Cultural And Memory Politics Cultural Studies Essay

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Cultural Studies offers an engaging arena to merge the relational aspect of space and time which enables one to understand the political nexus of collective memory, social memory and history, subsumed in the archives and sites of memorials. Following Michel Foucault's provocative warning, about archives being neither the sum of all texts that a culture preserves nor of those institutions that allow for that record's preservation [1] , one can then take Michel de Certeau's invitation to "prowl" new terrains and re-imagine what sorts of situated knowledge have produced both archives and their respective locations in the "historiographic operation." [2] 

Though this process opened avenues for reading history not as a finished past but as a living entity that constantly shapes and informs the present but while questioning the making of colonial knowledge, the investigation drifted from the study of things, to the making of them. This model of reading the constructed history against the grain, takes it as given that colonial statecraft in the constructions of memorials and history was fueled by the reductive equation of knowledge and power, which evades the need to look into the same space again as also being shaped by the nationalist historiographies and nation-bound projects. This latter project can be unveiled when we place the study of archival construction of history in conjunction with cultural theory, i.e. the cultural mass engagement with the memorials, which shall bring to the foreground the political nexus of selective forgetting and collecting, the dialectics of collective memory.

The foremost necessity of such a quest would demand to trace the geography of the memorials in such a way that it also preserves the memory politics of its history. This confluence of dialectics can be achieved when memorials entail a postmodern space; the concept of postmodern geography deconstructs the modernist logic of space in which reality leads to ideology. This can lead to the consideration of imagined spaces, such as utopia, in which imagination leads to reality. Moreover postmodern geography never allows the discourse to remain on the imagination, but instead to return ever to the material and the spatial. Space consists of "socially constructed worlds that are simultaneously material and representational." [3] Much of the work on critical spatiality is inspired by Foucault's concept of heterotopia and Henri Lefebvre's monumental work, 'Production of Space'.

Foucault's concept of heterotopia is of particular significance, the concepts were first discussed by him in a 1967 lecture entitled 'Des Espaces Autres', after that they remained virtually unseen and unheard for nearly twenty years, until their publication in the French journal Architecture Mouvement-Continuité in 1984 and, translated by Jay Miskowiec as 'Of Other Spaces', in Diacritics (1986). Foucault outlined his notion of 'heterotopias' as "heterogeneous spaces of sites and relations", these spaces take varied forms and change over time, as 'history unfolds' in its adherent spatiality. Edward W. Soja explains these concepts and explains that, "heterotopia is neither a substanceless void to be filled by cognitive intuition nor a repository of physical forms to be phenomenologically described in all its resplendent variability. It is another space, what Lefebvre would describe as l'espace vécu, actually lived and socially created spatiality, concrete and abstract at the same time, the habitus of social practices. It is a space rarely seen for it has been obscured by a bifocal vision that traditionally views space as either a mental construct or a physical form."

He introduces his epistemological approach to "space", and there are at least three main concerns which unfold from his project. First and foremost, Soja makes the point that space is never an "empty box" to be filled, never only a stage or a mere background. On the contrary, according to him space is always a culturally constructed entity. It is part of the general cultural web, and like any cultural entity space is formed and changed, accepted or rejected. The most important contribution of Soja to postmodernism's way of thinking about "space" is how he visualizes the relationship between "being" and "spatiality". As the title of his 1996 monograph "The Trialectics of Being" indicates, he introduces the conception of "Thirdspace". The modernists divided space only as perceived space and conceived space. Edward Soja identifies a third aspect of spatiality, one which goes beyond the physical form or the mental construct, but as an alternative that incorporates both and at the same time transcends both- a quintessential postmodernist strategy. Soja uses the concept of thirdspace to capture a radically new way of thinking that posits an alternative to binary conceptions of space. This conception posits that only within thirdspaces lies the potential to be simultaneously a place of both built and social hybrids. Thirdspaces are created by the effects of a changing culture, and are spaces of transition; transition between localities and over time. They elude the reflection of a single permanent power structure and are places of simultaneity and transience. They relate to both poles of binary conceptions of cross-cultural space and yet at the same time entirely transcend them. More than a mental place, thirdspaces hold the possibility for socio-political transformations. Memorials incorporate these thirdspaces, which not only requires a study of these memorials in terms of their history but also an understanding of the interaction with cultural structures. The constant reworking which constructs collective memory as well as forgetting holds a power dynamics that ought to be scrutinized and this can be done so by placing the memorials in their concrete spatial grid alongside their conceived cognitive grid.

Scope and Objective of the proposed research

The investigation would place the site of memorials as a cultural text in itself and would read its geographical space as postmodern thirdspace. As already stated, the theoretical elements of cultural studies when applied to read the material culture of memorials, would make available politics of memory and the "concept" of history. Reinhart Koselleck explores the "concept of history" in his seminal work "The Practice of Conceptual History: Timing, History, Spacing Concepts" has implications for contemporary cultural studies that extend far beyond discussions of practical problems of historical method. He formulates the 'concept of history' through the practice of Begriffsgeschichte a methodology of historical studies that focuses on the invention and development of the fundamental concepts (Begriffe) underlying and informing a distinctively historical (geschichtliche) manner of being in the world. He asserts that history itself is a construction of long period of historical development. The 'content' of history could be grasped only as social reality undergoing changes. 'Concept of history' as Hayden White illustrates in the foreword to Koselleck's work, is the content of history's subject matter, on the one hand and subject and the content of the forms of historical writing on the other. A concept of history will identify the shared contents of all the ideas of history that have contributed to the definition of a distinctively historical way of knowing reality as history. The history of historiography, in Koselleck's view, is a history of the evolution of the language of the historians, in this respect. His work converges with that of cultural theorists, Barthes and Foucault, who have stressed the status of historiography as a discourse rather than as a discipline and highlight the nature of historical discourse as against its claims of literal truthfulness. This project of conceptual history and memory construction creates a heightened problematic when looked at from the vantage point of post-colonial and post-modern cultural study. The research would not only try and understand the nuanced changes in the structure of the memorials in the postcolonial world but would also look at the process of manipulations in the archival history of memorials and naturalness through which these changes have seeped in the collective memory. The implications of such an inquiry would unveil the deep political nexus that connects the construction of memory and nation. Such a reading would change the location of memorials from mere factual repositories of history to a historiography of various narratives and the subsequent changes registered both spatially and conceptually through the site of memorials, at that political moment in time.

Justification for the proposed research

Though there are studies investigating sites of Indian memorials as sites of artistic engagement of historical archive or architectural organization, the reorganization and power dynamics entailed in understanding the 'space' of memorials lacks a systematic study of examining them as cultural texts. Therefore, one can see a lacuna in investigating memorials as cultural texts and not just as a document of a history, but as a living site of critical enquiry and collective memory construction. The step towards an understanding of memorials not just a record infused with politics of construction of history in archival records but also the politics read in the geography of memory, and how space envelops the politics of its own.

Approach/Method to be adopted

The purpose of study would entail locating the politics of memory in a culturally collective memory of memorials. In order to investigate this, one would need to perform a systematic study of theories of space which would mean examining the formulations of theorists such as Foucault, Lefebvre, Soja among others as also studying material culture such as memorials as cultural texts for which one would need to look at postmodern cultural theorists together with developing the equation between space, culture and memory.

Tentative Chapter Division

1. Memorials: postmodern third space and cultural memory

In this chapter, I would begin by defining the memorials as postmodern third space and will also establish the dynamics between construction of cultural memory and archival historical memory.

2. Understanding the archives

In the second chapter, I plan to understand the archives and "the archival turn" which shall register a rethinking of the materiality and the imaginary of collections and the truth claims that lie in the documentation.

3. Collective memory as a tool

In the third chapter, I shall study the construction of memories through oral histories and records and then unfold the politics of rewriting of colonial memorials by the postcolonial statecraft, both by conditioning and constructing collective memory and by reconfiguring the spatial geography of the memorials.

4. Previsioning history

In the fourth chapter, I will understand the problematic of space, history and politics power/knowledge construction that is played through memorials, a previsioned writing of history rather an objective collection of memories.

5. Conclusion

I would tie all the findings and theoretical investigations achieved by tracing the politics of memory in the rewriting spatially and textually the site of memorials, which shall formulate the conclusion of my project.

Primary Sources to be studied

India Gate

Mutiny War Memorial

Residency Memorial

Coronation Park

Shaheed Samark

Gateway of India

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