Tuesday, October 02, 2007

just what it is

Tuesday, October 2nd, 2007

Today’s news from my web reading:

Supreme Court Turns Down Cases on Religious Separation is a headline in today’s New York Times about two cases concerning how religious institutions relate to those they serve when that institution works and serves in the “secular” world. Significantly, the U. S. Supreme Court let stand lower court rulings that restricted the religious institution’s freedom by requiring the institution to act contrary to it’s own conscience, if one can imply that an institution has a conscience; Disparities by Steve Coll in the October 8, 2007 issue of the New Yorker about the Jena 6.. Good comments; And Desert Storm: Understanding the capricious God of the Psalms by James Wood in the October 1, 2007 issue of the New Yorker. This is a review by Wood of Robert Alter’s new translation of the Psalms of the Hebrew bible, The Book of Psalms. The translation sounds exciting (The Lawrence, Kansas Public Library is purchasing this translation), but this review is excellent as a read by itself. Wood is one of the best in the business.

Memory, recollection, history; what are they? This is an area I need to think about and discuss.

“Memory is an organism's ability to store, retain, and subsequently retrieve information.” This sentence is a quote from the introduction to the entry titled Memory on Wikipedia. Not a bad scientific definition. But a few things are left out. What about a species ability to remember together? How about the concept of “collective memory”? How does this relate to “history”?

“Maurice Halbwachs argued that memory, despite its seemingly internal nature, could not exist outside a social context. For our individual memories to exist, he argued, they must be constructed and edited against the backdrop collective narratives. Moreover, he argued, we often incorporate accounts other people’s past experiences into the narratives we construct as memory.” The preceding quote is directly from Wikipedia too.

Halbwachs is credited with the invention of the concept “collective memory.” The collective memory of the times I grew-up in and their narratives, imbibed as easily as breathing, influence my memories. I tell my story structured, as it were, through tropes of my times. But the interesting thing is, at least interesting to me, is that I have my own narrative that structures my memories.

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