Historizar la memoria
“One of the significant contributions of memory studies has been to explore how the construction of the past, through a process of invention and appropriation, affected the relationship of power to society. The “politics of memory” (at times, “politics of identity”) has emerged as a leading theme in the growing body literature about memory (…) This theme is no doubt illuminating to our understanding of the functions and meanings of collective memory. But it seems to me only partially illuminating, for one consequence of it is the tendency to reduce memory, which is fundamentally a concept of culture, to the political.
The problem with memory defined in terms of politics and political use is that it becomes an illustrative reflection of political development and often is reletivized to ideology (…) More important, the result of memory being sacrificed to an analysis of politics and political use is, often, to ignore the category of the social (…) By sactifying the political while underplaying the social, and by sanctifying the cultural to the political, we transform memory into a “natural” corollary of political development and interests. Consequently, we are the poorer in method and theory to analyze crucial memory issues that cannot be reduced to the political: the relations between modernity (and postmodernity) and memory; the obsession with and/or neglect of memory, forgetting, and conservation in modern and premodern societies. Furthermore, one unfortunate side effect of treating memory as a symptom of politics is the lack of explorations of power in areas that are not politically evident (…) We miss a whole world of human activities that cannot be immediately recognized (and categorized) as political, although they are decisive to the way people construct and contest images of the past (…).The beauty of memory is that it is imprecise enough to be appropriated by unexpected hands, to connect apparently unrelated topics, to explain anew old problems.
(…) [T]he history of memory [m]ust be more rigorous theoretically in articulating the relationship between the social, the political, and the cultural and, at the same time, more anarchical and comprehensive in using the term memory as an explanatory device that links representation and social experience (…) That a given memory exists, that it has a symbolic representation and a political significance is obvious, but in itself it explains little if we do not place this memory within a global network of social transmission and symbolic representation.
(…) We have to distinguish between memory as a heuristic device and memory as part of the mental equipment of a society, of an age. It is not always clear whether “memory” is used as an imposed methodological tool to analize how a given society constructed a past (…) or whether “memory” was indeed a contemporary metaphor to understand the past (…) And so, perhaps the first task of the history of memory is to historize memory”
Alon Confino, “Collective Memory and Cultural History: Problems of Method”, American Historical Review, 102 (5), 1997, pp. 1386-1403.
“Every individual memory constitutes itself in communication with others. These “others”, however, are not just any set of peoples, rather they are groups who conceive their unity and peculiarity through a common image of their past (…) Every individual belongs to numerous such groups and therefore entertains numerous collective self-images and memories (…) “[C]ommunicative memory” includes those varieties of memory that are based on everyday communications (…).
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 preserves the store of knowledge from which a group derives an awareness of its unity and peculiarity (…) 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 knowledge are not controlled by what Blumenberg calls “theoretical curiosity”, but rather by a “need for identity” as described by Hans Mol (…) Cultural memory works by reconstructing, that is, it always relates its knowledge to an actual and contemporary situation. True, it is fixed in immovable figures of memory and stores of knowledge, but every contemporary context relates to these differently, sometimes by appropriations, 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 objectivized meaning into its own perspective, giving it its own relevance
(…) The distinction between the communicative memory and the cultural memory is not identical with the distinction between oral and written language.
(…) The binding together of the knowledge preserved in cultural memory has two aspects: the formative one in its educative, civilizing, and humanizing functions, and the normative one its functions of providing rules of conduct. (…) Upon such collective knowledge (…) each group bases its awareness of unity and particularity.
The content of such knowledge varies from culture to culture as well as from epoch to epoch. The manner of its organization, and its institutions, are also highly variable (…) Through its cultural heritage a society becomes visible to itself and to others. Which past becomes evident in that heritage and which values emerge in its identificatory appropriation tells us much about the constitution and tendencies of society”.
Jan Assmann, “Cultural Memory and Cultural Identity”, New German Critique, 65, 1995, pp. 125-133.