Memory is difficult to pin down and while the study of it has not been subject to the same whirl wind trends one sees in fashion its has, as David Bowie might say gone through some Ch-ch-ch-ch-Changes, In Anticipation of a Post-Memory Boom Syndrome
Google Books lists 936 books published in the past decade alone with “social memory,” “collective memory,” “cultural memory,” “public memory,” or “popular memory” in the title (and 166 books with titles that refer to memory and narrative).
[ ]…While these terms have persisted, other terms have also been added. “Social memory” surfaced in the late 1980s and has since gained currency (Burke 1989; Connerton 1989, 6-40; Collard 1989; Nerone and Wartella 1989). It was employed in a fruitful collaboration between the anthropologist James Fentress and the medievalist Chris Wickham, who sought to dissociate collective memory from a Jungian notion of “collective unconscious” and to redress what they considered to be an over-emphasis on group identities and a neglect of individual consciousness in the writings of Halbwachs and of his mentor, Émile Durkheim (Fentress and Wickham 1992).
Collective unconscious has always struck me as terrific grist for sci-fi and fantasy writing, but individuals tend to alter memories. They churn them through their own intellectual capabilities – the organic experience is slightly unique. Then individual experience would also tend to shape perceptions. For a certain generation the JFK assassination is frequently cited as an event where everyone remembers where they were and what they were doing, but the meaning and intensity likely varies. A collective experience, but the memories of individuals becomes unique. As that generation passes on it even becomes less and less a collective experience.
If Paul Ricœur’s monumental Time and Narrative (1983) was seminal to the emergence of interest in narrativity, his subsequent tome Memory, History, Forgetting may be another landmark for Memory Studies insofar as it forcefully demonstrates the centrality of forgetting to our understanding of memory (2000, 536-592). Whereas it is self-evident that there can be no remembrance without forgetting and practically all studies acknowledge the inherent selectivity of memory, the study of social/cultural amnesia is still in its infancy. Contemplating the overall neglect of forgetting in psychology, Jens Brockmeier proposed a cultural-psychological approach to narrative as a means of exploring the dialectics of remembering and forgetting (2002). Forgetting is the topic of thought-provoking treatises by David Gross (2000) and Marc Augé (2004), and more recently Paul Connerton has outlined a preliminary classification which allows for more subtle distinctions between “types of forgetting” (Connerton 2008). Aspiring to move beyond these initial steps, a sustained focus on forgetting would require revisiting many of the sources associated with memory and rigorously interrogating gaps, omissions and absences in the narratives. It would also facilitate further debate on the more ethically charged topic of forgiving, which is intrinsically tied to forgetting (Ricœur 2000, 593-658; Margalit 2000, 183-210).
The recent and on going nascent movement of tea baggers, whether or not a phenomenon fueled by astroturf special interests, is also a freakish display of collective denial and selectivity of memory. To acknowledge that they – the tea baggers – were major enablers of the variety of policies and events that lead to the Great Recession – would, if we lived in a more rational culture, bring the tea baggers to a painful epiphany. They would have to accept responsibility and even accept their ideological opponents were and are correct. Should such a thing happen is as likely as an alien spacecraft landing on the White House lawn. The power of denial puts the odds beyond measure, but in the event that they have this astounding personal discovery we would also witness one of the largest ever collective blown fuse.
Some short takes:
Albert V. Crewe dies at 82; physics professor captured first image of an atom – “In 1970, Crewe used a scanning transmission electron microscope of his own invention at the University of Chicago to capture uranium and thorium atoms.”
James Fallows series on the mainstream press ( that includes you Chris Matthews) who for the most part decided that President Obama’s Asian tour was either a failure or accomplished little. This is the kind of thing that repeated often enough does create a collective memory, one made of unicorn hair and fairy dust, but hey the press is librul and they’re professionals. If nothing else the President accomplished what his all hat no cows predecessor could not do in two terms. Obama got the Chinese to agree to censure Iran – Iran Censured Over Nuclear Program by U.N. Watchdog. I would not say Obama accomplished miracles – neither does Fallows – only that sometimes its actually a subtle mix of results. Some of these professional journalists who are well educated and make six figure salaries are then capable of doing subtle if they chose to.