(Institut für Romanistik/Universität Kassel)
Andreas Huyssen trained in Europe as a scholar of German and Romance literatures, but branched out in his academic career in the U.S. toward cultural history, critical theory, and the contemporary visual arts. He is the Villard Professor Emeritus of German and Comparative Literature at Columbia University, founding director of Columbia’s Center for Comparative Literature and Society (1998-2003), and one of the founding editors of New German Critique (created in 1974). His research and teaching has focused on German literary history, international modernism in literature and the arts, Frankfurt School critical theory, and cultural memory politics in transnational contexts. His book On After the Great Divide is a classic in the critical 1980s debate about postmodernism, and his Postmoderne: Zeichen eines kulturellen Wandels (edited with Klaus Scherpe; 1986) was the first book in German on postmodernism. Sabbatical years in Berlin in 1990/91 and 2002/03 led to an engagement with urban studies in relation to memory, visible especially in the Berlin essays of Present Pasts: Urban Palimpsests and the Politics of Memory (2003), and in the edited volume Other Cities, Other Worlds: Urban Imaginaries in a Globalizing Age (2008). This latter work resulted from a year-long funded Mellon seminar on the current state of major cities in Latin America, South and East Asia, the Middle East, and Africa. He is currently working on a book about artists from beyond the Northern Transatlantic who combine memories of national violence, apartheid, and ethnic cleansing with memories of modernism, to create a kind of border-crossing (global) art of memory contributing to transnational debates about the politics of memory. His books are translated into several languages, and his most recent publication is Miniature Metropolis: Literature in an Age of Photography and Film (2015).
Present debates on memory
Patrick Eser – Your writings and diagnostics have influenced international debate on memory cultures, studying memory as a social and cultural phenomenon on different scales: the national, with the cases of Germany and Argentina, or on a global scale, observing the emerging trend towards a transnational or global memory culture, together with the circulation of the Holocaust trope. What interesting developments, debates and concepts do you see in recent discourse about memory cultures?
Andreas Huyssen – It was indeed the traveling of the Holocaust trope and its familiar images into other political contexts (Bosnia, Argentina, etc.) that first made me curious about how such transnational connectivities function in national and international contexts. I explored some of them in Present Pasts (2003) and elsewhere. The phenomenon of multi-directional memory (Michael Rothberg, 2009) including the colonial and postcolonial world is widely acknowledged today (perhaps more so in the U.S. than in Europe). But much work is still being done, and legitimately so, on national cases – the Pinochet regime in Chile, the massacres in Rwanda, the rule of the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia, the Civil War in Spain. This remains important, especially for historical work on police and military archives, such as in Kirsten Weld’s brilliant book Paper Cadavers (2014) based on Guatemalan archives. But even in this realm, the transnational dimension plays an important role, as John Dinges’s The Condor Years (2003) about secret cooperation between the military regimes of the Southern Cone has shown.
We also know how most national memory projects are organizationally linked to transnational debates in museology, memorial design competitions, human rights activism, and mnemonics. Understandably though, museums and memorial sites deal primarily with local and national memories of traumatic political violence. This is true not only for sites of torture and murder, such as the German concentration camps or the ESMA in Buenos Aires, but also for the Chilean Museo de memoria y derechos humanos, and the 9/11 museum in New York. My sense is that transnational memory politics may be better articulated in literature and the visual arts, which have a broader imaginative horizon and comparative political purchase than such local institutions and research.
As you ask about new trends in recent discourse on memory cultures, we may first want to explore which elements may no longer be central, or have been subjected to critique. I can see three such elements: first, the old battle between history and memory as being presumably irreconcilable is a thing of the past. In theoretical terms, most memory scholars assume a dialectical rather than a mutually exclusive relationship between history and memory. Of course, the critique of memory as unreliable, often self-indulgent, and merely subjective and manipulable, must be granted due place in memory studies, and the analysis of witness testimony has developed tools to take this into account. But Jan Assmann already spoke years ago of mnemo-history as a field, a term that captures the reciprocal relation between memory and history in the kind of historical research that questions lived and experienced memory structures of communities and nations. A second concept that no longer holds sway is the notion of the uniqueness of the Holocaust, forbidding any kind of comparison with other cases of genocide or ethnic cleansing. This argument made sense at the time when the Holocaust was not as yet publicly recognized as the major rupture in civilization that it is. This is clearly no longer the case in an age in which some have come to lament the Holocaust industry. Today, claims of Holocaust uniqueness have been instrumentalized, either for political purposes or for a last-ditch aesthetic defense of a now untenable modernist theory of unrepresentability. Comparisons of the scale and intensity of state-supported violence around the world have become key concerns for ethics, human rights law, and public debate. The Holocaust maintains a very important place in such comparative schemes, but claims of uniqueness will always lead to a deeply problematic hierarchization of suffering. Victimization can never be a zero-sum game. Third, the field has moved away from an excessive focus on trauma as formulated in the poststructuralist context, and in relation to theories of unrepresentability and the death of the subject. Valuable as discussions of trauma have been for the discourse of witnessing, its denial of the possibility of accessing the traumatic event led to serious blockages in historical knowledge. As trauma became ubiquitous in public debates, it fed into a culture of victimology and lost its purchase on the real.
Patrick Eser – In your investigations of memory cultures, reference to the present is still an important motif, in that such work implies binding the investigation of memory cultures to diagnoses about the present and its temporalities. To what extent do recent broader social movements and political dynamics influence questions of memory? And how does this influence in turn the agenda of memory studies?
Andreas Huyssen – New moves are being made in memory studies, and there are incipient social movements focusing on the politics of memory in the present day. New developments include the whole field of DNA testing to identify children of the "disappeared", or those who were stolen as babies during the Dirty War, or the use of digital technologies to create archives devoted to the memory of disappearances (Chile) or of detention (the Soviet Gulag). Both attempt to gain better understanding of the structure and history of victimization, while basing findings on the greatest possible number of individual cases. Second, gender issues have galvanized protests – and have been of key importance, for instance, in memory activism in Argentina or Turkey (the mothers of the Plaza de Mayo in Buenos Aires or the Saturday Mothers in Istanbul). Consequently, they have become a focus in transnational research, such as the Women Mobilizing Memory project at Columbia University, developed in close cooperation between scholars and artists from New York, Santiago de Chile and Istanbul (publication forthcoming from Columbia University Press). On a larger scale, the #Me too movement has become an eruptive force focused on short- or long-term memories of rape and sexual harassment. Not surprisingly, it has produced a fierce backlash, thereby proving its power to disrupt the status quo of male-female relationships. Despite its lack of gradation in not distinguishing rape from aggressive verbal bullying or simply “inappropriate behavior”, it brings out the very structures of an often invisible and multi-faceted victimization of women and children, and memory scholars will have a lot to contribute to the debate. Finally, there is that other memory bearing down on us, and requiring new work and political intervention, namely the memory of fascist and racist populisms in relation to their current resurrection in countries around the world. At a time when white supremacism is raising its ugly head in the U.S., the Black Lives Matter movement reminds us – over 50 years after the civil rights struggle – that, as Faulkner once wrote, “The past is never dead. It is not even past.” Against simplistic erasures of the differences between interwar fascism and current right-wing politics, however, "memorians" and historians will have to insist on how past and present are entangled in a complex web of relations that eludes easy definition and simple equations between past and present.
This new focus on what some today euphemistically call the "alternative right" maps onto a recent turn in memory studies from victims to perpetrators. Judicial prosecutions in Argentina, Rwanda, Cambodia, and other countries are part of this renewed interest in perpetrators. In the light of current events in the Philippines or in India, Joshua Oppenheimer’s 2012 documentary film The Act of Killing – about the organized mass killings in Indonesia in the 1960s – suddenly looks like an ominous anticipation of things to come. The focus on perpetrators also brings to the fore a third figure: that of the beneficiary (not simply the bystander or fellow-traveler) of state or race violence. The beneficiary is of course not only of historical interest. Given global inequalities and the ever-increasing wealth gap everywhere, the beneficiary requires attention at a time when the slow violence of economic deprivation and dispossession engulfs ever more populations on our planet.
From my point of view, three other issues deserve greater attention. The dominant, exclusively positive validation of memory must be questioned. There are many cases (neo-Nazi populism being just the most recent) that reveal the downside of memory: memory as a function of political reaction (the U.S. today, Russia, Europe, India, etc.), memory as an incitement to violence (Bosnia and Kosovo), false memory as a playing field for fake news (Russian trolls, right-wing media in the U.S.). Second, we must guard against the danger of privileging the past over the future. Memory studies emerged as of the 1980s/90s in reaction to the loss of 20th century futuristic utopias, but this should not be taken as justification for not thinking about the future today. Not just the future of memory studies, but the future of the still pertinent goals of those earlier utopias: justice, equality, freedom. Third, we need to pay more attention to the special contribution the arts and the humanities can make to a transnational memory culture whose main goal would be to train the imagination in how to live in an ever more interconnected world.
Patrick Eser – In the early 2000s you noted a shift from present futures to present pasts, and linked it to cultural, historical, and political transformations (such as an end to system conflict, and the loss of imaginaries associated with utopian futures and emancipation). How would you relate recent transformations in our experience and sense of time – the trend towards “privileging the past over the future” as you name it – to changes in present cultural and political dynamics? Is the perception that “history has ended” the driving force behind the “memory boom”?
Andreas Huyssen – Fukuyama’s thesis about the end of history was a triumphal celebration of the alleged universalization of Western neo-liberal democracy, supposedly guaranteed for good by the events of 1989 and the collapse of the Soviet Union. Not only has the thesis not held up well in the long run. It was already obsolete by the time the book appeared in 1992. For what was the disintegration of Yugoslavia other than a new eruption of history, based, as it was, on the political manipulation of presumably deep Serb memories of battles against Muslims? And this was years before the economic crash of 2008, and before the rise of today's populist anti-democratic movements. Fukuyama’s end of history and its triumphal welcome to globalization had no use for memory either. If anything, the memory boom of the 1980s and 1990s stood in clear opposition to the idealization of an eternal present of global financialization and neo-liberalism.
Emilio Isgrò, Les formiche di Manuzio non sono rosse, 2015.
Anybody who announces the end of this, that, or the other and the emergence of the new disables the memory function. Memory cultures in turn will always deal with traces and residues of the historical past in the present, rather than with the past as such. There are reciprocal entanglements, never an immediate and direct access to the past via memory. The passing of time results in inevitable erasures, and conscious or unconscious forms of denial, evasion, and forgetting make questions about the past in the present extremely difficult to answer. This is as true for oral and generational memory as it is – though perhaps to a lesser degree – for documents held in archives. And yet, for a while it seemed as if present pasts had replaced what Reinhard Koselleck once defined as futures past, which characterized an earlier phase of modernity dating back to the late 18th century. The shift in the 20th century from a progress – and future – oriented sensibility up until 1968, to a memorial orientation toward the past since then is indeed remarkable and deep. Today, however, we may have to ask whether both futures past and present pasts have been replaced by present presents run by invisible and unknowable algorithms, the eternal now of an ever churning media and consumer culture, which neither knows the past nor imagines a future.
In other words, we have to ask how digital technologies and social media affect the very capacity of human beings to live in an extended timeframe, rather than merely in an eternal here and now. The fate of memory is at stake. Alexander Kluge, whom I like to quote in this context, already spoke about the attack of the present on the rest of time before the internet became part of public culture. So we live under very contradictory conditions: on the one hand there is this hypertrophy of memory in our public sphere, often uncoupled from real or deep knowledge of the past; on the other hand there is a structural tendency to forget and to live exclusively in and for the moment. Facebook and Instagram are but two of the platforms that increasingly shape the social experience of time and space, in which algorithms suck distinct temporalities into a timeless now.
On memories, traumata, generations, and memory studies
Patrick Eser – The excessive interest for the past corresponds, as we have observed, with certain characteristics of the present and of present political subjectivities. Beyond this diagnosis in fairly broad and abstract terms, what can we learn from concrete subjects, narratives, and dynamics in memory studies? To what extent may they be read as symptomatic of the present and its sensibilities and subjectivities?
Andreas Huyssen – Memory debates continue to flourish and pervade teaching curricula and public culture at every level. Just think of the recent political struggles exploding in Charlottesville over monuments to the Confederacy in the U.S., a country that has often condescendingly been seen from Europe as a country without history and without memory. If certain people thought, in the early years of this century, that the memory boom, like any other fashion, might come to an end sooner or later, this prediction has not come to pass. There now is a Memory Studies Association with an ever growing number of members, annual conventions, and its own academic journal. Your own journal illustrates the unflagging vitality of memory discourses today. Transnational networks of memory scholars organize symposia, summer schools, and lecture series. Memory projects in museums are networked transnationally in discussion forums and institutional arrangements. For better or for worse, memory studies, once an upstart in the humanities, have become thoroughly professionalized. They are linked to global discourse about human rights and to minority movements attempting to make themselves heard. Black Lives Matter is one such a movement in the U.S., and various indigenous movements in Latin America, e.g., the Mapuche in Chile, make extensive use of social and political memory. At the same time, the public sphere in contemporary societies around the world is threatened not just by fake news, but also by fake memories of both the present and the past: think Turkey, think India, or think of the U.S. in the age of Trump, a president who best embodies immediate forgetting coupled with fake memories. Clearly, the rapidly developing universe of technological media and their social use is changing our way of being in the world. The internet can be a great facilitator of memory, while at the same time depriving its users of a critical sense of temporality. The paradox is that remembrance and amnesia, communication and its distortion or denial have entered a new constellation ruled by algorithms. Memory is no longer just opposed to forgetting, but increasingly to technologically produced fake memory. Ridley Scott was onto something with Blade Runner. Debate about corporate juggernauts like Google, Amazon, Apple, or Facebook, and their relation to surveillance, manipulation, and control, points to the dangers to contemporary democracy and the kinds of enlightened, engaged, and informed subjects it needs in order to thrive. In light of what we discussed earlier regarding new tendencies in critical memory studies, I think we must draw on extant critical memory narratives with their deep sense of time to strengthen our imagination about alternative futures. Transnational and planetary perspectives are a sine qua non.
Patrick Eser – Coming back to the opposition of the victims and the perpetrators and their perspectives and also to the more complex assumption of multiple and multidirectional memories – what different mechanisms of the transgenerational transmission of memories can be identified? The transgenerational transmission of memory is an ubiquitous phenomenon, also on collective level, concerning phenomena like “cultural heritage”. In the debate on the transmission of memories of victims (“Opfergedächtnis”), the trauma of the Shoah and its heritage to the later generations of the so called “postmemory” is once again of a model of extraordinary importance. Considering the evolution of the concept in this clear context and contemplating the fact, that the silences, inhibitions and subconscious realities (e.g. feeling of guilt, “trauma”) are unique in the context of the transmission of the memory of the Shoah, how do you consider its applicability on other conflict-memories or even on “memories of perpetrators”?
Andreas Huyssen – Marianne Hirsch’s work on postmemory has indeed raised important questions about the transmission of memory over the course of time. She asked if and how Holocaust survivors' memory was transmitted to their children, even when silence about the past prevailed. Her answer was that transmission functioned in deeply affective and unconscious ways, shaping the subjectivity of the descendant generation. The relation between son and father in Spiegelman’s Maus is a good example of this issue. But in subsequent postmemory discussions, this very specific idea of postmemory has often been expanded to include the mediated memories of any past event not experienced by a later generation. Postmemory therefore has a general bearing in societies in which the past is ever more mediated through technological image media, creating structures of experience and memories in their own right, and leading to cultural imaginaries that can be extremely volatile politically. This is a deep insight, and it can also be mobilized, as you suggest, to study the "inherited" memories of post-perpetrator generations, or, for that matter, the memories of post-beneficiary generations, and so forth. I find the postmemory concept useful as long as it is historically grounded and relates to specific groups of people. At the same time, postmemory functions not only by way of direct familial ties. It is also subject to political manipulation beyond the family nexus, as the current wave of white supremacism and other racist and ethnicist ideologies elsewhere in the world demonstrates.
Patrick Eser – You have worked extensively on monuments and material memory places, and their function in the conflictive process of representing the past. Ways of representing “the past”, of making it sensible and visible, are just as virulent as the will to conserve or to communicate ethical imperatives and messages – such as “nunca más” –or to glorify "national heroes". On the other hand, in didactic debates over recent years about museums' capacity to represent, the narrative functions of memory culture have been supplemented by or contrasted with a focus on the material dimension, on the “things” exposed and their semiotic virtuality. How would you assess the different “representational” or “evocative” power of the various forms of aesthetic discourse about the past?
Andreas Huyssen –There is no question about it – the monument, together with its more recent descendant, the counter-monument, has real staying power in creating and supporting public memory – even if at times, as Musil put it, monuments are all but invisible. Their power depends on public engagement and debate surrounding their creation, or about their meaning and presence in changing political and historical environments. Monuments come alive when political passions lead to their creation (Eisenman's monument in Berlin, Maya Lin’s Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington), their toppling (the Vendôme column in Paris in 1871, monuments to Lenin in Eastern Europe in the early 1990s), or their relocation to less public sites (the equestrian statue of Frederick the Great in Berlin). In its own right, the monument is not a very interesting artistic genre. But in conjunction with institutions of public education, monuments can provide important teaching moments, especially at times when they become controversial, as for instance in the current U.S. debate about monuments to the Confederacy and its defense of slavery in Memphis and Charlottesville, or the Columbus monument in New York. I also think monuments should always be discussed in relation to other remembrance projects: sites of torture and concentration camps, detention facilities, museums of memory, documentaries, and other representations of the past. Monuments acquire their memory leverage as part of a multi-directional field of sites, discourses, and objects.
On transnational(ization of) memory
Patrick Eser - Your theses on the Holocaust as a global trope introduced an important keyword for emerging debates on the transnationalization of memories, which have nowadays become an important object of investigation in memory studies, just like the focus on global human right dynamics (Nathan Sznaider) or transcultural negotiations (Michael Rothberg). In view of these current debates, how do you view the spatial dimension of collective memory and the (once?) dominant national scale? To what extent does this dominance persist in times of cultural globalization and the transnational circulation of figures, legal-ethical norms, and narratives? The places, sites and milieus of memory seem to be dominantly national ones, so the national scale is still crucial for memory conflicts and the (re-)production of “cultural memories”, even when these draw on transnational figures. Do you see a conflict between those national dynamics and the supposed emergence of cosmopolitan or transnational forms of memory, transcending national boundaries? An example of this could be discourse on “1968” as a historical event and figure, referring to similar historical experiences and enabling a contrastive-comparative or even transnational perspective on an event of “global history”? Or memories and transnational debates about violent pasts in countries in the Southern Cone and the Iberian Peninsula – in a supposedly transnational Hispanic area of memory where one can observe how similar concepts, images, figures and forms (such as the desaparecido) are used in different national cultural contexts.
Andreas Huyssen – I do not see a conflict between national and transnational or cosmopolitan spheres of memory. The latter will never completely replace the former. An emergent planetary sphere of memory actually depends on the diversity of national (and regional, group-specific) memory spheres for its effectiveness in transnational human-rights struggles and cross-cultural understandings and contacts. Just as we do not live in a post-national society, there will be no post-national memory.
Your reference to 1968 is interesting. For some time now, I have come to see 1968 as an ultimately failed project of globalization: France, the U.S., Mexico, Chile, Japan, Germany, Italy, and so forth. But its global dimension, if that is what it was, was mitigated by simultaneous events elsewhere: the Soviet invasion in Prague, the Chinese cultural revolution, the mass killings in Indonesia. The imagination of an alternative future à la 68 was transnational, but accompanied by events that still await appropriate commemoration. It was not quite global as yet. The relation between Spanish and Latin American memory discourses is indeed very interesting and worth exploring in its transnational dimension, which as you say is not at all global.
Emilio Isgrò, Dante Alighieri, 2014.
Patrick Eser – For my final question, I would like to discuss a very subjective impression, and talk about your subjective connection to your investigations. I recognize that the German memorization of the Holocaust and the horror of Nazism is presented as an exemplary model in discussions of Latin American contexts. This does not correspond to my own perception of the German “Aufarbeitung der Vergangenheit” as characterized by the long-lasting impunity of most perpetrators, the time it took to acknowledge the responsibility of individuals and state institutions, and a lukewarm commitment to paying compensation to survivors and those compelled to do forced labor (in the late 1990s). Could this counter-perception – my own perception of a disgraceful politics of memory on the one hand, and the euphoric international reception of the self-given and successfully disseminated image of “Erinnerungsweltmeister” on the other – be an example of the misunderstandings that are intrinsically linked to the global circulation of memory images and narratives? What was the impetus for your investigations into the German case and other examples of conflictive memory? And finally, what importance do you, as a specialist in memory studies and philological and cultural studies, attach to artistic and fictional works in the morphing of memories and their contradictions?
Andreas Huyssen – Germany could become the world champion in memory politics only because others were worse at coping with odious pasts. And here I am not only referring to Japan. In France the myth of the resistance blocked out the Vichy syndrome, not to speak of Algeria. Other victorious nations did not have much need either to deal with the closets of their history: colonialism, Stalinism, ethnic cleansing, genocide, and deep histories of anti-Semitism. Eastern Europe could present itself as a victim of Nazi Germany, and later of the Soviet Union, thus forgetting its own history of collaboration, a history that is today being celebrated again in right-wing movements in Poland, Hungary, and Slovakia. And let us remember, in West Germany it took over four decades after 1945 just to begin a proper Aufarbeitung der Vergangenheit. In his seminal book Im Anfang war Auschwitz (1991), [English transl. The Whitewashing of the Yellow Badge: Antisemitism and Philosemitism in Postwar Germany (1992)], Frank Stern has analyzed in great detail how, in the early post-war years, Nazi anti-Semitism morphed into the philo-Semitism of anti-Semites as a strategy to block concrete historical recognition of how the Holocaust had been organized socially, bureaucratically, and technologically. More often than not, it was conscious evasion and erasure rather than simple forgetting or repression. Stern’s topic was the concrete relationship between Germans and Jews after 1945, a fraught topic avoided by most German historians of the period through to the Alltagsgeschichte of the 1970s and 1980s. Meanwhile, anti-Semitism continued to flourish under cover, on both the radical left and the right. Today it has openly reemerged in Germany with the electoral success of the AfD. And yet, after a decades-long battle, Holocaust memory remains an established fact of public life in Germany.
Of course, it was my and my generation’s confrontation with the Holocaust and the Third Reich that led me to look at other histories of state violence and national trauma in a comparative mode. But as if not more important was the recurrence of genocide and ethnic cleansing in our own time, in Bosnia, Rwanda, and Cambodia. And the list continues.
In the 1990s, my work on representations of the recent German past in literature and the visual arts and on post-89 Berlin led to multiple invitations to Latin and Central America, India, South Africa, China and Turkey, where histories of state violence had become a key political issue. An invitation to a memory conference at Boğaziçi University in Istanbul drew my attention to the Turkish-German writer Zafer Şenocak and his novel Gefährliche Verwandtschaft (1998) about the entanglements of German, Turkish, and Armenian pasts. Multi-directionality of memory before the term was even coined! Since the 1960s, I had been very aware of how literature could shape public German memory discourse via novels and theater. Key writers for me were Grass, Koeppen, and Frisch, Hildesheimer, Weiss, Bachmann, and of course Celan as a poet. What struck me in the 1990s was how the Holocaust acted as center stage for political battles elsewhere between remembering and forgetting. I noticed how the images and tropes of Holocaust discourse shaped projects about memory and justice, often in distinct but ambiguous ways. The link between the Holocaust and colonialism was central in South Africa and Rwanda, but only marginal in Latin America. But the report by the first ever truth commission about the "disappeared" in Argentina was called Nunca Más, never again (1984). And Holocaust comparisons – though historically false – played a powerful role in creating a reluctant consensus in Argentina about the crimes of the military dictatorship. South Africa first considered a kind of Nuremberg trial to deal with the apartheid regime, but then abandoned the idea as politically unfeasible, instead creating the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. I started to write on issues of cultural memory and its politics as they were reflected and articulated in Latin American, Indian, and South African art works. My work did not aim to create broad historical accounts; for that it relied on respective local historians. It focused rather on art’s role in creating a transnational, border-crossing realm of memorial projects that facilitated cross-cultural communication. More than literature, which depends on translation to circulate, the visual arts seemed to provide a broader range of access given the recent institutional growth of biennials, gallery networks, and museum shows of “non-Western” art.
My increasingly frustrated search for contemporary art works that connect aesthetics to politics in formally persuasive ways then drew me to several artists from beyond the Northern Transatlantic whose work focuses on histories of state terror, colonial and postcolonial violence, borders, migrations, and temporalities. Felicitous encounters and sustained conversations with Doris Salcedo from Colombia, Nalini Malani and Vivan Sundaram from India, Guillermo Kuitca from Argentina, and William Kentridge from South Africa helped me overcome my hesitation to write about the arts from beyond the realm of my professional competence. I found my angle when I realized that all these artists have appropriated and transformed aesthetic strategies from European and North American modernism and the historical avant-garde, while continuing to work in their countries of origin and dealing with local political legacies. Their work is characterized by a creative appropriation and transformation of the modern that has taken root not just in Latin America, but in Asia and Africa as well. At the same time their work remains resolutely local, embedded in specific histories of political violence that have begun to resonate in transnational contexts of memory politics and human rights. Major recent exhibitions of their work are the best illustration of my argument that the arts have a planetary role to play in exploring tensions between national and transnational memory discourses, tensions which only they can overcome in paradigmatic and future-oriented ways. This is what my next book will be about.