Memory Machines and State Work

deadline for submissions: 
September 30, 2018
full name / name of organization: 
Northeast Modern Language Association (NeMLA)
contact email: 

This call is for an accepted session at the 50th Northeast Modern Language Association convention in Washington DC, March 21-24, 2019.  

Chair: Nathan Douglas / Indiana University, Dept. of Spanish & Portuguese

As Elizabeth Jelin has noted in State Repression and the Labors of Memory, “once sufficient time has elapsed… alternative (even rival) interpretations of that recent past and its memory occupy a central place in cultural and political debates” (xvii).  Dominick LaCapra has thematized this problematic even more succinctly with his statement that “memory is both more and less than history” (20).  This history, of course, is tied up in the processes of national political consolidation and the building of the state body politic.  Marita Sturken has likewise emphasized the ways in which memory has become a commodity, something to be traded of markets both material and immaterial.  Following these critics, this panel seeks to address the ways in which objects of cultural memory have been mobilized by political states as a means to appeal to, and in some cases consolidate, ideological consensus.  In particular, it aims to study states whose moves from dictatorship to democracy continue to be marked by a constituent sense of precariousness—an insistent threat that democracy is something that must be maintained through performative cultural practices, though such a claim would also necessarily involve our recognition that the shifting of state work into the cultural sphere is not a phenomenon unique to post-dictatorial states.  Rather than focusing on how contemporary cultural narratives re-construct or vindicate the creative voices suppressed under repressive governments—as many recent monographs have—this panel reconfigures the notion of repression through a lens of a responsibility; that is, how the individual’s feeling of responsibility to perform the work of the state suppresses response-ability to one’s own past traumas.  Such a parlous discussion thus promises to destabilize the tenuous discourses that suture memory and history in service of the state apparatus, or, at the very least, draw into visibility the subterranean discourses of power that have allowed the state apparatus to subjugate the productive capacities of individual, cultural, and historical memory.

Decisions sent by October 15, 2018.  Please submit 250 word abstract and bio through the NeMLA system here:

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