When memories take position: cultural memory and mediations
Deadline for contributions: 01/01/2018-15/05/2018
Semioticians at Tartu School Juri Lotman and Boris Uspensky defined culture as “communities’ non-hereditary memory”, that is, a memory that is not contained within genes, but within a symbolic system made out of prescriptions and contradictions, restrictions and conflict. This is what Aleida Assmann, among others, calls cultural memory. It is disputed through social practices we can refer to as mediations: processes of cultural circulation taking place in-between institutionalized productions of sense and the appropriations carried out by common people’s usage.
If political uses of memory tend to select, stabilize and, ultimately, neutralize the past in an intentional and selfish way (a common past that must be preserved and commemorated; a past to be proud of and defended), memories instead tend to take position (Didi-Huberman, 2008); they mobilize and evolve through the impact of repressed affects (Freud, Benjamin, Warbug), revealing “a past that is still alive, plural and off beat; memories activate it in order to destabilize a certain autism of the present” (Martín Barbero, 2011). If unable to recognize itself within institutional figures, icons and symbols, the rediscovery of trauma and general consciousness of historical wounds (the passage from a narrative of triumph to one of scars, from heroism to the victim’s suffering) ends up festering and resurfacing via popular culture reproduced massively; or through the massive as inscribed within the popular, since mediations always imply a return movement.
Where political uses of memory take sides and defend a common memory (a single memory, cliché-memory, deriving from common sense and closed inasmuch it represents an only a canonical and authorized version), memories, in plural, take position; they survive via dissemination and are built through connections and unique, shared points of contact forming a jumble of monuments, signals, untraceable tracks, victories and defeats (Delgado, 2008). The potency of these memories it is not what they have become, but rather what they could have become. These memories do not aspire to power; they challenge power through the distortion of the temporal order fixed by the politics of memory and institutional actors.
Memory has today become a controversial and contradictory terrain, under threat not by suppression or censorship, but by the overabundance of information (Todorov), as well as by the so-called “empire of the instantaneous” (Reyes Mate) to which a narrative industry turned into a form of manufacturing the present constantly submits, therefore losing its conscience of the past by leaps and bounds. In an age marked by generalized amnesia and by a lack of historical consciousness the feeling of rupture between past and present finds a counter-point in the nostalgic enthusiasm celebrating an over-represented past in the so-called commemoration era: the spread of museums and memorials (the city as a museum), the turistification of memory spaces, fascination by retro and vintage design, the new valuation of second-hand markets, the rise of the historical novels and TV series. Media policies regarding memory tend to reinforce a single, unified memory (usually corresponding with national memory) that is appropriated as patrimony, commercialized and fetishized, ignoring that the past cannot be dissociated from dispute and conflict. Memories do not belong to a single time, they imply confrontation, sometimes latent; a coexistence of disparate times in constant tension. It is better to think about memory as a palimpsest and collage, rather than as a phenomenon associated to any linear narrative.
As gleaners bend down to pick up what remains after harvesting memory, in this issue of IC Journal, we invite researchers to search and explore the ways in which a community relates to its past through mediations taking place, suddenly and unexpectedly, through a number of (material or immaterial) dispositifs related to social imaginaries performing a symbolic role within processes of remembrance.
We would particularly welcome contributions focusing on how memories take position in relation to symbolic systems where cultural memory is disputed: from historiography to legislation, iconography an mythology, territory and borders, human rights discourse and peace, flags and emblems, maps and cartography, biographical texts about heroes, monuments and ruins, text-books, travel guides, graffiti, film, dark tourism, plazas, marginal suburbs, music, rites and commemorative celebrations, comic, photography, contemporary art, science-fiction and digital practice, popular religion, superstition, ghosts and its regression.
Assmann, A. (2011). Cultural Memory and Western Civilization: Functions, Media, Archives. New York: Cambridge University Press.
Delgado, M. (2008). Lo común y lo colectivo. El espacio público como espacio de y para la comunicación. Madrid: Medialab Prado. Disponible en http://medialab-prado.es/mmedia/0/688/688.pdf
Didi-Huberman, G. (2008) Cuando las imágenes toman posición. Madrid: Antonio Machado
Lotman, Y. y Uspensky, B. (1978). “On the semiotic mechanism of culture”. En New Literary History 9(2): 211–232. Disponible en http://faculty.georgetown.edu/irvinem/theory/Lotman-SemioticMechanism-1978.pdf
Martín-Barbero, J. (2011). El país que no cabe en el museo de doña Beatriz. Recuperado de: http://www.revistaarcadia.com/impresa/articulo/el-pais-no-cabe-museo-dona-beatriz/25905
Mate, R. (2013). La piedra desechada. Madrid: Trotta.
Todorov, T. (2013). Los abusos de la memoria, Barcelona: Paidós.