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Kendall Phillips Kendall Phillips

How soon is too soon for commemorating traumatic events such as terrorist attacks, wars and natural disasters? Kendall Phillips, professor of communication and rhetorical studies in the College of Visual and Performing Arts’ (VPA) Department of Communication and Rhetorical Studies (CRS), will probe this question as the keynote speaker at Triggering Memory, a symposium at Massey University in New Zealand.

Phillips’ talk is titled “The Profanity of Memory: Temporality and the Rhetoric of ‘Too Soon’.” The symposium will be held Sept. 1-2 at Massey’s College of Creative Arts in Wellington and is a joint initiative with VPA.

Phillips says in contemporary western societies, sacred memories tend to arise out of the tragic and traumatic.

“Public memories are often treated as sacred. We connect these memories to particular sites--memorials, monuments, etc.--and to particular times for commemoration and in doing so reconstruct an almost religious sense of reverence,” he says.

His talk will explore what the rhetoric of “too soon” tells us about trauma, the sacred and the profane.

“In the aftermath of 9/11, there were serious debates about when things like humorous television shows could be broadcast and vehement reactions to irreverent comments about the attacks,” he says. “Similarly, there were robust debates about what could be built in the vicinity of ground zero. The talk concludes with some implications arising from the profaning of public memories.”

In addition to Phillips’ talk, four VPA faculty members will be presenting at the symposium via Skype: Stephanie James, School of Art; Erin Rand, CRS; and Susannah Sayler and Edward Morris, Department of Transmedia.

Phillips, who is also VPA's associate dean of global academic programs and initiatives, was also involved in the 2010 Contained Memory conference hosted by Massey University in partnership with Syracuse University and the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa. The conference addressed the nature of memory and how it can impact people’s perceptions of their own personal history.

A co-organizer of both events, Professor Kingsley Baird from Massey’s College of Creative Arts says the latest symposium is further evidence of the growing relationship between Massey and Syracuse Universities. It will be further cemented when the two universities sign a Memorandum of Understanding during Phillips’ visit.