Public Memory, Pedagogy, and Ambivalence
To explore the argument outlined above, I turn to the tenth anniversary representation and circulation of the memory of the Montreal massacre in the Canadian media. As Chun (1999,114) remarks, in the absence of any juridical forum, “the mediatization of the event” has become particularly important to “the task of comprehending the massacre and placing it within [a] historical or societal context.” In contrast to the previous years (and, indeed, since), during which mainstream media attention to the murders had waned significantly, the tenth anniversary was marked and commented upon in daily newspapers, in broadcast news and documentaries, and in a full day of memorial representation and discussion on Newsworld—an all-day, all-news television station owned by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (cbc), Canada’s national public broadcaster. In this anniversary reporting, a series of issues was repeatedly identified as marking the legacy of the massacre. This series included: the efforts and relative successes of gun control; the creation of monuments to mark and remember the deaths; the traumatic impacts on family members and those close to the women who were murdered; the correspondence between the massacre and the more usual, daily violence against women in North America; and the relation between Lepine and “men” as a social group. I do not provide a detailed reading of the coverage of these issues; rather, I look at what they suggest about the public memory of the massacre, beginning with the following questions: From the perspective of the present, some distance from the immediate and fraught aftermath of the murders, what are the substance and character of their public memory? Given the decisively gendered constitution of the massacre, how are questions of gender, violence, and public memory now being grappled with?
The conceptualization of memory that I am putting into play here is informed by an interdisciplinary theorization of public memory as those selective and contested social formations that circumscribe a set of terms and bounded symbolizations through which past events are remembered and liv
ing attachments to that past are formed. Iwona Irwin Zarecka (1994,56) articulates what is at issue: “how people attend to the past, if at all, and how they make sense of it is very much grounded in their experience. At the same time, and allowing for this, the public framing of remembrance does matter. Beyond providing resources to work with, public discourse may validate (or discourage) particular ways of seeing the past.” She further notes that such public discourse is shaped by “established structures of thinking and feeling” (121), an important reminder that public memories are not simply generated by information but must engage the living at the level of affect and attachment as well—an idea I explore a little later on. As David Gross (2000, 83, emphasis mine) explains, recalling the 1930s work of Frederic Bartlett, such structures (or what he calls “schemata”) do not simply tell of the past but actually constitute its memory: “when we remember, we grasp patterns in or impose patterns upon the material remembered; what we ultimately recall is what the patterns bring out, while what we forget is what the patterns prevent us from grasping or even discerning.” I also draw upon the work of contemporary trauma theorists who point to the particularities of remembering-forgetting events of violence, loss, and suffering, events that demand paying attention to how social frames of memory engage and/or displace psychical effects. As Cathy Caruth (1995, 256) notes, “trauma can be experienced in at least two ways: as a memory that one cannot integrate into one’s own experience, and as a catastrophic knowledge that one cannot communicate to others.” From a concern with the formation and contestation of public memories of traumatic events, then, what becomes central is a concern with the limits of intelligibility, representation, and communication.
Some theorists, myself included, have begun to argue for conceptualizing what is at stake here—that is, not only how public memories are produced but also how they are and are not attached to—as a question of pedagogy.5 Much more than a method or strategy of classroom exercises, pedagogy in this sense is tied broadly to cultural practices and to any public, cultural endeavour to shape political visions of the past, present, and/or future. Thus, in regard to questions of public remembrance, memorial practices (from monument designs to news documentaries) can be read as carrying (explicitly and/or implicitly) particular conceptions of what is to be remembered of the massacre, by whom, for whom, how, and with what potential effects for “securing” memorial significance in the present. Public remembrance practices can be understood, therefore, as practices of teaching and learning, attempts to prompt and engage people in the development of a historical consciousness that might affect their perceptions of, feelings about, identifications with, and the mean-
ings they attribute to the massacre. Moreover, these are communicative practices that intend, however obliquely, to bequeath a memorial legacy to those whom they address. As a memorial address, a public remembrance practice can be understood as something that attempts to bind the living in a particular relation not only to the dead but also to each other. Such bindings might be produced on any number of terms. For example, in regard to the massacre, practices of public memory have variously undertaken to bind the dead and the living as women, as feminists, as Montrealers, as citizens, and/or as Cana – dians.6
Drawing on the forgoing frame to read tenth anniversary coverage, I argue that we are faced with an ambivalent and uneasy public memory of the murders in Montreal. This ambivalence is an effect, I propose, of the dominant pedagogy of remembrance as a “strategic practice” (Simon, Rosenberg, and Eppert 2000, 3-4). In this memorial pedagogy public responses to an act of atrocity are designed to stabilize and to transmit particular versions of the past from the perspective of current socio-political struggles, mobilizing attachments and knowledges that serve specified present-day interests. Such practices are often aligned with the anticipation of a reconciled future, hope for a new and better tomorrow. With regard to the massacre, from one political perspective such strategic pedagogies take shape in the form of calls for stricter gun control; from another, they take shape in the form of the insistence that what happened be recognized as a crime not against humanity in general but, rather, against women in particular. I argue that, while not to be disregarded, such strategic memorial practices cannot fully console people for the loss of the women murdered in Montreal—nor for the rupture of taken-for-granted frames that assumed women were safe and welcome in universities in the late twentieth century, that feminism was passe, and that mass shootings were an American rather than a Canadian phenomenon. These “difficult returns” (Simon, Rosenberg and Eppert 2000,4-5) demand practices of remembrance that can attend to the absent presence of who and what has been lost—not as a matter of history but as a matter of what it might mean to live in relation with the past, endeavouring to face its claim on the present of one’s life. Such disquieting remembrances are not readily aligned with efforts to remember for a reconciled future; rather, they trouble such consolations in their efforts to face rather than to soothe the social and psychic “wounds” caused by the murders. The ruptures, instabilities, losses, and displacements that are initiated as an effect of such memorial attention rub against the grain of more strategic efforts to stabilize memory, with their accent on the socio-political significance of the murders to contemporary endeavours. Where strategic remembrance practices invest in moral lessons—addressed to others—for the future, memory as a difficult return disrupts the certitude of the dichotomies of self/other, present/future, grieving/activism, and teaching/learning.
In this chapter I consider in some detail the uneasiness and ambivalence that is an effect of the incommensurability of these memorial practices, tracing their presence in public memorial formations that constituted the massacre first as an “event” and, second, as an event that has increasingly been read as “emblematic” of men’s violence against women. I argue that this emblematic practice has produced ambivalent memorial relations to the massacre in both women and men. I argue for reading these ambivalences as both a limit and a resource for those of us committed to extending and elaborating understandings of the legacy of the massacre in Canada. Rather than argue for one memorial formation over another in absolute terms, I am particularly interested in what can be made from this ambivalence. What does an ambivalent public memory suggest about the difficulty of coming to terms with and working through the legacy of the massacre? If it suggests, as I propose, that contemporary social and political conditions constrain memorial politics, then how might engagement with ambivalent memory act on those conditions?
Figure 7 Nave for Fourteen Queens—“G” in Steel, Montreal (with permission of Sharon Rosenberg).