P156 – The Act of Forgetting: the (affective) Politics of Amnesia and Abandonment
8 July, 17:30-19:00

Geissler P. Wenzel / University of Oslo / University Cambridge
Lachenal Guillaume / Université Paris Diderot Paris 7


Experiences of rupture and aftermath, of conquest, coups, colonialism, development and welfare, epidemics, war, apartheid, liberation, have made memory a salient theme in African studies. If the selectivity of memory is widely recognized as political, moral and affective in its formation and effects, the act of forgetting is often relegated to the blank spaces left in-between. This panel contributes to the exploration of forgetting as an engagement with the past and its potential legacies. Omissions and obliterations are as much political tools of commemoration, archiving and monumentalisation as their bold inscriptions. We also invite studies of more intimate and banal forms of giving up, letting go, bypassing, disowning, or leaving untended the traces and remains of the past; of ruins ignored, absences unmentioned, biographies truncated, events untold, faces unrecognised. How does forgetting produce effects in built landscapes, bureaucratic forms, intergenerational relations, solidarity and care, moral and political imagination, or experiences of chronology, change and possibility? What are the methodological challenges of studying the social and material productivity of forgetting in texts, performance, bodies, architecture, etc. ? This panel will explore how forgetting can be woven into a rich scholarship on memory to illuminate the stakes of continuity and rupture in contemporary Africa.

L’acte d’oublier : (l’affective) politique de l’amnésie et de l’abandon
La mémoire est aujourd’hui un thème central pour les études africaines – que l’on s’intéresse à l’expérience du colonialisme, de guerre, des épidémies, de l’apartheid ou des mouvements de libération. Si la question de la sélectivité de la mémoire a été largement prise en compte comme un phénomène à la fois politique, moral et affectif, l’acte d’oublier est souvent laissé de coté. Ce panel s’intéressera à la question de la mise en oubli, envisagée en tant que mode de relation au passé et à ses legs potentiels. Les omissions et les oblitérations sont des opérations de commémoration ou d’archivage tout aussi importantes que les inscriptions explicites. Ce panel va porter sur les façons intimes et banales dont les traces du passé sont laissées de coté, ignorées, abandonnées ou négligées – histoires de ruines laissées à elles-mêmes, d’absences non signalées, de biographies tronquées, d’évènements jamais racontés. Comment est-ce que l’oubli produit ses effets dans les paysages, les bureaucraties, les relations intergénérationnelles, le soin, l’imagination morale et politique et dans les expériences du temps, du changement et de la continuité ? Quels sont les défis méthodologiques pour étudier la productivité de l’oubli dans les textes, les performances, les corps, l’architecture ? Ce panel explorera comment l’oubli peut être intégré à la riche littérature sur la mémoire pour éclairer les enjeux de la continuité et de la rupture dans l’Afrique d’aujourd’hui.

Paper 1

Demart Sarah / CEDEM, University of Liege

Délivrance dans les Églises de réveil en RDC et diaspora, paradigme de la rupture et ontologie de l’oubli

Dans le cadre de cette communication, nous souhaiterions considérer la question de l’oubli à partir du champ religieux congolais, de RDC et de diaspora et des pratiques de délivrance mises en œuvre dans les Églises de réveil (d’obédience pentecôtiste et évangélique).
Alors qu’une sociohistoire de ces mouvements religieux permet de situer leur émergence (dans les années 1970) au regard d’une longue tradition de prophétismes (dès la fin du XVe), l’appel de ces Églises à rompre avec le passé semble induire un acte d’oubli fondateur et salvateur. Le paradigme de la rupture (temporelle, sociale et familiale) est en effet central. Il est la condition sine qua none de la « délivrance » dans un cadre ontologique où la logique causale du malheur est indéfiniment attribuée à la sorcellerie, la possession, l’envoûtement etc.
Dans ce contexte, on partira d’une ethnographie menée pendant plusieurs années au sein des Églises situées à Kinshasa, Paris, Bruxelles ou Toronto, pour examiner la manière dont, à travers les pratiques de délivrance versus la possession, le corps est, ou pas, comment, à quel moment, le vecteur d’une histoire longue conflictuelle. Et de quelle manière l’acte d’oubli se donne à entendre ou pas comme un acte politique de rupture avec l’ordre historique du malheur.

Paper 2

Tiven Benjamin

Everyday Static Transmissions

This presentation examines the video and film library of the Kenya Broadcasting Corporation in Nairobi. It discusses the arrival of video technology in Kenya, its replacement of 16mm film, and its impact on the archiving of television images. While video may have cheapened production, its material expense put pressure on storage. Today, through bureaucratic neglect and institutional disorder, the national television record slips between readable formats and searchable databases, eliding historical events and preventing interpretation. We see how controlling the record is a technique of power.

Paper 3

Louw Elizabeth / University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg

Fragments of living heritage and documentary filmmaking: an act of remembering and forgetting

Anglican missionaries established the St Cuthbert’s Mission Station in the Eastern Cape, South Africa in the late nineteenth century and stayed there until the nineteen-seventies. An archival collection housed at Wits Historical Papers contains journals, visitors’ books, reports and photographs documenting all aspects of life there. Richard Madala, now ninety-two, and others remember their time there very vividly as they were born and educated at St Cuthbert’s. The site offers a unique opportunity to investigate this intersection of archival documentation and living heritage as the Mthatha diocese still runs church services and a small nunnery at the now mostly deserted location. This paper sets out to look at the impact of the production of a documentary film on the production of memory, archival possibilities and the art of forgetting. Derrida has argued that we write down [or record] so that we can forget (2002 p: 54). Nora believes that because of globalization “There are no longer sites of memory, because there are no longer real environments of memory”. He sees a gulf widening between on the one hand “a memory without a past that ceaselessly reinvents tradition” and “memory constructed from sifted and sorted historical facts” (Nora 1989: 7). Chanan (2007) sees remembering as being ‘perforce a bodily process’ which results from a space of interaction between the social actor and history in which the documentary film becomes ‘a strange new form of historical evidence’.

Paper 4

Verheul Susanne / University of Oxford

Remembering to Forget History in Bulawayo’s Magistrates’ Courts: The Case of Owen Maseko

This paper draws on interviews and courtroom observations to ask how forgetting as ‘an essential factor in creating the nation’ (Renan, in Woolf, 1996: 50) was both central in, and constraining to, the prosecution’s courtroom performances in the trial of Owen Maseko. Maseko, a Zimbabwean visual artist, was arrested in April 2010, when he organised an exhibition centred on the 1980s ZANU-PF led government’s repressive military campaign, the Gukurahundi, in which 10,000 to 20,000 people were killed, disappeared or tortured. To date, ZANU-PF maintains a ‘conspiracy of silence’ on the Gukurahundi. Maseko was tried in an effort to maintain this silence. In court, politically instructed prosecutors evoked ‘patriotic history’ (Ranger, 2004) to argue that Zimbabwean citizens should forget the violence in order to safeguard peace and security. In this legal battle, the prosecution faced a key challenge: How could Zimbabwean citizens be reminded to forget the Gukurahundi when t he work Maseko was charged for brought this very history to life? At the heart of this challenge were two competing political imaginations, one of nation governed by rule of law, with courts as spaces of record-keeping and remembrance, and another in which the security of the nation rested on the forgetting of its violent history. Holding both these imaginations, the prosecution ultimately failed to conclude their case, which was sidelined and forgotten at the Supreme Court.

Paper 5

Lachenal Guillaume / Université Paris Diderot Paris 7

Forgetting colonial medicine. An ethnography of memory work in a destroyed Cameroonian hospital

This paper presents the results of a collective ethnography of the monuments and traces associated with colonial medicine in the hospital of Ayos, Cameroon. Ayos, which was created by the famous French colonial doctor Eugène Jamot in the 1920s, is a well known lieu de mémoire. We studied the places, things, narratives and archives associated with the intense commemorative activities that regularly takes place in Ayos, and found unexpectedly that they dealt only secondarily with French colonial medicine: what was at stake was rather the production of locally salient, and consensual, narrative about independence, progress, autochtony and development. This narrative functioned as a way to erase, forget and revert the hospital’s history of sickness and mass death.

Our approach seeks to find a way out of a classic aporia in the study of memory and forgetting: pronouncing that an event is (has been) forgotten is paradoxically intrinsic to its commemoration; while events that are effectively forgotten are obviously never recognized as such. Where are the pasts that are not acknowledged as forgotten? Answering this question requires an “archeological” (Laurent Olivier, Ann Stoler) approach: a reflexive attention to the act of exhumation, rather than to the traces-as-historical-sources, and to the subject “remembering” as much as to the object “remembered”.

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