Institute of Para-Enactment Research
Softcore Historicism and Embodied Heritage


Archipelagic Memory and Synesthetic Heritage.

Which topographies do collective memory conform? How to navigate them?

The following text takes the concept of the so-called spanish “black legend” as a conflictual arena in which concepts of archipelagic Memory and synesthetic Heritage can be traced. 

The term “black legend” was originaly used in the context of french historiography by author Arthur Lévy  irefering to  two opposing legends related with Napoleon Bonaparte, a "golden legend" and a "black legend": two extreme, simplistic, one-dimensional approaches  that tended to portray the french emperoor as a god or a demon. Introduced in the spanish historiography by  Emilia Pardo Bazán and later popularized by Julián Juderías, the term developed during the 20th century to adscribe all criticisms towards the spanish kingdom, its past, and its legacy.  Following the recent uprising of neo-conservative movements in spanish politics, the term has gained new meanings  and has worked to crystalize what has been called an “attack to the spanish nation”. 

The label "White Legend" is used to describe a supposed historiographic approach presenting an uncritical or idealized image of Spanish colonial practices.[14] Some authors consider this to be the result of taking attempts to counter the bias of the Black Legend too far, whereas others consider it to have developed independently. Miguel Molina Martinez describes this legend as a characteristic of the Nationalist Spanish historiography which was propagated during the regime of Francisco Franco, a regime which associated itself with the imperial past and couched it in positive terms.

Los términos de leyenda negra y blanca hacen referencia a un concepto hegemónico, continental y säolido de la historia. Mientras que la leyenda blanca hace referencia a la narración consensuada por la estructuras de poder que ejercen influencia en el territorio español y que sirve para validar su estatus, la leyenda negra intenta adrscibir las críticas a esa narrativa describiendo el discurso contrario como también una narración instuticionalizada y ejercida por estructuras de poder opresoras y opuestas a las que defienden la leyenda blanca. La leyenda negra interpreta la construcción histórica.

dos conceptos continentales, sólidos y estáticos de memoria colectiva. En cuanto a continentales, esos conceptos determinan recuerdos de un pasado linear en los que una única narración compone un pasado colectivo. Mientras que la leyenda 

The following text is composed by excerpts of the introductory text to the Conference “Archipelagic Memory: Intersecting Geographies, Histories and Disciplines” from the University of Mauritius.

“The concept of the “archipelago” has been increasingly discussed and deployed by historians, social scientists, literary and cultural studies scholars since the second half of the 20th century. The term originated in classical Greece to designate the Aegean waters binding the heart of European civilisation, but since the beginning of the overseas exploration and colonial expansion by European powers from the early 15th century onwards, and following a process of metonymy and metaphor, it came to identify any set of islands forming a coherent topographical unit.”

It is indeed from the decolonising seas of the Atlantic and Indo-Pacific oceans that new meanings and theorisations of the archipelago began to emerge from the 1950s. While the newly independent countries of Southeast Asia developed an “archipelagic doctrine” as the integral principle of their claim to postcolonial nation-statehood, a number of Caribbean intellectuals mobilised the archipelago as an analytical framework for disrupting the notion of insularity and for thinking beyond linear narratives of historical, national and cultural development.

For Kamau Brathwaite, the shared histories, languages and structures of feeling of the Caribbean islands formed the fabric of a submarine unity premised on creolisation and cultural diversity. Also insisting on interconnectedness and rejecting a vision of islandness as being defined by isolation and uniformity, Édouard Glissant formulated the concept of “archipelagic thinking” as a trembling and vibrant epistemological alternative pivoted on the concept of relation, and not necessarily contingent on the material geographies of island groupings, for continents too, indeed the whole world, can be archipelagised and creolised. Moving from, as well as beyond, the Antillean sea, Antonio Benítez-Rojo’s “meta-archipelago” similarly resisted the taxonomy of centre and periphery and revealed the palimpsestic imaginaries connecting the many oceans of human experience. More recent theoretical and methodological paradigms have further transcended the terraqueous spaces of seas and islands to trace discontinuous yet interlinked geographies over a planetary scale.

The figurality inscribed in the notion of archipelago and the potential open-endedness of its corresponding theoretical frameworks invite us to take heed of what may fall through the fractures generated by the epistemic instability of archipelagic dynamics.

What it means to remember the past in the present and how to consider future trajectories in individual, collective, as well as national identity in archipelagic spaces and cultures. What happens when local modes of articulating time, space and memory sit side by side with Western modernity and imperialism? When the present, just like the past, is conflictual in nature? If archipelagos are not simply objective geography, but culturally contingent and politically constructed, then the question of by whom and for whom certain spaces are conceptualised as archipelagos and others aren’t begs attention. What has not yet been thought of archipelagically? What has been enabled and what has been precluded by thinking primarily through the model of the Caribbean archipelago and its anti-mimetic patterns of repetition and difference? What if ethnic, national and archipelagic identities as well as spaces are in conflict with each other, or the constructed entity of the archipelago clashes with the geological construction of neighbouring islands that belong to different nation-states, resulting in fractured archipelagic identities? Where island communities are diasporic, how does the sea function as an imagined space that reduces or entrenches geographical and affective distance? How, indeed, does the sea enable an archipelagic relationship with the homeland left behind?

What, in effect, is the archipelagic memory project and how does it contribute to memory studies? If the past is memorialised as archipelagic, a series of fragmentary spaces, cultures and histories converging in a fluid space that can act as a symbol for other, larger connections, how can archipelagic memory enhance continental practices of articulating the past, de-centre or contribute to Euro-centric approaches to memory? Can memory as “innumerable but shared” (in Glissant’s terms) allow us to take heed of “the memory of the other” as well as partake in it? How can this “remembering together” create the conditions for solidarity, or are these conditions resisted and if so, why? How can archipelagic mnemonic projects be multidirectional, reparative and committed to justice, instead of competitive, suppressive or destructive?


︎︎︎ Berlin, 2022

Distributed under a CC BY-NC-SA 4.0Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International
(More information here)