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  • Acts of Rememory in Oceania
  • Sudesh Mishra (bio)

This paper is concerned not with the work of memory, but with rememory, which alters the order of "looking at" while "looking through" some aspect of the same event. Rememory pertains to a variant memory of the past and opens up a vista into a variant memory of the future. The neologism "rememory" was originally coined by Toni Morrison in the novel, Beloved, to refer to any memory persisting in some guise or form, yet existing ontologically outside the subject within whom it is invested (1988, 35-6). For Morrison's character, Seth, the picture of a place exists as a memorized facticity even when the material place ceases to exist:

I was talking about time. It's so hard for me to believe in it. Some things go. Pass on. Some things just stay. I used to think it was my rememory. You know. Some things you forget. Other things you never do. But it's not. Places, places are still there. If a house burns down, it's gone, but the place—the picture of it—stays, and not just in my rememory, but out there, in the world. What I remember is a picture floating around out there outside my head. I mean, even if I don't think it, even if I die, the picture of what I did, or knew, or saw is still out there. Right in the place where it happened.


Rememory, for Morrison, may be intersubjective as well as intergenerational vis-à-vis an event. My definition of rememory augments this insight to incorporate forms of radical revisioning, where memory presents an event in a new guise or form as a consequence of a change in perspective due to a particular historical dynamic. Epeli Hau'ofa and Futa Helu have left behind some revolutionary acts of rememory. This paper attempts to speak to their work in relation to sea-oriented conceptions of spatiality and architecture in Oceania. It also attempts to discuss rememory as it pertains to dominant forms of recorded historical memory where the foregrounding of certain events and ethnicities entails the footnoting of others. So, for instance, the history of Fiji in the late nineteenth century is frequently divided into two distinct accounts—one of iTaukei Fijians as the immobilized subjects of Governor Arthur Gordon's native tax policy, and another of indentured mobility as a strictly Indian affair. Any exception that does not conform to [End Page 19] these dominant histories—such as that of the five iTaukei men who sailed with the first batch of Indian coolies on the Leonidas—comprises a curiosity to be duly noted and swiftly forgotten. The paper proceeds to rememorize Pacific Islander contributions to the project of modernity by examining the input of Tahitian labour, intellectual and physical, as well as material cultures, in the production of the first printed books in Oceania. It dwells, in conclusion, on the species-wide failure at rememory in the disremembering of zoē, and consequently of other planetary forms of vital life, because of a compulsive fixation on bios; on the current writer's want of rememory when analyzing typhoons in the fiction of Joseph Conrad; and on the strategic disremembering, by various interested parties, of the events surrounding the wreck of the coolie-ship, Syria, in 1884, resulting in a rememory of the past as well as the future.

Event; Metaphor; Hau'ofa

First, however, an axiom: there is no memory without an event and no event without a memory. An event, in order to be an event, has to be memorized and the act of memorization is always generative of an event. The memory of an event or the event of a memory involves some form of mediation because the work of memory contains narrative dimensions, elements of textual representation, predicated on the time, context, and subject of its manifestation. These representational elements do not combine in a continuous or sequential manner, but are manifested episodically, arbitrarily and even metonymically. Memory is a textual-imagistic device through which an event may be grasped, but never as it happened in its pure form, that is, as an...


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pp. 19-32
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