Spuren and history as embodied and embodying -- dasha's post
I found an intriguing set of parallels between this week’s readings and some of the topics we have addressed in class with the past few assignments regarding the ways in which bodies are remembered, lives recreated, and historical subjects produced through different modes of tourism. In psychogeography, one’s own derive enters the self into an urban landscape in order to both alter the individual’s relationship to that geography, and to alter the environment’s relationship to the body traveling through it. Heritage tourism and the notion of intangible heritage place historical and cultural value in and on persons who maintain particular practices and embody a certain past or pastness. In living museums with historical interpreters, the interaction of the actor and the visitor facilitates a making of history that creates a drama to educate about the past. In these types of historical sites, objects played an integral role in activating the narrative of the theater and the stories of individual historical lives.
The city as palimpsest, the person as palimpsest, the object as palimpsest, the void as palimpsest. The layered meanings and histories are present – but only if one is searching for them.
It was in Karen Till’s discussion of “Spuren and Zeugnisse” that I began to consider the role of the individual and the presence of bodies in these space-time configurations of traumatic sites carrying tourist potential. Both sites of conscious (as museumized historical locations) – and thanotourism, utilize to varied extents individual life histories to reflect upon meta-historical and meta-physical happenings (in regards to the Holocaust, Till describes this as “the metacategory of the unknowable” (202).) Dependent on bodies to inhabit these spaces, as well as on “stewards” (the Coalition’s word) to foster dialogues, there is an interpersonal relationship that is cultivated between contemporary citizens of a world moral order (tourists) and individuals that have been subsumed by historical atrocities.
Spuren – “what is left behind by humans… the physical and spiritual imprint of the human touch, and the connection of that touch across time and through space” (208) – is a fascinating way to understand [museumized] historical sites’ ability to evoke and shape memories, individual histories, and notions of national belonging. Why Spuren’s dynamics are so intriguing is due to the fact that “only people who arrive at a scene or search out a place find Spuren: the act of discovery constitutes their meaning as material traces.” Here they are very much connected to objects regarded as relics in the living history museum, as well as the built environments explored through derives. Till writes, “[As] symbolic footprints left for a future generation” – a “compassionate touch” – these “Spuren acquire a special spiritual status and may be interpreted as sacred relics” (209). Spuren are material witnesses (BKG’s term) that are activated through the presence of the tourist, during which this experience aids the formation of historical and individual memory. Because Spuren are evocative of the death and suffering of individuals, their activation personalizes these histories. The palimpsest of these sites depends on an investment from the tourist into the lived presence that one was. This is related to, but somewhat different from, the ways in which the Tuol Sleng and Choeung Ek memorials utilize skulls and mugshots of the dead to summon their tragic stories from viewers. The presence left behind is more tangible than the “spiritual imprint” of Spuren, however, the contact between tourist and relic still evokes an individualized notion of this particular space’s history.
With this in mind, I raise the question of “the archive and the repertoire” which I have brought into my posts for the last few weeks. When memories of a particular “dark” past are being resuscitated or alternatively documented through experiential and sensorial means, does the passing on of these experiences fit into the binary of archive/repertoire? Whose histories are being fashioned and retold? Till often mentions the “ghosts” of Berlin and the way the city is “haunted” by these histories. In what ways can a tourist in this landscape participate in the remembrance of these haunting lives? Issues of mimesis and representation enter the discussion, as well as conceptualizations of the self as an agent of remembrance/commemoration and of the historical process. These readings brought out a further dimension of the individual’s participation in the voicing of those partial layers – the palimpsests that become museumized.