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Is Collective Memory a Figment of the Imagination? The Scope of Memory in the Public Sphere

Is Collective Memory a Figment of the Imagination? The Scope of Memory in the Public Sphere

Chapter:
(p.39) Chapter 1 Is Collective Memory a Figment of the Imagination? The Scope of Memory in the Public Sphere
Source:
Collective Memory and the Historical Past
Author(s):
Jeffrey Andrew Barash
Publisher:
University of Chicago Press
DOI:10.7208/chicago/9780226399294.003.0002

During previous decades, it has become increasingly common to refer to memory as a source not only of personal identity or of that of small groups, but also of vast collectivities. In the context of contemporary mass societies, however, direct experience and recollection of publicly significant events is rare, and is usually possible only for a small number of eye-witnesses. Reports of such events by the mass media at the same time depend on their reconfiguration in a publicly intelligible format of mass media representation. This raises the question concerning the precise role of memory, as opposed to imagination, in the construction of representations in the public sphere. In investigating the meanings we attribute to "memory" and "imagination", this chapter argues that imagination, beyond its capacity to produce fantasies or fiction, fulfills the function of conveying remembered experience through symbols. An analysis of the spatio-temporal and conceptual modes of embodiment of memory through symbols, as they are fit into the larger web of events through which their reality may be ascertained, illustrates that the configurations of collective memory in the public sphere, if they depend on imagination for translation into symbolic expression, are not for that reason simply imaginary.

Keywords:   Chateaubriand, Edmund Husserl, public sphere, eye-witness reports, George Washington, Ernst Cassirer, symbolic configuration, imagination

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