Professor Brett Ashley Kaplan

University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign

Keynote Abstract: “Slow Fiction and the Deindustrialization of Memory Studies”

This talk will take up one of Jess, Lucy, and Rick’s questions for this year’s Mnemonics theme, the “Industry of Memory”: “What might different forms of memory work look like?” A form that I’ve been using, fiction, to work with and through memory, has already or will appear in two texts: Critical Memory Studies: New Approaches (Bloomsbury, May 2023), which I edited, de-industrializes memory studies by opening to the broadest possible interpretation of the field. I invited subjects and contributors who may not have previously been considered within memory studies’ traditional bailiwick, including several fiction writers, activists, and others. Memory studies invites such a wide brush because memory touches nearly every aspect of our lives. How we represent, both on individual and collective levels relies upon memory, how we narrate ourselves, and imagine our futures, depends upon memory. One of the contributors (who is not an outsider to the field!), Jenny Wüstenberg, discusses “slow memory” as a way of de-industrializing memory studies, and I’d like to think with you, in this keynote, about slow fiction, about how fiction that asks what happens when multiple strands of refugeeism and migration interfuse can contribute to slowly de-industrializing the field. My second novel (in progress), Vandervelde Downs, uses a multivocal, braided structure to explore intersections of loss, displacement, and trauma arising from the Holocaust and the Vietnamese refugee crisis. I put these losses into fantastical conjunction through a plot involving a family lawsuit to retrieve a (fictionalized) portrait by Velázquez, of his slave, Julio de Cervantes. The three main characters, Poppy Solomon, Mai Le Duong, and Maxwell Johnson, all struggle with inherited legacies that swirl around exile, failure, uprooting, and mourning. It’s a slow work of inviting us to consider their crossings in space and time to think through diverse traumas touching.