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Commemorating and Forgetting

Challenges for the New South Africa

2013
Author:

Martin J. Murray

Commemorating and Forgetting

Reshaping the past for a livable present through “landscapes of remembrance” composed of art and architecture, museums and memorials

Commemorating and Forgetting addresses the new South Africa’s confrontation with the problem of remembrance: how much of the past to preserve and recollect and how much to erase and move forward? This work marks a critical move toward recognizing how the legacies and impositions of white minority rule remain embedded in and imprinted on the new nation’s here and now.

Martin J. Murray has written an important book covering an extremely different and challenging territory, with many details about the sites of reconciliation and remembrance—monuments, memorials, archives, and autobiographies—constructed in post-apartheid South Africa: the country’s ‘collective memory.’

M. Christine Boyer, Princeton University

When the past is painful, as riddled with violence and injustice as it is in postapartheid South Africa, remembrance presents a problem at once practical and ethical: how much of the past to preserve and recollect and how much to erase and forget if the new nation is to ever unify and move forward? The new South Africa’s confrontation of this dilemma is Martin J. Murray’s subject in Commemorating and Forgetting. More broadly, this book explores how collective memory works—how framing events, persons, and places worthy of recognition and honor entails a selective appropriation of the past, not a mastery of history.

How is the historical past made to appear in the present? In addressing these questions, Murray reveals how collective memory is stored and disseminated in architecture, statuary, monuments and memorials, literature, and art—“landscapes of remembrance” that selectively recall and even fabricate history in the service of nation-building. He examines such vehicles of memory in postapartheid South Africa and parses the stories they tell—stories by turn sanitized, distorted, embellished, and compressed. In this analysis, Commemorating and Forgetting marks a critical move toward recognizing how the legacies and impositions of white minority rule, far from being truly past, remain embedded in, intertwined with, and imprinted on the new nation’s here and now.

Commemorating and Forgetting

Martin J. Murray is professor of urban planning at the Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning and adjunct professor in the Department of Afroamerican and African Studies at the University of Michigan.

Commemorating and Forgetting

Martin J. Murray has written an important book covering an extremely different and challenging territory, with many details about the sites of reconciliation and remembrance—monuments, memorials, archives, and autobiographies—constructed in post-apartheid South Africa: the country’s ‘collective memory.’

M. Christine Boyer, Princeton University

A worthwhile read for the general visitor to South Africa, and it provides a summary of the literature on memory and South African memoryscapes. Its main strength lies in setting out existing analyses in interesting juxtapositions.

African Affairs

This well-written, provocative study is accompanied by comprehensive references that contribute much to memory studies as well as to the study of the realpolitik of South Africa. Highly Recommended.

CHOICE

Murray’s book is a major contribution on this difficult, elusive topic and a useful complement to his own and others’ writings on the evolving relations between citizens and the built environment in postapartheid South Africa.

Buildings & Landscapes

The book will be a useful addition to a range of readers’ shelves but primarily for those from a humanities background recently coming to debates around South African nationhood, citizenship, identity, memory and landscape.

Transformation

The questions raised in this book reflect a fascinating on-going conversation in South Africa. As it wades through the tough terrain of memorialization, Commemorating and Forgetting mostly refuses to default to the easy analytic of statist and authoritarian narratives. Instead, Murray offers an engaging reflection on the relationship between space and time as sites of on-going struggles over change.

African Geographical Review

Commemorating and Forgetting

Contents

Preface
Introduction: Memory and Amnesia after Apartheid

1. The Power of Collective Memory
2. White Lies: Myth-Making and Social Memory in the Service of White Minority Rule
3. Facing Backward, Looking Forward: The Politics of Remembering and Forgetting
4. Collective Memory in Place: The Voortrekker Monument and the Hector Pieterson Memorial
5. Haunted Heritage: Visual Display at District Six and Robben Island
6. Makeshift Memorials: Marking Time with Vernacular Remembrance
7. Textual Memories: Autobiographical Writing at a Time of Uncertainty

Epilogue: History and Heritage

Acknowledgments
Notes
Index