"Let books be your dining table, / And you shall be full of delights. / Let them be your
And you shall sleep restful nights" (St. Ephraim the Syrian).

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

"Do This in Memory of Me"

As I noted on here a few weeks ago, my attention has lately been riveted on the question of memory and forgetting, especially in the context of Christian disputes and traumas such as the Fourth Crusade. More than a decade ago now I published several articles on the concept of the "healing of memories" that the late Pope John Paul II talked about so often in the context of Christian relations, especially between East and West.

But I did not then attend to the issue of how those memories were formed in the first place, or how we come to forget things, or to other broader questions raised by the category of memory, which is of course such a central part of the central ritual of Christianity: the Eucharist. What does it mean to say "Do this in memory of me?" How are we to translate the Greek ἀνάμνησιν or the Latin commemorationem in Luke 19:22? Christians have not, of course, always agreed on these terms, nor do we today.

Even if we did agree on the liturgical meaning of these terms, it would leave other important questions unresolved. In my days as a psychology major, the then-recent research of people like Elizabeth Loftus was emerging to demonstrate just how fungible and unreliable memory can be. Her research on what even so-called eye-witnesses thought they remembered was and remains startling and disconcerting. Memory, it seems, is an enormously complex phenomenon and ever so much more than a mere "photograph" in our mind of a past event. I look forward to continuing to explore these questions in the coming years.

Oxford University Press sent me an e-mail this week alerting me to a book to be published at month's end that treats some of these questions: Dmitri Nikulin, ed., Memory: A History (Oxford UP, 2015),416pp.

About this book we are told:
In recent decades, memory has become one of the major concepts and a dominant topic in philosophy, sociology, politics, history, science, cultural studies, literary theory, and the discussions of trauma and the Holocaust. In contemporary debates, the concept of memory is often used rather broadly and thus not always unambiguously. For this reason, the clarification of the range of the historical meaning of the concept of memory is a very important and urgent task. This volume shows how the concept of memory has been used and appropriated in different historical circumstances and how it has changed throughout the history of philosophy. In ancient philosophy, memory was considered a repository of sensible and mental impressions and was complemented by recollection-the process of recovering the content of past thoughts and perceptions. Such an understanding of memory led to the development both of mnemotechnics and the attempts to locate memory within the structure of cognitive faculties. In contemporary philosophical and historical debates, memory frequently substitutes for reason by becoming a predominant capacity to which one refers when one wants to explain not only the personal identity but also a historical, political, or social phenomenon. In contemporary interpretation, it is memory, and not reason, that acts in and through human actions and history, which is a critical reaction to the overly rationalized and simplified concept of reason in the Enlightenment. Moreover, in modernity memory has taken on one of the most distinctive features of reason: it is thought of as capable not only of recollecting past events and meanings, but also itself. In this respect, the volume can be also taken as a reflective philosophical attempt by memory to recall itself, its functioning and transformations throughout its own history.
We are also given the table of contents:

Introduction. Memory in Recollection of Itself. Dmitri Nikulin

Ch.1. Memory in Ancient Philosophy. Dmitri Nikulin

Reflection: Roman Art and the Visual Memory of Greece. Francesco de Angelis
Ch.2. Memory in Medieval Philosophy. Jörn Müller
Reflection: Visual Memory and a Drawing by Villard de Honnecourt. Ludovico Geymonat
Ch. 3. Memory in the Renaissance and Early Modern Period. Stephen Clucas
Reflection: Memory and Forgetfulness in Daoism. Xia Chen
Ch. 4. Forms of Memory in Classical German Philosophy. Angelica Nuzzo
Reflection: Memory and Story-Telling in Proust. Mieke Bal
Ch. 5. Memory in Continental Philosophy: Metaphor, Concept, Thinking. Nicolas de Warren
Reflection: Freud and Memory. Eli Zaretsky
Ch. 6. Trauma, Memory, Holocaust. Michael Rothberg

Reflection: Memory: An Adaptive Constructive Process. Daniel Schacter

Ch. 7. Memory in Analytic Philosophy. Sven Bernecker

Reflection: The Recognitional Structure of Collective Memory. Axel Honneth

Ch. 8. Memory and Culture. Jan Assmann

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