Kuhn on Memory

steampunk_icon_for_Safari_by_yereverluvinuncleber-d4zhax0Annette Kuhn has written two major works in memory studies and this chapter in Memory and Methodology provides the tale of her journey. In some ways, that makes it the antithesis of what I hope to do; she is writing about how she moved through memory, while I will be writing how memory is moving. In other ways, it is very similar.

“personal memory materials–artefacts” (179)

“A critical deconstruction would attend to the narrative strategies and rhetorical devices at work in autobiographical texts, and with the ways in which the autobiographical self is textually constructed” (181).

She says she looks at revisionist autobiographies which “incorporate into their writing implicit or explicit critiques, even deconstructions, of traditional modes” (181).

They “subvert assumptions about the transparency, authenticity, or ‘truth’ of memory” (182).

At this point in the chapter, Kuhn discusses a series of autobiographical stories which featured school girl shots of the authors, but never commented on the photographs within the texts. She begins to focus on visual rhetoric at this point.

“What is the function of images in relation to written accounts…?” she asks (182).

“images are just as much productions of meaning as words, even if the ‘language’ is different” (182).

“Personal photos have a … special, place in the production of memories about our own lies” (183).

She says, with photos, millions have gained “a new kind of access to the past” (183).

“Personal photographs are commonly taken as evidence” (183), which made me think of rhetoric again.

“how images make meanings…. every photograph contains a range of possible meanings…” (183).

Those photos “embody coded references to, and even help construct, realities” (183).

Photos can have “status as cultural artifacts” (184) and “carry meanings which have as much to do with aesthetic and cultural conventions as with any unsullied ‘truth'” (184).

Photographs of a person, an autobiography in images, is “a constant reworking of memory and identity” (184).

“we cannot access the past event in any unmediated form. The past is unavoidably rewritten, revised, through memory; and memory is partial…”

“I have made some discoveries about how memory works, and observed in action some of the psychical and cultural processes through which memory organises not only our inner worlds but the outer ones of public expression” (185).

She identifies “a set of cultural products which … share key characteristics… ‘memory texts’.”

“remembering binds us as individuals into shared subjectivities and collectivities” (185)

Definition of memory work: “an active practice of remembering which takes an inquiring attitude towards the past and the activity of its (re)construction through memory. Memory work undercuts assumptions about the transparency or the authenticity of what is remembered, treating it not as ‘truth’ but as evidence of a particular sort: material for interpretation…” (186).

“stages memory through words, spoken and written, in images of many kinds, and also in sounds” (186)

“the relationship between actual events and our memories of them is by no means mimetic” (186)

“the past is always mediated” (186)

“memory does not simply involve forgetting, misremembering, repression…. memory actually is these processes…” (186)

“performative nature of remembering” (186)

She says what we bits and pieces we choose to put in memory is important but also “what we do with them: how we use these relics to make memories, and how we then make use of the stories they generate to give deeper meaning to, and if necessary to change, our lives now” (187).

Main Patterns

1. Memory orders our inner worlds
2. Memory is an active production of meanings
3. Memory texts have their own formal conventions
4. Memory texts voice a collective imagination
5. In modernity, memory embodies both union and fragmentation
6. Memory is formative of communities of nationhood.

“does memory share the imagistic quality of unconscious productions” (188)

“condensations, its displacements–gaps, non-causal logic, discontinuous scenes” (188)

“pre-texts of memory” (188)

“peculiar characteristics of memory texts is a quite distinctive organisation of time” (189)

“events narrated or portrayed in memory texts often telescope or merge” (189)

“memory texts will deliver abrupt and quite vertiginous shifts of scene and/or of narrative viewpoint” (190)

family stories (birth weddings death) “produce a sense of time as cyclical: a version of ‘timelessness'” (191)

“intersubjective domain of shared meanings” (191)

“memory texts are shaped by conventions” (191)

“stories often take on a timeless, mythic quality which grows with each retelling” (192)

“actually to create their own world and give themselves and each other a place, a place of some dignity and worth” (192)

“in making sense of, we also imagine, and make, a shared world. Memory texts translate the psychical activity of warding off loss into the domain of the social” (193)

“Memory texts proliferate” (193)

In the collective domain … “a search for common imaginings of a shared past” (194)

“memory feeds into a conception of a history that is ‘ours,’ and that belongs to all of ‘us'” (194)


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