The sound of memory

By Morris, Leslie | German Quarterly, October 1, 2001 | Go to article overview

The sound of memory


Morris, Leslie, German Quarterly


Not my language

but a voice

chanting in patterns

survives on earth

not history's bones

but vocal tones.

Allen Ginsberg

"Elegies for Neal Cassady"

The critical vocabulary that has emerged and evolved to describe and analyze the spaces of Jewish absence and memory in Germany has been, for the most part, visual. In this essay, I shift the emphasis from the visual to the aural, to the "echo" of the Shoah in poetic texts and the echo of the elegiac that constitutes representation of the Shoah. I maintain that the circulation and proliferation of visual images-the "imprint of the Shoah" as Liss and Hirsch define postmemory-contain as well the echo of the sound of memory. By thus shifting the focus from the visual to the aural and by exploring several key iconic sounds that generate German and Jewish memory, I hope to add a new layer to the exploration ofthe sites of Jewish and German memory.

The primacy of the visual draws on concepts of authenticity, illusion, and spectatorship that stretch back to Aristotle and Plato and inform contemporary critical discussion about documentary, archival, and video testimonies.1 While critical work by Hirsch, Zelizer, and others has provided invaluable reflection on the elusiveness of the visuality of memory, there has been relatively little attention paid to what I will be calling the sound of memory. The sound of memory can be a tangible "recording" of how an event is remembered acoustically, while the memory of sound presupposes a melancholic relationship to the sound that once was and is now lost. The sound of memory is more elusive and perhaps more fragile and transient than the visual sites of memory; significantly, of the five senses, sound is the only one that requires a medium for its transmission (Taylor 34). In the medium of film, as Michel Chion has observed, "if sounds are easily projected by the spectator onto the film image, it is because the image is circumscribed by a frame that can be located in space, whereas sound lacks a frame" (Chion 204). This lack of a frame for the aural, in contrast to the visual, demands that an inquiry into the relationship between sound and memory will be, perhaps, more speculative and openended than one that examines the visual sphere.

The following questions thus serve as speculative points of departure for an inquiry into the relationship between memory and sound: Can we speak of iconic sounds as we do of iconic images? Can an exploration of sound help demarcate the lines that shape and define German and Jewish memory? Can we speak of a site of memory as the sound of memory? If the visual sites of memory-memorials, photographs, installations-in Germany today suggest the enormous difficulties inherent in the project of remembrance, as James Young and others have demonstrated, into what terrain does an exploration of the sound of memory lead us? Finally, how can a turn to the aural help us rethink the trope of the unspeakability of the Holocaust?

To begin answering these questions, I propose that the visual imprint of memory and the acoustic echo of prior sounds create sites of memory in Germany that can be reached through what Umberto Eco has described as a "travel in hyperreality," where in order to attain "the real thing," one must fabricate "the absolute fake" (8). The hyperreal blurs the distinction between presence and absence, between photographic image and death, between sound and silence, crafting sites of authenticity that are no longer historical, but instead visual, where, as Eco suggests, "everything looks real, and therefore it is real; in any case the fact that it seems real is real, and the thing is real even if, like Alice in Wonderland, it never existed" (16). Yet contained within the hyperreal and the circulation of memory as postmemory are sound and the aural, not just the visual. Eco, of course, is speaking here of American culture's need to recreate "history" in the form of wax museums and reconstructed historical sites, but his point is also well taken for the shape and form of Jewish commemoration in Germany in the past decade. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Note: primary sources have slightly different requirements for citation. Please see these guidelines for more information.

Cited article

The sound of memory
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen
Items saved from this article
  • Highlights & Notes
  • Citations
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    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.