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On media memory: Collective memory in a new media age Publisher: Palgrave Macmillan Twenty concise and thought-provoking essays, by leading scholars of communication research and collective memory studies.
Table of contents

Affect is generally understood as a kind of energy or intensity circulated among individuals by virtue of their contact with events, objects, and others. While distinct from both emotions and cognitive thought, affect is deeply intertwined with these other psychic qualities and, importantly, these processes intersect within the human body.

Public memory scholars have pursued these notions of affect and body in relation to practices of remembrance. Carol Blair, Brian Ott, and Greg Dickinson suggest that public memories contain a crucial affective dimension. What affect is being deployed that helps to secure adherence to this particular memory content and to the group that holds it to be important to is collective identity? Affective energy can thus be thought of as one dimension through which memories become visible, and gain, or lose, adherence among the broader public.

Affect is also a dimension that helps explain our experience of moving through memorial spaces.

On Media Memory: Collective Memory in a New Media Age

While affect can be seen as permeating our everyday experience of memories, these energies are most intense during sudden moments of upheaval and crisis. This shattering is among the reasons that the experience of trauma often returns in flashbacks as the shattered psyche attempts to reintegrate both itself and the traumatic experience that affected it. Public memory scholars have observed similar processes at work in the collective psyche. One of the most traumatic global events in recent memory was the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington, DC, on September 11, This event reverberated through global culture, and scholars have shown considerable interest in its memorialization e.

Nicholas Paliewicz and Marouf Hasian Jr. Interestingly, the careful crafting of the national memorial did not make it immune from contest and controversy. This happens both through the periodic flashbacks of traumatic memories as well as in the more systematic public remembrances of them. Scholars of rhetoric have shown considerable interest in the ways that public traumas are engaged and reengaged.

Some of this occurs through the official mechanisms of commemorations, discussed above, but there are also other modes of engaging the traumatic past. Stephanie Houston-Grey identifies a similar form of repetition in the performative aspects of the literary accounts of atomic bomb survivors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

The power of traumatic memories has spurred a growing interest in the way we can become reconciled to them and move on, leading to a focus on the multiple dynamics of public forgetting.

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Traditionally, forgetting has been seen as a kind of moral failing. On face value, memory and forgetting in such contexts can be viewed in binary opposition to one another, and the call to remember serves as a means to grant both legitimacy and recognition to those who have suffered and as a way to confront past wrongdoings. Other scholars, however, have pointed out how the desire to remember past atrocities can result in different forms of forgetting.

Barbie Zelizer addresses the paradox produced by the mass circulation of images of Holocaust atrocities. While she grants that the proliferation of such images in the s pushed the topics of witnessing and reconciliation into the public sphere, she argues that the more societies depend on these photographs for public memory, the more such remembering results in forgetting the particularities and specifics of events Zelizer, , a notion that Nora has also emphasized Nora, This repressive form of forgetting brought forth by repetition and habituation, moreover, threatens our collective ability to confront the recurrences of atrocities and attend to the specificities of other mass violence that have occurred in places like Rwanda and Bosnia.

While forgetting can be repressive when those in power refuse to recognize the past—or even as an effect of certain forms of ritual remembrance—public forgetting can also be a productive and even necessary cultural practice. Friedrich Nietzsche identified the desire to collect and remember everything as the main culprit of cultural decay.

Extending this line of thinking, Nathan Stormer argues for a reconception of the material performativity of rhetoric within a framework that recognizes the simultaneous nature of remembering and forgetting. Stormer argues,. Rhetorical action, for Stormer, requires this simultaneous forgetting and remembering as discourse crafts the contours of its own emergence, creating its own present.

At the more practical level, productive forgetting is employed in historical moments of political transition and regime change. Connerton notes that in bce , Athenian Democrats, returning to Athens after suffering a terrible defeat at the hands of a dictator, proclaimed general reconciliation as a means of moving beyond the preceding crisis and political turmoil.

Rhetorical scholars have also paid considerable attention to racial reconciliation efforts in South Africa and the elsewhere.

In each of these cases, the focus on memory and forgetting has been central to coming to terms with the past. It marks a multi-dimensional process of transnational social change that manifests across technological, economic, labor, trade, ecological, ideological, social movement, and human rights domains. In the past few decades, an immense body of literature has engaged the anxieties and hopes endemic to these fragmented processes of global interconnection, acceleration, and withdrawal.

Andreas Huyssen suggests that these overlapping and, at times, conflicting processes have decentered the nation state as the primary site of public memory, simultaneously weakening the stable links between communities, families, and national identity, while also producing a return to tradition and heritage as a response to these crises Huyssen, , pp. Scholars have tracked these transformations in the shape and tenor of public memory in a number of ways. Kendall Phillips and G. Mitchell Reyes, for example, have advanced the term global memoryscapes to point toward the complex dynamics that influence and alter memories and memory practices within and across local, national, and transnational registers.

They aim to move beyond considering the processes of public memory purely in relation to local or national cultures, and instead seek to resituate memory within a global framework. An increasingly shared global memory of events has contributed to a growing transnational human rights movement. While public remembrances of World War II and Holocaust survivors came to the fore in the s, the s witnessed an increased and shared concern over remembering other victims of oppression and genocide.

This emergent dialectic allows global memories of watershed events like the Holocaust to be mediated and transferred to different cultural contexts, shaping moral dispositions and memories that transcend the nation state in the process. Walter Benn Michaels contends that the failure to publically remember and grapple with transatlantic slavery in the United States is the result of the global proliferation of Holocaust memories.

Along similar lines, Marouf Hasian Jr. Along similar lines, Huyssen favors a softening of the borders between events like the Holocaust, colonialism, and migration to understand the similarities and differences of ostensibly competing histories. In addition to the topics identified, the study of public memory continues to expand into new territory. While the full scope of these many innovative studies is beyond our present limits, this final section identifies a few prominent trends in contemporary research as a means of acknowledging the ongoing developments in the study of public memory.

Social movements arise out of some form of dissatisfaction with the dominant status quo. Often these movements promote a divergent narrative of the past in the sense of seeking to reconfigure the official story and promote some other, contrary, version. Houston Baker Jr. Recently, scholars have begun to consider the reverse aspect of this relationship between memory and movements; namely, the ways social movements are themselves remembered.

Scholars in communication and rhetoric have pursued this notion with numerous studies attending to the way social movements of the past are remembered and the impact these recollections have on current social struggles. The LGBTQ social movement has had considerable impact on communication and rhetorical studies, and some of this has entailed explorations of public memory.

Scholars have carefully sifted through historical memory in an effort to recapture the lost voices of LGBTQ individuals and open spaces for different ways of remembering. Charles E. In a series of essays, Morris has undertaken this analysis on objects ranging from the AIDS Quilt to Abraham Lincoln in an effort to reframe public memory itself through the simultaneous engagement with a queer archive and a queering of existing archives.

In their discussion of queer archives, Morris and K. Other scholars have pursued similar projects, examining how public memories of LGBTQ individuals are constituted, critiqued, and transformed. Thomas R. Dunn, for example, examines the public monuments memorializing Oscar Wilde Dunn, and Canadian pioneer Alexander Wood Dunn, and observes the ways such monuments both enable and limit the creation of queer public memories. Similarly, in her study of the AIDS Quilt, Erin Rand finds ways in which the memorial artifact may limit the possibility of activism by framing the AIDS crisis and the recognition of gay men within a framework of mourning and melancholia.

A final trajectory of research to consider has been the focus in recent years on public memories as they circulate within popular culture. Memory scholars have long recognized a distinction between official memorial practices and the way memories are enacted in more ordinary circumstances. John Bodnar refers to this as a distinction between official and vernacular memories. Ekaterina Haskins pursues this notion of vernacular memory further to explore the way the public is drawn into the circulation of particular memory texts.

As noted, film is a prominent means by which popular memories achieve mass appeal and circulation. Of course, not all films seeking to depict past events are so uncontested or successful. The film depicts the event of September 11th and the passengers who rose up against the hijackers on the United 93 flight. Other critics observe the way that certain films can resonate with memories even while not seeking to depict historical events.


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Similarly, Kendall Phillips has argued that the popular documentary films of Michael Moore base much of their rhetorical appeal on an underlying rhetoric of nostalgia that simultaneously seeks a return to past values while opening avenues toward imagining new and different futures. While films are one of the more obvious places that popular memories are crafted and circulated, there are numerous other aspects of popular culture that seem to operate in similar ways.

Josh Boyd pursues a different aspect of the intersection between public memory and sports in his analysis of corporate sponsorship of sports arenas. In renaming historic sporting venues, corporate sponsors dramatically shift the way fans interact with these important cultural sites. Taken together, these diverse studies recommend the need to seek out the rhetorics of public memory in a wide variety of discourses that do not present themselves as explicitly commemorative.

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Assmann, A. Forms of forgetting. Baker, H. Critical memory: Public spheres, African American writing, and the black fathers and sons in America. Athens: University of Georgia Press. Benson, T. Rhetoric and autobiography: The case of Malcolm X. Quarterly Journal of Speech , 60 1 , 1— Bergman, T. You were on Indian land: Alcatraz Island as recalcitrant memory space. Dickinson, C. Ott Eds. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press.

Biesecker, B.

Select annotated bibliography: Media and memory

Renovating the national imaginary: A prolegomenon on contemporary paregoric rhetoric. Phillips Ed. No time for mourning: The rhetorical production of the melancholic citizen-subject in the war on terror.

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Philosophy and Rhetoric , 40 , — Blair, C. Places of public memory: The rhetoric of museums and memorials. Public memorializing in post-modernity: The Vietnam Veterans Memorial as prototype. Quarterly Journal of Speech , 77 , — Blouin, F. Processing the past: Contesting authority in history and the archives.