Reframing 'absent memories'.

Author:Hirsch, Marianne

I am grateful to Frank van Vree for bringing the process of "social forgetting" into focus and for attempting to forge a capacious theoretical language with which to analyze this widespread phenomenon. This is an especially urgent question now, at the moment in which we observe the anniversaries of the Rwandan and the Armenian genocides that still suffer from very different yet powerful forms of silence and denial.

Finding that social forgetting has been seen as due either to the powers of hegemonic remembrance or of traumatic repression or dissociation, Van Vree searches for a model of memory that better calibrates the relationship of individual to social memory than either the political model of power and hegemony or the psychoanalytic model of trauma can do. These popular models both show social forgetting to be dysfunctional and the work of memory to be corrective, he argues. Instead, following Halbwachs and Goffman, the essay proposes the idea of the frame as a means by which to conceptualize the absence of certain memories from public view at one moment in time, and the means by which they can become known, acknowledged and integrated into social self-understanding at another. Frames, the essay argues, allow us to see how this form of "forgetting," or occlusion, can at times be enabling, even necessary, for citizens of modern states who wish to move forward rather than remaining subject to painful and paralyzing past histories. Framing allows us to understand social forgetting as either deliberate or non-deliberate. And it helps account for the malleable and communicative character of memory, and the complex negotiations that produce a certain shared image of the past while rejecting conflicting versions.

"The reasons why specific frames are lacking may be manifold and the same goes for the question why and how they evolve," Van Vree writes and this, to me, is the key question raised by the essay. The examples on which the essay bases its inquiry--sexual abuse in the Irish Catholic church, the Nazi Holocaust, and the Nazi euthanasia program--would actually seem to point back to the political and psychoanalytic motivations the...

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