Maybe you noticed that a few of my post titles are called "Picturing History"?
You might have chalked this up to bad title-imagination, and you wouldn’t be far wrong – but there is also an underlying method to the madness.
This then is a meta-like post trying to sort out all the different arguments and views I’ve played with in the Picturing History
posts. I’m not rightly sure this will interest any one but me, but it might. And if you’d like to take peek at that part of by brain that revels in academic geekery – well this is a good opportunity.
The present post considers the difference between, and the juxtapositions of, history and memory.
With history being the science concerned with correct historical facts and an objective view. Memory would be its bastard baby – filled with emotion, value and pathos. It’s sometimes wrong, but it’s never uninteresting. To simplify: history would be the encyclopedic reference, and memory the bloody, lusty and colourful tale spun around the same event. ( In which I say a quick definition, but clearly mean a rather long one. It can be skipped. )
So in conclusion; memory doesn’t have to be factually correct to work or have value. Take for instance Casablanca
. Rick never says "Play it again Sam", but "Play it Sam. Play As Time goes bye
" Yet "play it again
" is the one people remember and the one most often quoted when referencing the film. So just because some thing is recalled incorrectly does not mean it’s not functional. (The disclaimer here would be that if it is just one person that remembers incorrectly the memory will not work. The memory aspect needs to be a collective thing – a common base of reference.)
Memory comprises of anecdotes, tales and phrases within a culture. I felt The Wire
season two did a beautiful job portraying how memory forms the backbone of a collective identity. This is probably why I did a huge post
Sometimes we remember based on slightly crooked information – like the World war II photos by Robert Capa.
Or we remember and form a view based on how we want
things to look and how we are used
to things looking more than the way things were. There is our habit of recalling the Middle Ages as dark, mysterious.
Or our recollection of Antiquities as dotted with white marble statues, when in most of them were painted. Quite festively.( Cut for Caligula - in colour! )
The question then arises; Even if we remember all these things slightly incorrectly, does that make our memory without value? I would say no. For if memory, as I proposed earlier, is part of what forms our identity - then all these memories, even the factual wrong ones, are important in understanding of who we are. To say the white marble statues are wrong, simply because they aren’t historically correct, would be false. For we have grown used to seeing the white marble, and for us it holds all manner of significance in addition to being a historical artifact.
Memories in the forms of Memoirs can also be important in that they give us a more emotional, sometimes personal, dimension that has a habit of being sidetracked by historical facts. For me the beauty of the HBO series Band of Brothers
is not its historical dimension, but that it brings to life memories and a memory culture.
Somethings we need
to remember. And we don’t need facts to be reminded either – a painting, like Anselm Kiefer’s Lot’s Wife
, can do just as much to trigger memory as a list of historical artifacts can. ( a finishing quote, aka the words of wisdom )