Cite as: Discussion of the lecture Marianne Hirsch, Memory’s Tenses: From Present Past to Future Perfect, ICI Berlin, 24 May 2017, video recording, mp4, 29:47 <>
24 May 2017


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Memory’s Tenses: From Present Past to Future Perfect / Marianne Hirsch

One of the basic tenets of memory studies is that memory is always in the present. We do not recall the past: we create the past we need now. At the end of the 20th and the beginning of the 21st centuries, our present is conceived as the aftermath of haunting traumatic histories that demand to be worked through. But much is lost by this conception of time. This talk explores memory’s multi-temporality: the past’s own present and future, and the future’s present and past. What would it take to break out of entrenched memories of traumatic pasts? Can we recuperate the hopes and dreams that were meant to be destroyed by violent regimes but that, erratically, reappear and stubbornly live on? Interrupting linear histories and their teleology, these works leave space for what Ariella Azoulay’s has called “potential history” – not just what was, but what might have been, and what might yet be. This talk looks closely at how this multi-directional temporality works in several memorial projects that activate the past’s futures.

Marianne Hirsch writes about the transmission of memories of violence across generations, combining feminist theory with memory studies in global perspective. Her recent books include The Generation of Postmemory: Writing and Visual Culture After the Holocaust (2012); Ghosts of Home: The Afterlife of Czernowitz in Jewish Memory (2010), co-authored with Leo Spitzer; and Rites of Return: Diaspora Poetics and the Politics of Memory (2011), co-edited with Nancy K. Miller. Hirsch is the William Peterfield Trent Professor of Comparative Literature and Gender Studies at Columbia University. She is one of the founders of Columbia’s Center for the Study of Social Difference. She is former President of the Modern Language Association of America and a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.


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