curated by Mario Panico and Viviana Gravano
Family memories have to do with a particular form of belonging, with the refusal and acceptance of a condition of identity and narrative that one has not chosen, but which concerns us intimately and from which we often distance ourselves with difficulty. These are contradictory memories, which simultaneously question the private and the public, creating oxymorons that are capable of holding together positive and negative events, as well as private lives against the backdrop of collective traumas. They could include, for example, the memories of an irreproducible dish that a grandmother cooked for her children and grandchildren, which clashes, however, with the discovery that the same grandmother had been a supporter of a violent regime. Or the memories of a grandfather linked to an ordinary object, perhaps a wristwatch, carefully conserved because it is a “witness object” (Hirsch and Spitzer 2006; 2012), a trace of life before mass deportations.
Family memories are a magnifying glass on the value system and on the dynamics that construct the very concept of family at a cultural level: patriarchal self-representation systems, secrets, unspoken words, exclusivity, belonging, traditions. All these aspects condition the transmission of the past, often eroding collective traumatic aspects and sweetening personal memories.
In recent times, many scholars have addressed this issue, in particular its countless configurations and the emotions connected to it. Since the pioneering work of Maurice Halbwachs (1920; 1950), memory studies has taken numerous directions (see for example Erll 2011), always keeping in mind the relationship between the family as a social group, generational transmission, responsibility and history. In this panorama, for example, of key concept is that of “postmemory”, coined by feminist scholar Marianne Hirsch (2008), which refers to the memories of the sons and daughters of those who experienced the trauma of the Shoah. This was soon used also in a trans-national key, to refer more generally to collective trauma. Another is the issue of the responsibility and implication of the “heir” (here intended in a broad sense), of his/her being involved despite the temporal distance from the events of the past (Rothberg 2019).
Family memories evidently involve and trouble not only the private sphere, but also the historical, social and cultural contexts. In this issue of roots§routes we would like to collect interdisciplinary and artistic works that articulate the concept of family memory, understood both as the translation and externalisation of a personal memory and as the generational transmission of a past that one has not experienced but whose specific weight is recognised.
Possible topics that could be developed for the issue could include (but are not restricted to):
– the concept of inheritance and responsibility: what does it mean to inherit a memory? Is it possible to think of oneself as the recipient of a family memory? Is it possible to refuse a “difficult” inheritance?
– the representation and textual translation of the generational transmission of trauma but also of happy memories: analysis of literary texts, photographs, graphic novels, music that thematise family memory and the passing down of knowledge.
– the forms of forgetting and erasure: in the process of memorial transmission, what is the role of family filtering (for example the family secret), useful for preserving the integrity of the group itself?
– the questioning of the concept of family, extending reflection also to the memories of adoptive and/or queer families, investigating the forms of memory and identity transmission in contexts where it is not biology that binds emotional and kinship ties.
– the materiality of family memory: the personal objects of everyday life (books, jewellery, clothes, furniture, watches, etc.) act as emotional regulators of the memory of the person to whom they belonged, becoming a synthesis of all the values of the cultural time in which they were used. The “previous life” of these objects becomes in the present a sign of the survival of the family memory, a trace of the evil suffered or perpetrated.
Erll Astrid, Locating Family in Cultural Memory Studies, in «Journal of Comparative Family Studies», 42 (3), pp. 303-318, 2011.
Halbwachs Maurice Les cadres sociaux de la mémoire, Librairie Félix Alcan, Parigi 1925.
Halbwachs Maurice, La Mémoire collective, Les Presses universitaires de France, Parigi 1950.
Hirsch Marianne, The Generation of Postmemory, in «Poetics Today», 29 (1), pp. 103–128, 2008.
Hirsch Marianne, Spitzer Leo, Testimonial Objects: Memory, Gender, and Transmission, in «Poetics Today», 27 (2), pp. 353–383, 2006.
Hirsch Marianne, Spitzer Leo, Testimonial Objects, in Hirsch Marianne, The Generation of Postmemory. Writing and Visual Culture after the Holocaust, Columbia University Press, New York, pp. 177–199, 2012.
Rothberg Michael, The Implicated Subject: Beyond Victims and Perpetrators, Stanford University Press, Stanford, CA, 2019.
* The images in this article are from the web and are used fairly as an illustration of the author’s observations. In the event that the subjects or the authors of the images have something to object to their publication, they can report it to the editorial staff and request their removal