Memory

Abstract: The very act of remembering subsumes a reinterpretation of the past in the present. Citing Daniel L. Schacter, Rajesh Nair argues the memories are records of how we have experienced events, and are not replicas of the events themselves. He goes on to stress that one has to be vigilant about the cultural uses of remembering and the deep undertones of politics involved in it. Life narratives employ multiple sources, personal like (dreams, photographs, family albums, objects, family stories, genealogy) as well as public (documents, historical events, collective rituals) to access memory giving credit to the ideas of Smith.

Keywords: memory,dreams, photographs, family albums, objects, family stories.

Life stories help us to locate memories, personal as well as national. Very often life narratives become national histories, especially when they narrate the lives of the so-called great people and national icons.’ For instance, as far as Gandhi’s life stories are concerned, (in fact, there is a spurt of verbal and visual narratives on Gandhi ranging from autobiography and biography to biopics and cartoons), they clearly (re) inscribe the nation’s entry into modernity, refashioning the citizens of a new nation. Sometimes autobiographies and biographies of icons critique mainstream national histories and they are precious social documents to be approached with due academic seriousness.

The very act of remembering subsumes a reinterpretation of the past in the present and the recounted memory is always a perspective of the past which can never be fully retrieved (Smith 16). According to Daniel L. Schacter, “memories are records of how we have experienced events, not replicas of the events themselves (6). However, one has to be vigilant about the cultural uses of remembering and the deep undertones of politics involved in it. Life narratives employ multiple sources, personal like (dreams, photographs, family albums, objects, family stories, genealogy) as well as public (documents, historical events, collective rituals) to access memory (Smith 20).

Narratives of trauma, a bourgeoning form of life writing, do reflect traumatic memories which are fragments, resulting from dreams and flashbacks. They may be viewed as more than a pathology or illness of a bruised psyche, “ the story of a wound that cries out that addresses us in the attempt to tell us of a reality or truth that is not otherwise available” (Caruth 4). Thus, to the narrator, writing is healing. Recently, in the cyberspace, blog testimonies are common and blogs of rape victims evoke memory.

Apart from autobiographies, trauma and testimonial narratives, there are certain relatively less explored forms of life writing like family histories, obituaries, memoirs, genealogies etc. which help in relocating our memories. Cultural institutions like museums order/discipline cultural viewing, notwithstanding the cultural politics of display embedded in this process. In fact, help to construct the cultural ethos of a nation and it is a socially symbolic and politically – mediated act. Every civilisation tends to deify the past, recounting the shimmering achievements and exceptional renunciation of its forefathers. In the case of Mahatma Gandhi, so many biographical museums are run directly or indirectly by the government/state to commemorate his exemplary life and achievements. In fact, through the collection, selection, display and popularisation of objects and artifacts associated with Gandhi, we may also notice the governing ideology enmeshed in it viz. nationalism.

The section with its common theme ‘memory’ introduces the reader to certain unconventional but comparatively less explored forms of life narrative. The first piece by Parvathy Das introduces the thesis that obituary may be approached as a form of life writing and she tries to explore the cultural functions it performs. In his article, “Event as Metaphor: Memory, History and Meaning of a Murder in Pre-Partition Punjab,” Gireesh J. traces the martyrological configurations that operate in a recent oral/life history of Subhashini as presented in Nonica Datta’s narrative.

NOTES

1. The Great Man theory, essentially an idea popularised in the 1840s by the Scottish writer, Thomas Carlyle, introduced the thesis that history is made by great men or heroes. In his celebrated book On Heroes, Hero-Worship and the Heroic in History, he concluded, “the history of the world is but the biography of great men,” reflecting his belief that heroes shape history through both their personal attributes and divine inspiration.

REFERENCES

Caruth, Cathy. Ed. Trauma: Explorations in Memory. Baltimore: John Hopkins UP, 1995. Print.

Schacter, Daniel L. Searching for Memory: The Brain, the Mind, and the Past. New York: Basic, 1996. Print.

Smith, Sidonie and Julia Watson. Reading Autobiography: A Guide for Interpreting Life Narratives. London: U of Minnesota, 2001. Print.

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RAJESH NAIR

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