Reflections on Memory, Trauma, and Politics, #3


Below are two more entries I first made in my philosophical journal on the dates indicated.  They are the fourth and fifth of a series of seven consecutive entries addressing some of the articles in the collection Memory, Trauma, and World Politics, edited by Duncan Bell (Pallgrave Macmillan, 2006). 


Thursday, May 1, 2008

In Bell, pp. 74-95, by Jeffrey K. Olick and Charles Demetriou, “From Theodicy to Ressentiment:  Trauma and the  Ages of Compensation.”  [I seriously question] their reading of Nietzsche’s Genealogy.  [They seem to me to do an equally questionable] discussion of Scheler, and even worse of Arendt.  Only on [author and Holocaust survivor Jean] Améry are they good.  Overall, [I think] the article is a botched attempt at revalorizing the notion of ressentiment–which should, in fact, be left its stench.


Friday, May 2, 2008

In Bell (pp. 54-73), historian  Jay Winter, “Notes on the Memory Boom:  War, Remembrance and the Uses of the Past,” pp. 58-59, quoting Ernst Renan’s “series of lectures in Paris in 1882–entitled ‘What is a nation?'”: 

“A nation is a soul, a spiritual principle.  Two things, which, in truth, are really one, constitute this soul,this spiritual principle.  One is in the past, the other in the present.  One is the possessing in common of a rich legacy of memories, the other is the present-day consent, the desire to live together, the will to  continue to value the individual heritage one has received . . . To have the glory of the past in common, a shared will in the present; to have done great deeds together, and want to do more of them, are the essential conditions for the  constituion  of a people . . . One loves the house which one has built and  passes on.”

Winter comments:  “Such ideas and images were commonplace in late nineteenth century Europe.  What was much newer were powerful means to disseminate them.  Writers on memory reached a much wider audience thatn  ever before.  The expansion of the print trade, the art market, the leisure industry, and the mass circulation press allied to  developments first in photography and then in cinematography, created powerful conduits for the dissemination of texts, images and narratives of the past in every part of Europe and beyond.”

The passage from Renan points to this:  such “collective”or “community” memories are false memories–[but not] in the same sense at issue in [so called] “false memory syndrome”:  They are both manufactured  images, [but the first sort of “memory,” the sort Renan writes about, are] based on and utilize the manipulation of memory and of trauma itself for  some  purpose arrived at by the manipulator, [“collective” as that manipulator may be,] whether conscious or not.

In contrast, “screen memories,” properly so called, issue from the trauma itself, as part of the mechanism  of repression.  Thus, they “screen” in the double sense of hiding or covering over, and of providing a “surface” upon which trauma may project itself.

Sometimes, paradoxically, the very phenomenon of a sort of hyper-real image [of a traumatic occurrence] compulsively recurs and is a common sign of “dissociation,” thereby masking and indicating (at one and the same time) the underlying trauma, serving the very same “repression” of trauma that  is served by “screen memories.”  So such hyper-real images are functionally still “screen memories” [themselves].

The key distinction is between the job of repressing and [that of] manipulating a trauma and the like.

Supposedly “false memories,” in the sense [at issue in so called] “false memory syndrome,” are a form of “screen” memory in the double sense (hide, and give a surface upon which what is hidden projects itself0, as are, too, the hyper-real memories of, for instance, recurrent nightmares or “flashbacks.”

The sort of collective memory Renan describes, however, is not a “screen,” but is manufactured, a product of the manipulation of trauma for the ends of the manipulator.

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