Archive for July 2009
Way back in 2004, when I was finishing up my Master’s year at Queen’s University, I did a mashup reviewof two books, John Barnes’ science fiction novel The Merchants of Souls and Alison Lansberg’s Prosthetic Memory. What is “prosthetic memory?
“By prosthetic memories I mean memories which do not come from a person’s lived experience in any strict sense.” When someone views, for example, a film or television program, they have a memory of the narrative events which transpired without actually having experienced those events in any manner. In her book Prosthetic Culture: Photography, Memory and Identity, Celia Lury examines the specific role that photography plays in the prosthetic memories produced by mass culture. Everyone remembers the horrific events of September 11, 2001, but many of those who recall that day did not witness the event with their own eyes. The media has “fundamentally alter[ed] our notion of what counts as experience” precisely because it “bring[s] the texture and contours of prosthetic memory into dramatic relief.” Media technologies make it possible for human beings to possess, like the replicants of Blade Runner, vivid memories of experiences that are not their own.
She argues that prosthetic memories are transmissible in any manner of fashions, that “the memories forged in response to modernity’s ruptures do not belong exclusively to a particular group; that is, memories of the Holocaust do not belong only to Jews, nor do memories of slavery belong solely to African Americans. Through the technologies of mass culture, it becomes possible for these memories to be acquired by anyone, regardless of skin color, ethnic background, or biology. Prosthetic memories are transportable and therefore challenge more traditional forms of memory that are premises on claims of authenticity, “heritage,” and ownership. This new form of memory is neither inherently progressive nor inherently reactionary, but it is powerful (2-3).”
This sort of phenomenon has arguably been recognized for a while, in Ernest Renan’s Qu’est-ce qu’une nation when he argued that nations were united by memories shared in common. Things are remembered by a community’s members, things are forgotten, both define the membership, the in crowd and the outsiders. This sort of belief, in John Barnes’ universe, is something actively combated since group memories and identities triggered horrors on Earth–including Japan’s vitrification, say–and the export of ethnic separatists to the stars, on the grounds that those sorts of identities, associated with groups and transmitted ultimately by individuals, are destabilizing.
This week I think that I’ve been concerned especially with identity and the transmission of cultural elements–text, photos, interactions–between people. Maybe it’s because I’m more aware of these identities at different scales, maybe it’s because I’m interested in the ways in which people learn from each other and transmit things, by the ways in which too much is communicated as well as too little.
- The Bloor-Lansdowne blog covers the celebration surrounding the reopening of the Bloor-Lansdowne Library.
- Centauri Dreams covers the possibility that life in the Galaxy might emerge in great, irregular waves as punctuated evolution would hold, reports more signs that water may exist on/inside Enceladus, and suggests that the threat from comets to Earth may be quite exaggerated.
- Demography Matters co-blogger Aslak Berg points out that better metrics indicate that European fertility is substantially higher than TFRs would indicate.
- The Dragon’s Tales links to Venus exploration proposals and the discovery of evidence of an asteroidal collision with Earth 129 thousand years ago.
- Edward Lucas reviews a new book by the admittedly problematic Andrew Roberts that makes the point that Germany’s loss of the Second World War has everything to do with Naziism and Hitler’s erratic nature.
- A Fistful of Euros covers the news about the expansion of new liberal visa rules to only some Yugoslav successor states, and reports on the growing irrelevance of Kosovar Albanians and Serbians to each other.
- Language Hat reports on recent neurological discoveries suggesting that brain damage is more likely to damage knowledge of a second language than of a first.
- Marginal Revolution links to an article claiming that China’s also suffering a bubble economy, with commenters disputing the accuracy of foreign reports.
- Spacing Toronto’s Jake Schabas reports about a charming secret garden on Eglinton Street and touches on the history of market gardens.
- Slap Upside the Head lets us know that a Saskatchewan public marriage commissioner who claimed that he didn’t have to perform gay marriages because of his religion lost his case.
- Torontoist blogs about Hamilton’s image-changing efforts, vintage ads about a defunct store chance, and the Bloor-Gladstone Library’s revival.
- Towleroad reports, rather surprisingly, that Albania’s president says he wants to push for gay marriage in his country.