D. Memorializing and society’s politics of memory.
Although the foregoing critical comments may appear too radical, they seemed to be confirmed as I continued exploring the various implications of uprooting. It became clear that migration was disruptive not only because of the loss of cultural groundings but also because of the loss of one’s historical roots. Individuals must not only adapt to changing realities, but their sense of identity also depends upon the collective meaning of their past. Yet social psychology has not dealt with this issue: the way in which the historicity of the persons, both in terms of their family sagas as well as of general historical events, determines their social being in the world. Social psychologists have so far viewed the social world, as unencumbered by the complexities of a long-term history, and accepted an equally minimalist view of the individual as a-historical, and de-contextualized, more of an object than a subject (Apfelbaum, 1997). One can easily trace the origins of this epistemological fiction to the credo of a modernity which dismissed the past in order to clear the way for a “new man,” But contrary to B.F. Skinner’s claims in “Beyond Freedom and Dignity” , no one can live without antecedents (Piralian, 1994, p.7). There is no utopian looking forward without looking backwards. The failure to look backwards prevents the possibility of elaborating new forms of subjectivity, argues Couze Venn (2002) . For social psychologists, it is therefore indispensable to explore the impact of legacy and conceptualize the processes of memorializing . This has been at the crux of my more recent work dealing with memorialisation. Here, as in other facets of my work, the analysis is again grounded on the observation of extreme situations, such as genocide, torture or apartheid, because the devastating consequences of being unable to take grasp or process the past, are in these cases particularly acute and more readily visible.
“I can't throw a bridge between the present and the past, and therefore [I] can't make time move”claims Eva Hoffman (1989, p. 116-117 ), who as a child after World War 2, migrated with her parents from Poland to Canada.
This comment is a perfect illustration of the devastating consequences when a leaded silence hovers over the family saga, and also shows that in order to move forward, one must have a strong sense of the past. Knowledge of the past helps to process the present and provides a foundation on which to ground the future. Lacking such knowledge, children of both the Armenian and Jewish genocide survivors have described similar difficulties finding places in a world in which they feel like “cultural orphans” because of the mysterious empty spaces in their life histories. Even when historical knowledge is available through official accounts, however, it often remains disembodied, and can never be fully integrated with one’s own history. It is the memory of our past that serves as a driving force and structuring factor in the construction of our identities.
My interest in these issues had been first triggered in 1977, while I was travelling across the United States inteviewing my social psychology “forefathers” (D. Katz, T. Newcomb, F. Allport, H. Kelley, J. Thibaut, etc) in conjunction with my critical historiography work. I found in the bookstores of all the universities I visited, an abundance of first-hand accounts of Holocaust survivors, including narratives by their children describing how heavily burdened they felt by the silence of their parents, who refused to speak of their past history. I also was invited on several occasions to attend groups of children of these survivors where their “problems of being socially in the world” were discussed. Why had the silence within the family, enhanced by the collective social amnesia about the Holocaust, been so damaging? And how could one explain the unexpected efforts of survivors, after thirty years of silence, to seek a public forum for their personal history and memories? Clearly, as the years passed by, the memory of the Shoah was becoming more and more distant and ritualized, rather than remembered and directly narrated. Memorialising was a way to save this event from oblivion and delay the time when it would be nothing more than ‘mere history,’ but this was only part of the explanation
I had observed no similar phenomenon in France but this was not really surprising since we have quite a different approach to social problems. However, the Holocaust also gained public attention when the French “deniers”, those who denied the full reality of the Holocaust, claimed that no genocide had taken place. In November 1978, l’Express, a respectable weekly magazine (4/11/78) reported the statement of the former Commissionerof Jewish Affairs in the Vichy regime, Darquier de Pellepoix, who claimed that only lice had been gassed in Auschwitz. Almost simultaneously, the equally respectable French newspaper Le Monde opened its columns to Henri Faurisson who, in a brief article entitled “Good news,”announced that there had been no gas chambers.
The simultaneity of the reclaiming of the Holocaust by survivors and of its denial by the negationists was puzzling and deserved attention. It was as if the taboo which had been responsible for the prior years of silence and collective amnesia had suddenly been lifted (Apfelbaum, 1983). While the Holocaust deniers took advantage of the silence to disseminate their pernicious ideas, they were opposed by the testimonies of survivors speaking out against the collective amnesia. Both could be understood as reacting to parsimonious official narratives where the events had been publicly recorded, and their arguments emphasized the contradictions between private and public memory. It seemed to me that this situation was being played out at both the individual psychological level and the broader interpersonal level of society. Consequently, I set out to explore the different facets and interpersonal levels of memorializing, in other words, the interplay between private and public memory and the way in which the state politics of memory determines our social existence.
I have already emphasized that one’s identity must be rooted in a historical continuity. But the processing and assimilation of the past is never just a solitary procedure. It is, on the contrary a highly social process of communications and interchanges. “No one finds peace in silence, even when it is their choice to remain silent,” claims Dori Laub (1995, p.164). The vital importance of telling in order to exist socially in the world has been strongly documented, in particular by Armenian psychoanalysts such as Jeanine Altounian (1990) and Hélène Piralian (1994). But I also found great inspiration in the half century old writings of Maurice Halbwachs. He had already (Halbwachs, 1924) stressed the importance of interpersonal meaningful exchanges for memorialization. Namely, that storing individual experiences and emotions into memory depends on the possibility of sharing them with others and, I would add, on the trust the narrator has in the interlocutor’s capacity to hear. Traumatic personal experiences and memories that appear meaningless to others induce silence and alienation from one’s experiences and environment. Survivors of genocide or of other dislocating experiences, such as torture or rape, often report the sense of dissociation they feel between their private and public existence. Halbwachs also extensively demonstrates the way in which different social institutions (such as, for example, the family, schools and religious systems) legitimize private memory by setting the standards for normative truth, or to put it in contemporary terminology, by determining the official version of events..
My own work followed this line. I went on to examine how telling and memorialising were further influenced -- facilitated or hindered -- by official narratives accounting for traumatic events, This is accomplished at the collective public level through history books, legal responses to collective violence, and various forms of commemoration. It is noteworthy that the near-continuous chain of genocidal events, and regimes marked by terror, torture and gross violations of human rights throughout the second half of the XXth century, and, on the other hand, the increasing concern with human rights have led, over the last few decades, to the invention of new and distinctive legal forms of responses to genocide, torture and dislocation (see Minow, 1998). In the aftermath of massive violence, as societies transition away from terrorist or dictatorial regimes, they have found it necessary to address their past in order to establish the basis for social trust and peaceful coexistence between former adversaries.
Whether it is an official government “apology” for past harm (e.g. to the aboriginal peoples or to the Holocaust survivors when President Chirac recognized the responsibility of the state in the Jewish population’s deportation from France), a reconciliation process, or an international tribunal for war crimes and mass rape, these actions all represent some form of transitional justice (Teitel, 2000) carried out by the state. They provide an official framework to account for what happened. This allows victims to see their suffering and disruptive experiences as the consequence of a broader social cataclysm, and facilitates the beginning of a restorative process.
Whatever form they may take, official public narratives place personal experiences in the larger flow of History, serve to legitimize individual acts of remembering, and helps those who have been victimized to come out of anonymity; to regain their sociality and sense of historicity.
At a more general level, this analysis of memorializing stresses once again how individual well-being and social existence is shaped by broad societal currents and political currents and the necessity for social psychologists to include these dimensions in their analyses. To the extent that the state politics of memory defines public impressions of historical realities and is itself contingent upon compromises between ideals of justice and pragmatic politics, our sense of identity and social existence may be substantially connected with fluctuations of Realpolitik.
8. And what now? Did she do well ?
Everything, then, seemed clear and righteous. But now, I feel lost. Life is behind me and suddenly everything needs to be thought out again (Makine Le testament français, p. 229 my translation)
As I am writing these pages and looking/reflecting back at these years through the looking glass of the recent/young generation of psychologists, I become increasingly aware how presomptuous, and even ironic, might seem to insist, as I have done on several occasions, on the challenge that these ideas have been for the Establishment. Yet, they have been considered so at the time when they were first formulated. I am part of a whole generation of psychologists who have been significantly affected in one way or another by the changes in the socio-political and intellectual climate of the 1960's-- the counter-cultural movements, the anti-psychiatry movement, the civil rights, as well as the feminist movements. The result has been a deep commitment to a critical perspective in psychology and the movement placed its protagonists in positions of outsider to their discipline; but it has also created a strong alternative scientific community, an intellectual family which helped each of us to continue to exist within the institution even when the price to pay was sometimes quite high/substantial (one sees here at work the process of regrouping which I have described above (see p.26 of this manuscript). Clearly, things have moved to a large extent over the last thirty years or so and critical work is no longer the terrain of the margins (see Valérie Walkerdine, 2002, p.2). Nor is it limited to addressing the pitfalls of psychology. It has gained visibility and become an established area. Two examples among many other possibilities, illustrates the diversity and variety of euristically stimulating research trends which are today fast expanding : the first Millennium Conference on critical psychology, held in Sydney in 1999 and more along the line of explorations in cultural diversity, the book edited by Corinne Squire on Culture in Psychology.
As this voyage into the past comes to an end, I feel that my life in social psychology has been well worth living. Is it because the autobiographical process is “first of all a task of personal salvation” (Gusdorf, 1980, p.39)? Even though I have tried to be honest, no one can ever be sure of this. Autobiographical memory and interpretative appraisal are so intimately related that any final evaluation is likely to be biased in a positive direction.
Speaking of selective memory, I certainly have not given full credit to all the encounters which have been meaningful in my professional life. There is one, however, that I cannot pass over in silence because it marked a major epistemological turnabout in my thinking, which could (or should?) have led me to start working from radically different premises, or to even give up social psychology altogether -- I did even for a while consider opening an “epistemological restaurant” as a gesture of protest.
The encounter occurred while I was in Kansas, interviewing Fritz Heider, and met Leon Rappoport, who invited me to give a talk at his nearby university . He drove me from Kansas City to Manhattan (Kansas) in an old, unreliable Chevrolet with a failing heating system, blowing alternatively cold and hot air. I was warned that the car could break down any minute and we could be stranded in the midst of the prairies which I first discovered on this occasion This landscape appeared very inhospitable and sadly monotonous, and it triggered off fearful fantasies of solitary confinement. I felt miserable and wondered why I had come until Leon started to speak of his ongoing work on the Holocaust with his historian colleague George Kren. He discussed their immersion in the Holocaust literature and the difficulty of finding ways to properly conceptualize the material, and last but not least, what he saw as the wide ranging epistemological implications of the Holocaust.
This conversation, as later the reading of Kren and Rappoport’s book “The Holocaust and the Crisis of Human Behavior” (1980), stayed with me over the years because it opened my eyes to another level of critical consciousness, and was the starting point of my growing doubts about social psychology as a whole. It later dawned on me (Apfelbaum, 1982), that perhaps Kren and Rappoport’s engagement with such profoundly disturbing existential issues and their implications for all of us, including social scientists, had been possible, or at least facilitated, by their isolation in a stark rural environment, and relative freedom from pressures to publish or perish. I don’t remember the details of the conversation, nor do I wish to summarize the main theses of their book. But the arguments developed in their conclusion remain all too tragically relevant today given the near-continuous chain of genocidal events throughout the second part of the 20th century. I read them as an inescapable demand for social scientists to face the implications of the failure of Western moral values to prevent the horrific behaviors revealed by the Holocaust. “If one keeps at the Holocaust long enough, then...one knows, finally, that one might either do it, or be done to.” (P.126). If this conclusion is accepted, then conventional views of the Holocaust as a momentary historical aberration (Apfelbaum, 1982; see also Bauman, 1989) must be rejected, and we must re-examine our assumptions about the fundamental dimensions of human nature. The whole social science project has largely been based on the idea that people are intrinsically good, and if we can discover why they occasionally become violent and destructive, we can find scientific“cures” to prevent this.
Have we not as social scientists missed the relevant questions?
Let me end with a final word from the recent Nobel Prize winner Imre Kertesz. In his book “Kaddish Pour un Enfant qui ne naîtra pas”, he recounts how one of his fellow inmates saved his life one day by bringing him his daily food allowance at the risk of being shot. In this environment, such an altruist act was highly irrational, claims Kertesz, who concludes that ultimately, what needs to be explained about human behavior is the good not the evil.
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iI am most grateful to Leon Rappoport for his thoughtful and critical reading of the various versions of this manuscript, for his extensive editing of french tainted english and most of all for his constant priceless support and intellectual exchanges
iiDirecteur de Recherche Emérite, CNRS. Email address Mailing address 2 rue Jules Breton Paris 75013
iiiIn the 1960's, the Berkowitz’s series “Advances in experimental social psychology” served, and Allport’s Handbook of social psychology, were two of the major references defining the legitimate fields of the discipline
ivThe historian Michelle Perrot (1987) is the only one who, in her autobiographical essay, comments on the fact that, during the war, she never thought of the deportees while she had often thought of the war prisoners.
vEven years later, the Laboratoire de Psychologie sociale still was the meeting place of “marginals”claims one of its members ( Jean Pierre Deconchy, 19/04:2000 in Delouvée, 2000 p.60) “and it has been the grand plaisir of these exalting years. The very grand plaisir”
viUpon his return from the US, Georges Gurvitch
, in 1945, led the project of a sociological center which was to be the Centre d’Etudes Sociologiques (Mendras 1995 p.19); he was in favor of an empirical sociology; as for Jean Stoetzel, who took over the chair o f social psychology after Daniel Lagache, he was very influenced by Lazarsfeld writings but also created the public opinion poll institute, l’IFOP in 1937 (p. 30) and was convinced that sociology had to develop into a Comtian social physics .(p.32).
vii Quoique les recherches soient variées au Laboratoire de Psychologie sociale, un trait dominant en serait sans doute la conjugaison de soucis de formalisation (conceptuelle et, autant que faire se peut, mathématique) et d’exploration clinique. Par ailleurs, le modèle mental de la vérification, même s’il n’est pas toujours appliqué (car on pratique aussi des enquêtes) est certainement l’expérimentation.” (Laboratoire de Psychologie Sociale, 1960; p.216; cité par Delouvée, P.38).
viiiSince that time the Sorbonne no longer exists as an academic entity. There are now some twelve universities scattered around Paris.Today, one university has kept the label “Sorbonne” where no psychology is taught. Otherwise it is just a building which hosts offices and classrooms of several different universities.