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Groningen | 28-29 October 2021 [NB: The event is planned as hybrid, but will move online if necessary] | Organizers: Ksenia Robbe (University of Groningen), Hanneke Stuit (University of Amsterdam) and Sanjukta Sunderason (University of Amsterdam) | Keynote speakers: Ilya Kukulin (National Research University Higher School of Economics, Moscow), Andrew van der Vlies (University of Adelaide), Françoise Vergès (Collège d’études mondiales | Fondation Maison des sciences de l’homme, Paris)

Event details of Eternal Presents and Resurfacing Futures: Postcolonial/Postsocialist Dynamics of Time and Memory in Literature and Art
Start date 28 October 2021
End date 29 October 2021

Open to: PhDs and RMA students; OSL members have first access.

Credits: 1-2ECs. NB: Credits can only be awarded to humanities ReMA and PhD students from Dutch universities.

Registration for the event will open in September.

The end of the Cold War at the turn of the 1990s initiated a global discourse of contemporaneity that was meant to deconstruct the linear progressive time of modernity as well as its dialectics that dominated the 20th century. In literature and artistic imagination, this postmodern sensibility was meant to institute a new “politics of time” (Osborne) marked by globalization – both open and seamless, as well as generative of a new expansive, fluid episteme. The heavily Eurocentric myopia of this view found starkest expressions in the idea of the “end of history” (Fukuyama) that declared the end of politics itself. Yet arrested within such perceptions of new spatio-temporal fluidities of “the contemporary” were the heterogeneous temporalities of decolonization and democratic change in societies that had been negotiating the impacts and afterlives of empire and ideological conflicts of the Cold War itself across the long 20th century.

As the West’s accelerated histories perpetuated a politics of presentism, marked by the fear of time itself – chronophobia (Lee) – the “non-West”, implicated otherwise in the very dialectics that was now deemed “over” – has been left to grapple with epistemological hegemonies of homogeneous time. Yet, it is amidst the new postcolonial and postsocialist societies of the 1990s that we can encounter braided temporalities of struggle, affirmation, memorialization, and utopic horizons. We can seek here new and alternate forms of contemporaneity that do not eclipse the spectre of history but materialize it via aesthetic form. In this workshop, we foreground such forms, and ask: are connected questions around the dynamics of time and memory in postcolonial and postsocialist aesthetics possible? We turn to literature and art to seek new frontiers of dialogues, questions and potentialities.

This workshop addresses the ways in which literature and art, in their generic capacity for multi-perspective representation, reimagine place and agency in the impasse of an eternal present and develop ways of engaging with the past that “resurface” futurity. We propose to begin thinking about these questions from the “peripheries” of the Global South and the Global East which, despite their key role in the global transformations of the 1980-1990s, are mostly regarded as recipients rather than producers of theoretical and critical perspectives.  At the same time, the dynamics of transformation in these contexts continue to be largely divorced from each other and mediated via comparison to the West. We begin to think about and through the dynamics of time and memory since the 1990s beyond the “failures” of postcolonial and postsocialist transitions, and beyond traumatic repetition and postmodern cynicism. Drawing upon Jean and John L. Comaroffs’ proposition that African and other Global South societies are where key practices and ideas are being developed and tested before they “travel” to the West, we open a dialogue between these and postsocialist contexts of the Global East. We suggest that these entangled contexts generate alternative temporalities and constellations of time as they grapple with ambiguities of “post-transitional” experience and experiment with a variety of post- /alter-postmodernist modes.

Memory and place have been at the foreground of social and political contestation in postcolonial and postsocialist contexts, and so, these are the “sites” from which we begin our exploration. We approach memory in the broad sense as socio-cultural acts (Bal) of engaging with the past that shape, in each new iteration, specific connections between pasts, presents and futures, and determine the logic and the spatial coordinates of these temporal constructions. Through remembering, time is resignified and connected to (or disconnected from) place, and various acts of remediating constitute further temporal-spatial dynamics (Erll & Rigney). We aim to initiate new theorizations of postcolonial/ postsocialist entanglements by focusing on configurations of time and memory in practices of literature and art, for which “(post)colonialism” and “(post)socialism” are relevant markers (i.e. also including Western and diasporic practices). This inquiry brings together theoretical perspectives on historical time and memory, which often run parallel courses in cultural history and memory studies scholarship.

We ask: which temporalities are involved in acts of remembering as a “post-transitional” experience? And what ways of engaging with the past can we observe in narrative and visual constructions of the past in Southern and Eastern knowledges? How do imaginations from the Global South and East produce theoretical insights that rework hegemonic transnational cultural repertoires across the world?