Memory, Memorialization, and Writing

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Memory—and the associative terms recall, recollection, remembrance, and memorialization—are an intrinsic part of human intelligence and experience and, as such, inseparable from the act of writing. Indeed, the prevailing model of memory in Western thought, from the pre-Socratics through modernity, is the impressing of an imprint or the incising of a mark or figure on the waxy surface of the mind or psyche. This model of how and why we remember will serve as our point of departure, aiding us in identifying the multiple ways in which the past, as both shared and contested space, comes to bear its imprint on present consciousness. Through literary and philosophical texts, this course will explore contemporary culture’s preoccupation with memory and memorializing, with special emphasis on the literary interplay between personal and collective memory and the relation between history and memory. We shall consider memory as an index of identity, a signifying practice, and an interpretive reconstruction whose wide-ranging implications extend beyond the private into the public realm, addressing how narrative conventions, cultural assumptions, political investments, and social contexts of commemoration affect both remembering and forgetting. Among the authors to be included are Freud, Benjamin, Proust, Nabokov, Borges, Christa Wolf. Some suggested directions for conference work: intersections between memory studies and cognitive studies, photography, archives, monuments, and narratives of intergenerational transmission.