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Contested Memory, Documentary Registers, and Cambodian/American Histories of Violence

By Lina Chhun,a doctoral candidate and fifth year graduate student in the Department of Gender Studies at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA)
Date: 04 th March 2016.
Abstract:

Processes of remembrance and commemoration are highly fraught; how and what we remember are mediated, individually as well as collectively. Oftentimes, when we construct historical memory, we privilege what Veena Das (2007) calls “the event” of violence—a process that simultaneously makes an event historically legible while obscuring its conditions of emergence. Memory-making thus, is always punctuated by acts of forgetting, the creation and proliferation of silences that produce historical amnesias as they also produce, paradoxically perhaps, affective remnants—what Ngô, Nguyen, and Lam (2012) refer to as “the particular resonances of…wars, refugee archives of feeling, and the recursive traces of both” (673).

Foregrounding an Asian Americanist critique of empire, and deploying an analysis of exception(alism) as the central device in this exploration of what Yoneyama (1999) terms the dialectics of memory and the construction of historical narrative regarding Cambodia, Ms Chhun begins with an analysis of the unofficial register of her father’s oral history interview regarding the U.S. bombing of Neak Leung. She then transitions to a discussion regarding the relationship between archives and contested memories in the afterlife of violence, illustrating the possibilities of reading her father’s story as documentation alongside what she terms two “archival collections.” Analyzing how these cases differentially fulfill the traditional archival purposes of documentation, transparency, and accountability, she turns to an engagement with the ways in which these archives might function to produce different claims to “historical truth” in the afterlife of violence. In doing so, she addresses the following questions: How might we make historical silences legible without reproducing a regime of truth invested in discrete events of (spectacular) violence? And how might we also do so without reifying a narrative of (U.S.) exception(alism) that allows us to forget the ongoing violences of militarism and empire?

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