The Power of Memory

Article excerpt

the power of memory

ANNETTE KUHN AND KIRSTEN EMIKO MCALLISTER (EDS)

Locating Memory: Photographic Acts

Berghahn Books, New York and Oxford, 2006

ISBN 9781845452278

RRP $39.95 (pb)

Memory is something that brings itself to cultural attention at moments of change, of disjuncture, of fear or loss, and also at times of longing, or achievement, of pleasure and love. As a neurological process that results in an affective range of emotions, from joy to sadness, memory is a powerful force for the growth and dispersal of communities. As a cultural process, the singular realms of the physiologies of memory are managed-tacitly and directly-to provide a system accessible for other participants interested in accessing this temporally metered force. However, cultural management is inextricably tied to political strategy at all levels of governance, so the practices of exhuming and examining the material remnants of bio-communally produced memory through specific cultural markers does not so much provide a history of what memory is, as result in the situation of an often rhetorical practice of a very complex dimension. Can memory be used for reasons other than rhetorical comfort or rhetorical pain? (I recognise my genetic heritage in this or that image/ we are a nation of sportsmen/you remind me of better times. Can cultural memories be engaged as anything but consensual communal laws? (Ghosts of the civil dead/ this monument is for the dead explorers/ this is a sacred site). Whose memory is it that cultures draw upon for elements of their material functionality?

The essays collected in this volume go a long way toward addressing such difficult questions, first, by locating the situation of photographic documents in communities, and second, by exploring (with various degrees of success) the (often rhetorical) cultural placement of "memory" within and by those sites. Ten chapters and an introductory chapter by the co-editors, Annette Kühn and Kirsten Emiko McAllister, offer a breadth of methodologies with which to critically examine the degrees of rhetorical opacity of memory that photography of all types produces. Photography forms an invaluable part of material culture, necessary for the proper psychological functioning of societal groups. As such, this volume can be considered alongside other recent revisionist accounts of the material importance of art forms of all types as cultural records for people, such as Robert Sevan's The Destruction of Memory: Architecture at War or Toby Haggith and Joanna Newman (eds), Holocaust and the Moving Image: Representations in Ft!m and Television since 1933.' At this present time of the culturally extreme poles of poverty and wealth, militarised instability and economic largesse, the scholarship of these books provides a crucial benchmark for research and thinking. The present world-ranging conflicts of economically fuelled ethnic violence are illuminated by these complex accounts of the past; that is, as it is viewed by the present day. And the past is overfull with memories. For the volume under review, Locating Memory, I found it difficult to read more than a single chapter at any one sitting, due to the dense and psychologically taxing nature of the material. Memories are difficult things to deal with.

Locating Memory was developed from a symposium (of the same title) held at the Institute for Cultural Research at Lancaster University in the UK, where co-editor Annette Kuhn was Professor of Film Studies. Professor Kuhn has brought a particular methodology of 'memory work' into visual and screen studies through her work, including the books Family secrets: Acts of Memory and Imagination and An Everyday Magic; Cinema and Cultural Memory.2 In these works, Professor Kühn highlights the larger, cultural-historical implications for an individual or vernacular 'memory' condition and recording process. This important work is reflected through the choices of contributions made for Locating Memory. …