Trauma, Politics, and the Uses of Memory

This collaborative project will examine the relationship of international discourses on trauma to specific national contexts. The project incorporates a research focus on the work of Chilean cultural and critical theorist Nelly Richard, considered from the perspective of the multiple national contexts of the field of critical memory studies. The collaboration, led by Sarah Nuttall (Witwatersrand) and Anna Parkinson (Northwestern), will result in the development of a new undergraduate and graduate course on trauma and politics; the translation of Richard’s Latencias y estallidos de la memoria inconclusa. Chile: 1990-2015 (a revision of her Crítica de la memoria: 1990-2010); and a series of events on trauma, memory, and place. The collaboration also includes a graduate student exchange by means of the award of a Mellon fellowship to support the participation of a South-Africa-based graduate fellow assisting with the research for the course development during a visiting residency at Northwestern.


Sarah Nuttall is Professor of Literary and Cultural Studies of the Wits Institute for Social and Economic Research (WiSER) at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, South Africa. She is the author of the monograph Entanglement: Literary and Cultural Reflections on Post-apartheid (2009) and the editor or co-editor of a number of books, including Text, Theory, Space: Land, Literature and History in South Africa and Australia (1996), Beautiful/Ugly: African and Diaspora Aesthetics (2007), and Johannesburg – The Elusive Metropolis (2008).

Anna Parkinson is Associate Professor of German and an affiliate of the Gender and Sexualities Program at Northwestern University. She is the author of An Emotional State: The Politics of Emotion in Postwar West German Culture (2015) as well as numerous articles. Her teaching and research interests include twentieth- and twenty-first-century German literature and film, memory studies, genocide studies, translation theory, gender and queer theory, contemporary South African literature and film, and psychoanalysis.

Background Reading

Adorno, Theodor. "The Meaning of Working Through the Past." In Critical Models: Interventions and Catchwords, edited by Henry W. Pickford, 89–103. New York: Columbia University Press, 2005.

Glissant, Edouard. "For Opacity." In Poetics of Relation, translated by Betsy Wing, 89–96. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2009.

Nuttall, Sarah. "Entanglement." In Entanglement: Literary and cultural reflection on post-apartheid, 17–32. Johannesburg: Wits University Press, 2009.

———. "The Vitality of Matter: Notes on First Form, Surfaces, Intimacy, and the Social." In Penny Siopis: Time And Again, edited by Gerrit Olivier, 181–198. Johannesburg: Wits University Press, 2004.

———. "Wound, Surface, Skin." Cultural Studies 27, no. 3 (2013): 418–437.

Parkinson, Anna. "Adorno on the Airwaves: Feeling Reason, Educating Emotions." German Politics and Society 110, no. 32 (2014): 43–59.

———. "Ressentiment: Democratic Sentiments and the Affective Structure of Postwar West Germany." In An Emotional State: The Politics of Emotion in Postwar West German Culture, 67–111. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2015.

Richard, Nelly. "Cites/Sites of Violence: Convulsions of Sense and Official Routines" and "Torments and Obscenities." In Cultural Residues: Chile in Transition, translated by Theodore Quester and Alan West-Durán, 15–46. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2004.

———. "Ruptures, Memories and Discontinuities (Homage to Walter Benjamin)." In The Insubordination of Signs: Political Change, Cultural Transformation, and Poetics of the Crisis, translated by Alice A. Nelson and Silvia R. Tandeciarz, 1–23. Durham: Duke University Press, 2004.

Background Viewing

Nuttall, Sarah. Brief comments on "elsewheres" and "publics" at "Elsewheres and Otherwise: Critical Theory in a Different Register." Panel discussion at UC Irvine, November 14, 2014 | Video

News and Events

  • July 2018
    The translation of Nelly Richard’s Latencias y estallidos de la memoria inconclusa. Chile: 1990-2015 is nearing completion and scheduled to be published by Polity (under the title Eruptions of Memory: The Critique of Memory in Chile, 1990-2015) in October of 2018. For more details, see Polity's page for the book here.

  • February 22–24, 2018 | WiSER, University of the Witwatersrand
    Professor Parkinson visited WiSER to attend Entanglements and Aftermaths: Reflections on Memory and Political Time, a conference organized by the International Consortium of Critical Theory Programs and convened by Sarah Nuttall and Debarati Sanyal (French, UC Berkeley). For a program of sessions and speakers, see here.

  • November 10–13, 2017 | Northwestern
    Professor Nuttall visited Northwestern for "Transformations of Critical Theory," the inaugural workshop of the Critical Theory in the Global South Project, where she and Professor Parkinson presented their work on the theme "Critical Memory," with a response from María del Rosario Acosta (Philosophy, DePaul University). On the final day of the workshop, Professors Nuttall and Parkinson led a graduate-student teach-in on the same theme.

    Nuttall and Huey Copeland during "Transformations of Critical Theory."  

    María del Rosario Acosta

  • October 28–November 2, 2017 | WiSER, University of the Witwatersrand
    Professor Parkinson visited WiSER to plan her collaborative project with Professor Nuttall and to present and discuss her work. On the first day of her visit, she presented to an audience of graduate students and faculty a talk on the theme of trauma, followed by a participant-led discussion of her book, An Emotional State, focusing on trauma in transnational contexts. On the following days, she met individually with graduate students from WiSER, Art History, and English, as well as an independent artist, to talk about their work. The topics of these meetings ranged from trauma in South African literature, figures of resistance and white complicity in apartheid-era autobiography, visibility and "colored" photography, the subterranean history of the apartheid-era magazine Scope, Foucault and affect in sociological research, reframing the artist Princess Magogo kaDinuzulu, and how to negotiate between the image and the word in family biographies of persecution and exile in Jewish-Polish and South African contexts.

    Professor Parkinson (third from left) meeting with WiSER faculty and students

  • The translation of Richard’s Latencias y estallidos de la memoria inconclusa is underway!
    "Richard’s book is a valuable primer on how memory is manipulated in neoliberal societies and of its uncontrollable residues.” - Jean Franco (Columbia University)