Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository


Doctor of Philosophy


Theory and Criticism


Dr. Mark F.N. Franke


My dissertation is a comparative study of the role of memory in four intersecting spheres of contemporary cultural production: (memory) art, (war) photography, (trauma) literature and the (memory) museum. It argues that the sites of memory in this study—including museums of memory and human rights, the famous Sonderkommando photographs and experimental works in conceptual art and literature—are characterized by a preservationist aesthetic, which names the principle of preservation at the heart of new practices of cultural resistance and new forms of enclosure through which social, political and economic exploitation are reframed, as aesthetic problems, in terms of loss and erasure. Against the liberal principles of empathy and identification, which inflect the current fields of trauma theory and memory politics, I argue that the dialectics of preservation and recovery in contemporary trauma texts—from Robben Island Museum to Alfredo Jaar’s Real Pictures to W.G. Sebald’s Austerlitz—demonstrate the relationship between cultural aesthetics and the ongoing process of primitive accumulation, and require us to rethink the politics of memory in relation to the recent wave of global enclosures. Drawing on Marx, Freud, Debord and Krauss, as well as a number of thinkers of trauma theory and primitive accumulation, my project examines how movements to preserve the memories of historical violence in the 21st century reflect the ways in which images of the past have become a ground for the new enclosures.