Ellen Davis-Walker, “Deterritorialized testimonies: walking through (and around) trauma in 17.10.61 project”

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My paper, entitled “deterritorialized testimonies: walking through (and around) trauma the 17.10.61
project” looked at a specific engagement between a Paris-based street art project, and one of many
examples of France’s colonial past that had been disavowed, and relegated from collective memory. I
chose to focus on the 17.10.61 project project primarily for this spatial and affective potential. I see
the (literally) scattered, multi-platform work as an interesting step towards an open reconciliation with
a violent, too often overlooked, period in France’s recent history.

Curated by the underground street-art collective Raspouteam, the 17.10.61 web documentaire (which
can be accessed online here: http://www.ina.fr/medias/webdocs/17oct/index.html) this work
reconfigures the cartography of Paris via the creation of virtual sites of memory. Strategic placement
of QR codes across the city encourage participants to re-trace routes last walked on the 17th of
October 1961; A night where thousands of Algerians met their deaths at the hands of the French
police. A night that was not formally acknowledged by the state until over 40 years after the attack.
My paper argued that the resurgence of violence on the streets of Paris saw  an “uncanny return”
(McNeill 2010:36) of traumatic memory: a projection of visible images of violence on those that have
long been kept invisible. This return opened up new possibilities of traversing, and engaging with, the
city and all its overlapping “memories, moments, sights and sound” ” (Verges 2016:213)   that re-
actualize previously forgotten memories: allowing them to be re-embodied in space, walked through
or around, in a manner that was not prescribed, and entirely subjective. Building on Caruth’s account
in Trauma: Explorations in Memory, I argued that the physical integration of previously silenced
memory in to the physical heart of Paris, at the spatial interface between “traumatic memory and
narrative memory” (Spitzer 2011: 215 ), facilitates new movements through (and engagements with)
the memories of that night. As each individual passerby is free to decide where they begin their
navigation, they are (most crucially, I suggest) free to decide how far they walk back, forward, around
or away from representations of that night. Memory is at once subjective and free from control, yet
paradoxically contained and controllable.

The 17.10.61 project, I argued, creates fascinating new significations of both space and memory,
where individual and collective discourses “come to double up on each other” (McCosker 2011:14),
and where sites and sights of a forgotten past are given space to be heard in the present, and to shape the navigation of new paths in the future.