Issue 2.1 Homepage

Article Contents
·Introduction: Kosovo/Kosova, 2000
·Theoretical Trauma
·1. Traumatic Event Vs. Traumatic Effect
·2. Trauma Avoidance Vs. Trauma Transformation
·3. Trauma Intervention as Dialogue
·Theatrical Trauma
·The Archives of Memory
·Kosovo Theater Project
·Concluding Thoughts
·Works Cited

Printer Version

Steven Reisner, "Private Trauma/Public Drama: Theater as a Response to International Political Trauma" (page 7 of 9)

The Archives of Memory

Both the historical Archives of Memory project, and theatrical "Body in Exile" project aimed to address the formidable, interconnected issues of memory and trauma; the archives through history and history-making, the theater through art (verbal and imagistic) and play-making. Yet each approached the material of memory, history and cultural interchange with different values and expectations. The Archives set out to engage survivors in the field in a way which opened communication of painful events and preserved the history of those events and experiences both in recorded language and in memorial objects. The theater aimed to create primarily nonverbal representations derived from the imagery and emotions of the recent painful events.

One of the strengths of the Archives of Memory project was that it benefited from half a century of research on the experience of survivors of the genocide ("a cross reference [which] seems to refer almost exclusively to the experience of the Holocaust and the Shoa," Losi 5). But there are key differences between the circumstances of the survivors of the Nazi holocaust and the survivors of the Kosovar war. The research of the experience of the survivors of the Shoah was undertaken, for the most part, long after the event itself. The survivors were refugees, living on foreign soil, with little expectation or desire for returning to their former homes. The Kosovar survivors had, for the most part, returned to their homeland. They were interviewed very soon after the terrible events. The role of memory among the Holocaust survivors was complex and changing, but for many of the Holocaust survivors "memory," and the dictum "never forget!" served primarily to overcome a desire to forget, on the part of the world at large and, to a great extent, if only unconsciously, on the part of the survivors as well. Memory in Kosovo, on the other hand, is seen by all sides to have a value; the meaning of the memory, however, is the subject of contention. In Kosovo, there is little attempt to forget the recent tragedy.

In fact, given the intense energy devoted to documenting trauma in recent years, one must question whether there is any longer a connection between trauma and forgetting. Once, trauma-memory was the subject of individual and cultural repression; today, trauma-memory is a commodity, subject to a struggle for control of its meaning and value. In today's world of international trauma intervention, the question is not so much, will the traumatized be able to remember and will memory serve as a basis for healing, but to what use will the memory be put? What are to be the meanings of the memories and what are the values held by those who gather, hold and present the narratives of memory? Orwell (1949) foresaw this use of the politics of memory in his novel 1984, when he wrote, "Who controls the past controls the future. Who controls the present controls the past."

An archive of memory, as I see it, is not only about remembering the past, but also about the act of remembering in the present, and, perhaps most important, the vision of the future in which the documented memory will have meaning. In other words, the archive is not only about the claiming and constructing of the past (individual, collective, and multiple), but about envisioning a future for which the memories are collected and given meaning. During the collecting of the memories, one progressively discovers and interacts with the future that is envisioned. As Nietzsche (1995) put it, "The voice of the past is always the voice of an oracle: only if you are architects of the future and are familiar with the present will you understand the oracular voice of the past."

One may discover, for example, that the interviewees believe they are giving testimony for war crimes cases, that they are contributing to a national inventory of persecutions requiring revenge, or that they are creating an archive of human experience to teach lessons of the horrors of ethnic hatred. At play is the unfolding understanding between interviewers and interviewees as to the hoped for meaning of the memories collected in the archive. If this process is overt, the interaction between interviewers and interviewees is dynamic. One cannot know beforehand how it will unfold, thus those involved in the project do not always know themselves what the future of the memory project will entail or require. The project itself mimics the constructed and reconstructed nature of identity and memory (re-collection).[5]

S&F Online - Issue 2.1, Public Sentiments - Ann Cvetkovich and Ann Pellegrini, Guest Editors - ©2003.