Wednesday, 23 December 2015

How to forget about marking and start remembering. Thoughts around a memory research project.

I should be marking. But I’m in Portugal, back in my old room, looking at a bed whose frame my father repainted just to surprise me. I put down my luggage and look at the dark red and golden frame, remembering the previous colour, a light pink, the same golden. I like it. I should definitely be marking, but in the evenings my mother starts remembering her childhood Christmas and tells it to me again, anew. Combinações de semana de presente, filhoses, o meu avô a virá-las no lume, a minha avó sempre atrasada, direito a dormir no quarto deles até à meia-noite, no dia seguinte tangerinas do jardim e um tostão para o menino na capela. Her intentional remembering is meant to give me a narrative frame so that I can structure my identity through her remembering of a past I did not experience. Yesterday I asked her for the photo album, so that I could follow her visually. My mother resisted this, not getting up. Later, in the middle of another remembering monologue, she opened a drawer and showed me a piece of old linen for us to admire together. It must be said that drawers are the true sites of memory (Nora) in this house. Like all sites of memory, they enclose and express a collective shared knowledge of the past, on which a group’s sense of unity and individuality is based (Erll and Nunning 2010). They are points of reference for those, like me, like all of us, who were born after something took place.

So from the drawer emerged this fabric, rough and soft at the same time. We touched it, feeling the connections and interactions, the interlacements. I think this fabric is the frame, the mnemonic template that structures all of my mother’s memories. Remembering is not the result of a one-way cumulative traffic inside her or my head.  The common view that memory and forgetting are fundamentally individual experiences was contradicted by Maurice Halbwachs, a French philosopher and sociologist who postulated that we can only remember within the social frameworks which stimulate us to remember. In this sense, there are no strictly personal memories: individual memories are socially and culturally shaped. Memory and identity are constructed by a learning process within a group (the family, social classes and religious communities), and representations of what the past should look like are socially inherited. As such, when we remember we are often invoking existing imagery, borrowing from existing images and narratives from the past. It is therefore important to compare between old and present ways of approaching the past. That is what I propose to do in my research project, dedicated to memory on the collective level, and to cultural remembering as a transnational, multidirectional phenomenon, in-between Lusophone Africa, Brazil and Portugal. Do past and present memories resemble each other, do they fit familiar remembering schemes, similar patterns? Ideally, the project will draw on novels, short-stories and testimonies, as well as websites, photographs, film and other visual documents that engage with transnational collective memories and cultural exchanges. Though I'm still not sure if I will be able to fit it all in.

I think Global Memory Studies is the potential main field of my research project, which aims to produce transcultural memory research. Following the premise that “memories don’t hold still for their portraits” (Erll 2011: 66), I would like to focus on the translocal, the transnational and global circulation of mnemonic contents, media and practices. I'm interested in the dynamic movement of memory across time and space (Erll 2011: 65). By looking at the world through the transcultural lens, I want to address the shared sites of memory that have emerged through slavery, colonialism and travel: how are memories constituted through movement (of stories across generations of writers, of photos on the internet, of actors across national cinemas)? Rather than focusing on and describing the alleged origins or roots claimed by certain social groups, I propose to reconstruct mnemonic routes taken by certain stories and images, to focus on transcultural movements rather than national myths about origins.

So, yeah. If only I could forget about marking.