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Observance, Notes Towards Decipherability

Smith, MD; (2018) Observance, Notes Towards Decipherability. Journal of Visual Culture , 17 (1) pp. 68-96. 10.1177/1470412918772462. Green open access

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Provoked by the terrorist-related murders in England that marked the spring and summer of 2017, I have felt compelled to write this article on the idea of observance (observe, care, follow, obey). I engage with this idea in the context of our contemporary Memory Industry – that confluence of memorialization, remembrance and commemoration culture; Memory Studies and Trauma Studies; tangible and intangible heritage; digital memory and media archaeology; and its series of facing-backwards-to-go-forwards impulses (the archival impulse, the genealogical impulse and the archaeological impulse). Through the Contemporary’s prism, I deploy observance as a rejoinder to the seeming irreconcilability between, on the one hand, the incomprehensibility of the Shoah and, on the other hand, the prevalence of its rendering in figurative and abstract memorials, literature, art and film; and by way of dark tourism, Shoah selfies and genealogy websites. I propose that, because of its assorted senses, as a grievable moment observance may be a way of negotiating (without necessarily wanting or needing to reconcile) such irreconcilability. I argue that this is possible because of how observance (observing a minute’s silence, for instance) as a (secular, vernacular) performative action somehow opens up a space of the imagination that might lead, for good and ill, to a decipherability all the more necessary in our interminable state of exception that is the Contemporary.

Type: Article
Title: Observance, Notes Towards Decipherability
Open access status: An open access version is available from UCL Discovery
DOI: 10.1177/1470412918772462
Publisher version: https://doi.org/10.1177/1470412918772462
Language: English
Additional information: This version is the author accepted manuscript. For information on re-use, please refer to the publisher’s terms and conditions.
Keywords: dark tourism, genealogy websites, grievable moment, memorials and memorialization, memory, remembrance and commemoration, observance, performative action, the Shoah, Shoah selfies
UCL classification: UCL
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > School of Education
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > School of Education > UCL Institute of Education
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > School of Education > UCL Institute of Education > IOE - Culture, Communication and Media
URI: https://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/id/eprint/10046052
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