Monday, May 7, 2007

Collective Memory warrants

Warrants for Collective Memory, at times directly opposed to Professional History, highlight the intersections between individuals and larger groups. While Professional History designs its arguments for a culture of specialists and Experienced History thrives in a culture of suspicion and sensation, Collective Memory must do a complicated (and impressive) little dance between these two ways of talking about the past. Because Collective Memory is an accumulation, on the one hand, of individual interpretations of the past, its warrants must demonstrate a faith in the culture of experience. On the other hand, though, Collective Memory must allow for the shaping, transformative power of collective interpretation on the words of the individual witness.

The culture of Collective Memory, then, is a culture in which the story of experience is placed at the forefront—but with a
difference. Here, the culture (and, thus, the warrants) works to create an environment of mutual culpability and necessary exclusivity. Like Experienced History, Collective Memory values individual testimony and strives to demonstrate the pertinence of the particular to the universal. However, like Professional History, Collective Memory must also abrogate the boundaries of historical interpretation; stories of individuals must pertain to, and help shape, the group’s historical interpretation. To that end, an exemplary claim about Collective Memory would look like this: Collective Memory tells stories about the past that otherwise go unheard. This claim, a basic one that often underlies many of the arguments presented by proponents and sharers of Collective Memory, reveals a culture of simultaneous inclusion and exclusion—because the grounds that support this claim are designed to demonstrate the line between Collective Memory and other, more official, ways to interpret the past. And the warrant, then, must justify the lines drawn between these historical accounts—as well as provide the reasoning for such a division. Here then, is a diagrammed argument for Collective Memory:

Claim: Collective Memory tells stories about the past that might otherwise go unheard.
Grounds: Official (read: professional and academic) histories often forget/omit/erase multi-voiced perspectives on the past.
Warrant: Collective Memory gives voice/power to the voiceless/powerless.

This argument construction places Collective Memory on the fine line between those who tell the stories and those who decide which stories to tell.

Each version of the past presents a certain ideological front; every historical account of every historical event provides an audience with a particular way to see the past. The warrants provided by Experienced History, Professional History, and Collective Memory are clues about those ideologies, and they are demonstrations of the cultures from which they come. But there are different ways to argue—and there are new ways to think about the culture of such arguments. In the next section of this chapter, I examine theories of simulation, suggesting two things: first, that we live in a simulational culture; and second, that living in such a simulational culture causes us to privilege simulational warrants.

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