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Reviewed by:
  • The Future of Memory
  • Gavriel D. Rosenfeld
The Future of Memory. Edited by Richard Crownshaw, Jane Kilby, and Antony Rowland (New York, Berghahn Books, 2010) 319 pp. $90.00

Although its title promises more than it can possibly deliver, this volume of fourteen chapters provides a solid overview of important trends in the expanding field of memory studies. The chapters are wide-ranging in focus, as befits their authors' diverse academic disciplines, which include English, Comparative Literature, and Sociology (the field of history is conspicuously underrepresented; only one of the fourteen essays is penned by a historian). They are also, for the most part, highly theoretical. Readers familiar with the internal scholarly debates within particular disciplines will find the analyses learned and stimulating; readers coming from the outside may find them less accessible.

The Future of Memory is divided into three parts, the first of which is an eponymously titled section that begins with two introductory chapters by Crownshaw and Dan Stone; both of these chapters survey the state of the field, discussing competing models of remembrance ("prosthetic memory," "postmemory," "traumatic memory," and so on) and assessing recent critiques of them by skeptical scholars. These two contributions are followed by four case studies that deal more directly with the dynamics of commemoration. Sara Guyer analyzes three memorials to the Rwandan genocide of 1994 (in Nyamata, Nyrarubuye, and Murambi), examining whether their use of human bones impedes or aids our understanding of genocide. Gaynor Bagnall and Rowland analyze how the architecture and exhibit of the Imperial War Museum North in Manchester, England, promotes an effect of "playful discombobulation" upon visitors, encouraging them to contemplate the dynamics of secondary witnessing. James E. Young offers first-person reflections about his role on the juries that helped to create the Memorial to the Murdered Jews in Berlin and the World Trade Center Memorial at Ground Zero in lower Manhattan. Susan Rubin Suleiman discusses literary works by Holocaust survivors George Perec and Raymond Federman, focusing on how their experimental form reflects the Holocaust's existential rupture.

The volume's second section begins with Rowland discussing "the future of testimony," the topic of the next four essays. Robert Eaglestone examines how the testimonies of Holocaust perpetrators differ from the testimonies of the victims, concluding that they are defined by the desire for closure, narrative splitting, mendacity, and a failure to shed [End Page 443] light on the deeper question of motivation. Kilby then surveys the recovered-memory movement and analyzes the complex dynamics that govern how trauma is communicated by writers and received by readers. Sue Vice analyzes false testimonies in Holocaust literature, classifying different forms of the genre (fakes, embellishments, and sui generis works) and exploring how readers assess their credibility. Matthew Boswell analyzes the Holocaust poetry of non-victims, such as Sylvia Plath and Geoffrey Hill, exploring the link between personal experience and literary authority.

Part III of the volume is introduced by Kilby's discussion of trauma studies, the theme of the final five contributions. Roger Luckhurst explores the overdetermined nature of the word trauma and the incompatible definitions of it within different academic fields. Cathy Caruth discusses Hannah Arendt's and Shoshana Felman's diverging responses to the Eichmann trial as a means of reflecting on the relationship between witnessing, memory, and justice (208). Anne Whitehead examines how the trauma of 9/11 and the Holocaust informs Art Spiegelman's graphic novel, In the Shadow of No Towers (New York, 2004). Sharon Rosenberg surveys the literature of trauma studies, calling for more scholars to wrestle with the limits of understanding. Carrie Hamiton investigates the applicability of trauma theory to the history of political action, concluding that it should not be allowed to marginalize other models of memory in order to preserve the vitality of progressive politics.

Some of the chapters are stronger than others, but the volume as a whole coheres well. Specialists in the field will certainly appreciate it.

Gavriel D. Rosenfeld
Fairfield University


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pp. 443-444
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