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Triggering memory and the culture of ‘too soon’

Professor Kingsley Baird, who with Professor Kendall Phillips is organising the Triggering Memory symposium being held next week on Massey's Wellington campus

Professor Kendall Phillips

How soon is too soon for commemorating traumatic events such as terrorist attacks, wars and natural disasters? It’s a question a visiting American academic will probe in a public talk at Massey’s Wellington campus.

Professor Kendall Phillips from Syracuse University in New York State is also the keynote speaker at a symposium, titled Triggering Memory at Wellington that will explore diverse perspectives on memory and what sparks them.

The Triggering Memory symposium from September 1-2 at Massey’s College of Creative Arts in Wellington is a joint initiative with the College of Visual and Performing Arts at Syracuse University.

Professor Philllips says in contemporary western societies, sacred memories tend to arise out of the tragic and traumatic.

“Public memories are often treated as sacred. We connect these memories to particular sites – memorials, monuments, etc – and to particular times for commemoration and in doing so reconstruct an almost religious sense of reverence,” he says.

His talk will explore what the rhetoric of “too soon” tells us about trauma, the sacred and the profane.

“In the aftermath of 9/11, there were serious debates about when things like humorous television shows could be broadcast and vehement reactions to irreverent comments about the attacks. Similarly, there were robust debates about what could be built in the vicinity of ‘ground zero’. The talk concludes with some implications arising from the profaning of public memories.”

Professor Phillips was also involved in the Contained Memory conference of 2010 hosted by Massey University in partnership with Syracuse University and the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa, which addressed the nature of memory and how it can impact on people’s perceptions of their own personal history.

A co-organiser of both events, Professor Kingsley Baird from Massey’s College of Creative Arts, says the latest symposium is further evidence of the growing relationship between Massey and Syracuse Universities.

It will be further cemented when the two universities sign a Memorandum of Understanding during Professor Phillips visit.

Both he and Professor Baird are members of The Memory Waka Research Group that supports and publishes projects addressing the subject of memory.

To coincide with the symposium, Associate Professor Heather Galbraith, from Massey’s School of Art, will curate an exhibition called reflex, figment that addresses themes relevant to the event.

Professor Kendall Phillips’ public talk The Profanity of Memory: Temporality and the Rhetoric of ‘Too Soon’ is being presented at 6pm, Tuesday September 1, The Pit, Block 12, College of Creative Arts, Massey University, Wellington

Triggering Memory Symposium, September 1-2, College of Creative Arts, Massey University, Wellington.


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