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Memory work is a process of engaging with the past which has both an ethical and historical dimension.
Additional recommended knowledge
History and memory
The premise for memory work or travail de memoire is that history is not memory. We try to represent the past in the present through memory, history and the archives. As Paul Ricoeur argued, memory alone is fallible. Historical accounts are always partial and potentially misrepresent since historians do not work with bare, uninterpreted facts. Historians construct and use archives that contain traces of the past. However, historians and librarians determine which traces are preserved and stored. This is an interpretive activity. Historians pose questions to which the archives responds leading them to “facts that can be asserted in singular, discrete propositions that usually include dates, places, proper names, and verbs of action or condition”. Individuals remember events and experiences some of which they share with a collective. Through mutual reconstruction and recounting collective memory is reconstructed. Individuals are born into familial discourse which already provides a backdrop of communal memories against which individual memories are shaped. A group's communal memory becomes its common knowledge which creates a social bond, a sense of belonging and identity. Professional historians attempt to corroborate, correct, or refute collective memory. Memory work then entails adding an ethical component which acknowledges the responsibility towards revisiting distorted histories thereby decreasing the risk of social exclusion and increasing the possibility of social cohesion of at-risk groups.
The concept of memory-work as distinguished from history-as-memory finds a textbook case in the Vichy Syndrome as described by Russo. His title uses medical lexicon to refer to history-memory as dependent on working consciously with unconscious memories to revise accounts of history. This calls for an expanded archive that includes the "oral and popular tradition"  as well as the written traditions normally associated with the archives.
Pierre Nora on memory work
Pierre Nora traced the surge in memory work at the level of the nation-state to the revisiting of distorted histories of the anti-Semitic Vichy France (1940-1944) following the death of de Gaulle in 1970. Structural changes resulted from the end of the peasantry and the dramatic economic slump as oil prices worldwide rose in 1974. Added to this was the intellectual collapse of Marxism precipitated in part by Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s Gulag Archipelago which forced the French to rethink attitudes towards the past.
Barbara Gabriel on memory work
Barbara Gabriel provided a model for reading the complexities of memory and forgetting by situating unheimlich within the heimlich, in a Freudian 'one within the other structure'. As point of departure Gabriel examined Edgar Reitz's eleven-part West German television series entitled Heimat. Reitz' work was in response to a larger movement in Germany national memory work provoked in part by an American television series entitled the Holocaust followed viewed by millions. As European art in general and German art in particular resurged in the 1960s, artists like Gunther Grass and Edgar Reitz captured international attention as they grappled with issues of identity in a divided, post-Holocaust Germany. Gabriel developed the concept of an impulse towards national memory work in Germany that stemmed from a haunted subject yearning for a lost, far away, nostalgic place, a utopic homeland. "How do we confront that which we have excluded in order to be, whether it is the return of the repressed or the return of the strangers?" In other words, that which we fear as 'other' is within ourselves through our shared humanity. Repressed memories haunt all of us.
The concept of memory work is part of a sociological imagination from a post-national point of view. Expanding on Norbert Loeffler: The idea of one national history is only acceptable as a question, not as an answer.
Memory work is related to identity work often associated with displaced persons. Some of the most provocative research on memory work has been authored by the Pied-noir who returned to France following the Algerian War. Examples of such thinkers include Jacques Derrida, Hélène Cixous, and Julia Kristeva.
|This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "Memory_work". A list of authors is available in Wikipedia.|