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Alternative – Memory Shape Reality


Our socio-political collective memory shape reality

Pollmann 08(J. Pollmann, 29-02-2008 , University of Leiden, http://www.hum.leiden.edu/history/talesoftherevolt/approach/ap proach-1.html, DA: 6/25/11, CP)
The terms ‘social’ , ‘collective’ or ‘public’ memory, are often contrasted with ‘private’, ‘individual’ or ‘personal’ memory. All these terms derive from a fairly new and interdisciplinary scholarly field that is often referred to as ‘memory studies’, and that according to some critics has developed into a ‘memory industry’.1 However diverse the approaches and premises en vogue in memory studies, they commonly trace their scholarly roots to three sources. First, there were the ideas developed by Maurice Halbwachs in his Les Cadres sociaux de la mémoire in 1925. Halbwachs was the first to argue that individual memory develops in interaction with that of social networks and the larger community. As the product of social change, moreover, memory was itself a process, an ever changing representation of the past. In a second development, and using very different methods, the psychologist Frederick Bartlett showed in 1932 that in the process of remembering humans rely on summaries or ‘schemes’ of the past – when a person ‘recollects’ what happened, he or she will reconstruct a memory from these schemes, often adding or changing details. Finally, building on the work of the German scholar Aby Warburg, students of literature focused on the medieval and early modern ars memoriae, techniques for memorizing that bear an interesting resemblance to Bartlett’s schemes.2 For reasons that are hotly debated but that are not really germane to this proposal, little was done with the first two of these notions until the 1980s, when ‘memory’ suddenly began to make an appearance in a range of different disciplines. The work of psychologists was demonstrating the extent to which memory is subject to change over time and (self)manipulation, issues that became politically controversial through the ‘recovered’ memory of alleged victims of incest and the trial of John Demjanjuk.3 Meanwhile, historians and social scientists who studied twentieth-century memory practices refined Halbwachs’ insight that there is a relationship between changing social discourses, practices and expectations, and the way in which individuals will remember the past.4 Whereas Halbwachs used the term ‘collective memory’, many students of literature and some philosophers prefer the term ‘cultural memory’, while historians and social scientists mostly use the term ‘social memory’. In practice these differences in terminology point less to diverging definitions of communal memory, than to different approaches to studying it. Halbwachs chose an approach based on sociological categories – family, class, religion. Many students of ‘cultural memory’ come to the subject with a strong interest in recollection, repression and the subconscious, sometimes informed by psychoanalytical thought, and trace these in literary and visual sources. Both because of a lack of suitable sources and because of issues of genre, the methods and approaches that they use are not very appropriate in an early modern environment.5 Students of ‘social memory’ tend to focus more on the social environment of memory and ask how individual stories about the past interact with existing narratives and other forms of commemoration. This, it seems to me, is something for which evidence can be found in early modern societies.6 The working assumption of this proposal is that both public and personal memory in the early modern period were shaped by a lively interaction between orality, manuscript and print, ritual and material culture, in which memories promoted ‘from above’ interacted with memories ‘from below’.7 Some scholars have presented social memory as a realm of resistance against the public, dominant version of memory that is known as ‘history’. If traditional history was a discourse about the past that was produced by the victors and that privileged those who had generated written evidence, memory, by contrast, might be seen as the repository of knowledge of ‘people without history’, or traumatized communities who might remember as an ‘act of faith’.8 Yet while it is certainly true that social memory can be used very effectively as an alternative for dominant and state-supported views of the past, it seems unhelpful to construct our understanding of social memory around its a priori opposition to dominant, literate or state-associated memory.9

Indeed, more often than not social memory is the result of a blend between public and personal memorization. For example, the story about food shortages in World War II which I heard an elderly lady tell to her granddaughter on the evening of 4 May 2006, was very much a personal memory. Yet as she told it while they were queuing to lay down their flowers at a war monument, after the two minutes’ silence at the Dodenherdenking by which the Dutch commemorate the dead of World War II, the telling of the tale interacted with, and was probably shaped by, a very public form of commemoration. I believe that similar processes can be detected in the seventeenth century; the history plays about the Revolt that were being staged by exiles from Flanders and Brabant in the Republic could be highly political public statements in discussions about war and peace. Yet, as we shall see below, their political commitment was undoubtedly kindled by the frequent rehearsal of personal memories about the circumstances that had forced their families to leave Flanders and Brabant. As the German scholar Jan Assmann has emphasized, the social memory of an event will change once there is no one alive to tell the tale from their own experience, or to have heard it told by those who experienced it themselves. In an effort to bridge the gap between ‘social’ and ‘cultural’ memory, Assmann argues that at this stage ‘communicative’ memory (kommunikatives Gedächtnis) will transform itself into ‘cultural’ memory (kulturelles Gedächtnis).10 As our project will cover a period of about 135 years, we will examine whether we can see such a transition at work, and investigate the ‘floating gap’ between these two forms of memory. A final point to investigate is whether processes of social memory in early modern Europe were actually similar to those in the modern world. Pierre Nora, one of the founders of memory studies in the 1980s, distinguished between a primordial world before the French Revolution in which milieux de mémoire had still been able to function, and a modern world of historical remembrance in which only lieux de mémoire were left.11 While critics agree that Nora’s notions of pre- industrial milieux de mémoire were poorly founded, the idea that ‘modernity’ has had an impact on memory remains widespread. For Aleida Assmann, the years around 1800 were the moment at which the ‘art of memory’ was replaced by the ‘force (vis)’ of memory, in which memory became the motor behind new social developments.12 Others have mentioned mass communication and state formation as the catalysts for profound changes in collective memory.13 Yet such interpretations seem to ride on the back of other assumptions about early modern European culture, such as its alleged lack of a public sphere, its poorly developed notion of the ‘self’, or its deficient historical consciousness, that have already been challenged by historians of the early modern period.14 At the same time, the gap between history and memory that many modernists discern is much less evident in early modern culture. One obvious task for the team is to develop a better-founded understanding of the distinctive features of early modern social memory. The novelty of its this project lies (a) in its comparative exploration of the impact that memory practices had on the forging of new identities in the seventeenth-century Low Countries, (b) in its examination of a wide range of media and memory practices, (c) in its focus on the relation between personal and public memory practices in early modern society, and (d) in the attempt to establish what was distinctive about early modern memory practices. The Low Countries offer an ideal laboratory for a student of comparative memory development; a population that shares a past is divided in two opposing camps which develop different canonic versions of that past. Moreover, it offers an opportunity to compare a state in which the central authorities did much to spread a canonic version of the past, with the much more diffuse and decentralized memory practices that prevailed in the Republic. The main methodological innovation of this project consists in its approach to the sources. By approaching ‘public’ memory as any form of memory available in the public sphere, we consciously look beyond the state as an engineer of social memory. We define ‘personal’ memory as any form of remembrance in which persons establish a link between themselves (or their ancestors) and past events. By broadening the source base for personal memory to any form of evidence for storytelling about the Revolt, we are circumventing many of the problems that are associated with reconstructing personal memory in this period. Thus our storytellers do not have to have been eyewitnesses, and we do not need to know what their own source for the story is. By focusing on the act of ‘telling the tale’, we are also capturing a much greater diversity of memory acts, that are less restricted by genre than would be a concentration on memoirs alone. Equally, it is no longer a disadvantage that our storytellers are ‘playing to the gallery’; instead, that gives us vital information on what made their tales relevant. The proposal comes at a time when there is a growing yet also quite disparate interest in early modern memory in evidence. It should come exactly at the right moment to position itself at the heart of debates and scholarly developments that are not just relevant for memory studies, but that will show how the study of early modern memory can help us to gauge the impact of devastating civil conflicts on identity formation.
Memory Shapes Reality

Behrendt, 10 (Kathy Behrendt, October 2010, Scraping Down the Past: Memory and Amnesia in W. G. Sebald's Anti-Narrative Kathy Behrendt Wilfrid Laurier University Volume 34, Number 2, October 2010, DA: 6/26/11, CP)
The narrativist outlook portrays the self as viewing or actively fitting the events of life into some coherent and meaningful form, pattern, or story, where the meaning yielded takes us beyond a mere chronology of events. The nature of this story, if discussed, is often construed along conventional lines as involving a traditional narrative trajectory, including some form of closure: "A self is just a kind of life that has a beginning, a middle, and an end that are connected in a traditional storylike manner"; 2 one's life is a story that is "understood as a conventional, linear narrative."3 Sometimes the narrative in question is classified generically, as saga or hagiography, tragedy or comedy, or (for the particularly unfortunate amongst us), farce.4 Many narrativists also treat the self as literally the product that results from this endeavor, and narrative as a condition of self-understanding.5 Hence, "A person's identity is created by a self-conception that is narrative in form . . . . constituting an identity requires that an individual conceive of his life as having the form and the logic of a story" (Schechtman, p. 96), and it is a "basic condition of making sense of ourselves, that we grasp our lives in a narrative" (Taylor, p. 47); narrative is the "essential genre" of self-representation, "and not merely . . . one normative ideal among others" (Flanagan, p. 149). This self-constructing, meaning-generating picture of narrative is sometimes accompanied by a view to the effect that the narrative impulse is basic and is the means by which we experience the world's goings-on in general: "Narrative is not the work of poets, dramatists and novelists reflecting upon events which had no narrative order before one was imposed by the singer or the writer; narrative form is neither disguise nor decoration" (MacIntyre, p. 211), and we "seem to have no other way of describing 'lived time' save in the form of a narrative" (Bruner, "Life as Narrative," p. 12). This rough characterisation captures what we might call the "strong" narrativist outlook. Other, more moderate supporters of the view treat the narrative impulse as potentially beneficial to self-understanding, but they do not promote, and sometimes actively discourage, any literal reading of the claim that we are the authors of our lives. Nor do they insist that we cannot but see the world through a narrative lens (as opposed to sometimes imposing such structure retrospectively on our experience).6 Memory is undeniably important to any narrativist approach to the self. Personal (sometimes called "experiential" or "episodic") memory is a minimal condition for narrativity whether or not the self literally depends on the act of self-narration. One has to remember one's past [End Page 395] in order to tell the story of one's life. This is not to deny that other things contribute to the self, but simply to acknowledge memory as a primary factor. Even narrativist Marya Schechtman, who recognizes the power of the subconscious in shaping the self, admits that "the narrative self-constitution view does not allow a person's self-narrative to remain entirely subterranean" (p. 114). Our self-narratives must to some considerable degree be explicit to ourselves. A large part of this explicit self-narrative will inevitably consist in remembered experiences; they form the main material of the story. Hence personal memory is of clear interest and value for narrativist accounts of the self in general. Skepticism about narrativist approaches to the self (especially in their more common, stronger incarnation) has been expressed by a significant minority. But Galen Strawson's provocative "Against Narrativity" is the primary catalyst for the current debate.7 In that paper he contests many of the above-mentioned claims. He rejects the narrativist view as a psychological description of how we all in fact regard our lives, and he condemns it as a normative prescription of how we ought to think of ourselves and our lives. Viewing our lives as stories and ourselves as characters in them does not enhance our self-understanding, our well-being, or our metaphysical credentials as selves.
Memory is key to discovering interpersonal narratives and looking back on history

Behrendt, 10 (Kathy Behrendt, October 2010, Scraping Down the Past: Memory and Amnesia in W. G. Sebald's Anti-Narrative Kathy Behrendt Wilfrid Laurier University Volume 34, Number 2, October 2010, DA: 6/26/11, CP)
What are we to say when the pardonable loss of personal memory is sustained by a potentially reprehensible bout of historical amnesia? Whatever we may think of Strawson's indifference towards explicit recall of past experience, it becomes pernicious if we extend it beyond personal memory, to include historical memory and awareness. It is not enough that past historical events merely shape the present in ways we are not aware of. We often demand their presence be more explicit. The model of scraping down past memories and effacing them from explicit consciousness is not a palatable option for historical memory. It calls to mind historical blindness, in the form of regrettably familiar cases of collective amnesia concerning atrocities. And if personal amnesia is somehow promoted or sustained through historical-factual forgetting it [End Page 400] is likewise tainted by it. Thus Austerlitz must recover his early personal memories in order not to run the risk of being party to one of the more notorious outbreaks of collective amnesia of our times. So while it may be one thing to ask whether Austerlitz's historical amnesia is explicable (it is, and suffering and trauma are in large part behind it), there remains considerable scope to question whether it is ethically tolerable. As it happens, we have reason to take Austerlitz at his word when he claims to be at fault for his previous ignorance of the history of persecution of the Jews (p. 279). This apportioning of some of the responsibility for historical memory to the victim is not an idiosyncratic notion on Sebald's part; it is a recurring theme in the burgeoning field of the ethics of remembering.15 If we follow the view that certain strands of historical memory are morally imperative for all concerned, then Austerlitz is indeed in the midst of a crisis. Whatever psychological mechanisms motivate the repression of Austerlitz's personal memory, they also hinder his ability to fulfill an imperative of recognizing certain historical facts. While this is a situation that we may lament, it is not one we can endorse. We cannot therefore neglect the relation between the personal and the broader historical past. In an effort to distance himself from the rival narrativist position, Strawson has not taken into account these particular potential repercussions of downplaying the importance of personal memory, viewing it as he does in isolation from historical memory. The case of Austerlitz provokes the question of whether we can entirely isolate the personal from the historical in memory. In so doing, it casts doubt on the wisdom of downplaying memory's significance in the anti-narrativist account. But it does not, I will argue, thereby undermine the anti-narrativist account. IV Austerlitz may well appeal to the narrativist, not just because of its deep concern with memory, but its embedding of personal histories within their larger social and historical contexts. Pioneering narrativist Alasdair MacIntyre, in contrast with Strawson, is highly attuned to the connection between personal and historical memory when framing his view. He claims that a non-narratively-inclined self "can have no history." Upon the narrativist outlook, on the other hand, "the story of my life is always embedded in the story of those communities from which I derive my identity," and this social identity coincides with historical [End Page 401] identity (p. 221). Indeed, MacIntyre cites the case of a German born after 1945 who feels the war has no moral relevance for his present life, as a prime example of culpable, individualistic, anti-narrative detachment (pp. 220-21). For MacIntyre, personal narrative and historical sensibility go hand in hand. Austerlitz might be taken as an illustration of MacIntyre's point. I think any attempt to affiliate Sebald with a narrative view of the self such as MacIntyre's is misguided for several reasons. If Strawson suffers from a disregard of the connection between personal and historical memory, MacIntyre is guilty of extreme optimism concerning the benefits of that connection. For him, mindfulness of the larger historical context of one's life story helps the narrative quest for the unity of a life. This in turn is ultimately a quest for the good—a concept which itself depends on a notion of telos and closure (pp. 218-21). Once again, however, Sebald's work provides a striking set of counter-examples, in which the recovery of personal together with historical memory leads not to self-completion but to self-dissolution. Austerlitz is an extreme case in point. His uncovering of the surfeit of possible meanings, clues and connections related to the past results in what has aptly been called "an inversed Bildungsroman"—one that leads to "perpetual wandering and not to a resolution, the discovery of the self, personal growth, or the comfort of home."16 But there are many other occasions in Sebald in which the pursuit of memory, both personal and historical, is tied to a depletion of identity.

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