Memory, Language and the Archive

Memory, October 21, 2013. 

Over the past few days I have been thinking about how memory is constructed by language. This comes out of our discussion on they ways memory and Les Lieux de Memoires are understood differently by the state and by both citizens and non-citizens. Kerwin Lee Klein quotes Amos Funkenstein’s analogy of the dualistic structure that links archaic memory with historicism, as “[c]ollective memory…, like language, can be characterized as a system of signs, symbols, and practices: memorial dates, names of places, monuments and victory arches, museums and texts, customs and manners, stereotype images (incorporated, for instance, in manners of expression), and even in language itself (in de Saussure’s terms). The individual’s memory—that is, the act of remembering is the instantiation of these symbols, analogous to “speech”; no act of remembering is like any other.” The understanding of memory as a form of language (often understood through psychologism) is similar to how the archive has been approached as a psychoanalytical construct of language by Derrida.

            It is evident that the language of the archive and that of collective memory speak to each other—and in most cases originate from the same place: the state. Perhaps my question is more along the lines of a  “chicken-or-the-egg” one, but I am wondering if “collective memory” is the catalyst for the development of archives, or, is collective memory only formed once an “archive” has been established? Or, perhaps, we can approach collective memory and the archive as mutually constructed phenomena that rely on each other to affirm their legitimacy in the state and in the minds of its people. 



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