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Monday, 22 August 2016
Why we Need the Past

Religion and Cultural Memory (tr. Rodney Livingstone),
Jan Assmann, Stanford University Press, 2006, page 94

After having discussed the way that writing serves primarily not as a means of communication, but as an off-line storage device, enabling us to extend our memory far beyond what a human mind can remember, access or retain by itself, Assmann returns to the function of the past: why should we remember it, why does it matter?

The past is needed because it imparts togetherness. The group acquires its identity as a group by reconstructing its past togetherness, just as the individual can use his memory to convince himself of his membership in the group.

In this sense, Assmann explains, the work of Maurice Halbwachs, although he never wrote about the 'binding character' of memory, suggests the idea of normative memory: memory that normalises the members of a group. They are members because they share the same collective memories, and if they don't, they soon will! But this is not a violent effect.

Halbwachs insists on the affective nature of collective memory. The individual's belonging to the different social constellations and the internal cohesiveness of these groups are represented as affective bonds. Not violence, but feelings, hold culture together. Feelings shape our memories and give them colour and definition.

Posted By Jonathan, 8:00am Comment Comments: 0