Postmemory

About the Concept

“Postmemory” describes the relationship that the “generation after” bears to the personal, collective, and cultural trauma of those who came before-to experiences they “remember” only by means of the stories, images, and behaviors among which they grew up. But these experiences were transmitted to them so deeply and affectively as to seem to constitute memories in their own right. Postmemory’s connection to the past is thus actually mediated not by recall but by imaginative investment, projection, and creation. To grow up with overwhelming inherited memories, to be dominated by narratives that preceded one’s birth or one’s consciousness, is to risk having one’s own life stories displaced, even evacuated, by our ancestors. It is to be shaped, however indirectly, by traumatic fragments of events that still defy narrative reconstruction and exceed comprehension. These events happened in the past, but their effects continue into the present.

For a recent elaboration of the term, see Professor Hirsch’s 2019 essay “The Connective Arts of Postmemory.”

Critical Responses to Postmemory

Dash Arts Podcast: “Second Hand Memory.” November 2020.

Can trauma be healed through art? Does it pass from generation to generation and how can we break the cycle? In this episode of the podcast, we look at memory, family history and inherited trauma through the eyes of artists and thinkers from around the world, who have investigated the impact of these issues in their work. Hosted by Artistic Director Josephine Burton, with award-winning filmmaker Mark Rosenblatt, twice Booker-nominated Nigerian writer Chigozie Obiama, theatre director Maja Milatović-Ovadia (originally from former Yugoslavia, now based in the UK), Russian actress and filmstar Oksana Mysina, Berlin-based Argentinian artist Silvina Der Meguerditchian, poet Stephen Watts, clinical psychologist Dr Sarah Lack and William Peterfield Trent Professor of English and Comparative Literature at Columbia University Marianne Hirsch (PhD).

The Feminist Press: WSQ, “Part III: Scholarly inheritance: Revisiting Marianne Hirsch’s ‘Family Pictures: Muaus, mourning, and post-memory'” in “Inheritance” edited by maria Rice Bellamy and Karen Weingarten. The Feminist Press: WSQ, vol. 48, no. 1 & 2, spring/summer 2020.

An interdisciplinary study of inheritance, considering complications of gender, sexuality, race, and immigration in transgenerational transfers.
“Postmemory and the Imaginative Work of Those Who Come After” by Caroline Kyungah Hong
“Postmemory and the “Fragments of a History We Cannot Take In” by Tahneer Oksman
“Reparative Remembering” by Sonali Thakkar
“Works in Progress: Sketches, Prolegomena, Afterthoughts” by Marianne Hirsch

Marianne Hirsch, “La revisión del pasado nos permite un futuro más justo,” Público, June 2019.

Una revisión colectiva de la memoria, que considere los aspectos individuales, sociales, sus diferencias, mediaciones y puntos de encuentro, es a lo que invita la teórica estadounidense de origen rumano, Marianne Hirsch. Acaba de presentar la versión en español del libro ‘La generación de la Posmemoria’ (Carpe Noctem, 2019) y asiste al Congreso Internacional de la Memory Studies Association que se celebra hasta el sábado en Madrid.

Marianne Hirsch con las artistas Silvina Der Meguerditchian, Mirta Kupferminc, Susan Meiselas, Lorie Novak, Deborah Willis e Isin Onol en el proyecto Women Mobilizing Memory. Foto: Ignacio Izquierdo

Marianne Hirsch con las artistas Silvina Der Meguerditchian, Mirta Kupferminc, Susan Meiselas, Lorie Novak, Deborah Willis e Isin Onol en el proyecto Women Mobilizing Memory. Foto: Ignacio Izquierdo.

Dilara Çalışkan, “Queer Postmemory.” European Journal of Women’s Studies, vol. 26, no. 3, 2019, pp. 261-273.

Drawing on ten years of activism in Turkey’s trans* movement and seven months of fieldwork in Istanbul on mutually formed mother and daughter relationships among trans* women, this article looks at alternative understandings of the “inter-generational” transmission of memory. How can we engage alternative family-making processes and non-normative formations of time with memory transmission rather than merely identify “inter-generational” memory in advance with pre-established, non-normative systems? Or can we talk about “inter-generational” memories without knowing what “generation” really means? Inspired by these questions regarding Marianne Hirsch’s work on postmemory and narratives of self-identified trans* mothers and daughters, the author discusses the conceptualization of “queer postmemory” in order to think critically on unmarked temporal and familial dimensions in the study of collective and personal memory. While refusing to position memory as an outcome of predetermined temporal frameworks within normative understandings of family, the author looks at strangely remembered things through glimpses of other types of time, other types of relationalities, and other types of inheritability.

*Çalışkan first presented research for this article as a graduate student member of Women Mobilizing Memory, an interdisciplinary, transnational feminist scholarly collective that Professor Hirsch co-organized at Columbia University’s Center for the Study of Social Difference.

Samuel O’Donoghue, “Postmemory as Trauma? Some Theoretical Problems and Their Consequences for Contemporary Literary Criticism.” Politika, n.d.

This article critiques the ways in which the concept of postmemory has been used to defend the psychological and social significance of historical fiction. In the 1990s trauma theory gained traction in Holocaust studies as a means of legitimizing the testimony of survivors. Trauma theory urged a disregard for the criteria of reliability and accuracy, treating testimony not as a typical historical source but as an alternative, tortured system of knowledge about the past. Hirsch’s work contains a theoretical ambiguity that allows the artistic recreation of the past to be invested with a comparable psychological justification. Postmemory expands the authority of the witness to encompass those with no direct experience of the historical atrocities they narrate. This article questions the rationale for this transference of testimonial authority from ancestors to their descendants. (par. 2)

Belén Ciancio. “¿Cómo (no) hacer cosas con imágenes? Sobre el concepto de posmemoria.” Constelaciones – Revista de teoría crítica, no. 7, December 2015, pp. 503-515.

El concepto de posmemoria, propuesto por Marianne Hirsch desde el campo de los Memory Studies, está presente, desde hace varios años, no sólo en los Estudios sobre Memoria en el Cono Sur y en España, sino también en distintos espacios y formaciones discursivas como la Crítica Literaria y en un campo en formación: los Estudios sobre Cine. La publicación, en 2015, de uno de los últimos libros de Hirsch: La generación de la posmemoria. Escritura y cultura visual después del Holocausto, el único de su extensa producción traducido al español, probablemente provoque aún mayor impacto, reproducción de su uso y aplicación, en un mundo en que la circulación de imágenes a partir de la web y las redes sociales parecería infinita, inmaterial y pasajera, aunque, como habría sucedido recientemente con las imágenes de niños palestinos y refugiados, sirva no sólo para producir, con un “like” o un “share”, buena conciencia, espectacularidad o banalización, sino, una vez más, reflexiones acerca del límite de lo visual. Pensar sus límites y alcances, es el motivo de este texto que desea comenzar a problematizar algunos de los supuestos del concepto de posmemoria, como la cuestión de la performatividad, el modelo socio-cultural y epistemológico desde el que se produce y los conceptos de trauma, de gene- ración, de testigo y de género que supone. (p. 503)

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