Maryam Adjam, PhD, the Nordic Museum, Stockholm

Memory traces: the Poetics of History

Focusing on the memories of Estonian refugees fleeing to Sweden in the wake of World War II, I will in this seminar talk about the concepts of memory space and history within the framework of the escape as a historical master narrative. Following the research participants to the sites of their memories in Estonia and Sweden today, raised two questions: what constitutes a lived memory space, and how is history defined within it?

Using Walter Benjamin’s concept of montage as radical remembering and its dialectical relation to history, I argue that embodied memories shape their own space: a space not always defined by historical master narratives, but rather a searching space constantly generating new constellations of memory fragments. Dealing with the politics of place and representations, these memories are constantly loaded and unloaded with meaning. Yet the space of lived memory is not always a creation of meaning. Walking around, searching for traces, a memory space confronts the place and maps its own geography. It turns to a spatial and temporal flow, which intertwines place and experience, and erases the past and the present as homogeneous categories. It reveals a living space of memory, rather than a memorial space of representations.

My analysis focuses on the tensions between remembering as a dialogue with history and memory’s ongoing acts of embodied experience. The position of in-betweenness appears in these stories of escape, not as a state of in-between home and away, past and present, but rather as an ongoing space-making process between different modes and layers of memory. This is a process aware of the constant changes in the understandings of history and personal experiences, intertwining these new interpretations with embodied memory and thereby constantly adding new layers of experience to it. Memory’s tracing illuminates a memory poetics of the mean-while and the in-between, which refuses historical closure.

Maryam Adjam is an ethnologist, currently based at the Nordic Museum in Stockholm. Her research interest includes the fields of memory studies, urban studies and research on international migration. Using sensory ethnography and visual anthropology as methodologies she has been focusing on practices of remembrance in relation to experiences of war and migration. She holds a PhD in ethnology from Center for Baltic and East European Studies at Södertörn University.

All seminars in the series.