Emerging memory : photographs of colonial atrocity in Dutch cultural remembrance
Bijl, P.A.L.; Letterkunde; Dep Talen, Literatuur en Communicatie
Rigney, Ann; van Vree, F.P.I.M.
Specialized histories (international relations, law), Literary theory, analysis and criticism, Culturele activiteiten, Overig maatschappelijk onderzoek
Emerging Memory is about cultural memory in the Netherlands of a military expedition in the Dutch East Indies in 1904, during which the colonial army made photographs of the massacred inhabitants of several villages on the island of Sumatra. Over the past century, as this study shows, these photographs were framed and reframed as they travelled from the army to the Dutch parliament and the press, appearing in books, television documentaries, film, and on the internet, and, in the process, acquiring many different meanings. The 1904 photographs, however, like other episodes of colonial violence, have repeatedly been seen as overlooked, neglected, and forgotten. Since these images have in fact often been published, it would seem that they were paradoxically visible and yet experienced as absent. Emerging Memory asks why this was the case and examines the shifting meanings attributed to the photographs in the public scene over more than a century. Chapter 1 discusses the production of the photographs, offering a historical account of the expedition, a formal analysis of the photographs, their position in colonial visual culture, and an analysis of their meanings within the social frame of the army. As an integral part of the colonial state of violence, they were unproblematic for the army and publicly disseminated. Chapter 2 describes the reframing of the photographs in the Netherlands where they raised strong dissensus, and, moreover, anxieties about what the Dutch were doing in the Indies: taking care of the population or violently subjugating it. This chapter discusses the various types of denial, critical reframing, and epistemic anxiety in the responses of Dutch observers during the colonial period. As the colonial period progressed, several authors gravitated towards the photographs as focal points for the debate on colonial military violence. Chapter 3 investigates the role of the photographs from 1904 in Dutch postcolonial nostalgia, or “tempo doeloe” culture. It is shown how this culture produced strictly separated public and private scenes which made it possible to compartmentalize colonial violence and bracket it off from everyday European life in the colony. Through this nostalgic culture and its critics there was a further concentration of Dutch colonial memory on the photographs. Chapter 4 discusses the continuing relevance of the photographs in the postcolonial Netherlands, primarily in debates and worries about the relation between colonial and other historical violence (the Holocaust), the critique of later violence (Vietnam), and specifically about the nature of Dutch colonialism and the Dutch nation. In these debates, the photographs started functioning more and more as icons for larger wholes and were increasingly cut off from the details of their circumstances of production. The conclusion of Emerging Memory is that over the past century no interpretive consensus concerning the photographs has been achieved. More broadly, there is no account available which authoritatively offers a moral verdict on the colonial period. This absence of a final verdict means that there is no sense of closure concerning Dutch colonialism, which keeps on haunting conceptions of Dutch national identity