“The therapeutic imagination and public history: reflections on trauma and memory”

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Date(s) - 12 Jun 2014
6:00 PM - 7:30 PM

State Library of Victoria, Village Roadshow Theatre

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Thursday June 12th, 6.00-7.30pm

State Library of Victoria

The therapeutic imagination and public history: reflections on trauma and memory

–       Dr Sean Field, University of Cape Town

–       Professor Susannah Radstone, University of South Australia

How do we come to terms with trauma and traumatic memories? What role does history have to play in the ways we make sense of suffering and conflict in the past?

In this event, the two speakers will discuss some of the more problematic aspects of public discourses and practices of trauma, memory and reconciliation as they have arisen in the contexts of Australia and South Africa. Susannah Radstone’s contribution will focus on debates around Australia’s current asylum-seeker and refugee policies. Making reference to the role that art is currently playing in contesting these policies, Radstone’s contribution will consider the limitations of public discourses of trauma and the potential offered by public installations and interventions in the overcoming of these limitations.

Focusing on the limitations of public discourses of trauma and reconciliation, after 20 years of democracy in South Africa, Sean Field will critically reflect on post-apartheid successes and failures. Most significantly, disappointment and dissent continually re-surface, troubling questions about the politics of memory and history. An institutional achievement that was praised across the globe was the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) (1995 – 2000). Yet the TRC was a product of political compromise, designed to “create peace” and to address “historical injustices” after decades of oppression, resistance and violence. But at what human cost was “peace” brokered? And were the TRC’s emphases on ‘truth-telling testimonies” toward “forgiveness” ethically appropriate and, as some have argued, were testimonies appropriated to service the requirements of “nation-building”? Moreover, how has the TRC’s rhetorical use of a specific kind of therapeutic imagination, such as “healing the nation” and “closure”, shaped public memories? These questions remain relevant for many audiences, especially for those who suffered human rights abuses under apartheid and who still live with post-violence legacies in the present.

By bringing together critical reflections from the point of view of Australia and South Africa, this event will seek to discover what public historians across these contexts might learn from each other.