Accepted Paper:

Memory and the cityscape. Assemblage thinking in memories about the AIDS epidemic in New York City.  


Christopher Zraunig (University of Amsterdam)

Paper short abstract:

The cityscape is a crucial element of memories, when these are conceptualized as more or other than representational of the past, but instead as assemblages consisting of material and immaterial components. Such an approach also elicits the multiple temporalities of supposedly passed events.

Paper long abstract:

For long, memory has been conceptualized as representational of the past. I complicate such conceptualizations by focusing on the materiality of the cityscape as being a crucial element of memories. I conducted four months of fieldwork, including participant observations, in-depth interviews and walk-alongs for my research on the contemporary affective states of self-identifying gay men who lived through the height of the AIDS epidemic in New York City (before the introduction of highly active antiretroviral treatment in 1996). My results show that taking into account the materiality and spatiality of memories transcends chronological compartments of past, present, and future as memories about the AIDS crisis are made present in the relations of the cityscape, practices, and biographies: people not only are often involuntarily overwhelmed when unexpectedly passing houses in which friends had died of AIDS, but they also actively change the way they navigate the city. These relations, thus, inform the contemporary affective states of my informants, which also illustrates the temporal transcendence and entanglement of people's present experiences with the cityscape and their biographies. Reflecting on my results, I draw on Deleuze & Guattari and propose an assemblage approach to memory, in which I conceptualize memories as something else than mere representations of the past, but as assemblages consisting of material and immaterial components that affect people's experiences today. This enables us to understand the multitemporality of a supposedly "passed" event (the AIDS epidemic) and to better comprehend how people's present-day affective states are co-constituted by the cityscape.

Panel A13
Of other landscapes