Introduction to cultural analysis Volume 7, special issue: memory.

Author:Buccitelli, Anthony Bak

Even beginning to speak of memory is difficult, because what is memory? If it exists, which it must, then where is it located? A list of possible answers includes books, petroglyphs, neurons, traditions, narratives, architecture, film, and oak trees. Different disciplines address the question of memory differently, from computer science to ethnic studies. While the functioning of memory is assuredly rooted in biological phenomena, there is a general agreement across many disciplines that the experience of memory involves something more complex than even the intricate network of brain impulses that sustains it. In this sense, memory is a multi-tiered process, something that involves the coming together of biological, psychological, linguistic, social and cultural elements.

There is a general agreement that memory involves recalling the past, whether of one's own individual experience, or of a learned (social) memory. In cognitive science, Tulving's work on memory (e.g., 1972, 1983) has proved seminal at modeling different types of individual memory, such as the procedural, and episodic. Both types we share with much of the animal kingdom (see, e.g., Clayton et al 1988, 2007). Humanity's use of complex language, narratives, and (more recently) inscriptions has pushed our social, learned memory to a particular complexity and rhetorical power. Yet when one attempts to trace the sources of this power, they quickly become diffuse. Across cultures there are broad similarities in the practice and expression of memory, yet myriad cultural differences between groups and even between individuals intimately link memory practices to cultural contexts. Similarly, different modes of memory activities become popular or unpopular (film, heritage sites, contemporary ballad festivals), yet just as assuredly the changes are not completely random.

Scholars of folklore have long been at the forefront of research on the connections between memory and culture. However antiquated some of their theories might seem today, the early works of the antiquarian folklorists, at least as far back as the Grimms' Deustche Sagen (1816-18), reflected many concerns with the collective remembrance of the past that would not be unfamiliar to contemporary scholars of cultural memory. With the increased emphasis on individuals as the originators and disseminators of folklore in the twentieth century, folklorists increasingly sought to interrogate the part played by individual memory in the maintenance and...

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