Not only did her work directly influence my encounter with the site, but it also describes more keenly than any other accounts I've found the affective impacts of physical matter at Manzanar.
A complex “archive of public affect” situated in the ideologically overdetermined American West, Manzanar is ideally suited for analysis of how problematic histories are negotiated publicly and in relation to multiple scales of identity, including personal, cultural, and national.
Like the NPS, I am invested in the “feel” of this fraught historical site.
For me, this means asking how it functions today, for visitors, at several affective registers: the as affect emanating from landscapes, built structures, and objects on-site.
Exactly affecting occurs is hard to say, especially when the bodies in question are nonhuman or inanimate.
Transmission, for Brennan, is a kind of emotional contagion “that is social in origin but biological and physical in effect”—a process dependent on “an interaction with other people and an environment.” Like Sara Ahmed, I see limitations to this kind of “outside-in” model of affect transmission: it ignores the “moodiness” of the embodied subject and risks “transforming emotion into a property, as something that one has, and can then pass on, as if what passes on is the same thing.” Manzanar itself is an object in these terms—saturated and intense—even as it contains a myriad of “sticky” objects that transmit affect as they circulate at the site and, later, in visitors' memories.
I investigate these registers by using insights from material ecocriticism: an approach that “takes matter as a text, as a site of narrativity.” Material ecocritics understand matter in an unconventional way.
More than raw material for human use, matter—the food we ingest, the soil in which we grow food, the natural and human-made structures we see, smell, and touch—has agency in the form of profound impacts on the world and its occupants.
My essay foregrounds the environmental features of the relocation experience—the extreme desert weather, the mountain vistas, the rock gardens, the cemetery, and the reconstructed barracks, guard towers, and barbed wire—in order to enhance existing accounts of Manzanar with a perspective that accentuates the impacts of the natural and built environments at this complex site.
I engage several of the available oral histories, but mostly I use to frame my essay.