- Walking with the GhostAffective Archives in the Afterlife of the Cambodian Holocaust
Ever since I can remember, I remember learning to translate for my mother.
Not just translating the English language to Khmer and from Khmer back to English, but translations of her medical diagnoses, or more often than not, the meanings of non-diagnosis.
In and out of medical appointments, long hours in waiting rooms because my mother did not have health insurance . . . ever since I can remember, I remember my mother being in pain.
I have grown up intimately aware of the specter of genocide. And although we were never privy to long oral histories regarding the Cambodian Holocaust growing up, my siblings and I walked with the ghosts of the genocide in our day-to-day interactions with our mother and her reoccurring psychosomatic trauma. We often fell in line with the frustrated Western doctors who attempted to convince my mother that her pain was not real. We often left these medical appointments angry and uncertain, wondering what more we could have done to banish these ghosts from the past.
Thirty years later, in my own small way, I understand my mother’s pain. And thirty years later, I also understand that there was little we could have done as children to take away such entrenched haunting. Looking back, however, at these experiences with the psychosomatic, I wonder how else I might read my mother’s pain, still recurring over thirty years later.
Centering an analysis of the multiple meanings of crossing, this essay explores the relational affects and effects of historical violence and trauma as they travel across time and space. Anchoring the central metaphor of her Pedagogies of Crossing in “the enforced Atlantic Crossing of the millions of Africans that serviced . . . the consolidation of British, French, Spanish, and Dutch empires,”1 M. Jacqui Alexander invites us to consider how the Crossing [End Page 24] “might instruct us in the urgent task of configuring new ways of being and knowing . . . mov[ing] away from living alterity premised in difference to living intersubjectivity premised in relationality and solidarity.”2 In the same way that grief made the Crossing, war, famine, and collective violence also cross oceans, exceeding our assumed limits. The forms these crossings take, their various movements through space and time function as “an archive of empire’s twenty-first-century counterpart, of oppositions to it, of the knowledges and ideologies it summons, and of the ghosts that haunt it.”3 Drawing upon Alexander’s invitation to query pedagogies of crossings and enforced transit, I ask: what might recursive instances of psychic-corporeal pain teach us about racialized and gendered experiences of trauma?
In this essay I re-read such affective registers as psychosomatic symptoms and hauntings as legitimate archives of violence—opening up these lived spaces to alternative meaning beyond previous positionings as inauthentic, illegitimate, and pathological. In doing so, I propose to contribute to the construction of what Lisa Marie Cacho4 (following Ann Cvetkovich)5 refers to as an “archive of feeling,” an archive of the particular and the ephemeral, which encompasses the performances of mourning that represent the value of the always already racially devalued. In reading these as affective archives, I seek to begin to make meaning of the seemingly unintelligible—listening to the fragments and storied afterlives of violence rife in spaces of seeming silence and unspoken narrative.
In this same register I read the psychosomatic and hauntings as memory, as a kind of embodied, affective re-memory, recursive and corporeal re-memory that accompanies the visuality of memory flashbacks and attempted coherence of memory narratives. My privileging of the clinically pathologized registers of the psychosomatic and hauntings as forms of “re-memory” is animated by Toni Morrison’s notion of “rememory,”6 referring not necessarily to memory itself but to the representation of memory—reconstituted memory—a memory-making often manifested in the form of traces or incomplete images. “Re-memory” allows both process and production to be simultaneously legible, illustrating how memory itself becomes partially constituted (and reconstituted) by the act of remembering.
Taking a descriptive approach to interpretation—an attempt to trace the...