International symposium on Cambodia
Royal University of Fine Arts
Faculty of Archaeology, Phnom Penh
December 15-16-17 2014
May 1, 2014
Notification of acceptance
June 1, 2014
Full papers submission
November 30, 2014
THE AWARENESS OF THE PAST AMONG KHMER PEOPLE AND THEIR NEIGHBOURS.
LINGUISTIC, HISTORICAL AND ETHNOLOGICAL APPROACHES
Linguistics, History and Ethnology - three of the disciplines practised in Khmer studies - have attempted in ad hoc fashion to describe the perceptions of the past, but too often they have done so in terms of "what is missing". For example, the fact that the Khmer language hardly uses any clearly recognisable temporal markers might affect the perception of duration. Likewise, the scarce and often inaccurate narrative documents could imply a reduced historical awareness. Moreover, villagers' poor genealogical awareness, sustained by chthonian cults harking back to a mythical founder-ancestor, could be the sign of a memory deficit. This even extends to the hyperbolic image of Angkor in the consciousness of the Khmers, this "burden of history", which has been described as the result of foreign involvement, in this case French.
The value of these works, both diverse and scattered, stems from their pioneering nature in identifying a specific relationship to the past. However, most of them are still in thrall to an ethnocentric approach, an approach which it is possible to overcome today. Instead of employing grammatical categories drawn from the experience of Indo-European languages, we will prefer to study the linguistic units in the diversity of their uses and semantic values - of which the aspectival uses (perfective versus imperfective) are only one part - in order to gain a more subtle understanding of the units traditionally identified as temporal markers. Instead of lamenting the scant historical value of the sources, we will be able to uncover a "texture of history" in genres that seem at first glance not to be historical by identifying the narrative techniques used in them to refer to the past. Instead of the simple analysis of the foundation myths, we will opt for a comparativist study of rites and the reuse of the objects and monuments, which constitute a host of memory traces betokening an active awareness of the past.
More generally, this symposium calls for an in-depth consideration of the experience of the past, based, as far as possible, on recent research outcomes, both Orientalist and Europeanist. Since representations of the past cannot be understood outside of their defining environments, special attention will be paid to the materiality of the Indochinese world within which the Khmer people live, be it sites constructed through narration (rivers and ponds; forests and trees; knolls and mounts; toponyms) or objects showing the "durability of the world" (temples, ritual objects, oral texts, etc.). These traces, which are often perceived as being those of deceased ancestors, link temporal perspectives to one another and thus become the medium for the successive development of representations of the past on the basis of present events and expectations of the future.
Practical guidelines :
The Archaeology Department of the Royal University of Fine Arts in Phnom Penh, in collaboration with the Structure and Dynamics of Languages Research Unit (SeDyL - UMR 8202 - INALCO/IRD/CNRS) and the Exchanges and Training for Khmer Studies Society (Association d'Echanges et de Formation pour les Etudes Khmères), intends to host a panel of specialists in order to explore representations of the past within the Khmer and, more broadly, the Indochinese, world, pursuing four approaches which are not moreover necessarily mutually exclusive:
A comparativist approach within the framework of the aforementioned three disciplines; the past of the Khmers as seen against that of the peoples of the Indochinese Peninsula (the perception of the Khmers' past by the peoples of the Indochinese Peninsula and vice versa; representations of the past among the peoples of the Indochinese Peninsula).
An historical approach: representations of the past through textual sources and the realia of ancient and modern Cambodia (from the 6th to the 19th Century); the awareness and use of genealogical bonds in the struggle for power (circa 1863-1993).
A linguistic approach: the linguistic units that can be used to construct the values of perfectiveness and the past in the Khmer language; the markers of repetition and anaphora; the lexical field of memory and forgetting in the Khmer language; the study of words as traces of an historical past.
An ethnological approach: the representation of the past through myths, rites and the remains of temples, which supply a host of religious bridges to ancient Cambodia.
Download the Call for papers