Remembering Mother: (Post)Memory and Archaeology of Subjectivity in Imbi Paju’s Memories Denied

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    • Presentation speakers
      • Andreas Athanasiades, University of Cyprus


    During the Soviet occupation of Estonia in the 40s and 50s, tens of thousands of people were sent to the Siberian gulags, with Imbi Paju’s mother among them. The author’s memoir Memories Denied constitutes an attempt to come to terms with this dreadful past through reading and writing her mother’s memories. The present article argues that there are complex connections between the imagined and lived experiences of trauma in the memoir, as the author’s (re)constructions of the past are inextricably tied to that of her mother’s, in that Paju does not deny her mother’s memories in order to survive, but dwells in them. Through such a process, which can be called archaeology of subjectivity in the sense that she constructs a self and a persona in large part by excavating through the self-constitutive memories of the previous generation, the article focuses on the transgenerational transmission of trauma through the gendered conduit of remembrance, which is the mother. Memories Denied is, more than anything, an intriguing example of how individual consciousness infuses collective imaginaries. As the repeated tragedy of a single family through the retelling of stories becomes a national tragedy deeply rooted into a fragmented, European narrative, the reading and writing of Imbi Paju’s maternal memories challenges the Soviet politics of destroying memory, intimacy and family ties in the name of a superior, supposedly stable sense of identity. In that, the focus is on how Paju “imagines” a past, a mother, an Estonia and an exile, as well as on how these affect her personal and artistic development.