Entanglements and Aftermaths: Reflections on Memory and Political Time

Johannesburg, South Africa
February 22-24, 2018


This conference brings together global reflections on critical memory developed over the last twenty-five years. Historical events such as slavery, colonial conquest, occupation, partition, war, apartheid and dictatorship—as well as democratic transitions, reparations of past injustice, the outlawing of discriminatory practices, and turning points in post-human modes of understanding, both ecological and technological—will provide points of departure  for thinking about the role of critique in our understanding of political time.

We will investigate connections between histories that persist into the present and we will also reflect on the implications of such entanglements and aftermaths. Do histories end when they are declared to end, or is there an afterlife that makes it difficult to distinguish the past from the present? When and how does the past becomes past? How does it persist as a structure or echo in the present, producing confusion about the parameters of our own political time?

Attacks on memory are to be contested. But so too is the historical oblivion that simply collapses the past with the present and does not recognize the specificities of past and present struggles for justice. The connections between past, present and future are not pre-given but must be enacted for each time to emerge. What is the role played by silence, repression and absence, as technologies of forgetting? How are reparations claims shaped by the politics of memory? When and under what circumstances do the trials of memory, invested with the injunction to justice, turn from matters of personal or public healing to a reiteration of violence?

We will consider counter-monumental histories and critical cultural forms, and reflect on the complexity of contemporary orders of political time. How do these histories, forms and temporalities connect disparate legacies of violence; negotiate continuities and discontinuities between history/event and aftermath; and offer openings for imagining the future, the un-thought or the not-yet-imagined?



Sarah Nuttall
Director, WiSER
University of the Witwatersrand, South Africa

Debarati Sanyal
Professor of French
UC Berkeley, USA