Kaitlin Thurlow (University of Georgia)


Kaitlin Thurlow is a PhD student in English at the University of Georgia. She holds a master’s degree in English Literature and a BFA in Painting from the University of Massachusetts. Her research interests include modernist and contemporary Irish fiction and art. Her essay “Sean Scully: Painting a Global Immigrant’s Vision,” appears in the anthology Art History at the Crossroads of Ireland and the United States published in May 2022 by Routledge.


Failing to Remember: Aesthetic Encounters in Damon Galgut’s In a Strange Room

Damon Galgut’s 2010 novel In a Strange Room, begins with an epigraph by artist Vojislav Jakić “He Has No House.” Attributed to a book by the late Yugoslavian artist and to variations of the poem “Autumn Day” by Ranier Maria Rilke, the passage is recalled later in the novel, as the protagonist, “spends a day in a gallery of outsider art.” As an exile who “has no house,” Galgut’s autobiographical narrator, also named Damon, continues on a course of “state travel” describing it not as a “celebration but a kind of mourning, a way of dissipating yourself.” Unsure which way to go, he “does the obligatory things required of visitors, he goes to Matopos and sees the grave of Cecil John Rhodes.” He wants to “feel something” but is unable to “produce the necessary awe or ideological disdain…” Feeling conflicted and ill adapted to react to the remnants of colonial power invites only binary choices of engagement and the encounter fails to provoke a genuine experience of self-discovery. In a decade of centenaries and recent global political and climate shifts, commemoration and memorials draw upon similar themes as those explored in modernist aesthetics and contemporary discourse in memory studies. Using Bill Ashcroft’s dialogic model as an interdisciplinary and transnational lens, this paper will read Galgut’s treatment of memorial alongside other modes of creative production. For instance, in artist Hew Locke’s recent multi-media installation Procession at the Tate Museum, life-size “figures travel through space and time,” mimicking a pageant or carnival. The museum audience can move about the assembly of decorative masked figures and emblems of imperial detritus conscious of their impermanence and temporality. Readings that cross disciplinary boundaries open doors by addressing the multiplicity and connective threads of transnational global exchanges. The uses of modernism help realize the conditions of colonialism through visual and literary expression.