Irma Erlingsdóttir: The Politics of Memory. Hélène Cixous on Sihanouk, the King of Cambodia
This article explores the political in Hélène Cixous‘s L’Histoire terrible mais inachevée de Norodom Sihanouk, roi du Cambodge by focusing on the dialectic between history and memory. The epic play articulates Cambodia’s history – through the person of Prince Sihanouk and through diverse group memories, Cambodian, American, Chinese, and Vietnamese – and puts it into the context of historical metanarratives, such as colonialism, the Cold War, and the Vietnam War. It is argued that Cixous explores history by reliving it through memory. Cixous’s historical research and writing can, thus, be seen as representing an experience that she self-consciously inserts into collective memory. The method echoes what historian Susan Crane termed “lived experience” when discussing the need to reconcile the concepts of history and memory instead of seeing them as opposites. In Sihanouk, Cixous combines the traditions of history, with its emphasis on chronological order and “objectivity,” and collective memory in the present, where “truth” and historical context matter less than group memories and identity politics.
Keywords: Hélène Cixous, Le Théâtre du Soleil, Sihanouk, Cambodia, history and memory