TRANS Internet-Zeitschrift für Kulturwissenschaften 17. Nr.
Juni 2010

Sektion 7.5. Walls Fallen, Walls Built: Gender and the Issues of Collective Cultural Memory
Sektionsleiterin | Section Chair: Fatima Festic (Los Angeles, USA)

Dokumentation | Documentation | Documentation

Section report 7.5.

Walls Fallen, Walls Built:
Gender and the Issues of Collective/Cultural Memory

Fatima Festic (Los Angeles) [BIO]


The aim of the section was to bring together scholars whose work challenges the received and fixed notions of collective memory. Considering it as an activity that relates to forms of unending cultural struggles over territories as much as over meanings, the participants discussed misuses and exploitations of memory in its concern with a specifically desirable and recoverable past as well as aspects of its inventive reordering and redeploying.

The main focus was on gender and its intervention into the issues of cultural memory - the intervention which scrutinizes recent narratives of repatriation, national revival, independence, re-emergence, and excessive indulgence in trauma and its exoticisation and, in dismantling the memory’s ideological grounds, dismantles the ambiguities of pursuing collective interests that are based on the imagery of fixed divisions between the self and the Other and on the suppression of singularity within groups. The section discussed some manifestations of cultural politics which, stemming from modified recollections and their demands, collidewith situations of the present and invoke a particularly freighted and self-divisive future. That is where gender as an understudied facet of collective memory resurfaces as well as gender constructions relating to the luring falsity of the past.  

Participants examined these issues with reference to literature, theory, history, journalism, film, and photography. The papers were presented in two subsections: one thematizing social, racial, and war violence, the insufficiency of various theoretical apparatuses in dealing with it and searches for some possible recuperations, the other thematising some more aesthetic/theoretical aspects of the interaction between gender and individual and collective memory. Both subsections covered a whole scope of subjects:

  1. The efforts to reshape and redirect the work on the issues of individual memory and collective memory as related to the issues of mass rapes and the resulting prevented or distorted constructions of gendered subjectivities that often end up in suicides or some forms of reversed violence. Fatima Festic’s point of interest in envisioning the whole section was to find a context where these harsh issues, without loosing in seriousness and critical and theoretical weight can be seen in a kind of dialogue not only with representations or self-representations of torturing remembrances of similar kind - which can also threat to further intensify the abyssal fortification of the victims from one side, from another to turn them into political metaphors - but also in a dialogue with some understanding of cultural memory where the interaction of the narrative and the traumatic as its two main components can be enriched by transgressive and transformative capacities of gender.
  2. The problematic considerations of slavery in the US when looking at imaginations of the past and how they influence future self-definition of a gendered racial identity: depicting representations of the vulnerable situation faced by women specific to their status as sexual objects and their connected ability for procreation, Veronica Hendrick discussed the agenda of writers who horrify northern communities in order to shock them to awareness and move them to action. She reread them also in view of the negative impact of retelling such horrific conditions upon descendents of the victimized and of production of hopelessness within modern public consciousness and asked for their utilization as a base for self-actualization and cultural empowerment.
  3. Women’s radical and combating social activism and left-wing journalism as retrieved by the agency of translation and interpretation: an attempt to look through the images of a reviled urban terrorist in order to rehabilitate her memory, powerful female voice and the passionate intellectual labour on a whole range of “social justice” issues throughout the 1960s in the depths of Cold War Germany. Louise von Flotow contrasted Ulrike Meinhof’s early career with the short period during which she was constructed as a vicious terrorist, then discussed questions of translation as a force for “reordering and redeploying” memory – emphasizing the remembrance in (women’s) translation of other women writers/thinkers written off by collective memory and listing translation strategies and effects that aided in her own rehabilitation of Meinhof.
  4. Insufficient narrative recovery of the Baltic women deportation trauma owing to the national and communal contexts of serious normative implications within which deportation narratives have emerged as setting limits to articulating the part of the experience that contains the highest degree of hurtfulness that the authors of the stories have been unable to overcome during the period between the experience itself and its narration. Leena Kurvet-Kaosaar discussed the difference between the collective level of the narratives (its effective rehabilitation and remembrance of the victims of the Soviet regime) and the personal level on which the process of recovering history in the narrative does not equal with the process of recovery from it, lacking the essential quality of the therapeutic impact.           

The second subsection comprised the following presentations:

  1. A close reading of Elfriede Jelinek’s post-feminist texts that re-enact sexual violence as discourse - in (porno-)graphic representations of voyeurism, sadomasochism, and vampirism - in particular The Wall and its exposition of the intersections between fascism, gender, and sexual violence. Christine Kiebuzinska emphasized Jelinek’s language of fierce ruptures and her post-modern shift in attitude towards representation and the play’s construction out of mosaics of imagery and blocks of discourse that explicitly refute the notion of a private subjective space and construct characters out of surfaces and intertexts of what remains of their stories and deaths, of outrageous and depraved word games that reveal the inauthenticity of the myths she is investigating.
  2. A witty study of some features of the gender structure, transgression and transvestitism in spy fiction: a study of a subversion of a popular macho image of an agent as well as of some stereotyped images of women-spies, of the ways of making ambiguous the male domination and patriarchal structure and the acts of disambiguation that attempt to recuperate them. Takayuki Yokota-Murakami discussed Somersett Maugham’s Ashenden and its reference to his bi-/homosexual orientation and conversely, the pressure to liquidate such a gender ambiguity in its filmic version Secret Agent by Alfred Hitchcock, and also their contrary representations of women spies. He also analyzed the contrary definitions of Mata Hari in patriarchal discourses that continue to both entangle and dissociate her and her likes (Yoshiko Kawashima from The Last Emperor) with/from themselves.
  3. An attempt at feminist re-inscription of some key masculine concepts of memorizing (such as “the method as a turn”, strolling, involuntary memory, oblivion) with reference to women’s writing that was not given adequate attention from the point of view of collective cultural memory and the Western literary canon. Looking at some women’s texts (by Christine de Pizan and Marisa Madieri) that thematise the extreme interlacement of the personal and the public and historical, the fluidity of the border between the personal and the collective memory, Jelka Kernev-Strajn argued for possible use of those male concepts (Freud’s, Benjamin’s, Proust’s) in the feminist aesthetics, given that it is precisely in the sphere of “memory” that new (multiple) identities form.
  4. An analysis of the contemporary photography in which cultural memory and gender are not easily locatable or seem to vanish in endless mirroring of the image content and form that are paradoxically independent from each other but simultaneously related, in a display of dispersal, lack of purpose, silence, indeterminacy, absence, lack of center – Atussa Hatami discussed Andreas Gursky’s images that comment on the world that the Western late capitalist societies live in, the world of the society of the spectacle where the image becomes the final form of commodity reification.            

Such a variety of subjects concerning different cultural practices offered a layered platform for examining both overt and subtle ways in which gender, culture and memory are interlaced. The questions that were posed - How the socially constituted forms, narratives, and relations that made up memory open to individual acts of intervention and possible transformation of the conditions loading a particular subject with a collective burden and blocking its individual realization? How to approach the trauma of lacking gender that is paradoxically being re-produced in most contemporary narratives of ethnic retrieval and consolidation? In what ways we recall or have to recall and for how long the form of certain memory remains unchanged in us and at what point it can assume some other content or frame? What is remembrance and what is forgetting, in what ways they are complementary, and at what points they can merge in narrative? How to locate cultural memory in literary texts that go along with social fictionalizing and idealizing impulses succeeding in a conflicted culture? How to dismantle ideological needs that shape the politics of cultural memory? How to trace and study the historical inconsistency of gender identities, etc. – indicated some important methodological points for further research in the field of memory studies.

7.5. Walls Fallen, Walls Built: Gender and the Issues of Collective Cultural Memory

Sektionsgruppen | Section Groups | Groupes de sections


For quotation purposes:
Fatima Festic: Section report 7.5.:Walls Fallen, Walls Built: Gender and the Issues of Collective Cultural Memory - In: TRANS. Internet-Zeitschrift für Kulturwissenschaften. No. 17/2008. WWW:

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