Wednesday, September 07, 2005

VirtualDayz: Blogging on Memory and New Media

A number of posts on memory, new media, and memory and new media makes this a blog to keep an eye on. The focus is on personal memory and narrative rather than the cognitive and social, which are my particular interests, but it's difficult to build strong walls in memory studies. Personal memory is always socially constructed and social is always, in some ways, personal. And the cognitive is never far away no matter what type of memory you're considering.

For instance, this entry on Annette Kuhn's Family Secrets: Acts of Memory and Imagination, which is summarized as:
I've been reading Family Secrets: Acts of Memory and Imagination, a memoir by British film scholar Annette Kuhn (1995/2002). A blend of cultural criticism and cultural production that engages both the psychic and the social, the hybrid text brings together a series of autobiographical case histories that use private and public images from Kuhn's past as prompts for “memory work,” which Kuhn defines as “a method and a practice of unearthing and making public untold stories” (9-10). In a manner reminiscent of Roland Barthes in Camera Lucida: Reflections on Photography, Kuhn reflects on her family album, as well as on news photographs and film scenes, to “unravel the connections between memory, its traces, and the stories we tell about the past, especially-though not exclusively-about the past of living memory” and in the process to reveal “the collective nature of the activity of remembering” (Kuhn, 4, 6).
In part, Kuhn is interested in "how images make meaning," and we read images both as individuals and as members of a social group/mnemonic community.
While Elayne Zalis, the author of VirtualDayz, is more interested in Kuhn's autobiographical case histories, I'm much more interested in the lessons Kuhn learned from those histories, which Zalis summarizes as such:
1. Memory shapes our inner worlds.
Unconscious processes often are involved, thus explaining why remembering may introduce thoughts and feelings that defy rational explanations (160).
2. Memory is an active production of meanings.
"Memory is an account, always discursive, always textual. At the same time, memory can assume expression through a wide variety of media and contexts” (161).
3. Memory texts have their own formal conventions.
Because they tend to be metaphorical rather than analogical, memory texts typically have more in common with poetry than with classical narrative. They may be represented as “a montage of vignettes, anecdotes, fragments, 'snapshots', flashes” (162).
4. Memory texts voice a collective imagination.
Oral histories, for example, frequently mix “historical, poetic and legendary forms of speech, whilst still expressing both personal truths and a collective imagination” (165).
5. Memory embodies both union and fragmentation.
Traditionally, the telling of family stories has provided the model for remembering in other types of communities, e.g., of ethnicity, class, generation, although “the condition of modernity” has introduced new modes of relating to and producing memory that suit the needs of individuals in “the era of mechanical reproduction and electronic simulation.” During this era, Kuhn argues, new outlets are offered for “the circulation of collective memory: sound recordings, photographs, television programmes, films, home videos are all part of the currency of daily life.” Equally significant, as she notes, are “new ways of imagining a past that . . . transcends the life of the individual.” Yet, as memory texts proliferate across a range of media, at the same time “memory-communities” shift, and collective remembering changes, too, going in any number of directions-becoming divided, fragmented, blended, united, and/or enriched (167).
Although I'm not sure exactly what time frames Kuhn references here, and I question some of the generalizations she makes, I find her comments on media especially pertinent to considerations of memory and memory work in the digital age, an inquiry her book paves the way for but doesn't address directly.
6. Memory is formative of communities of nationhood.
"With its foothold in both the psyche and in the shared worlds of everyday historical consciousness and collective imagination, memory has a crucial part to play in any national imaginary” (168). This thesis warrants further clarification-What is a “national imaginary”? What are the implications of Kuhn's position regarding the “historical imagination of nationhood” (169)?

I find it interesting that Zalis seems hesitant to accept at least parts of 5 and 6, which I accept as givens. In fact, there's nothing in those six statements that I don't already accept as basic tenets, though I should read Kuhn's book to see what the specific generalizations are. What is new to me is the use of "national imaginary" mentioned in 6. While I've never come across that term before, I love it and am going to start using it. The use of images and the national imaginary play important roles in my dissertation, which is, in fact, a study of "historical imagination of [Anglo-Saxon] nationhood."

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