Documenting Disremembrance: Histories of Loss in Contemporary Chinese Representation

Kimberly Schreiber, University of Pennsylvania

This paper was part of the 2014-2015 Penn Humanities Forum on Color. Find out more at


We are often told that history can only be constituted once we are outside of it. Time and distance allow it to solidify into a fixed, immutable backdrop against which our present selves be differentiated and defined. After the passing of a twentieth century littered with the remains of lost bodies, origins, and truths, it has become harder than ever before to stand outside and gain access to an Historical reality. More and more, we are certain that those who greedily grab hold of History to create ossified, absolutist narratives do so on dubious ethical and political grounds. In his seminal text “Theses on the Philosophy of History” (1940), Walter Benjamin voices his skepticism over totalizing conceptions of history, which inevitably occupy the empathic position of the victor. Rather than advocate on behalf of an alternative, but equally universal ideological position, Benjamin abandons any notion of history as couched in a teleological, linear model of progress. Instead, Benjamin argues that history can only be accurately viewed by illuminating the neglected fragments of marginalized pasts.


Date Posted: 17 November 2016