Memory-Making

Alison Miller

These pieces on the Catechism debate really dig through the mille-feuille that is memory creation and culture. It’s is already summed up in the pieces themselves, but the questions of who is responsible for memory culture, how that culture is built (ex. “officially” versus “unofficially”), who and what is reinforcing it, the state’s version of events versus individuals versus groups, etc. are all coming together to address this issue around Holocaust memorialisation and German colonial memory.

I read a few different articles, but the one that really stuck out for me was Wolff’s “Refusing the Extended Hand.” His experiences are tied to his identity as well as the identity of those around him that he interacted with, as an Eastern German, a Communist, and a Jewish person.

His piece highlights the complexities of memorialisation. His discussion on the East versus West German development of memory culture displays that despite current the geographical unity of the German state, there is still a hegemonic imposition of specific historical narratives upon those that have different historical experiences.

One of the things that Wolff brought up that I hadn’t thought about before was the sterility of institutional leftist memory culture. There is a specific experience that Wolff draws on, but I think that this is a concept of sterility really gets at what all of these entries about the Catechism debate are about (I think sterility can be applied to a lot of other things to, as I perceive it as almost a critique of memory culture as building franchises in different places to provide exactly the same product to as many people as possible). Opinions and methods of building memory culture that are outside of the hegemonic narrative add complications that the entities responsible for this culture do not like. Memorialisation is deprived of complicating factors not only as a method of maintaining a state-sponsored coherent narrative, but almost as a preventative to avoid right-wing groups from appropriating dissenting opinions in order to deny that events ever happened, or at the very least manipulate the narrative to their own ends.

In not addressing these nuances, it’s just as Wolff says – the memory culture is not for memory or culture.

There is certainly something to be said about the fact that Holocaust memorialisation should centre the Jewish experience, but somehow Jewish voices that do not agree with institutional memory are at odds with the narrative.

One Reply to “Memory-Making”

  1. Alison,

    Great response. I find the discussion of memory creation fascinating as you’re absolutely correct, commemoration of anything is typically limited by governmental narratives or what society as a whole will accept.

    Fact is that the whole concept of societal memory is entirely based around creating a myth/narrative in order for those in government and the citizenry at large to be able to function together effectively and for the state to be able to pass policies within a cloak of ‘morality’ (or in other words classic Realpolitik),
    which requires the simplification of the discussed events in order to function clearly as an effective propaganda. This unfortunately in turn calls into question the very idea of memorials, if the narratives they represent have been politically distorted.

    Your discussion of voices going against the grain being excluded is interesting and represents the exact point I just mentioned above about distortion issues being primary for politically convenient narrative being constructed.

    Thoughts,

    Wesley M.

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