Memory, History, Forgetting — Paul Ricoeur

Abuses of Natural Memory: Blocked, Manipulated: Abusively Controlled

Ricoeur tackles the pervasive, central problems in memory, caused by the nature of its lack of concreteness, its curious border/non-border with imagination, and possible subconscious acting-outs. Throughout the first portion of the article, Ricoeur emphasized the “work” aspect of remembering and mourning. It was not just the act of remembering and mourning, but the active sense of the two words — a struggle through, if you will.

Mourning is the self’s demand for oneself to withdraw all libido attachment to the lost object, the result of which is opposition. In an effort to mourn, one moves towards melancholia since the ‘work’ of mourning is likened to the concept of the ego, free and uninhibited. Ichgefuhl is the idea of an empty and impoverished world; retracting one’s love from a lost object can contribute to original narcissism.

The concept of the romantic genius is related to “melancholia”, usually typified as an exceptional individual. In music, Beethoven’s last quartet is a prime example of how sadness can beget joy after sadness has been sublimated and reversed.

Freud alludes to going beyond the psychoanalytic. Mourning behaviors can be about more than the internal. Ricoeur takes Freud’s allusions further and posits that mourning behaviors are actually made of private and public expressions, and how the collective memory are bipolar to both personal and community identity.

Founding events are problematic because they are legitimized acts of war. Memory serves a role here, in that too much memory dedicated to an event can cause compulsion to repeat. The cause for this transformation from memory to repetition is that the society lacks from doing the work of remembering.

Manipulated memory can be best described as “cognitive frailty”, the inability to distinguish between the similar, yet distinct ideas of memory and imagination. Our identity is fragile because when questioned WHO we are, we answer WHAT we are — we give a recipe for our identity. The temptation of identity is to change from flexible identity to inflexible identity; this inflexibility further considers others’ identities as threat to our own.

No one likes to admit to being an author of an ideology, unlike utopia. Here is a summary of how ideology works: ideology goes unacknowledged; unbeknownst to the practitioner of ideology, the ideology inverts itself, and is aggressively against others for their ideology. Ideology distorts reality, provides legitimation of the existing system of power, as well as help make the world communicable through communal symbolic systems. In a way, ideologies are like identity — -can be shaped two ways: the past, which is tradition, as well as the bureaucratic, which is the present and future of those in charge and will stay in charge because they know better.

The narrative helps shape the memory, since narrative presents a single perspective, and can choose to be favorable to the protagonist; the selectiveness of a narrative contributes to the manipulative possibilities of the narrative-serving memory. We must remember the victim’s position. The victims have the right to protest and make demands.

The article ends with further exploration into moral priority, defending the idea that debt is the drive behind justice’s federating force, the same way truth is behind memory. As a result, a victim should never proclaim to be a victim by themselves.