them that the events that had caused their
distress had never happened (van der Kolk and van der Hart 1991: 427).
Others, while they remembered the horrific events they have lived
through, reported a total lack of emotional connection to them.12 And yet,
Janet and Freud also noted that the traumatic experience clearly was
present at some other level of consciousness, for, unaware as their patients
were of the events that had precipitated their crises, they were compelled
regularly to reenact them with complete precision. Far from forgetting,
these patients seemed to be suffering from the inability to forget, or the
failure to realise they were perpetually remembering.
Following Janet, van der Kolk and van der Hart (ibid.: 427) argue that
familiar and expectable experiences are automatically assimilated without
much conscious awareness, but frightening experiences may not fit in with
ones cognitive schemata. The memories of these experiences are then
stored differently and are not available for retrieval under normal
circumstances. These memories become dissociated from conscious
awareness and voluntary control. Fragments of these unintegrated
experiences may later manifest themselves as behavioural reenactments.
According to van der Kolk and van der Hart, one of the characteristics of



such embodied traumatic memories is that they take too long (ibid.: 431):
as long in fact as the original event that they reproduce integrally. Where
narrative memory could describe an accident or crime in thirty seconds,
traumatic memories last exactly as long as the events originally suffered
they are therefore to all intents and purposes nothing less than the return
of the event.13 The second point about narrative memory, as opposed to
reenactment, is that its summative role necessarily introduces revisions,
deletions, elisions and transformations to the original event, which are
related rather than reproduced. These transformations introduce difference
to an event, making it lose its original accuracy and completeness, but by
the same token making the event amenable to the victims psyche and to
the social life of the community in which the retelling takes place. Thus,
where narrative memories are integrative, traumatic memories are
intrusive and literal; they have no social component, but rather seem to
spring upon their victims quite outside of their volition or control.14
The amnestic nature of traumatic memory and its later involuntary
intrusions and reenactments points to another purported paradox of
trauma: that it is never experienced as it happens, nor enters properly into
the realm of experience, except, at times, after a protracted delay often of
decades. Hence, the division of the self to which Bruno Bettelheim attests
is reported by many Holocaust survivors. Van der Kolk and van der Hart
(ibid.: 43738) argue on the basis of these reports that Freuds model of
repression is too weak to describe the phenomenon, and they suggest
instead a model of dissociation. The concept of repression suggests a
voluntary or willed suppression of a memory that one possesses but
wishes to ignore or forget. In the dissociation model, however, the causal
event(s) never enter into consciousness as they happen, so they cannot
later be repressed. The dissociation allegedly takes place as an inherent
part of the original (non)experience of the event it happens at the same
time as the event as one of its effects, and is inseparable from it it does not
happen afterwards as the result of a decision.15 This suggests that while
dissociative experiences may be subconscious, unlike the repressed, they
may also dominate consciousness, for example during traumatic
reenactments. This clinical model happens to fit nicely with the reports of
many holocaust survivors, who attest to the experience of living in two
different worlds simultaneously: the place and time of the trauma, and the
place and time of their contemporary lives.
In his 1991 work, Holocaust Testimonies: The Ruins of Memory, Laurence
Langer provides multiple and compelling examples of Holocaust
survivors who perceive their lives and often their bodies as a duality.
As the Auschwitz survivor Charlotte Delbo records in her memoir of the
war, Auschwitz et Aprs, the camp exists for her in a perpetual present that
produces a countertime that impedes her normal progress through
ordinary time. In her film interview for the Yale Video Archive for

Nicolas Argenti and Katharina Schramm 11

Holocaust Testimonies, which Langer uses as part of his source material,

Delbo is asked by one of her interviewers if she still lives with Auschwitz
since her liberation (a term that many survivors see as misleading given
the psychological permanence and inescapability of the camps). She
replies: No I live beside it. Auschwitz is there, fixed and unchangeable,
but wrapped in the impervious skin of memory that segregates itself from
the present me (Langer 1991: 5). Another informant who also passed
through Auschwitz puts it very similarly: I dont live with it [Auschwitz],
it lives with me (Langer 1991: 23).16
For those such as Langer working within the trauma paradigm, the
doubling of the self to which Charlotte Delbo and others refer entails the
perpetual presence of a past that refuses to become memory, but remains
forever that which it never fully was in the first instance: an experience. In
Maurice Blanchots words, the absent experiences of holocaust survivors
cannot be forgotten because [they] have always already fallen outside
memory (1995: 38). Langer (1991: 95) speaks similarly of a permanent
duality or a parallel existence in which survivors are doomed to dwell,
and van der Kolk and van der Hart lend clinical weight to this
interpretation of traumatic ellipsis and silence when they state that
traumatic memory is not transformed into a story, placed in time, with a
beginning, a middle and an end (1991: 448).
In the realm of traumatic memory, the theory goes, the triggering
events have taken place in a realm that is so utterly removed from any
known set of ethics or values as to remain forever inconceivable in the terms
of society outside the realm of the trauma not only for those around the
victim who escaped trauma, but even to the victims themselves insofar as
they try to live lives predicated on takenforgranted moral principles.
This is, according to the PTSD model, one of the reasons for the initial
silence of the first generation of victims of trauma. Nor are the
incommensurable memories from these two realms totally separated in
dissociation. Despite the testimonies of the Holocaust survivors and
others, deep or traumatic memories and common memories become
intertwined, or dialectically related to one another.17
In a preface written for Nicolas Abraham and Maria Toroks work on
Freuds Wolf Man case, Cryptonymie: le Verbier de lHomme aux Loups,
Derrida (1976) brings out the relationship of traumatic memory to
common memory in all of its paradox when he refers to the realm of deep
memory by analogy as a crypt, or a forum, a place hidden within or
beneath another place, a place complete unto itself, but closed off from that
outside itself of which it is nevertheless an inherent part. Derrida thus
emphasises the simultaneous inclusion and exclusion of traumatic
memory. The crypt is formed in violence, by violence, and yet also in
silence. In order for this act of violence to remain silent and unheard, one
places it as far as one can apart from oneself, but this place is in fact deep



within oneself. The cryptic enclave thus becomes a space of incorporation

rather than of introjection, as is the case with normal experience and
narrative memory. This failure of introjection, in other words, is at the root
of a somatic embodiment of memory. It is parasitical, a sort of psychic
cyst: an inside heterogeneous to the inside of oneself (Derrida 1976: 15,
trans. Nicolas Argenti).18 In the case of the death of close family members,
the memory of the loved one may take up residence inside the crypt,
forum, or for, where s/he will remain safe: dead, safe (save) in me
(Derrida 1976: 17).19 By means of incorporation, the dead thus become the
livingdead inside oneself. Where introjection progressive, slow,
mediated, effective fails, incorporation imposes itself fantasmatic,
immediate, unmediated, magical, sometimes hallucinatory (ibid). Lyotard
(1990: 16), referring to traumatic memories as unconscious affect,
similarly describes them as a bit monstrous, unformed, confusing,
confounding. As the traumatic amnesia of events never experienced in the
first place, traumatic memories are doomed to return only as experiences,
and not as discursive memories they can never be representations, but
only presence. In other words, memory is not possible where there lies an
absence of meaning, and it is not possible to give meaning to experiences
of extreme violence.20
Nicolas Abraham (1975) draws parallels between such incorporations
and the experience of ghosts and ghostliness or haunting in Western
culture. He likens ghosts to the effect identified as Nachtrglichkeit by
Freud, or latency: a core symptom that has been repeatedly remarked
upon in the literature on trauma across disciplines. JeanFrancois Lyotard
(1990) brings out this aspect of Freuds research on trauma, again
identifying the paradox of silence at the heart of the initial traumatic
shock: it is a shock which is not experienced. This is not to say, however,
that it is consigned to oblivion that, psychically speaking, it never
happened. We can say, rather, that it is encrypted, or entombed, within the
subject. Far from being a mere absence, this crypt or tomb will come to
influence the conscious life of the person later.21
Following Freud, Lyotard describes Nachtrglichkeit as a double blow:
the first blow upsets the mind with such force that it cannot be registered. It
is not (yet) meaning, but rather dispersed and undetermined (ibid.: 16).
But what happened at the time of this first blow will be given at a later date:
the second blow. This second blow is a symptom of the first blow, but
because it will be the first one to have been experienced, the second blow
will have occurred before what happened earlier, which can only come to
be known through the second blow. Dori Laub (1991a) thus refers to psychic
trauma as a record that has yet to be made, and Agamben has called the
task of recording trauma listening to something absent (1999: 13).
Of interest to our explorations in transgenerational transmission,
ghosts are not laid to rest with those who create them (or in whom they are

Nicolas Argenti and Katharina Schramm 13

created). Abraham (1975), Torok (1975), Abraham and Torok (1976) and
Derrida (1976) all argue that the inherent silence of incorporation reifies it
as a presence or an object that is then handed down from generation to
generation. In some situations (though by no means in every case, as some
of the chapters in this volume demonstrate), children may thus
incorporate the ghosts of their parents as bodily practices. In the case of
mass traumatic events, these bodily memories can eventually become
established in the community as social practices (Abraham 1975: 17576;
Erikson 1991). Rosalind Shaw (2002: 56) thus notes Comaroff and
Comaroffs (1992: 38) aphorism that history involves a sedimentation of
micropractices into macroprocesses, as well as Kleinman and Kleinmans
representation of memory as processes sedimented in gait, posture,
movement, and all the other corporal components which together realise
cultural code and social dynamics in everyday practices (1994: 71617).
Phantoms or ghosts may thus take the form of bodily practices handed
down as transgenerational traumatic memories, or transgenerational
haunting what Nicolas Abraham terms the tombs of others (1994: 76).
How can history take account of the return of repressed or dissociated
events that were never experienced normally in the first place? What does
a fragmented or cyclical temporality imply for the possibility of historical
representation? Is historical representation predicated on leaving the past
behind, and is the most inescapable feature of traumatic pasts that they
will not be left behind because they exist only in a perpetual
present?22These problems lead Cathy Caruth to envisage a history that is
no longer straightforwardly referential (1991a: 182), and Lyotard to argue
that standard narrative histories do violence to histories of violence. In
purporting to reinstate the positivist chronology separating the first blow
from the second causal effect from secondary affect such positivist
history is false to subjective experience. It instantly occults what motivates
it, and is made for this reason (1990: 16). This is history as
memorialisation, which courts forgetting by attempting to bring false
closure to events that will not stay where they belong in time and which
refuse to be forgotten. From the perspective of the double blow, the
present is the past, and the past is always presence (ibid). In Cathy
Caruths words: For history to be a history of trauma means that it is
referential precisely to the extent that it is not fully perceived as it occurs;
that a history can be grasped only in the very inaccessibility of its
occurrence (1991a: 187). In her historical view of trauma, Caruth also
moves from the position that violent events are remembered differently
from ordinary experiences by the individual, to a theory of
transgenerational transmission, which brings her to view trauma as a form
of collective memory with a diachronic dimension. As she puts it, History,
like the trauma, is never simply ones own, history is precisely the way
we are implicated in each others traumas (1991a: 192).



Violence and Collective Memory

However convincing and apparently wellsupported this model of

traumatic silence and repetition may seem, benefiting as it does from both
positivist medical research and postmodern literary theory, it is not
without its detractors. Despite the fecundity of the theory of traumatic
silence, it may therefore be time for a reevaluation of the assumption that
trauma automatically engenders amnesia, paradoxically obliterating itself
at the very moment of its creation, or that traumatic memories can only
recur as identical reenactments. Like Aug (2004) and Bloch (1996),
Kirmayer (1996) argues for a sociological understanding of trauma
according to which forgetting is not a clinical inevitability that occurs at
the individual level (and therefore a precultural universal physiological
phenomenon), but rather part of particular social and political processes
that belong to what Susannah Radstone and Katharine Hodgkin have
aptly termed regimes of memory (2006). While not losing sight of the
suffering entailed in violence and its sequellae in the body social and the
body politic, Radstone and Hodgkins model of social memory allows for
a more voluntaristic and agentive, if quite a strategic, understanding of
memory in which forgetting and remembering are not individual
pathologies, but collective processes of representation and identity
The work done by Cathy Caruth and others in transposing the clinical
research on trauma into the field of literary criticism has had a seminal
effect on the humanities and social sciences more broadly. Many recent
works on slavery and political violence parallel the notion of social
memory with what we might call social trauma. This model takes as its
starting point the assumption that individual PTSD, like individual
nonpathological memory, can and does become collectivised over time in
a traumatised population, leading to cultural trauma or cultures of
trauma that may be passed down over generations (cf. Alexander et al.
2004; Erikson 1991). Alternative views on the mechanisms of trauma and
its effects on individual and social memory suggest, however, that we
might not be able to take the aetiology of posttraumatic stress disorder for
granted as a universal psychoneurological syndrome, but rather that this
syndrome too must become one of the social phenomena of the culture of
modern violence that we analyse.
Among the more important criticisms levelled at the humanist
appropriation of trauma is the argument that a model premised on
traumatic silence perversely exculpates perpetrators of violence from
responsibility for their crimes. To Sigrid Weigel (2003: 8788), in its
generalisation to stand as a model for all history, the presumption of the
literal unspeakableness of trauma as articulated by Caruth leads to the
perverse annihilation of the traumatic event (i.e. the Shoah). Weigel, in

Nicolas Argenti and Katharina Schramm 15

contrast, takes German National Socialism and the Holocaust as the

unique starting point for her theory of transgenerational traumatisation in
Germany (1999). She argues that the subconscious memory imprints of
National Socialism have been consolidated over the decades and turned
into a kind of archaic inheritance that engenders displaced and distorted
memories across the generations (quoted in Fuchs 2006: 170).23
In another important critical review of trauma theory focused on the
work of van der Kolk and Caruth, Ruth Leys (2000) argues that there is in
fact no consensus regarding the aetiology or the symptoms of PTSD, that
this syndrome is of dubious validity as a psychological model (2000: 7),
and that its appropriation by poststructuralist literary critics and other
humanists is more problematic still. In particular, Leys is concerned that
trauma theory and writing on trauma ultimately conflate perpetrators and
victims of violence as identical victims of changes in brain function of
external origin over which the individual has no control. She critiques this
theory for two main reasons; in the first place, she finds the clinical model
of traumatic memory grossly reductionistic in its positivistic depiction of
the mind as a mechanistic entity in which unmediated memories can be
lodged like computer files quite outside of reflection and symbolisation
(2000: 22965, 27297). Secondly, she argues that this reductive model has
the perverse effect of removing any agency or responsibility from
perpetrators of violence allegedly suffering from PTSD, thus eroding or
eliding the ethical dimensions of violence by equating them with victims
PTSD theory, in other words, equates perpetrators and victims of
violence by depicting both uniformly as victims of trauma (2000: 7, 297).24
Similar critical precursors have been pioneered by Alex ArgentiPillen
(2003), Ian Hacking (1986, 1995), Derek Summerfield (1996, 1998), and
Alan Young (1995), and within anthropology by Alex ArgentiPillen (2003)
and Peter Loizos (2008). According to their critiques, the PTSD paradigm
has mutated into a global discourse, but individual and collective
reactions to extreme violence, over both the short and longer term, may
not be universal but rather socially or culturally informed or determined.;
a This point that is taken up in this volume by Carol Kidron with respect
to the different forms and effects of memories of violence among
Cambodian and Israeli children of genocide victims, and by Stephan
Feuchtwang, who also questions the universality of traumatic
Several other authors have pointed out that the concept of healing,
which is implicitly articulated in the trauma approach, is connected to a
typically Western concern with closure (see van der Veer 2002) and
therefore cannot adequately represent the actual terror and the attendant
sense of fragmentation, entropy and meaninglessness that experiences of
extreme violence may entail. For a number of reasons, experiences of
terror may preclude the possibility of dividing populations into



perpetrators and victims, assigning blame and punishing culprits. When,

as just mentioned, violence reveals itself primarily in its senselessness and
incomprehensibility, the experience of extreme violence may not be
reducible to such formulations. Furthermore, in a social context in which
victims are forced to continue living alongside perpetrators, as is
common in postconflict situations of following civil war, it may not be
good to talk, and efforts may be focused on silencing the past rather than
voicing polemical and divisive interpretations of it (ArgentiPillen 2003,
Passerini 2006, Hamilton 2006).25 Here again we are faced with the
inseparability of forgetting and remembering, obliteration and continuity
these equations do not oppose a minus to a plus, but rather amount to
one single bifurcated process which only in its entirety can be constitutive
of a liveable present.
Criticism against the excessive employment of trauma and memory
models has also been voiced by some of the authors of a recent special
issue of Representations entitled Grounds of Remembering (2000). In their
view, memory, alongside identity,26 has been turned into a fashionable
commodity (Zertal 2000: 97; cf. Gillis 1994) that prevents us from critically
relating to the past. Kerwin Lee Klein, for example, warns against the
materialization of memory (2000: 136), by which memory appears to be
an independent social actor. According to him, psychological and
quasireligious categories, such as pain, healing, ritual, trauma etc., now
dominate the analytical vocabulary, whereas social, economic and cultural
connections are being neglected. The ensuing discourse of sacrality
(Lacqueur 2000: 4) is counterproductive as it prevents inhibits critical
historical scholarship.
The discomfort articulated by Klein and others is bundled togethergoes
along with a claim to scientific objectivity on Kleins part that is also
questionable, however, since it tends to overlook aspects of individual
suffering and embodied practice. The critique is nevertheless important
because it reminds us to consider sociopolitical and economic factors in
our analysis of the emergence of violence in the past and its repercussions
in present situations.27 Moreover, if applied to the specific case of the
memory of violence, it cautions us against the danger of pathologising
historical experience, whereby people are first turned into victims and
then into patients (Kleinman and Kleinman 1996: 10). Any approach that
focuses on pain alone does not leave ample space either for the
consideration of political agency or the complex societal arrangements in
which violence, as well as its reformulations in and through memory,
Despite these valid objections, then, we might ask why the
preoccupation with questions of memory continues to be so popular not
only in academic discourse, but even more so among social actors
themselves. To give but three examples, Penelope Papailias (2005) has just

Nicolas Argenti and Katharina Schramm 17

unveiled the astoundingly widespread (if controversial) practices of

popular historical research among amateur archivists and historians in
modern Greece.28 Where one might expect academic historians in Greece
to be delighted with the free services effectively offered by innumerable
individuals from all walks of life who have selflessly devoted their time
(and in some cases their fortunes) to amassing written documents and oral
accounts relating to the wars and dislocations of the twentieth century, one
finds an atmosphere of simmering hostility dividing these two groups a
fissure that represents nothing more nor less than a struggle over memory
in a country that has only recently begun to come to terms with its civil
war, its ensuing rightwing dictatorial regime and its silencing of the
communist contribution to the resistance against German occupation in
the Second World War.29
Secondly, from Africa and many other southern theatres of the
postcolonial world as well as from the internal others the aborigines of
Australia, the Maori of New Zealand, Native Americans and First Nations
in the United States and Canada (not to mention Greeces war of attrition
with the British Museum over the Parthenon Marbles) metropolitan
museums and scientific institutions are being besieged by restitution
claims, often for human remains (cf. Cantwell 2000; Bray 2001).30 The key
argument made by claimants in these cases is not couched in legalistic
terms based on formal ownership, but rather expressed in terms of a
spiritual discourse emphasising continuity with the past: a discourse of
religious identity and kinship ties that must be memorialised in reified
physical remains. Of course, as with the fierce debate raging between
amateur and professional historians in Greece, such spiritual discourses
have clear political undertones; they seek not only to reconstitute a past
fragmented by colonial violence, but in the act of restitution, to force the
metropolis and former colonial master to recognise past wrongs and to
force new postcolonial states belatedly to recognise their first peoples or
constituent ethnic groups, who now so often find themselves marginalised
and powerless.31 Here more than ever we are reminded that remembering
is oriented not to the past, but to coming to terms with the past in a present
that is continuously troubled by it.
Thirdly, the widening gap between rich and poor, the Balkanisation of
Europe into a series of ethnic conclaves, and the spread of organised crime
that have followed the demise of the Soviet block have engendered
innumerable micropractices of remembering that implicitly critique the
neoliberal doctrine that capitalism generated democracy. Whether these
are revealed in the affectionate preservation of communistera statues, as
Nadkarni has shown in the case of Budapest (2003), or in the more sinister
movement of dead bodies in a macabre game of postmortem musical
chairs, as Katherine Verdery reveals (1999), or in the resurgence of
Orthodox Christianity and the recognition of Soviet atrocities (Merridale



2000), Glasnost and the passing of the Soviet era were marked first and
foremost by acts of recollection that sought justice by looking back in time
rather than forward, transforming individual memories silently encrypted
within individuals into collective acts of remembrance.
From elaborate commemorative rituals to personal genealogies, from
the apparently anodyne pastimes of local archivists to the ritual concerns
of indigenous groups, from the restoration of once neglected cathedrals
to the resurgence of ethnic identities round the world, memory seems to be
everywhere (and not only in the minds of researchers). Such omnipresence
certainly calls for critical attention. Instead of completely doing away with
memory as an object of concern, as the approach of Klein and other critics
seems to suggest, we ought perhaps to pay still more attention to the
politics of memory, or in other words to processes of appropriation,
conflicting interests and overlapping discourses.32
The past is always a contested site and its evocation by means of
commemorative rituals can be regarded as a strategy of legitimation and
selfaffirmation for various groups (Young 1989). When a violent past
becomes the ground on which to build the future, a hegemonic narrative
is often created that first cuts out everything that does not fit into the
dominant storyline (of victimisation, heroism etc.) and secondly puts the
past at a somewhat comfortable distance from the present. In much of the
existing literature, a Foucauldian dichotomy is assumed between the
official (and presumably artificial) narrative, usually associated with the
state, and the more authentic countermemory or memories of the people
(e.g. Bond and Gilliam 1994, Bodnar 1994, Swedenburg 1995, Taussig 1987,
Werbner 1998).
Somewhat destabilising this dichotomy, Derrida (1986) points to the
crucial differences between an original cataclysmic event and its future
remembrance, emphasising the ways in which memories introduce
differences diffrance and ambiguities to their exemplars that may
transform them in important ways, most crucially by turning essentially
apolitical, inchoate experiences of violence and oppression into politicised
memories that can take the form of a calltoarms or a call for justice. He
goes on to warn, however, that such memories precisely because of their
ambiguity can also be appropriated by perpetrators of violence and
turned into reactionary or revisionist forms of selfjustification (cf.
Bauman 1993, 1995).
Derrida thus usefully questions models that would essentialise groups
of perpetrators and victims, or state and people, and seek to pit them
against one another. The state is not a monolithic or timeless body and
cannot always be neatly separated from or opposed to society which of
course is in itself heterogeneous (cf. Herzfeld 1997; Mitchell 1991; Papailias
2005). Indeed, not only is society heterogeneous, but it may also be helpful
to see it in Bakhtinian terms as constitutive of the state, in relation to which

Nicolas Argenti and Katharina Schramm 19

it nevertheless exists in a state of tension (Bakhtin 1967). The fixation of

subject positions in a memory/countermemory approach, even if
accompanied by an emphasis on contestation or negotiation (cf. Nuttall
and Coetzee 1998), tends to obscure the complexities entailed in
commemorative praxis. For example, the status and perception of a group
as marginal or hegemonic may differ according to the prevailing social
setting. It can also change in the course of time, and such changes
sometimes depend on precisely the way in which memories of violence are
represented (Schramm 2008). A nice example of this is encapsulated in the
Soviet Russian aphorism the future is certain only the past is
unpredictable. Intended in the Soviet era as a wry comment on the
monotonous permanence of the singleparty state and its predilection for
revisionist history, it can be read with postSoviet hindsight as referring to
the appropriations of the past that oncemarginalised peoples with
resurgent interests in local histories and ethnic identities may are now
elaborating for themselvese.
The contributors to this volume likewise avoid dichotomistic views
and examine the processes that may lead to such memorial shifts and
transformations as well as the possible interfaces between official and
popular memory. In a similar manner, together with Frances Pines recent
work on the entanglement of personal and historical memories in
communist Poland (2007), we regard individual and collective memory as
mutually constitutive.
As we have seen, then, the trauma paradigm as deployed in the human
sciences has its limitations: in particular, its possible blurring of victim and
perpetrator status and its lack of recognition of the human agency
involved in remembering violence. Remembering violence especially at
the collective level is not only a pathology, it is a political act, and it
represents not a mere repetition over which the patient has no control
and to which they can attribute no meaning, but more often a constructive
engagement with a fractured past and a moral judgement of its political
significance. Engaging with these trenchant critiques of the trauma
paradigm should not, however, lead us to throw out the baby with the
bath water: we can recognise the limitations of the PTSDmodel without
dismissing the suffering that it aims to record. While questioning models
of literal memory, reenactment and involuntary or intrusive recall, we can
nonetheless enquire into the ways that violence is remembered. A faulty
seismograph does not mean that there has been no earthquake, nor that its
aftershocks will not be felt in the future. In other words, though our
instruments may not be perfect, there is still a need to question how
extreme political violence is experienced by individuals, enculturated at
the collective level and passed down through the generations, and to
develop methodologies and theories that can examine this phenomenon
without being ethnocentric, Procrustean, or unduly positivist and



universalisingtic. We believe that it is precisely this role that ethnographic

research and anthropological exegesis can play. A great deal of the PTSD
debates are based on shortterm laboratory experiments, brief formal
interviews and written texts rather than on the longterm observation of
populations over the course of years and it is precisely the data resulting
from longterm participant observation of this kind that has the potential
to move the memory debate forward.
Michael Lambeks (2002, 2003) rich description of the effects of
precolonial and colonial violence on present generations in Madagascar
provides an apt example. His analysis of spirit possession among the
Sakalava demonstrates that the remembering engaged in by mediums
might evoke the violence of the past in a form that is in fact truer to its
original experience than empirical historical texts would be (2003: 70). His
analysis may initially be thought to replicate the PTSD model in its
emphasis on the intrusive and embodied nature of memories of violence,
but Lambek shows that such memories depart from the symptomatology
of PTSD in significant ways. Most importantly, he shows that the past does
not recur in the present in the form of mere phobic avoidance or as an
uninvited and debilitating irruption of a forgotten past in the midst of a
wholly incommensurate present, but rather that the past is wilfully
brought forth and made to engage with the political present in the seances
of the mediums; the latter appropriate the past to address the present in an
agentive and openended way that is aimed at the present and the future,
and is very far removed from the pathologising discourse of trauma (2002:
194, 25657).
Nicolas Argentis work on embodied memories of recent
statesponsored violence in Cameroon and of slavery and colonial forced
labour (1998, 2007) also bears superficial affinities to the trauma paradigm:
in this case, young men and women seem to reenact episodes of extreme
violence in dance performances that come close to possession states. Here
again, however, the reenactment of the original trauma(s) differs crucially
from that of typical trauma patients as described in Freud and Janets
work: the reenactment is not an involuntary repetition emerging
intrusively into the psyche and the body of the isolated patient, but rather
a mimetic interpretation of the original event that is shared, learned and
reenacted consciously and voluntarily. Far from reproducing the original
event in all its unmediated horror, the mimetic appropriation of past
violence introduces to its exemplar the sense of communion, of mastery, of
celebration and of pleasure associated with dance no longer a traumatic
reenactment, it is pregnant with the supplementarity of performance.33
The importance of the consideration of multiple factors in grasping the
meaning of violence for those who are affected by it is demonstrated in
Allen Feldmans (1991) insightful analysis of political terror in Northern
Ireland. In his book, he looks at the different levels on which violence has

Nicolas Argenti and Katharina Schramm 21

been (and continues to be) articulated in this conflict: from symbolic forms
and material practices to narrative strategies and changing spatial
formations. What emerges from his analysis is the insight that, at least in
the case of Northern Ireland, one cannot speak of a straightforward or
linear narrative of violence. Rather, such narratives develop situationally
and relationally, with a strong impact on everyday life.34 Feldman treats
the oral recollections of violence that were voiced by his informants as
data, that is, he is not so much concerned with the processes of
remembrance and commemoration as such. Nevertheless, his work evokes
the principal methodological challenge of combining phenomenological
and constructivist analytical perspectives;, a challenge that also concerns
the study of the memory of violence (or the violence of memory) as a social
phenomenon. The following chapters attempt to build on this recent but
growing body of ethnographic data and analysis.

Memory in Practice

The case studies brought together in this collection cover a wide

geographical spectrum (Africa, the Caribbean, Latin America, Europe and
South East Asia) that invites a comparative analysis.35 By choosing a
comparative approach, this collection engages with questions of
methodology and of interpretation that are at the core of the
anthropological analysis of the memory of violence, where, amongst other
things (as highlighted by Nordstrom and Robben 1995), the limits of
participant observation become obvious. This is not to say that this
collection makes claims to establishing a new, homogeneous or monolithic
paradigm in the field of memory studies. The new paradigm is memory
itself, but it is and must at this nascent, seminal stage of its evolution in
particular be allowed a plurality of voices, a multiplicity of
interpretations and analytical approaches. Just as this collection clearly
highlights the richness and complexity of the phenomena that come under
the aegis of memory, so too its authors have approached their data from
differing, and sometimes even apparently contradictory, standpoints.
Rather than trying to iron such differences out, we have sought to present
them here in all their incommensurability, showing the extent to which
some fundamental questions regarding the psychodynamics of memory
and their manifold cultural mutations are not reducible to a single grand
narrative. The evidence on whether and how memories of violence or their
traumatic enactments are passed from one generation to the next, on
whether specific marginalised groups in society can or do develop
countermemories with which to confront dominant models, on whether
the experience of violence leads to the suppression of verbal exegesis, or
even with what cultural practices can be considered memories in the first



place seems to differ from one social setting to another, and so too must
our interpretative approaches to such complex data avoid any premature

Bodies of Memory

The chapters of the first section of the book Bodies of Memory deal with
nondiscursive, embodied or practical aspects of memory. As discussed
above, one of the key symptoms of memories of violence highlighted in
the psychoanalytic theory and often observed by researchers and
survivors alike since has been their apparent inexpressibility. As Rosalind
Shaw has argued for the effects on the Temne of Sierra Leone of the
transatlantic slave trade, memories of violence often seem to cursory
observers to produce only an unplumbed silence (Shaw 2002: 89).36
Though such discursive lacunae have at times been assumed to evince not
merely the silencing of memory, but its total obliteration, this section
presents two case studies that examine the possibility that catastrophic
events can be remembered, transmitted, experienced and expressed in
ways other than or in addition to discursive modes, and in particular by
means of embodiment.
Again, this is not to say that they present analogues of one another. In
chapter two, Janine Klungel shows how rape was not only endemic to the
political relations of the French Caribbean island of Guadeloupe under
French colonial occupation, but how these relations have lasted beyond
the occupation of the French and the ownerslave relationship, infecting
the social body to this day. Her examination of the lasting fear of rape
exposes the practice of virginity testing, by means of which mothers
regularly assure themselves of the virginity of their daughters, ironically
and tragically by means that effectively reenact rape. A vicious cycle
seems thus to have been set in place by means of which the trauma of
colonialism, symbolised most mordantly on the bodies of its victims in
terms of the pervasive fear of rape, is repeated from generation to
generation by the very avoidance practices that its victims deploy on their
children. This is not to say, however, that rape is a silent memory in
Guadeloupe; Janine Klungel also records the autobiographical rape
narratives of her female informants, depicting a cultural idiom in which
rape spirits appear to women in their dreams and are then given voice as
these women recount these dreams, attesting to the violent resurgence of
the past in the intrusive predatory form of the incubus.
In contrast to the eloquent discursive memories of Guadeloupian
women, the Chilean victims of the Pinochet regime described by Dorthe
Kristensen in chapter three embody their memories of this monstrous
period of their past in somatised illness experiences rather than discussing

Nicolas Argenti and Katharina Schramm 23

them overtly. The symptoms presented by the torture victims of the

Pinochet era and their relatives including anxiety, sadness, lack of energy,
intense pain and insecurity, often combined with the experience of ghostly
presences are routinely diagnosed by medical doctors as depression or
anxiety, or simply nerves (nervios).37 Such dismissal (or biological
reductionism) on the part of the medical profession compels sufferers to
seek out indigenous healers, who explain such suffering as a product of
spiritual and/or human aggression due to fright (susto). Comparing the
biomedical model of traumatic memory with that of shamanistic healing
practice, Dorthe Kristensen considers the ways in which indigenous illness
categories and their treatment by traditional healers allows for what could
never be said explicitly, nor perhaps even remembered in literal terms,
nonetheless to be confronted by other means. In so doing, Dorthe
Kristensen suggests that the total obliteration of memory, which all
totalitarian regimes seek to impose, has its limits.


If embodiment applies to the ways in which memory is sedimented in

bodily practices that are all the more takenforgranted and therefore
effective for being mundane, the realm of performance, ritual and
possession marks a sphere of embodied memory that also merits special
attention. While embodied memory is often unnoticed and all but
invisible, performative memory is set apart from everyday life,
collectivised, often conservatively nurtured, and selfconsciously
entrusted by one generation to the next by means of initiation,
apprenticeship and other rites of passage. These cultural phenomena are
as formal, explicit and marked as nonperformative embodied memories
are informal and inconspicuous.
Performative genres enable their practitioners to collapse time and to
shed light on the historical continuities between past and present by
juxtaposing one onto the other, using deep wells of cultural knowledge to
interpret contemporary injustices that are often as extreme, ineffable and
inchoate as were those of the past.38 Moreover, performances may also
leave deep and longlasting impressions on participants, which may then
become the actual subject of transmission and consequently form the core
of new memorial practices. The chapters that are brought together in this
section analyse this transformative process from two very different angles:
while David Berliner looks at the ongoing performance of secrecy in the
commemoration of initiation violence in GuineaConakry, Jackie
Feldmans chapter on youth pilgrimages to Polish Holocaust sites focuses
on a case where witnessing and the need for revelation of violent
experiences are constantly emphasised. Both authors deal with the effects



of remembered violence on intergenerational relationships. Such

memories may be called vicarious (see Climo 1995, quoted in Berliner, this
volume) in other words, they are memories that have a profound impact
on the identity of a generation of people who have not directly
experienced that which is being remembered.
In chapter four, David Berliner discusses the case of Bulongic initiation
memory in GuineaConakry. Prior to the 1950s, the Bulongic of
GuineaConakry initiated their young boys into manhood, a rite of
passage described today as a very brutal one. A process of Islamisation
that reached its climax in 1954 brought these practices to an abrupt end.
However, the social reality of initiation could be said to have survived the
demise of the rite: in the absence of initiation rituals, the pain inflicted on
young boys fifty years ago is still a crucial delineator in contemporary
Bulongic society. First, the violence of initiation plays a central role in old
mens memories. But, for these elders who have suffered the pain and
known the privilege of initiation, talking about their memories is far from
a rhetorical or nostalgic gesture. David Berliner looks at the ways in which
elders present these memories as narratives of initiatory violence as well
as at the response of todays youths to those narratives. He argues that
despite the fact that initiation violence no longer takes place, its social
function as a means of supporting the position of elders as guardians of a
very powerful secret knowledge continues to hold.
Whereas David Berliner thus describes the memory and transmission
of ritualised acts of violence, which includes the imposition of voluntary
silences, Jackie Feldman in chapter five discusses ritualised acts of
commemorating unspeakable violence, that is, attempts to break the
silence surrounding traumatic events. By investigating the testimony of
Holocaust survivors in Israeli youth pilgrimages to Auschwitz, he
illustrates how through the shared bodily presence and ritual performance
of elderly witnesses and masses of youths at the sites of extermination, the
youths become witnesses of the witnesses and come to appreciate their
takenforgranted lifeworld as an object of desire. The designation of
survivors as witnesses (and that of Israeli youths as victims by proxy) is
a way of giving sense to the Holocaust: in the commemorative framework
that is established at the Holocaust sites in Poland, the Shoah appears as
the foundation of the Israeli nationstate. National symbols, worn,
displayed or performed by the students and witnesses, become charged
with emotion. Through such totalistic ritual commemoration, the trauma
of the Holocaust (which continues to haunt survivors) ought to be brought
to redemptive closure.
The commemorative performances described by Jackie Feldman not
only depend on the copresence of witnesses and youths, but they also
derive much of their power from the sense of being there (cf. Urry 2000)
that is generated by the actuality of the Holocaust sites at which the

Nicolas Argenti and Katharina Schramm 25

groups are gathered, as if those sites themselves could give testimony.

The spatial and material dimension of memory that is suggested here is
further developed in the following section.

Landscapes, Memoryscapes and the Materiality of Objects

The connections between memory and spatial inscriptions in places and

landscapes have been widely discussed, often in connection with the
contested notions of belonging that go along with them (see Lovell 1998;
Bender and Winer 2001; Steward and Strathern 2003). As Tim Ingold (1993)
has argued, the very perception of a landscape can be seen as an act of
remembrance, since all landscape is humanmade, processual (cf. Hirsch
1995) and shaped by a history of past dwelling. Landscapes and places are
thus not simply containers or screens to which memories are attached,
but rather they can be said to work as memory (see Kchler 1993). This
conception is even more fitting in the case of the memory of violence,
where landscape denotes a geography of pain (Mueggler 2001: 199), be it
in topographic or imaginary terms (or both). Even if the violence may have
taken place in the past, such geographies are often maintained and
(re)produced by means of narratives and performances, as the following
two chapters indicate powerfully.
In chapter six, Adelheid Pichler is concerned with memories of the
violence of colonial plantation slavery in Cuba. Evincing the silencing
effect of traumatic political pasts on contemporary memory practices,
Pichler delineates the nonverbal as well as narrative means by which the
Palo Monte ceremonies of contemporary Cuba reenact in graphic
indeed slavish detail the punishments to which agricultural slave
labourers used to be subjected in the colonial era. Through a careful
analysis of the performances, songs and material objects of the Palo Monte
rituals, Pichler also demonstrates how adherents reenter the landscape of
slavery in their evocation of landmarks that highlight the plantations as
well as sites of freedom and resistance, such as the fortifications of the
cimarrones in the hills. In addition to those references to Cuban spatial and
historic markers, paleros also incorporate memories of the African
homeland into their rituals. As Pichler argues in relation to Appadurai
(1996), such rituals are not only indicative of an ongoing memory of
violence, but at the same time they serve as a means of generating power
in the production of locality, and thereby of giving meaning to a violent
and disruptive past across the generations.
Whereas in Palo Monte, landscape is but one symbolic referent through
which the memory of violence is articulated (together with body, kinship
and religious hierarchy), the memorial practices discussed by Paola
Filippucci in chapter seven focus on the violent destruction of settlements



and landscapes in war. Through a case study of rural Argonne in France,

which was devastated during the First World War, she demonstrates how
the war has turned the landscape into a ruined country. Despite careful
reconstructions, past destruction and loss continue to mark both the
physical fabric of villages and local representations of the past, of
landscape and of place. Filippucci shows that in case of the Argonne, the
very reconstructions can indeed be said to act as reminders of past
destruction. Moreover, as the war recedes from living memory, local
memorial practices become closely intertwined with national and
international forms of remembering the Great War, be it through heritage
preservation efforts or the tourism spectacle of battle reenactments.
Filippucci accords great centrality to the materiality of place, arguing that
past violence is remembered in the places of destruction because it is
remembered through them. To her, landscapes may play a role in the social
remembrance of violence by acting as a bridge between private, individual
experiences of violence and violent loss and public discourses and
representations about them, making the experience of violence
communicable and transmissible.

Generations: Chasms and Bridges

Even though all chapters address the issue of transgenerational transmission in

one way or the other, the final section aims explicitly to draw critical attention
to that problem. It opens a forum for debate, centred on the question of
whether or not past violence may have a traumatic impact on generations who
have not directly experienced it; and if it does, how this impact may take shape
according to different cultural and political settings.
In chapter eight, Carol Kidron analyses two unrelated communities of
genocide survivors and their descendants, the Cambodian Diaspora in Canada
and the survivors of the Shoah and their families in Israel. Through this
comparative approach, she explicitly examines the silencing effect of violence
on two generations of survivors. While silence or lack of verbalisation is an
aspect of survivors reactions to their experiences in both the Cambodian and
Israeli communities of survivors, Carol Kidrons Jewish informants speak of
what she sums up as a perpetual amorphous sense of genocidal presence in
the home. This silent, embodied and interactive presence of the past is not
attested to by her Cambodian informants, however, for whom the silence of the
past does not equate with its nonverbal presence, but is rather symbolic of the
suffering of the past having been overcome and placed behind oneself. Deny

Nicolas Argenti and Katharina Schramm 27

as they might the effects of the genocide on their own worldview, however,
Kidron notes how memories of the past can work their way into the social
fabric even of those who would wish otherwise, in this case influencing in
indirect but important ways the worldview of secondgeneration
Cambodians in Canada.
The final chapter by Stephan Feuchtwang is a case study of an event that
was wounding and disrupting for the families of Luku, a remote mountain
area in Taiwan. The event, known as the Luku Incident (Luku Shijian), took
place in the winter of 195253 and can still be recalled as their own experience
by the survivors. Even though not all of them present symptoms of what is
now called posttraumatic stress disorder, the event could still be described as
traumatic by all standards. Feuchtwang asks about the ways in which the
event is remembered and transmitted through time. He distinguishes between
three different temporalities that are constitutive for such transmissions: first,
the time of simultaneity and progress; secondly, the temporality of
commemoration and eternity, both of which are connected to the nationstate;
and thirdly, the longterm time of family, which includes its own rituals of
death, distinct from those evoked in official commemorations and historical
accounts. In his discussion of the Luku incident, Feuchtwang demonstrates
how survivors (traumatic) memories are incorporated into official narratives.
In that process, recognition of past violence not only enables victims to
articulate their pain, but it also leads to forgetting and closure. When
commemoration takes over, so Feuchtwang argues, transmission of trauma

1. The latter term from the French oubli, forgetting, which gives the cognate term oubliette,
a dungeon.
2. For recent discussions of this issue, see Berliner (2005a, 2005b), Huyssen (1995: 6), Stewart
(2004), Olick and Robbins (1998), Radstone (2000).
3. On the problem of generations, cf. Mannheim (1964).
4. For a discussion of the relation of the PTSD / trauma paradigm to the western legal
system and to the concept of damages, see Hodgkin and Radstone (2006: 99). Hodgkin
and Radstone (ibid.) refer to the relationship between individual and collective trauma as
a sliding scale that is only negotiated with difficulty. For Janet Walker (2006) in the same
volume, the theory of traumatic memory provides a means of bridging between the
individual and the collective poles of suffering, relocating the psychic within the social
and historical context from which violence had removed it.
5. As Halbwachs puts it: The sacrifice through which [Christ] has given us his body and his
blood did not take place a single time. It is integrally renewed every time believers are
assembled to receive the Eucharist. What is more, the successive sacrifices celebrated at
distinct moments and in distinct places are but one and the same sacrifice. (1992: 90)



6. He illustrates this point with a defining metaphor:

The frameworks of memory exist both within the passage of time and outside it.
External to the passage of time, they communicate to the images and concrete
recollections of which they are made a bit of their stability and generality. But these
frameworks are in part captivated by the course of time. They are like those
woodfloats that descend along a waterway so slowly that one can easily move from
one to the other, but which nevertheless are not immobile and go forward. And so it is
in regard to frameworks of memory: while following them we can pass as easily from
one notion to another, both of which are general and outside of time, through a series
of reflections and arguments, as we can go up and down the course of time from one
recollection to another. Or, to put it more exactly, depending on the direction we have
chosen to travel, whether we go upstream or pass from one riverbank to the other, the
same representations seem to be at times recollections, at times notions or general
ideas. (Halbwachs 1992: 182)[end EXT]
7. In Bahlouls (1996) critical feminist ethnography of such a context in colonial and
postcolonial Algeria, memory even reverses gendered power relations. Emigrant
womens narratives about their lost home in the town of DarRefayil
transform a dominated world into a haven of social cohesion. It is as if the word and
remembrance had given voices to those who had not had them in the past that they
were recounting. The effect of nostalgia is equivalent to a reversal of status. The main
producers of DarRefayils memoirs are those who could not speak in the past. Time
has empowered them, and memory produced authority. The small become great and
the weak mighty. (1996: 132).
8. For an attempt at such collaboration, see Price (1983), and for a critique of Prices
representational strategies, see Scott (1991).
9. In Sturkens words: There is so much traffic across the borders of cultural memory and
history that in many cases it may be futile to maintain a distinction between them. Yet
there are times when those distinctions are important in understanding political intent,
when memories are asserted specifically outside of or in response to historical narratives.
(1997: 5) Sturken acknowledges her debt to Foucault and to his concepts of subjugated
knowledges, nave knowledges, and countermemory, all of which identified the field
of collective memory as a site of political struggle. In contrast to what she sees as
Foucaults romanticism, however, Sturken warns that memory is not automatically the
site of oppositional knowledge or of resistance: Cultural memory is often entangled with
history, scripted through the layered meanings in mass culture, and itself highly contested
and conflictual there is nothing politically prescribed in cultural memory. (1997: 7)
10.On the social importance of forgetting, see also Battaglia (1993), Carsten (19915), Forty and
Kchler (1999), Smith (1996).
11. On the early history of trauma studies, see the introduction to Ruth Leys (2000)
monograph on the subject, and Claude Barrois (1988), and Paul Lerner (1996).
12.Thus, Bruno Bettelheim could describe how he felt that he was separated from his own
body, watching it from another point in the train car while he was being tortured by the
guards on his way to internment in a Nazi concentration camp. Similarly, he notes that
while camp inmates would be shocked and angered when they received a mundane insult
from a guard, reacting as they might to a similar occurrence in their ordinary lives, they
showed no emotional reaction at all to the much more serious injuries and tortures that
they suffered. Excessive acts of violence incommensurable with their previous experience
were never registered emotionally, nor dreamed of afterwards (1943: 435).
13.Cf. Funes, the man with perfect memory, in Jorge Luis Borges eponymous story. Borges
situates the origin of Funes extraordinarily precise and unmediated memory in an
accident he suffers, when he is thrown from a horse and permanently crippled. He never
refers to, and actually seems unaware of, the injuries he has suffered, which keep him

Nicolas Argenti and Katharina Schramm 29

bedbound for life, but other events return with total clarity. Two or three times, Borges
tells us, [Funes] had reconstructed an entire day; he had never once erred or faltered, but
each reconstruction had itself taken an entire day (Borges 1998: 96).
14.This forces us to face the very unPlatonic paradox that it is the more accurate memories
that are pathological and debilitating, while formally inaccurate memories are in fact
therapeutic and socially integrative.
15.Van der Kolk and van der Hart (1991: 43738) argue that though Freud and others since
have tended to blend repression and dissociation and to use them interchangeably, there
is a fundamental difference between them. The repression model is vertical; it posits a
layered model of the mind in which unwanted memories are pushed downwards into the
unconscious. The subject therefore no longer has access to it. The dissociation model posits
a horizontally layered or divided model of mind in which traumatic memories are stored
in an alternate stream of consciousness.
16.Nearly all of the informants refer to this ddoublement, or doubling effect of the Shoah.
Another survivor quoted by Langer (1991: 5354) unknowingly uses the very same
analogy of a second skin that Delbo does, putting it in its starkest terms:
Its like like theres another skin beneath this skin and that skin is called Auschwitz,
and you cannot shed it, you know We carry this. I am not like you. You have one
vision of life and I have two. I you know I lived on two planets Its like the planet
was chopped up into a normal [part] socalled normal: our lives are not really normal
and this other planet, and we were herded onto that planet from this one, and herded
back again, having nothing virtually nothing in common with the inhabitants of this
planet and we have these these double lives And its too much.
17.For instance, despite Bettelheims (1943: 435) statement to the effect that he did not dream
of the violence perpetrated against him immediately after it happened, many survivors
attest to accessing their deep memory in dreams some years or decades after the triggering
events (Langer 1991: 7). These dreams intersect with and inform common memories
despite their putative psychic isolation, in effect preventing a total dissociative split in the
person hence the doubling of the world to which extreme violence gives birth.
18.Une inclusion parasitaire, un dedans htrogne lintrieure du moi. For more on the
emergence of the crypt as a secret vault within the subject, see Abraham and Torok
(1980), Torok (1987), and Abraham (1994).
19.Mort sauf en moi (Derrida 1976: 17). Sauf, meaning both safe and save in the sense of
20.As Agamben (1999: 12) puts it regarding Auschwitz, this truth is irreducible to the
elements that constitute it a reality that necessarily exceeds its factual elements such
is the aporia of Auschwitz (see also Derrida 1986: 88).
21. Something will make itself understood, later. That which will not have been
introduced will have been acted, acted out, enacted [in English in the original
Trans.], played out, in the end and thus represented. But without the subject
recognising it. It will be represented as something that has never been presented.
Renewed absurdity This will be understood as feeling fear, anxiety, feeling of a
threatening excess whose motive is obviously not in the present context. A feeling
which therefore necessarily points to an elsewhere that will have to be located outside
this situation And how can this site be localized without passing through a
memory, without alleging the existence of a reserve where this site has been retained
? (Lyotard 1990: 13)
Cf. Freud in Moses and Monotheism:
At some later time it will break into their life with obsessional impulses, it will govern
their actions. The precipitating cause, with its attendant perceptions and ideas, is
forgotten. This, however, is not the end of the process: the instinct has either retained
its forces, or collects them again, or it is reawakened by some new precipitating cause



[and it] comes to light as a symptom, without the acquiescence of the ego, but also
without its understanding. All the phenomena of the formation of symptoms may
justly be described as the return of the repressed. (1939: 124)
22.Or, in Homi Bhabhas words: How does one narrate the present as a form of
contemporaneity that is always belated? (1990: 308).
23.She regards the Historikerstreit and the more recent debates over Germanys regained
normality as signs of this ongoing traumatic distortion, and not of
Vergangenheitsbewltigung, or coming to terms with the past. Such an overcoming of the
past might often be attempted, especially in official memorialisations (cf. Weissberg 1999),
yet it necessarily remains an illusion (cf. Benjamin 1991; Bauman 1993: 224).
24.In making this second argument, Leys could be said to be opening a Pandoras box: in the
first place, although the example of the US soldier in Vietnam she chooses is relatively
unambiguous (though even this is debatable), it is often unclear in situations of violent
conflict who are the perpetrators and who are the victims, and the reality is that these
terms rapidly lose their meaning as survivors become morally tainted to one extent or
another. Another problem with her criticism regarding the elision of moral culpability is
that it can be applied to her own argument: in her chapter on van der Kolk, Leys points to
what she sees as the political bias of trauma theory. The source of trauma is said to be
linked to a single violent event by trauma theorists, not because of firm evidence, she
argues, but because not to do so would seem to support US government bodies trying to
discredit the claims of trauma sufferers who served in Vietnam in the same manner as the
German government tried to suggest that concentration camp survivors had always been
at risk of psychopathology, and that this had not been caused by the years of persecution
in the camps. Leys here would appear to be jettisoning the moral parameters that she
defends in her first criticism: the political dimension of the trauma paradigm that she
critiques is in fact its moral dimension i.e. that the defendants at Nuremberg should
never be allowed to claim that the victims of their concentration camps were predestined
to suffer the psychopathology that they did because of individual predispositions. We can
agree with Leys that the trauma paradigm is continuously being diluted and overused,
but to place responsibility for this at the door of van der Kolk and Caruths work on the
basis of possible interpretations of their work which are apparently unintended by them
would seem to be unjustified.
25.It is obvious that individual and state perpetrators of atrocities want the past to remain
unspeakable. Former General Augusto Pinochet spoke for all torturers and mass
murderers when he ordered his people with compulsive repetition to forget the past: It is
better to remain quiet and to forget. That is the only thing we must do. We must forget
FORGET: Thats the word! And for that to happen, both sides must forget and continue
with their work (from a speech made on 13 September 1995, two days after the
twentysecond anniversary of the military coup). But it is not only perpetrators of
violence who seek to make communities forget; victims and potential victims might also
stand to gain from the containment of conflict that silence promises. Alex ArgentiPillen
(2003) and Carrie Hamilton (2006), focusing on the gendered aspect of memories of
violence in nationalist struggles (in Sri Lanka and the Basque movement respectively),
show how women in particular are apt to deploy silence as a means of controlling the
spread of violence in their communities.
26.For a criticism of identity as a useful analytical category, see Brubaker and Cooper (2000).
27.On the politicoeconomic embeddedness of individual suffering, cf. Farmer (1996).
28.For an analysis of Greek statememorialism, cf. Herzfeld (1982).
29.For a critical analysis of a comparable phenomenon in Ireland, see Stuart McLeans (2004)
monograph on the statesponsored folklorisation of the Great Famine of the 1840s as an
integral part of the nationbuilding project.
30.For the analysis of an elaborate reinternment ceremony of the remains of two African

Nicolas Argenti and Katharina Schramm 31

slave ancestors in African soil and its implications on diasporic memory culture, see
Schramm (2004).
31.Some of these ethnic groups may of course be newly constituted or reconstructed in
response to the emerging global discourse of human rights for indigenous people. This
discourse of indigenous rights, championed by influential NGOs such as Survival
International, is also increasingly recognised by government bodies and policymakers.
Within their own countries too, as Peter Geschiere and Francis Nyamnjoh (2001) illustrate
for Cameroon, states that once did all they could to suppress ethnic identities now find
themselves paradoxically supporting them: in the new political era of multiparty
democracy ruling elites find it expedient to fragment the electorate along fault lines that
stymie the formation of strong interethnic political parties.
32.By politics we refer to the power relations, collaborations, negotiations and struggles
among and between different interest groups in the past and their various articulations in
the idiom of memory. Most of all, we are interested in social practices. This is a different
approach from Ian Hackings (1996) concept of memoropolitics, which is mainly a
critique of the power/knowledge complex in institutionalised psychiatric science.
33.Ann Stoler and Karen Strassler (2000) similarly make the point that in contemporary Java
the period of Dutch colonialism is no longer remembered in an insular fashion, but only
in relation to later Japanese occupation and in the light of Suhartos more recent New
Order rule, with its eerie resemblance to the Dutch period (2000: 12):
In popular memory and official history, the Dutch and Japanese periods are
discursively paired, mnemonically fused to such an extent that they cannot be accessed
independently. This fusing upsets one tacit assumption of those of us who study the
colonial: that the key opposition organising contemporary memories is that between a
colonial past and a postcolonial present. (ibid.: 11)
James Wilce, following Edward Casey (1987), also makes the point that Memory is never
about the past alone (2002: 159).
34.Another dimension is introduced by Jennifer Cole (2001) who speaks of layered
memories in her analysis of colonial memory in Madagascar. She rightly points out the
palimpsestlike nature of the memory of violence, where one historical experience of
violence serves as a prerequisite for another and where the memory of each may be
articulated in the idiom of the other.
35.This is not to suggest that there are conflictprone areas where violence ought to be
considered as a primordial social feature. Silverstein and Makdisi (2005) have rightly
warned against such stereotypes. Cf. Farmer (1996).
36.Similarly, a recent Panorama investigation of the massive volcanic eruption in 1883 of
Krakatoa, in Indonesias Sunda Strait, suggested that the local population today had
totally forgotten that this cataclysmic event had ever happened. The claim, as is often the
case in such circumstances, was based on the fact that local people did not (or were not
willing to) discuss the event with the documentary makers. It would be illuminating to see
whether longterm field research would confirm or question this extraordinary amnesia.
37.Cf. ScheperHughes discussion of a very similar phenomenon in Brazil, where
impoverished people term their diffuse and multiple symptoms of severe malnutrition
nervos. When reported to clinicians, these symptoms are treated not as the result of
starvation but of psychopathology, and treated with tranquilisers (1992: 167ff). By this
means, a collective political injustice is turned into an individualised personal deficiency.
38.The field of literature relating to the Bori and Hauka possession cults of West Africa
provides an excellent example of a performative realm structured around the embodiment
of colonial violence expressed in somatic terms (see Olivier de Sardan 1984; Rouch 1955;
Stoller 1984, 1989: 147ff; Taussig 1993: 240). As with the revelation of political oppression
performed in Hauka possession states, Bruce Kapferers (1991) study of the tovil healing
performances of southern Sri Lanka reveals that demonic affliction there is a classspecific


illness affecting only the poor. Here too, experiences of state violence that cannot be
remembered discursively are embodied as demonic affliction. In Kapferers analysis, the
world of demons represents a commentary by the disenfranchised peasantry on a violent
political reality of oppression and exploitation. Demons are thoroughly modern entities:
the contradiction of a bourgeois political order represented by the quasifascist tendencies
of orthodox Buddhism, and like the experiences of statesponsored violence they reify
they are always waiting to break free in the warravaged slums of Sri Lanka.


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