A direct intersection is taking place this week between the syllabus of our class and my other, “Trauma, Memory and Performance”, taught by Diana Taylor (NYU) and Marianne Hirsch (Columbia), as we are also considering sites of memory and ‘thanotourism’. Honestly, due to my inundation with emotionally taxing material between the two classes, I had to take a break, wipe my tears, and step away in order to try to gain perspective of all I was taking in via readings, museum visits, film and the internet. I was overwhelmed and understand I do not deal well with intensely emotional material (my colleagues in the class who were with me in Peru will attest to this). After stepping back, I realize I am pleased with the crossover as the material in one class is obviously informing the other and deepening my understanding of a severely complex issue.
One of the main questions that I am concerned with is whether or not sites of memory can stand alone without mediation? This query does not apply to sites that are built to honor memory, but rather those already established spaces that are embodied with ‘the trace’ Till cites. Is the haunting feeling of a torture a camp enough without having to have panels and diagrams to guide you through?
Also related to ‘the trace’, it is important to consider torture sites that have attempted to erase the trace of torture that that took place there. In Buenos Aires, one of the main torture camps during Argentina’s Dirty War was at ESMA, a naval mechanics school, and the space was actually altered after the regime fell in order to discount survivor testimonies. For example, if a survivor testified that he was “taken down a staircase”, then the perpetrators would remove the staircase in order to make the victim look like a liar. Photos/ discussion of this can be found in Marcelo Brodsky’s book “Memoria en Construction”, which I will bring it with me to share with the class.
One distinction Diana Taylor made during our discussion last week was that sites of conscience and memory speak the message “never again”; however, in the case of the Holocaust it is a ‘closed’ case, as those convicted have been brought to public justice, yet in South America they are living amongst the perpetrators with the very real threat that it COULD happen again. This raises questions regarding the temporality of memory— how does the distance of time alter the modes and mediations of remembering?
This question kept playing in my mind when I visited El Museo del Barrio to see “The Disappeared/ Los Desaparecidos”, a collection of works honoring the disappeared throughout South America. While walking through, I was reminded of an exhibit we saw while studying in Lima called “Yuyanapaq”, which means ‘still remembering’ in Quechua. This photography exhibit at the Museo de la Nacion captured horrific moments of Peru’s Dirty War and the disappearance of thousands of indigenous peoples throughout the Highlands. I recently learned that the Quechua language has no past tense; therefore, whenever the terrible atrocities are addressed they are always in the present—it’s always happening. I find this troubling when considering the issue of temporality. How does a population ever gain distance from the trauma if their language does not permit locating it in the past?
One final point I am trying to work out in relation to the readings/viewings is a sordid connection between 'education' and torture: sites of education turned sites of torture turned sites of education. My premise stems from the example of Toul Sleng, a high school converted into a torture camp under the Khmer Rouge regime in Cambodia, and various schools converted into torture sites in Argentina, in relation to the use of tours of memory and torture sites as education cirriculum, as in the case of Jagiellonian University. I am not sure what to make of it, but the conversion/manipulation/ revamping/mediation of such sites is something to consider.