What is Memory Studies?

For Aristotle, the imagination was a necessary condition for not forgetting and this led him in Poetics to conclude that poets’ depiction of reality lay closer to the truth than that of historians.

In contrast, the relation past-present in Plato is defined as an aporia, which literally means “without a passage (a-poros)”, in other words a deadlock. The aporia persists in Plato, since he perceives the purpose of memory as to remember a “non-object” and to make present an object which no longer exists. This difference between the “has-been” in Aristotle and the “not-anymore” in Plato has been fundamental in all discussions on the issue of remembering and forgetting until today and especially in the field of Memory Studies. Recently Carruthers, in her re-reading of memory in Medieval Culture, has also shown to what extent creativity and imagination was inseparable from memory (Carruthers 2008).

Different uses and interpretations of the past give different prerequisites for the future. The result of such a recognition is the attendant insight that knowledge about the mechanisms that come into force, that is, what is remembered and what has been forgotten, is of extreme importance for the community.

When judge Baltazar Garzón in 2008 broke the amnesty pact in Spain that had been active since the end of the Franco regime by authorizing the exhumation of the remains of the poet García Lorca, who was killed during the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939), he also chose to break a national pact of silence. When French independent groups in October 2011 decided to actively commemorate the Paris massacre of 1961, which took place on 17th of October, during the Algerian War, they also provoked a reaction against the nation’s colonial past. When Norwegians decided to remember 22nd of July 2011 with massive collective manifestations, they also chose to challenge the history of the nation by influencing the meaning and the future perception of their own past and identity.

These few examples show us to what extent past events may be used by different actors, individuals or groups, and in different contexts in order to create, in the present and for the future, a collective perception or feeling of past and identity in time and space. By “using” concrete past events, these individual or collective actors chose to forget or silence others: the production of meaning is a process of selection. All these examples tell us something about historical and more generally past events. They illustrate interactive relationships between understanding of the present, expectations for the future and interpretation of the past, in other words, how remembering and forgetting are perpetually intertwined, how they interact in order to establish a collective discourse on the past and how they influence the terrain of the politics.