Academic journal article Hecate

Loss of Mother/hood: Maternalising Posteolonial Cultural Memory

Academic journal article Hecate

Loss of Mother/hood: Maternalising Posteolonial Cultural Memory

Article excerpt

Remembrance and nostalgia for mother and motherhood saturate contemporary culture, and are often inseparable from the ideological project of fixing the maternal subject both in the past and in the home. In remembering mothers, a specifically feminist form of cultural memory avoids a conservative nostalgia by attending to the ethical difficulties of remembrance and, in the process, effectively genders and contextualises nostalgia as a means to publicly memorialise violence against women as mothers. Cultural memory for the purposes of a postcolonial feminism tempers the overly-sweet nostalgia for motherhood with histories that materialise the violent dispossession and erasure of mothers and motherhood. In this paper, I track a number of elegiac voices for mother/hood and provide close readings of laments for, and remembrances of lost mothers and lost motherhood in late twentieth-century Canadian women's writing. Dionne Brand's At the Full and Change of the Moon (1999), Eden Robinson's Monkey Beach (2000), and Jane Urquhart's Away (1993) all contain laments or remembrances for the traumas of lost mothers or lost motherhood, and textualise nostalgia as a multifaceted feminist strategy and form of cultural memory that powerfully undermines the ongoing metaphysics of maternal erasure and its complementary enduring cult of pristine white matriarchy. These texts address and contextualise the issue of abandoned, forgotten, lost, or dispossessed motherhood within colonial histories; taken together, these complex reflections on mother/hood map out the distinct parameters of a feminist theory of postcolonial cultural memory.

An understanding of cultural memory as specifically feminist in its poetics and politics is only recently beginning to particularise understandings of cultural memory, and the content of national and collective memory. The 'Cultural Memory Group' situates 'memorial activism'--evident in memorial, art practices and other radical uses of public space--as part of a movement of feminist mnemonics and nostalgics dedicated to making public and remembered violence against women. (1) In 2002, Marianne Hirsch and Valerie Smith sought to establish an understanding of feminist cultural memory and noted the 'dynamics of gender and power' as a strong theme within the field. (2) In taking up these understandings of feminist cultural memory from the particular location of postcolonial feminism, I argue that the trauma and remembrance of lost mothers and lost motherhood has emerged as a core concern that needs to be placed at the heart of a burgeoning and engaged scholarship of feminist cultural memory: the loss of Aboriginal mothers and motherhood is a resonant issue for which a number of elegies--and denials--have been fashioned. I consider here textual representations of remembrances of lost motherhood and the ethics of remembrance as part of an engaged feminist cultural memory that seeks to situate lost motherhood as both collective and individual trauma and as a necessary issue for national cultural memory. Postcolonial feminist cultural memory, therefore, necessarily underscores the interplay of race, gender, and power since colonisation, within precise geographic locales within which the maternal figure as embodiment, source, and object of cultural memory strongly resonates and regularly recurs. Maternalising cultural memory means, then, remembering the maternal body as a particularly vulnerable object of colonial control while amplifying resistant and repressed voices; such a formulation of cultural memory takes part, as Maureeen Moynagh puts it, in the 'contestation of hegemonic narratives of nation', and in a 'splitting open of the historical sutures that close out stories of racial terror and sexual injustice, relegating them to a space beyond the body of the nation'. (3)

For Andreas Huyssen, cultural memory scholarship accompanies trauma studies and emerges, particularly in the American context, out of a confluence of concerns from the early 1990s onwards, including AIDS activism, Holocaust, and slavery studies. …

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