- Memory and Migration: Multidisciplinary Approaches to Memory Studies ed. by Julia Creet and Andreas Kitzmann
Since the publication of the English translation of Pierre Nora's seminal work on memory and history, Realms of Memory, in the mid 1990s, memory has become a hot topic for scholars in the social sciences and humanities. This interest has seen the publication of a number of books, many articles and even the launch of an ejournal (The Memory Connection) devoted to memory and the various ways it is expressed.
There is a clear consensus that memory is constructed. Memories, as Nora demonstrated, are different from history. Memory is subject to the vagaries of the mind and is seldom static. Memories evolve through time and are constantly updated to suit the recollection and needs of the individual or society that creates them. Unlike history, memory cannot be subjected to the test of documentation.
This book on memory and migration is a compilation of work from scholars from a wide variety of disciplines ranging from literature, through anthropology and political science to psychology. Julia Creet and Andreas Kitzman, with backgrounds in English and memory studies and communications technology and media studies respectively, have assembled contributions by thirteen scholars who are unified by their concern with memory and migration.
The book is organized into four sections: the Melancholy of no Return; Collective Memory Ghettos; the Smell of Flowers and Rotting Potatoes; and the Architectures of Memory. These are preceded by an introduction by Julia Creet which attempts to situate the chapters within the general context of the migration of memory and the memories of migration. Each chapter is referenced individually but a bibliography of all works cited is also provided at the end of the volume. An index is also provided.
Ethnicity is an underlying theme of most, if not all, the chapters, but the focus of this work is memory, its construction and reconstruction. In most chapters, ethnicity is relevant mostly as a function of geographical displacement as when people are injected into alien environments and strive to reconstruct their memories within the context of a new ethnic and geographic reality. There are exceptions: in his chapter, "The Cultural Trauma Process," John Sundholm offers a penetrating analysis of the role of ethnicity in the construction of memory and identity, and Lauren Guyot analyzes the situation of Kurdish immigrants in France and the conflicting identities and loyalties of their French-born children. Ironically, while the region they left has changed, the diasporic community clings to a remembered past, one fixed at the time of migration. Her observation that "[A] crystallized memory of the native region is constructed while in [the homeland] relationships with the past evolve and [End Page 274] modernization is taking place" (140) could equally be applied to the situation encountered within many ethnic communities in Canada.
Many of the contributions are based on personal experience of working with refugees and their attempts to reconcile their memories with the stories with which they were provided by those who smuggled them into their intended countries of refuge. These give some fascinating glimpses into the chaotic world of refugees who must tailor their memories to fit the narratives of the receiving countries. Other chapters are far more ethereal, more concerned with analysis of literature, and the expression of memory in well-known fictional works. For example, Marlene Goldman considers "Memory, Diaspora, Hysteria: Margaret Atwood's Alias Grace;" and Amira Bojadzija-Dan considers "Reading Sensation: Memory and Movement in Charlotte Delbo's "Auschwitz and After." The final chapter, by Julia Creet, explores the complex relationships of personal memories and family recollections with archival memory in the shape of documentary holdings. She poses some intriguing questions and leaves the reader with a good deal to mull over.
For the most part, the book is well written. Occasionally, the writing descends into unnecessarily complex prose. In the introduction, the editors produce the following passage that is intended to clarify issues related to the interconnectivity of memory...