Prosthetic Memory: The Transformation of American Remembrance in the Age of Mass Culture

Prosthetic Memory: The Transformation of American Remembrance in the Age of Mass Culture

Prosthetic Memory: The Transformation of American Remembrance in the Age of Mass Culture

Prosthetic Memory: The Transformation of American Remembrance in the Age of Mass Culture

Synopsis

Instead of compartmentalizing American experience, the technologies of mass culture make it possible for anyone, regardless of race, ethnicity, or gender to share collective memories -- to assimilate as personal experience historical events through which they themselves did not live. That's the provocative argument of this book, which examines the formation and potential of privately felt public memories. Alison Landsberg argues that mass cultural forms such as cinema and television in fact contain the still-unrealized potential for a progressive politics based on empathy for the historical experiences of others. The result is a new form of public cultural memory -- "prosthetic" memory -- that awakens the potential in American society for increased social responsibility and political alliances that transcend the essentialism and ethnic particularism of contemporary identity politics.

Excerpt

Like those birds that lay their eggs only in other species' nests,
memory produces in a place that does not belong to it.

—Michel de Certeau, The Practice of Everyday Life

THE SPECTACULAR TRAIN WRECK in Cecil B. DeMille's 1925 film The Road to Yesterday initiates an extraordinary occurrence: Bess Walsington Tyrell, one of the film's protagonists, is “whirled back along the Road to Yesterday—into the life that was hers three centuries before.” In a reversal of the journey undertaken by many immigrants at the time the film was made, Bess is blown back across the Atlantic. Interestingly, she lands not in present-day Europe but in the seventeenth century. Through the mechanism of the train wreck, Bess gains access to memories of events through which she did not live but which she will take on as her own and which will inform her identity in the film's present. The film thus poses a series of questions about the shape and purpose of memory in an age of mass culture: In the face of the dislocations of modernity and postmodernity, how does memory's role change? To what extent do modern technologies of mass culture, such as film, with their ability to transport individuals through time and space, function as technologies of memory? In what ways do these technologies of mass culture challenge the distinction between individual and collective memory? How do these technologies introduce the “experiential” as an important mode of knowledge acquisition? And finally, how might individuals be affected by memories of events through which they did not live?

Released in 1925, The Road to Yesterday betrays the influence of two developments that were then paving the way for a new form of public memory: on the one hand, the unprecedented movement of peoples brought about by modernity and industrialization and, on the other, the emergence of mass . . .

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.