|I first used the term “postmemory” in an article on Art Spiegelman’s Maus in the early 1990’s. Since then I’ve been trying to define and refine it, on the basis of personal experience and my reading and viewing of the work of writers and artists of the postgenerations. A number of my essays over the last two decades, several co-edited volumes, as well as the three books featured here, have been devoted to this project. Much of this work has been done in collaboration with Leo Spitzer.
“Postmemory” describes the relationship that the “generation after” bears to the personal, collective, and cultural trauma of those who came before-to experiences they “remember” only by means of the stories, images, and behaviors among which they grew up. But these experiences were transmitted to them so deeply and affectively as to seem to constitute memories in their own right. Postmemory´s connection to the past is thus actually mediated not by recall but by imaginative investment, projection, and creation. To grow up with overwhelming inherited memories, to be dominated by narratives that preceded one´s birth or one´s consciousness, is to risk having one´s own life stories displaced, even evacuated, by our ancestors. It is to be shaped, however indirectly, by traumatic fragments of events that still defy narrative reconstruction and exceed comprehension. These events happened in the past, but their effects continue into the present.
Marianne Hirsch was born in Romania after the Second World War and immigrated to the United States as a teenager. She is William Peterfield Trent Professor of English and Comparative Literature and Professor in the Institute or Research on Women and Gender at Columbia University, as well as Vice President of the Modern Language Association of America.
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Ghosts of Home: The Afterlife of Czernowitz at University of California Press
Family Frames: Photography, Narrative, and Postmemory at Amazon