Halbwachs, First chapters

I’ve started my list with Halbwachs’s On Collective Memory (see prev post), and wanted to put up a little post to keep the blog going.

My copy of On Collective Memory contains a lengthy forward by the editor and translator, Lewis A. Coser, written in 1992. In his short biography of Halbwachs, he tells the story of the sociologist’s first university job, in which the University of Strasbourg changed from German to French hands after World War I and was restaffed with young professors who were all eager to push their disciplines and academia forward through interdisciplinary discussion and collaboration. I wouldn’t stoop to an ageist hot take that such a university sounds ideal, but I am compelled to wonder what might happen if a few experimental places gave a group of green professors complete run of a fully accommodated and studented university (or, to bring it back around, a journal). What would they do differently? What would that place look like in ten years?

I’m enjoying Halbwachs’s perspective on the idea that memory is a culturally-defined mental faculty. He argues that dreams are the feeling of memory with no net, no framework on which to organize itself. The reason memories have no scaffolding in dreams is that they are the experience of the individual with none of what Halbwachs sees to be necessary input from other people and the outside world in general. It is only through the act of remembering with someone else that we can begin to make sense of our otherwise-random recollections bouncing around in our heads. Our memories sit in a primordial pool and cease to make sense the moment we stop actively using them with someone else. It’s fun, compelling, dense reading! Good summer fodder for any memory researcher. Looking forward to continuing.

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