This essay is one of more than a dozen in this volume to honor the late Mary Margaret Steedly. The paper’s theme is “memory.” Steedly described memories as “densely layered, sometimes conflictual negotiations with the passage of time.” According to her, memories do not serve to complete or set straight a historical record—and in her work she did not try to locate authentic, oppositional voices or to excavate evidence by which to contest official historical accounts. She refused a naïve and instrumentalist approach to memory as a source of subaltern truths to be tapped. Experiences are always already dressed in narratives that anticipate and prefigure them, cast through and against iconic figures and dominant tropes, and reworked in dialogue with other stories and subsequent occurrences. Memories have specific tellers and tellings, but they never belong, finally, to a single speaker or moment. What matters, then, Steedly wrote, is “not what really happened … but rather why [something came] to be recalled and retold in one particular way and not another … and what might be at stake” in that particular time and manner of telling.
Volume & Issue:
Page range: 99-104
Cornell University Southeast Asia Program
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