Archive for the ‘Feb 15’ Category

Diasporic Deaths of Objects and Buying Diasporic Identity

Posted: February 14, 2012 by gardenofdawn in Feb 15

Summing up Parkin’s “Mementoes as Transnational Objects in Human Displacement”

From the opinion that the body and the mind are bound, Parkin explores the types of objects chosen by refugees at the critical point of traumatic geographic  human displacement. The dual criteria for the selection of objects is both practical value such as food and clothing and but also objects that facilitate the re-establishment of the pre-displacement identity and notions of home such as funerary objects and cassettes. For the latter category of object, what Parkin calls “ transitory possessions” (Parkin, 303), memory acts upon such objects to facilitate a bridging between the pre-displacement past in the home country and the post-arrival present in the host country.

Parkin and diasporic “social death”

I am particularly convinced by the specific idea of “social death” that Parkin describes. (Parkin, 314) He speaks about this idea in relation to personhood, how the inability to bring about potential positive memory of one’s pre-displacement-self (often as he argues, via objects) is equivalent to a “social death” which can be likely linked often to a biological death.  I am convinced by Parkin’s insight that objects can be sites of storage for personhood that can be retrieved when appropriate circumstances are provided. Parkin’s notion of “social death” can be spoken about in relation to the foundation of this class entitled “Diasporic LIVES of objects”. I will elaborate with the questions below.

Teasing out “social death” with questions:

What constitutes  the diasporic deaths of an object?

Might the diasporic death of an object be an object that is left behind in the home land by its owner?

Does the object die if it is no longer possessed and interpreted by its original owner?

What if the object was selected to be brought in diaspora with its owner  but the owner of the object is unable to harness via memory the pre-diasporic value of the object?

Is this thus the diasporic death for the object?

Diasporic objects in my mother’s life

I am further instructed by Parkin’s analysis by real diasporic objects in my life. My mother possesses a both practical diasporic object (A Red Cross shoulder bag) but also a journal that she had wrote in as a young adult that contains quotes from favourite Chinese novels. As an avid reader from a young age, this object brings her back to her pre-displacement self. Because her family owned a book store in her home country where she bought he journal, the object also is a representation and invocation of a physical home.

“Summing up Rains’ “Celtic Kitsch: Irish-America and Irish Material Culture”

Rains scrutinizes the idea of object authenticity within the context of the diasporic tourism industry in Ireland. Objects that the Irish diaspora and others purchase has been dubbed as “kitsch” (Pains, 52), which is often characterized of objects that are stylistically uniform, inauthentic — in a word: tacky. Rains condemns the negative inference of kitsch, given that the very definition of a diasporic object is that it has been taken out of its original context. Rains’ scrutinizes the marketing on behalf of tourist industry and capitalist endeavor of participation (Rains, 56) in a lost culture via consumption of “diasporic” commodities on the part of the consumer.

Rains and purchasing diasporic identity

I think that the highly profitable tourist industry – both in Ireland and globally – does in fact “overtly kitsch” (Rains, 57) diasporic objects and identities. The very strategic business and marketing plans used to make a profit off diasporic tourists is highly problematic given it provides a very shallow definition of identity and belonging. I don’t believe that such objects constitute an “overperformance” (Rains, 57) necessarily, but more so an ahistorical or historically-warped/historically-misread, empty, and highly diluted understandings and interactions with cultures of origins. Instead of engaging deeper with the traumatic journeys of migration experienced by their ancestors or living with and or meeting people who live in Ireland currently, tourists simply swipe their credit cards.

Elaborating on “buying identity” with more questions:

Can diasporic identity be so easily purchased on demand, as witnessed in the Irish tourism industry, Irish shops in North America and heritage shopping on the Internet?

Can a diasporic identity only be gained via direct life experience of displacement? Or can it be gained through purchase and the capitalist system?

Can a diasporic identity be achieved throughout generations even if future generations have not experienced or do not remember the displacement?

Do objects facilitate the acquiring of diasporic identity for those who lack the lived experience of dispersal but are born in a family defined by diasporic identity?

Parkin + Rains = Insight on the value of objects and their ability to  shape  diasporic identity

Parkin’s work focuses more so on the identity vested in objects chosen by refugees at the point of their involuntary displacement, while Rains centres on the purchase of identity-based objects at the point of voluntary privileged travel. As Parkin states, the objects chosen by refugees often have no market value. (Parkins, 313) The objects from the Irish tourist industry are the product of expensive and rigorous marketing schemes. (Rains, 54) Both diasporic groups are characterized (in quite varying degrees) by traumatic diasporic experience. Often,  groups are of different generations. These realities shape different understandings and attitudes towards the role of objects in shaping diasporic identities.

Objects constitute part and parcel of the migratory experience of their owners. Despite the idea that purchased objects can evoke notions of belonging to a diaspora, my verdict remains:

Diasporic identity is not bought. Diasporic identity is lived.


Feb 15th Reading Response-Objects and Nostalgic Practice: Souvenirs/Mementoes/Heirlooms

Posted: February 14, 2012 by jonathansantosdts403diasporiclivesofobjects in Feb 15

“Testimonial Objects: Memory, Gender and Transmission”-Hirsch/Spitzer

This reading examined object’s found in Nazi concentration camps during the Second World War. Hirsch and Spitzer, the author’s, examined the role these objects played in connecting the present to the past. Within this work, it is evident that both Hirsch and Spitzer interpreted and examined these objects through a feminist perspective as they sought to explain how these “testimonial objects” represented the female gender and the struggles females faced during the Holocaust. Within this reading, the authors examined two books, a book of recipes and a book of pictures.

The book of recipes

This book was made by a group of Jewish women who were living in a WWII concentration camp in Germany. Found within this book were the recipes common to all the women who lived within these camps. This book is important as it is a piece of history that can be used as an account to describe what it meant to be a female living in a concentration camp. This book depicts from the perspective of a woman what it was like to cook during the war with limited resources while being oppressed on a daily basis.

The book of pictures

This book was made up of pictures. This book belonged to a doctor who worked in numerous concentration camps diagnosing patients with food poisoning disease’s.  From the story it is important that we the reader comprehend the true meaning pictures hold. PICTURES TELL A STORY. The authors suggest rather that it is up to us, the audience, to interpret the story.

After examining both books it became apparent that the author’s of both books held on to their respectfull identities regardless of what stood in their path. What I found interesting about this reading was how both books portray a struggle but in two different ways. On the one hand, the book of recipes was written by a female and used to empower the female Diaspora. On the other hand, the book of pictures was written by a male and used as a way to allow his audience to interpret the outcome of his story.

Question: How can pictures be interpreted by everyone?

“(N) Ostalgie” For the Present: Memory, Longing, East German Things”-Berdahl

Unlike Hirsch and Spitzer, Berdahl’s article took a different approach and in my opinion, what she sets out to argue is next to impossible, good luck!

Within this work it is evident that Berdahl’s goal is to differentiate between the notion of nostalgia and the German authorized celebration practices. Within this reading it is apparent that the author is very critical of Western German hegemony as she argued on page 193, “Western German hegemony produces artificial nostalgia when manufacturing and merchandising East German things”. Through examining the replication, commoditization and revitalization of GDR products, Berdahl depicted the alienation process many Eastern Germans faced and still face when thinking about their past. It is evident from this reading that GDR products were used as a part of resistance to the cultural hegemony of the West.

When examining this article I think that Berdahl did a great job on focusing on East German identity and cultural values. Furthermore she did a great job in pointing out how nostalgia is more than longing and reproduction of the past. Rather, she effectively proved that nostalgis is a present cause, a sign of unity and collective memory amongst a group of people working together or with something in common.

I think that both this work and the reading on “testimonial objects” both explored an objects value in a Diasporic context through examining how culture and history can link an object from its past to present form.



Comments on the readings…

Posted: February 13, 2012 by mahmerkhan in Feb 15

The Craft of Glass:


In Rain’s article, Celtic Kitsch: Irish-American and Irish Material Culture, there is importance given to the authenticity of an object that is produced from “another place.” This other place being Ireland and this object being glassware. Rain goes on further explaining that the shopping of a diasporic good is in someways obtaining a piece of culture that is out of place, he uses the phrase “consumption of diasporic goods through mobility.” What would be normal house ware in Ireland becomes a connection to a far away place that has an exotic story. Case specific, glassware, pottery, fabrics such as linen and traditional music instruments or even sporting goods. The importance is placed not only on the good but the story of that good…the making of it, the craftsmanship involved, the timeless of the materials and most importantly, how its been used in an authentic manner ‘ A true representation of the culture.‘ Here lies the problem: the commodification of that object becomes a path to being culturally enlightened, essentially making a culture for sale.


I agree with what Rain explains in his article. An object obtains an increased value once out of context and more importantly, that object holds a story to it. The story is what makes or breaks the object’s value to the buyer. If an object holds a connection to a time and place or reflects an authentic interpretation of a culture then it become a diasporic good. However, does the object need to be out of place? When tourists go to countries, many of them buy their trinkets and material good from tourist markets. Haga Sophia in Turkey is a perfect example. It is a historic place that sells goods for diasporic purposes…to remind someone of a place, time or culture. My question for the class is:


Can one really experience a culture by buying “authentic items”?


The Story on the Story Book:


Marianne Hirsch and Leo Spitzer have made some very interesting arguments in their article Testimonial objects: Memory, Gender, and Transmission. The article uses items that makes connection between past and present. In essence, the object acts as gateway to the past. They also view the items through a feminists perspective analyzing how objects are interpreted and represent the female gender. They have began their argument through a recipe book that was originally made during the second World War under a concentration camp. This recipe book contains the recipes of what some women would make during that time of what they had. Forty years later it has become a historical account of what it meant to cook during the 1940’s under war. Many people of the area use this recipe book as a means of connecting with that time and place through cooking. The second item they use is a small hand sized book that is mainly composed up of pictures. It is the pictures that create the story and thus the interpretation of that story. In this article, it is a story of a doctor who is in the camps diagnosing patients who have lathyrismus disease from food poisoning.


Both books are forms of resistance. Both books metaphorically hold on to their identities regardless of how hard the surrounding environments are. The audience is drawn in because these two books provide detailed accounts of what happened. Not only are they authentic interpretations of what happened, they have an emotional sentiment of pain. That pain is taken in as a part of the Jewish identity. It is that story of going through such a tragedy that makes it so much more than just a book. It is written during a time where if one was caught with such a document, imminent execution would be the result.


What I find interesting is that the recipe book and the picture book both hold a perspective but from a different angle. The recipe book was written by a female for a female and is later celebrated and enacted through the female diaspora. The picture book has pictures that have an event, metaphor and memory ordeal. What I mean by this is that there is an event, a metaphor associated with this and then the memory of such event. There is also a very large aspect on interpretation of the picture book. The recipe is much more straightforward where as the picture book is up to the audience.


What makes the picture a collective interpretation?

Feb 15 Reading Response

Posted: February 13, 2012 by aresjoseph in Feb 15

In this week’s article, Marianne Hirsch and Leo Spitzer focus on testimonial objects from Terezin and Vapniarka concentration camps. The authors state that testimonial objects are “points of memory, points of interaction between the past and the present, memory and postmemory, personal and cultural recollections” (Hirsch and Spitzer 353). The article’s main objective is to reconstruct discourses on gender in holocaust pedagogies. They examine two testimonial objects from different European concentration camps. Hirsch and Spitzer believe that testimonial objects have historical and cultural codes that are marked by gender (359). The first object was created by Mina Pachter and her female neighbors in Terezin concentration camp. Twenty five years later, Pachter’s daughter in the United States, obtains a collection of German recipes from her mother. The second object was prepared by Arthur Kessler in Vapniarka concentration camp. His son David Kessler obtains the memorabilia upon his father’s death.

Hirsch and Spitzer reference Roland Barthes’s discourse which illustrates that images, memorabilia, and other objects from the past have “points of memories” that traverse time and space (358). The authors articulate their argumentation in a very logical way by using personal ethnographies from the Jewish diaspora. Hirsch and Spitzer state that there is a lot of anxiety in diasporic communities concerning the role of gender as an analytic category when discussing the holocaust. However, the transmission of memory from an object as it moves from mother to daughter, or father to son is marked by gender and other factors (Hirsch and Spitzer 359). Last week in class we discussed an object’s agency. Can a testimonial object from the holocaust “speak for itself” without human interpreters?

Daphne Berdahl’s article differs from Hirsch’s and Spitzer’s discourse. Berdahl aims to distinguish the differences between “mere nostalgia and the social sanctioned commemoration practices” in Germany (Berdahl 193). She is very critical of “western German hegemony” and the way it produces artificial nostalgia when manufacturing and merchandising East German things (Berdahl 193). I think that her argumentation is very ambitious. She compressed information that was collected in her ethnographic fieldwork about East German identity and cultural values. The only connection I found between Berdahl’s, Hirsch’s and Spitzer’s article is the way they explore an object’s value in diaspora by examining the cultural/historical codes that are attached to the object from past to present. I wish Berdahl explored the social life of East German things by distinguishing their connect to “mere nostalgia” and “ostalgic practices” (207). How does “ostalgic practices” differ from “mere nostalgia” in modern German societies and holocaust studies?”