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The Australian National University

Seminar | Songs of Flight: Sonic Reenactments of Genocide on the Refugee Route


Tuesday, 22 August 2017 - 4:30pm - 5:45pm


Theatrette, Sir Roland Wilson Building


Dr Vanessa Agnew (Universit├Ąt Duisburg-Essen)
Vanessa Agnew, ‘A Little Elephant Song’, Lino Print 2017


In the scope of its horror and its claims to totality, genocide would seem to be, if not beyond representation, then at least beyond reenactment. The talk points out, however, that filmmakers, composers, performance artists, historians, exhibition designers, and living history practitioners increasingly take genocide as their subject, using reenactment to restage acts of mass violence perpetrated in various historical contexts. This development would suggest either a loosening of historiographical conventions surrounding genocide representation or a new respectability for reenactment as an investigative and commemorative genre. Focusing on sonic reenactments dealing with mass violence, the paper examines the possibilities and limitations of sonic reenactment as a historiographical mode.

Vanessa Agnew researches and teaches in the Department of Anglophone Studies at the Universität Duisburg-Essen. Her Enlightenment Orpheus: The Power of Music in Other Worlds (Oxford UP, 2008) won the Oscar Kenshur Prize for Eighteenth-Century Studies and the American Musicological Society’s Lewis Lockwood Award. She has co-edited several volumes on historical reenactment. Her current book projects include Right to Arrive, which applies reenactment theory to Kant’s rights of the stranger to reframe discussions around hospitality and the treatment of refugees. She is co-editing a Reenactment Studies Reader (with Juliane Tomann and Jonathan Lamb) and working on a graphic novel about refugees. She recently participated in a peace march from Berlin to Greece to gain insights into the conditions of flight for refugees and her illustrated children’s book, It’s Not That Bad, about a toy elephant who accompanies a child fleeing war, will be on display after the talk.


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