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Plenary lecture. Heidi Grunebaum: Between postcolonial memory politics and imaginaries of partition

Heidi Grunebaum is acting director at the Centre for Humanities Research, University of Western Cape, where she leads the research platform on Aesthetics and Politics and convenes the Factory of the Arts. Grunebaum’s work examines aesthetics in response to the afterlives of genocide and mass violence and on the Holocaust, apartheid and the Palestine Nakba, in particular. Her research interests include critical memory studies, genocide studies, aesthetics and politics, and postcolonial theory. She is the author of Memorialising the Past: Everyday Life in South Africa after the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, co-editor of Uncontained: Opening the Community Arts Project Archive and of the award-winning exhibition book Athlone in Mind. With Mark J. Kaplan she made the award-winning documentary film The Village Under the Forest.  She is currently working on a book manuscript on nonpartitioned aesthetics and on a new film on racism and Jewish memory politics in contemporary Germany.


If modern Zionism grew out of and in response to the failure of 'assimilation' and Jewish belonging in Europe, it assumed its full political force in the establishment of the Jewish state at the end of WWII with far-reaching consequences. To read the making of a Jewish ethnonational state in historic Palestine is to trace the convergence of the epistemological inheritance of Europe's racialised, gendered concept of 'the human', the shadow of the Shoah, the twilight of Europe's colonial and settler colonial enterprises across the planet, and support for a partitionist paradigm by the political superpowers reconfigured in the post-WWII geopolitics of the 'Cold War'. In my lecture, I outline an itinerary of this convergence in Israel/Palestine in order to address the implications of 'partitionist' thought within a longer historical arc and epistemological trajectory of race-thinking. I argue that the convergence of the historical, epistemological and political inheritances that I trace in relation to Israel/Palestine is of significance beyond its geopolitical territory. The historical convergence is tied to the current  global conjuncture in which the rise of white ethnonationalist right-wing populisms across the world is witness to the return of the 'minority' as 'existential threat' reprised through the figure of 'refugees', Blacks, (non-Zionist) Jews, Arabs, Muslims and gender non-binary people. Following a number of anticolonial thinkers and postcolonial theorists, I sketch the contours of disavowed non-essentialist emancipatory itineraries to think of the question of Israel/Palestine as a questioning of partition/separation/exclusion for the contemporary moment more broadly. Finally, I propose that through a 'postcolonial aesthetic education', non-national/anti-nationalist modes of 'mnemonic solidarity' might offer a method to reconfigure partition and the race-thinking by which partition is underpinned.