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Towards a Fiction of Memory: Cambodian Photography, Orphaned Intentions, and Mundane Reimaginations

Creative Commons 'BY' version 4.0 license

Cambodian American scholarship has largely interpreted Cambodian history and

people within frameworks of violence and implicitly claims that today’s Cambodian diaspora is

legible only against the backdrop of unimaginable horror. The epistemological and ontological

stakes of defining the Cambodian experience within structures of violence has profound impact

on the personal and institutional understanding of Cambodian subjecthood. Through visual

culture and photographic analyses of my family’s own photographs from the Khao-I-Dang

refugee camp in Thailand circa 1980s-1990s, I introduce the concept of fictions of memory to

reimagine my family’s social life following the Khmer Rouge. Fictions of memory is a partial

analytic designed for second-generation Cambodians facing the generational trauma that often

structures their relationships to family and history. With a silence-informed approach offered

through fictions of memory, such trauma can be respected while also becoming a site of

speculative reimagination. This reimagination is facilitated through a reading of photography as

selectively “orphan”, or removed from their narrative intentionality, which is often

generationally inaccessible due to silence. Furthermore, the mundane reimagination of this

silence shifts away from conventionally violent interpretations of Cambodian legibility. This

reframing does not intend to replace extant scholarship on Cambodian subjectivity by dislocating

the real and often violent conditions of the Khmer Rouge and refugee camps, but hopes to exist

alongside such theorizations as possible alternatives for understanding Cambodian being.

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