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Archive, Empathy, Memory: The Resurrection of Joyce Reason

Matthew Reason


This paper uses the prism of archival, ancestral research to consider the nature of our relationship to the lives of the Others that we find in the past. The particular Other within this paper, the intergenerational haunting that appears in words and in walks, in stones, photographs and in memories, is Joyce Reason. My Great Aunt, whom I never met, Joyce was a writer, an idealist, an evangelist, a bluestocking, a spinster, a crank, and a missionary.

In reflecting upon the attempted resurrection that lies in all historical writings, I return to the question at the heart of Emmanuel Levinas’ Totality and Infinity: how can the I “enter into relationship with an Other without immediately divesting it of its alterity”? With this question the investigation of personal archives and family memory intersects with considerations of public memory and produces two interlocking concerns. What is the articulacy, or otherwise, of the archival trace? And how can we know the life of another, without subsuming it into our own preoccupations and perspectives?

Presented as a collage of fragments, this paper explores walking, the body, place, photography and memory in the performance of the biographical archive. It asks ethical questions, exposes its own loose ends and involves time travel, but does not result in a resurrection.

It begins with a walk. A pilgrimage even.