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Махортих Микола Сергійович
Університет імені Бориса Грінченка, кафедра історії України та методології навчання
MEMORY AS CULTURE: JAN ASSMANN AND CULTURAL MEMORY
Memory and ability to remember became an object of vivid interest long before XX century. It went a long road from Plato and Leibniz to Freud and Jung, being studied by philosophers and psychologists. But, only at the beginning of XX century memory was for the first time analyzed from sociological perspective, forming the future basis for interdisciplinary category of memory studies. The origins of this approach could be found in the works of Maurice Halbwachs, who made the first division between collective and individual memory as well as formed concept of frameworks of remembrance [1, 8]. According to Halbwachs, memory was achieved in the process of socialization and constituted, functioned and reproduced only within certain social frameworks, while individual memories were only percepts, which gain sense in the collective framework [2, 8].
One of the most prominent developments of Halbwachs's ideas is represented by the concept of cultural memory, proposed by Jan Assmann, German scholar, who specializes on history and Egyptology. During the last two decades Assmann wrote several books, dedicated to the issues of cultural memory, and firmly established this notion in the academic discourse. Several aspects should be mentioned for the proper characterization of his theory.
According to Jan Assmann, his views represent the immediate development of ideas of Maurice Halbwachs, concerning social nature of collective memory [3, 1]. In fact, it was Halbwachs and art historian Aby Warburg, who "shift the discourse concerning collective knowledge out of a biological framework to collective one" [4, 125]. While Assmann distinguishes "individual" and "social" memory, he mentions that even "individual" memory is always social to a certain degree, like language and consciousness, which combine both individual and social nature [3, 3].
The main function of collective memory is related to the transmittance of collective identity. Assmann stated that society inscribes itself in its memory with all its norms and values, creating in the individual some kind of authority (or superego) [3, 7]. Common attributes of collective memory are represented by memorials, days of remembrance, ceremonies and rituals, flags, songs and slogans. However, collective memory is also particularly susceptible to politicized forms of remembering. Because of this, the memory issues there are often represented by irreconcilable and mutually opposed recollections of the winners and losers or victims and perpetrators [3, 7].
Assmann distinguished two main categories of collective memory: "communicative memory" and "cultural memory". The first category is based exclusively on everyday communication, constituting the field of oral history [4, 126]. It corresponds directly to the concept of collective memory of Maurice Halbwachs, providing each individual with memory, which is related to a group and socially mediated. This kind of memory is obtained through communication with representatives of groups, who "conceive their unity and peculiarity through a common image of their past" [4, 127]. Among them families, political parties, associations, professional groups and even nations can be mentioned.
The most important characteristic of communicative memory is its limited temporal horizon. It does not extend more than eighty to one hundred years into the past that is equal to 3-4 generations. It shifts in direct relation to the passing of time, being unable to provide some fixed points for binding itself to ever expanding past [4, 127].
Those fixed points are provided by cultural memory, which is characterized by its distance from everyday. It represents collective concept of knowledge that directs behavior and experience in the interactive framework of society, being obtained through repeated social practice and initiation [4, 129]. The fixed points of cultural memory are represented by some faithful events in the past, memory about which is maintained through figures of remembrance. It also distinguishes collective memory from cultural memory, because the latter includes not only social, but also cultural foundations [3, 8].
These figures of memory are constituted by cultural formations (such as texts, rites and monuments) and institutionalized communication (such as recitations, practices and observances) [4, 129]. Assmann compares such images, rites, epics, poems and festival with "islands of time", which represent completely different temporality [4, 129].
Main function of cultural memory is "survival of cultural pseudo-species" [4, 125-126]. However, it includes six sub-functions, which include the following issues. The first of them is represented by the concretion of identity that constitutes relation to some group. In this case cultural memory constitutes knowledge, from which group derives its sense of unity and peculiarity [4, 130]. The second is related to the capacity to reconstruct the past in the contemporary frame of reference. Cultural memory is based on reconstruction, not preservation that is manifested in its relation to actual and contemporary situation [4, 130].
The third deals with the formation function, which is quite similar to the concept of lieux de mémoire, formulated by Pierre Nora. According to Assmann, communicative memory and collective shared knowledge crystallize in the form of cultural memory. Afterwards they are transmitted to the culturally institutionalized heritage of society [4, 130]. The fourth is connected to the organization of specialized practices, which provide the institutional support of communication and specialization of bearers of cultural memory. In fact, this function of cultural memory allows it to be "cultivated" [4, 131].
The fifth sub-function is related to the providing of obligations in the form of clear system of values and differentiations in importance, which structure symbolic space and cultural supply of knowledge [4, 131]. And the last of them deals with the reflexivity through practice-reflection, self-reflection and reflection of its own image [4, 132].
In the end it is possible to suggest that concept of cultural memory is closely connected both with the notion of collective memory, suggested by Maurice Halbwachs, and concept of places of memory, formulated by Pierre Nora. Cultural memory, which represents collective concept of knowledge that directs behavior and experience in the interactive framework of society through repeated social practice and initiation, can be characterized both as tradition in Halbwachs terms and collection of memory places in the terms of Nora's theory.
Two main tools of cultural memory are represented by cultural formations (such as texts, rites and monuments) and institutionalized communication (such as recitations, practices and observances). It is through them the main functions of cultural memory, such as reconstruction of the past, formation, reflexivity, organization of specialized practices and provision with obligations are achieved as well as the most important of them, namely preservation of identity.
1. Lebow, N.R. The memory of politics in Postwar Europe. In N.R. Lebow, W. Kansteiner, C. Fogu, The politics of memory in Postwar Europe (pp. 1-40). Durham: Duke University Press, 2006.
2. Šurbt, J. Memory as a subject of sociological investigation. In J. Šurbt J. and N. Toš (Eds.), Crossroads of transition (pp. 7-31). Praga: Charles University, 2005.
3. Assmann, J. "Collective Memory and Cultural Identity." New German Critique 65 (1995): 125-133.
4. Assmann, Jan. "What is collective memory." In Religion and Cultural Memory: Ten Studies, ed. by Rodney Livingstone, (pp. 1-30). Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2006.