Posts Tagged ‘Cultural Memory’
JOURNALS: New German Critique, No. 65, Cultural History/Cultural Studies (Spring – Summer, 1995), pp. 125-133
No. 65, Cultural History/Cultural Studies (Spring – Summer, 1995), pp. 125-133
In the third decade of this century, the sociologist Maurice Halbwachs and the art historian Aby Warburg independently developed’ two theo- ries of a ”collective” or “social memory.” Their otherwise fundamen- tally different approaches meet in a decisive dismissal of numerous turn- of-the-century attempts to conceive collective memory in biological terms as an inheritable or “racial memory,”2 a tendency which would still obtain, for instance, in C. G. Jung‘s theory of archetypes.3 Instead, both Warburg and Halbwachs shift the discourse concerning collective knowledge out of a biological framework into a cultural one.
We define the concept of cultural memory through a double delimitation that distinguishes it:
- from what we call “communicative” or “everyday memory,” which in the narrower sense of our usage lacks “cultural” characteristics;
- from science, which does not have the characteristics of memory as it relates to a collective self-image.
For the sake of brevity, we will leave aside this second delimitation which Halbwachs developed as the distinction between memory and history and limit ourselves to the first: the distinction between communicative and cultural memory.
[Through communicative] communication, each individual composes a memory which…is (a) socially mediated and (b) relates to a group. Every individual memory constitutes itself in communication with others. These “others,” however, are not just any set of people, rather they are groups who conceive their unity and peculiarity through a common image of their past. Every individual belongs to numerous…groups and therefore entertains numerous collective self-images and memories.
Through the practice of oral history, we have gained a more precise insight into the peculiar qualities of this everyday form of collective memory, which, with L. Niethammer, we will call communicative mem- ory. Its most important characteristic is its limited temporal horizon. As all oral history studies suggest, this horizon does not extend more than eighty to (at the very most) one hundred years into the past, which equals three or four generations or the Latin saeculum. This horizon shifts in direct relation to the passing of time. The communicative memory offers no fixed point which would bind it to the ever expanding past in the passing of time. Such fixity can only be achieved through a cul- tural formation and therefore lies outside of informal everyday memory.
[I]n the context of objectivized culture and of organized or ceremonial communication, a close connection to groups and their identity exists which is similar to that found in the case of everyday memory. We can refer to the structure of knowledge in this case as the “concretion of identity.” …[A] group bases its consciousness of unity and specificity upon this knowledge and derives formative and normative impulses from it, which allows the group to reproduce its identity. In this sense, objectivized culture has the structure of memory. Only in historicism, as Nietzsche perceptively and clairvoyantly remarked in “On the Advantage andDisadvantage of History for Life,” does this structure begin to dissolve.
Just as the communicative memory is characterized by its proximity to the everyday, cultural memory is characterized by its distance from the everyday. Distance from the everyday (transcendence) marks its temporal horizon. Cultural memory has its fixed point; its horizon does not change with the passing of time. These fixed points are fateful events of the past, whose memory is maintained through cultural formation (texts, rites, monuments) and institutional communication (recitation, practice, observance). We call these “figures of memory.” In the flow of everyday communications such festivals, rites, epics, poems, images, etc., form “islands of time,” islands of a completely different temporality suspended from time. In cultural memory, such islands of time expand into memory spaces of ”retrospective contemplativeness” [retrospective Besonnenheit]. This expression stems from Aby Warburg.
Concretion of identity…
Through such a concretion of identity evolves what Nietzsche has called the “constitution of horizons.” The supply of knowledge in the cultural memory is characterized by sharp distinctions made between those who belong and those who do not, i.e., between what appertains to oneself and what is foreign. Access to and transmission of this knowl- edge are not controlled by what Blumenberg calls “theoretical curios- ity,” but rather by a “need for identity” as described by Hans Mol.
Capacity to reconstruct…
No memory can preserve the past. What remains is only that “which society in each era can reconstruct within its contemporary frame of reference.”19 Cultural memory works by recon- structing, that is, it always relates its knowledge to an actual and contem- porary situation. True, it is fixed in immovable figures of memory and stores of knowledge, but every contemporary context relates to these dif- ferently, sometimes by appropriation, sometimes by criticism, sometimes by preservation or by transformation. Cultural memory exists in two modes: first in the mode of potentiality of the archive whose accumulated texts, images, and rules of conduct act as a total horizon, and second in the mode of actuality, whereby each contemporary context puts the objec- tivized meaning into its own perspective, giving it its own relevance.
The objectivation or crystallization of communicated meaning and collectively shared knowledge is a prerequisite of its transmission in the culturally institutionalized heritage of a society. ”Stable” formation is not dependent on a single medium such as writ- ing. Pictorial images and rituals can also function in the same way. One can speak of linguistic, pictorial, or ritual formation and thus arrives at the trinity of the Greek mysteries: legomenon, dromenon, and deiknymenon. As far as language is concerned, formation takes place long before the invention of writing. The distinction between the com- municative memory and the cultural memory is not identical with the distinction between oral and written language.
With this we mean a) the institutional buttressing of communication, e.g., through formulization of the communicative situa- tion in ceremony and b) the specialization of the bearers of cultural memory. The distribution and structure of participation in the communi- cative memory are diffuse. No specialists exist in this regard. Cultural memory, by contrast, always depends on a specialized practice, a kind of ”cultivation.”21 In special cases of written cultures with canonized texts, such cultivation can expand enormously and become extremely differentiated.
The relation to a normative self-image of the group engenders a clear system of values and differentiations in importance which structure the cultural supply of knowledge and the symbols. There are important and unimportant, central and peripheral, local and interlocal symbols, depending on how they function in the production, representation, and reproduction of this self-image. Historicism is positioned firmly against this perspectival evaluation of a heritage, which is centered on cultural identity.
The past is not simply there in memory, but must be articulated to become memory. The fissure that opens up between experiencing an event and remembering it in representation is unavoidable. Rather than lamenting or ignoring it, this split should be understood as a powerful stimulant for cultural and artistic creativity. The temporal status of any act of memory is always the present and not, as some naïve epistemology would have it, the past itself, even tho all memory in some ineradicable sense is dependent on some past event or experience. It is this tenuous fissure between past and present that constitutes memory, making it powerfully alive and distinct from the archive or any other mere system of storage and retrieval.
JOURNALS: New German Critique No. 65, Cultural History/Cultural Studies (Spring – Summer, 1995), pp. 19-36
No. 65, Cultural History/Cultural Studies (Spring – Summer, 1995), pp. 19-36
["Popular culture"] may suggest, in one anthropological inflexion which has been influential with social historians, an over-consensual view of this culture as “a system of shared meanings, attitudes and values, and the symbolic forms (performances, artifacts) in which they are embodied.” But a culture is also a pool of diverse resources, in which traffic passes between the literate and the oral, the superordi- nate and the subordinate, the village and the metropolis; it is an arena of conflictual elements, which requires some compelling pressure – as, for example, nationalism or prevalent religious orthodoxy or class consciousness – to take form as “system.” And, indeed, the very term “culture,” with its cozy invocation of consensus, may serve to distract attention from social and cultural contradictions, from the fractures and oppositions within the whole.
- Edward P. Thompson Customs in Common. Studies in Traditional Popular Cul- ture (New York: New P, 1993) 6
Here … is the outline of one significant line of thinking in Cultural Studies …. It stands opposed to the residual and merely reflective role assigned to “the cultural.” In its different ways, it conceptualizes culture as interwoven with all social practices; and those practices, in turn, as a common form of human activity: sensuous human praxis, the activity through which men and women make history. It is opposed to the base-superstructure way of formulating the relationship between ideal and material forces, especially where the “base” is defined as the determination by “the economic” in any simple sense. It defines “culture” as both the meanings and values which arise amongst distinctive groups and classes, on the basis of their given his- torical conditions and relationships, through which they “handle” and respond to the conditions of existence; and as the lived traditions and practices through which these “understandings” are expressed and in which they are embodied.
- Stuart Hall, ”Cultural Studies: Two Paradigms,” Culture/Power/History. A Reader in Contemporary Social Theory, eds. Nicholas B. Dirks, Geoff Eley, and Sherry B. Ortner (Princeton: Princeton UP, 1993) 527
Foucault’s ideas have sensitized us to the subtle and complex interrelations between power and knowledge, particularly in the modalities of disciplinary and administra- tive organization of knowledge in a society. “Discourse” is a way of theo- rizing the internal rules and regularities of particular fields of knowledge in this sense (their “regimes of truth”), as well as the more general structures of ideas and assumptions that delimit what can and cannot be thought and said in particular contexts of place and time. Such an approach has challenged the historian’s usual assumptions about individ- ual and collective agency and their bases of interest and rationality, help- ing us to see instead how subjectivities are constructed and produced within and through languages of identification that lie beyond the volition and control of individuals in the classic Enlightenment sense.
JOURNALS: New German Critique No. 65, Cultural History/Cultural Studies (Spring – Summer, 1995), pp. 3-17
No. 65, Cultural History/Cultural Studies (Spring – Summer, 1995), pp. 3-17
[...] this event was characterized by sharply focused statements punctuated by intense and often passionately enga- ged debate. At a time when the term “cultural” has established itself as something like a master-trope in the humanities, preying on and displac- ing the notion of the “textual” as used in literary criticism and the “social” as in social history, a conference on cultural history, its past and present practices, and its relationship to the emerging field of cultural studies was certainly timely.
[...] lack of clearly defined disciplinary boundaries in cultural studies also carries its own risks. Interdisciplinary confer- ences in particular are often afflicted by what we might call a premature anti-disciplinarity. In the enthusiasm about crossing disciplinary thresh- olds, participants frequently forget to fully account for the position from which those crossings began. Thus for an undertaking like cultural his- tory it matters much if the point de ddpart is history, sociology, anthropo- logy, literary criticism or art history. If common goals can be articulated around issues of cultural representation, disciplinary practices will vary widely from the archival research of the historian to the participant obser- vation of the anthropologist; from the modelling of the sociologist to the textual or iconological criticism of the literary critic and the art historian. The less such differences in practice are articulated, the more they assert themselves in debate in the form of rancor, irritation, and frustration. In fact, the central controversy of the symposium was precisely over the claims of “disciplinarity” as opposed to the perceived amoand irreverent “boundary-crossing” practices of cultural studies.
Pre- mature anti-disciplinarity is a major problem when it leads to the aban- donment of the archive and the object, to ignoring traditional cultural forms, to the shunning of close reading, and to the forgetting of any- thing but the currently or formerly popular. We perceive this as a more important problem in cultural studies than the often heard accusation of hyper-politicization which simply resurrects the old chestnut of the man- datory separation of politics and culture. The reservations expressed (and often heard at the conference) by historians and literary critics who insist on some grounding in “disciplinarity” are not entirely inappropri- ate. Rather than problematizing and working through traditional dichoto- mies such as text/context, high culture/low culture, fact/fiction, or modernity/postmodernity, cultural studies all too often simply reverses the plus and minus signs in the name of transgression and subversion. Radical constructivists will ridicule the historian’s concern with factic- ity and will in turn be accused of relativism and nihilism. The focus on context will dissolve the text which no longer even has to be read care- fully.2 The triumphalism of the popular and mass cultural replaces the celebration of canonical high culture, but risks becoming equally canoni- cal and exclusionary. Postmodernity and its concerns with the important issues of gender, class, race, and sexuality is seen as a panacea while all the ills of the world are blamed on modernity and Eurocentrism.
The canon which helped stabilize cultural identity across generations by providing what Assmann refers to as a “concretization of identity” in “figures of memory” such as texts, monuments, and insti- tutional practices is now questioned by other cultural constructs focus- ing on gender, multiculturalism, race, and, in a cultural anthropological perspective that recurs to popular culture and the everyday, on once invisible aspects of everyday behavior and habitus.
[...] historicism: the search for quasi-biological organic unities linking philosophical doctrines, artistic styles, poetic expression, and quotidian artifacts. The historicist impulse was evident in the nineteenth-century obsession with musealization, monumentalization, with the “invention of tradition,” and with the quest for the sources of an active principle in the history of states. Cultural history, as Lamprecht defined it in 1896, was histoire totale: the epochal and morphologically constitutive elements of a nation’s collective biography.In contrast to an older tradition of cultural history that exhausted itself in the task of framing the motifs of nationalist discourse, the current revival of interest in cultural history is clearly conceived as a mode of resistance to universalizing, monumentalizing history.
macrohistory, close-ups Thus in the practices of cultural history, one can distinguish between the practitioners of everyday history, who often fall prey to a fetishization or poetization of their discrete multifarious objects, and the historical theorists whose overdetermining use of structural, teleological, or even apocalyptic perspectives on development and transformation loses sight of the fragments and obscured places in history [...]
[A]rchive [...] links the practice of cultural history to memory in a concrete way. [...][C]onceived as compilations of suppressed emotions and behaviors – iconographic repositories of psychological tropes “stored” in collections.Memory, as Benjamin understood it, was an eminently “practical” affair, combining a passion for collection with a sense of history as retrieval.
Christian Boltanski‘s “Missing House,” the Plotzensee Memorial, and “The Topograph of Terror” demonstrates how each of these commemorative sites demands the “empathetic engagement of an informed beholder in the contemplation of material, formal, and documentary configurations.” Particularly evident in the Boltanski work, the artist uses historical research and reconstruction in order to endow a concrete physical environment with the status of a site for memory, “a work of history as well as a work of art.”
[...] Huyssen introduced another complex of issues centered on the cultural contingencies of lived temporality and public memory. He described the inherent instability of all memory and the hybrid temporality emerging from the jumble of a non-synchronous condition of consciousness that is induced electronically by the flicker- ing images of popular culture in the new media. The obsession with memory as well as cultural amnesia, the waning of history in its teleo- logical incarnation and its simultaneous resurrections in the real and in multiple representations are some of the contradictory results of this manner of mediation, which is accompanied by the decline in the public impact of intellectuals and of traditional producers of cultural representations in literature and the arts. The public need for history and cultural memory seems to be real.
Huyssen’s recurrence to classic modernist formulations of memory eventually leads him to a positive formulation of public and pri- vate memory as a strategy to slow down information processing, to resist the dissolution of time in the synchronicity of the on-line archive, and to recover a mode of contemplation outside the universe of simula- tion. His conceptualization of memory tends toward what Warburg termed “retrospective contemplativeness” (retrospektive Besonnenheit: see Assmann, Diers, Weigel, Czaplicka) and what Benjamin meant by Eingedenken [remembrance], but the context of memory in the late twen- tieth century is a fundamentally different one. Thus the politics of mem- ory suggested by Huyssen abandons the emphatically contemplative and redemptive mode of memory that saves the import (not just the image or reconstruction) of the past itself by actualizing it in an active form of remembering and interpretation, in a kind of Vergegenwdrrtigung. That active remembering, as Czaplicka proposes, often involves figures of memory characterized by an openness or allusiveness that involves the contemplative subject in a concrete relation to history through documentation, site, and specificity.
Searching for possibilities of escaping our postmodern amnesia in the mediations of museal culture, Huyssen noted how museum objects may escape or even transcend the fetishization of commodities in the econom- ics of symbolic exchange. As Gottfried Korff suggested in his paper, especially common objects of everyday use, the residues of a former present, saved from history in museums and other collections provide a key to the historicity of everyday life, the sphere of culture which has most often been left in the dark by the grand narratives of cultural history.