Memory Architecture and Infrastructure–Post 3 of 3

What about the ethics of memory?

Looking at the debate that has ensued thus far it seems important to make a distinction between personal memory and collective memory. As I wrote in an article for Critical Military Studies, one should be careful with conflating what an individual remembers with what a community, or nation, remembers. For Avishai Margalit, in The Ethics of Memory, collective memory is “shared memory” with the “we” as collective or communal, not a simple aggregate of individual memories, but built instead on a division of mnemonic labor. This shared memory travels from person to person through institutions (archives) and communal mnemonic devices (monuments) (Margalit, 56).

Remembrance is an act symbolic exchange. With this distinction, we needn’t worry as much about memory as such, or about who is speaking for whom, but rather what ethical engagements follow from remembering together. This remembering can be less about “exercising sovereign power” as Jordan writes and more about the experiences we share as a community and what this means for our actions in the future.

In fact, these shared memories can produce an obligation on a community beyond sovereign control; each of us has a responsibility to keep memories alive, but all shoulder this burden in some way. This, in turn, makes shared memory’s relationship to morality and action different from that which stems from individual memory. This is memory that is based on keeping promises to generations that preceded and those that will follow. Memorialization and monuments can fulfill this ethical call, and have in many cases. It is when nation building and state politics try to control this process and dictate what a people should remember that ethical engagement tends to fall away.

Collective memory must be a relationship to the future; it must be a promise to the future. In this, monuments are less about what happened and more about where we are going. As Margalit writes “the memory that we need to keep our promises and follow through on our plans is this kind of prospective memory…to remember is to know and to know is to believe” (Margalit, 14).

This can be about deploying policy decisions, but it can also mean one policy might be followed rather than another based on what we are allowed to remember together. This makes Jordan’s MAI productive, but what ethics that follow from that productivity are unclear and must be understood contextually.

11 thoughts on “Memory Architecture and Infrastructure–Post 3 of 3

  1. Useful piece , I learned a lot from the facts , Does anyone know where my assistant could get access to a template a form copy to complete ?


  2. “familial-resemblances” is an idea that I’m using in some work right now about states and state theories. Love that idea, and moving from critique to bricolage.


  3. I think the particulars matter both in terms of the act and the reception (and the context including their pasts), and I think that whatever is made of ‘it’ will be different as the to and fro evolves even if it breaks down.
    2 related thoughts one is not sure how much we can capture of any particular doing/event and so if we do characterize it in some way we are now talking in terms of that characterization and not of that original scene (if you will) and here I think STS/ANT has a useful role to play in terms of thinking of how our inventions/prototypes play out in various environs/assemblies.
    I’m drawn to Wittgenstein’s work in this area on familial-resemblances and on perspicuous-re-minders which allow us to see/make connections. When I read say Foucault on prisons juxtaposed with monk’s cells and asylums I agree with his later self that there is no underlying Logos which is the root-cause of these symptoms (and no common structure) but think there was obviously something to that collage that sparked people in Italy and elsewhere to make reforms of their institutions, so in a way with Latour on moving from critique to bricolage.


  4. yep, mode/media matters.
    maybe too much Scalia talk on the brain but reminds me of when lawyers/judges invoke the authoritas of “Settled” Law, of course just by doing such they are adding to the inevitable re-settling of law but there can be a power (if it is accepted) to speaking in the name of non-things.


  5. “Remembrance is an act symbolic exchange. With this distinction, we needn’t worry as much about memory as such, or about who is speaking for whom, but rather what ethical engagements follow from remembering together.”
    afraid I don’t understand this, why wouldn’t the ethics be assembled out of the processes of who is speaking for whom and how such acts of remembering are actually occurring? And where does the imperative relating to the promise of A future come from?


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