Consolidation of Individual and Collective Memory: Analogous
Processes on Different Levels

Patrick Watson, Neuroscience, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

The study of memory consolidation is more than a hundred years old (Müller & Pilzecker 1900, McGaugh 2000), and has provided insight into the changes in memories that occur as they are processed from a labile form into a stable form.  We describe consolidation as a set of three elements, each already addressed separately in the cognitive neuroscience literature: the storage element (Ebbinghaus 1885, Miller 1956, Cowan 2005), the relational element (Eichenbaum 2006), and the generalizing element (Brainerd & Reyna 1988, McClelland 1995).  A guiding framework has also already been studied for the process of remembering in individuals (schema, Bartlett 1932) and in collectives (narrative, Wertsch 2002; Halbwachs 1925).  We propose a similar top-down element for the process of consolidation.  Building on previous work, we provide concrete examples from literature on both individual and collective memory of a supervisory element’s impact on each of the three consolidation elements.  This model for the consolidation of individual as well as collective memories could prove useful for both scientists and humanists.  Because researchers into both the art of memory and into its science have both pursued parts of the puzzle of consolidation, the benefits of our analogical analysis will be mutual but different.

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The Case for a Theory of Collective Consolidation: Making an Analogy Out of a Metaphor Already in Use
Kristen Ehrenberger, History, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

 

This paper is the historiographical complement of “Consolidation of individual and collective memory.”  Its premise is that the concept of collective memory, having a history of its own, has not been merely transplanted whole from individuals to groups, or from science to the humanities. Rather than being a metaphor for collective thought, collective memory is more precisely the social analog of individual memory, such that the two phenomena have historically and may continue to be understood to parallel each other in context-dependent ways. Consider the popularity of research into individual recall and into collective remembering: to psychologists, the act of recall is the only way they can access human memories, so they interest themselves with studies of the re-construction of memories; to those historians, for instance, who pursue historical agency, emphasis on the active form of the word only makes sense (remembering instead of memory).  Because individual and collective memory have already moved in parallel in the domain of remembering, we argue that making a similar analogy between individual and collective memory consolidation is warranted.

Rather than merely paying lip service to the idea of interdisciplinarity, the four members of the Memory Analogies Group have drawn on their various backgrounds in the neurosciences and in history to suggest an interdisciplinary framework within which historians and scientists can understand the work they are already doing, and which will hopefully produce new avenues of research for all.  Intersections between the memory of individuals and the memory of groups are as old as the concept of memory, so this paper will explore some of the history of this literature in order to argue for the reasonableness of one more such comparison, the analogy between the process of memory consolidation in individuals and in collectives.

 

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Affective Transruption: Weaving Other Tales in the Multicultural Classroom
Caroline Rueckert, Educational Studies, University of British Columbia

Keywords: affective economies, affective transruption, multiculturalism, social justice education

In her 2004 The Cultural Politics of Emotion, Sara Ahmed moves beyond the reflection model and questions how emotions produce or materialize certain bodies. She asks “What do emotions do?” and “How are emotions bound up with stories of justice and injustice?’ (p. 191). I am interested in the possibilities that such questions open up. How might our classrooms be different if we were to consider what emotions do, and how they are related to wider stories of power inequities and injustice? How might the power relations that inform our conversations shift if emotions were seen to be active, rather than passively reflective? Specifically, I argue that emotions can be “mobilized” as means to unsettle the power relations that script certain bodies into particular positions. My argument emerges at the intersection of two main theories: Ahmed’s assertion that emotions “circulate” as “affective economies,” speaking histories, and
materializing bodies in particular ways (Ahmed, 2004), and Barnor Hesse’s idea of “multicultural transruptions” that unsettle the hegemonic practices and assumptions that make up the nation (Hesse, 2000). I propose the concept of “affective transruptions” as a way of describing the process whereby emotions become mobilized in productive ways, as a result of
naming and unsettling the affective economies that are circulating in a given community. In so doing, I demonstrate how histories of emotion speak both to the subjugation of bodies and to their potential productivity. Through an analysis of both theory and praxis, I will argue that the concept of emotive transruption is a way by which we might conceive of emotions as valuable pedagogical tools in our social justice toolkits, not only because they can help us to understand how bodies are scripted into their positions by the affective economies that surround them, but also because perhaps we might learn how they can be mobilized for productive ends.

 

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Folk Memory and Ethnography in Zora Neale Hurston
Kim O'Neill, English, UIUC

Keywords: Zora Neale Hurston, Embodiment, Folk Memory, Representation


Critics have mined Hurston's oeuvre for how she represents African American women, the rural South, and the race/class tensions of the 1920s and 30s.  Most recently, Leigh Anne Duck, David Todd Lawrence, and Ifeoma Nwankwo have theorized the relationship between Hurston's ethnographic writing and her fiction.  Pointing to the fissure between folk mythology and the material reality that blacks have confronted in the rural South, I argue that Hurston's skepticism about ethnographic representation produces the retellings and reinterpretations that comprise Their Eyes Were Watching God.  Hurston presents autonomous black communities and often elides the poverty and exploitation of racialized migrant laborers.  I argue that her ethnographic literature ( Mules and Men and Tell My Horse) and fiction resist Anthropology's use of transcribed individual memories to "represent" disenfranchised communities.  Hurston's characters differ from those of her contemporaries because they respond to these deterministic ethnographies by revising and reinterpreting them.  While Hurston's folk must confront the real consequences of racism and capitalist hierarchies, their testimonies co-opt memory, rewrite history, and create space for black subjectivity in the rural South.  Hurston's texts foreground the constructedness of folk mythologies and identities as her characters commandeer and revise their remembered pasts through storytelling.

My paper ultimately contends that arbiters of folk culture like Hurston challenged the elitist assumptions of their contemporaries about their role as champions of the folk.  While Hurston was invested in recuperating the aesthetics and culture of the rural South, she did not see the folk as a unified body and did not look to southern space as a black Arcadia.  Instead, she undermined contemporaneous assumptions about the inherent truth of literature, the objectivity of ethnography, and the existence of an authentic or authorized African-American history.  Rending her authorial body from her fictional corpus, Hurston exposed the gap between individual embodied experiences of blackness and intellectual/fictional representations of the folk.

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Memory Made Palpable: Synaesthetic Experience and the Cabinet of Curiosities
Dawna Schuld, Art History, University of Chicago

Keywords: Collecting, Wunderkammer, Synaesthesia, Art of Memory, Art History

The cabinet of curiosities (a forerunner of the contemporary museum) offered access to the world in ways that a logocentric approach could not. The private "Wunderkammer" was created for the aesthete to instruct the senses. 17th- and 18th-century collectors were attempting to address, with the aid of “curiosities,” an aspect of perception that was neither altogether intellectual nor altogether physiological, but rather, imaginative. Access to the imagination was
through the senses, through dreams, and through memory―all aspects of the sub-cortical, “non-thinking” mind. The collection and its cabinet became experiential for the collector and his circle, perhaps closer to viewing a drama than to today’s notion of looking at art. The experience of art was deliberately emotional. These art enthusiasts were seeking an essentially synaesthetic experience. More recent artwork (e.g. that of 20th-century artist Joseph Cornell and contemporary artist Mark Dion) draws from this tradition to proffer multi-modal, imaginative means of instantiating memory; literalizing and externalizing the ancient Sophist art of memory.
       Theories of synaesthesia have a three-hundred-year history and have been given a great deal of attention in artistic circles. In recent years there has been a renewal in neurological studies of the phenomenon of synaesthesia, notably by Richard Cytowic. Current studies (Cytowic, Hoffman) indicate that some aspect of the cross-modal perception experienced at a heightened state by synaesthetes (for example, “seeing” vivid colours while listening to music) is latent in all of us. Contemporary neurological research (Kosslyn et al) shows that mind imagery is multi-
sensory and that the synthesis of sensations is key to evoking coherent and lucid memories. In light of these findings, it is useful to reconsider the cabinet of curiosities as an externalized means of understanding how and why we remember what we do.


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Rethinking Machines: Artificial Intelligence Beyond the Philosophy of Mind
Daniel Estrada, Philosophy, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Keywords: Artificial Intelligence, Philosophy of Mind, A.M. Turing, J. Bleecker, B. Latour

The philosophical debate surrounding AI has generated invaluable methodological resources for scientific inquiry into human cognitive processes. However, these empirical successes have had the unfortunate consequence of largely confining this debate to the domain of philosophy of mind. Central to this implicit segregation is the assumption, often attributed to Turing, that the goal of developing artificial intelligences is to produce systems that behave indistinguishably from humans, relative to some specific activity. Since such systems are rare, and are still the subject of philosophical dispute, most discussions of the broader social implications of AI remain speculative and hypothetical.

Rejecting this assumption highlights the often ignored impact artificial intelligent systems already have on public discourse, not just as helpful tools but as full-blown social participants. For instance, Julian Bleecker argues that 'networked objects' are intimately involved in "starting, maintaining, and being critical attractors in conversations around topics that have relevance and
meaning to others who have a stake in that discussion," and therefore these systems are already relevant members of the social discourse quite independently of their "Turing test report card." I argue that Bleecker's proposal is a special linguistic case of Latour's more general claim, "the more non-humans share existence with humans, the more humane a collective is."

After motivating this alternative approach, I argue that Turing's work need not stand in opposition to Bleecker's proposal. Turing's test rests on the assumption that machines can already use language, and therefore already participate in shared social activities. This
assumption stands independently of the machine's ability to mimic human behavior. Interpreting Turing's paper in this light opens artificial intelligence to philosophical discussions beyond the narrow anthropocentric confines of philosophy of mind, and takes the first steps towards appreciating the diversity of our technological situation.


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Performance Anxiety: The Brain Image in the Spotlight

Jameson Bell, German, Media and Cultural Studies, Pennsylvania State University

Keywords: Brain Imaging, Performance theory, Subjectivity, Visual Aesthetics

Thought has stepped on stage, embodied as pixilated primary colors plotted on top of a 3D brain image; finger twitch, auditory ping, triangular visual stimulus, taste and distaste, symbols of universal hate, love, etc. each have a director (or technician) recording and blocking their position on the screen.  The brain performs (either successfully or through deformity); the audience of doctors, technicians, scholars, and general public applaud at both success and failure. 

In no other time in documented history has the brain been asked to prove itself as an organ, to demonstrate its activity, provide evidence that that “what” (content) of thought is available to the “how” (process) of visual perception.    In other words, the brain has become a performer on stage.  The brain’s performativity once had messages rich in value that have been both laid bare as irrelevant and idealized as technologically spectacular advances in scientific imaging processes.  PET, MRI, fMRI, SPECT, EEG, all provide a symbolic representation of “live” thought regardless (or maybe not regardless) of the content of that thought.  This is in contrast to older, ancient methods of dissection (just 50 years ago), shock therapy and photographed patients/cadavers, or artist’s localization drawings and etchings from a half a millennium ago.  No longer is a patient’s curtain call required for theoretical observations and predictions to be proved correct or incorrect.  We can know what and where content takes place if we can see it represented on a screen. 

Using current performance studies (Richard Schechner) that describe modern subjectivity as both creating a repetitive loop between performance and observation that destroys the line between subject/object, stage/real life, signified/signifier, I will describe contemporary brain imaging within this blurred distinction between actor and audience as the brain exposes (unconceals) itself to more and more viewers in a ritualized fashion.  No one doubts that advances in brain imaging have provided vast amounts of information.  However, is the brain’s visual performance knowledge only about the brain, or can it provide insight into our cultural fetish with information, images and technology?


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Thinking Affleck, or The Brain On Screen:  Gadgets, Memory, and Video in Paycheck
Michael Simeone, English, UIUC

Keywords: Zora Neale Hurston, Embodiment, Folk Memory, Representation


The perspective of the posthuman offers us an opportunity to move beyond the antagonistic relationship between nature and technology that has persisted throughout Western thought.  Furthermore, it also accounts for a definite tendency in the imaginations of various science fiction texts, from cinema to pulp novels.  But the posthuman has its limitations as a scholarly hermeneutic.  The goal of this paper will be to examine electronic gadgets, both as material technologies and cultural tropes, as technological artifacts that defy the posthuman and work actively (actantly, even) to reconstitute liberal humanism in the context of contemporary American technoculture.        
    Particularly striking examples of this "gadget logic" include the filmic adaptations of Philip K. Dick's short stories, The Minority Report and Paycheck.  Their deployment of digital video as a code for understanding memory and cognition presents audiences with no definite posthuman fantasy. Instead, as we shall see, the adaptations articulate a brand of ambivalent technophobia that at once embraces the ubiquity of information technologies and at the same time demands that a human meta-subject always be stationed at the controls.  With gadgets in hand, the category of the human still matters as an imagined locus of liberal (and capitalist) subjectivity.

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Trans-Generational Trauma: Post-memory and the Zone of Indistinction
Rebecca Kraus, English, Boston College

Keywords: Trauma Theory, Trans-Generational Transmission, Holocaust, Memory

Giorgio Agamben talks about the concentration camp as a zone of indistinction where the exception was the rule, the illicit licit, and the extreme normalized; extreme life became "normal" life.  In this paper, I extend Agamben's theory to understand the trauma of the concentration camp. If the real horror of the camp was indeed this zone of indistinction, how, then, does this affect the memory of that experience? While the survivors were in the camps, it was an extreme world built on normality; in their later lives, it is a normal world laced with traces of the extreme. It is precisely because the horror was so normalized in Auschwitz that these traces of the camp invade their everyday life after liberation.  Survivors' flashbacks are not only triggered by guns and gallows, they are provoked by trains, dogs, and striped clothing.  "Normal" life still carries traces of the extreme.  I then use Abraham and Torok's trans-generational theory of the phantom to discuss how this traumatic memory of indistinction is transferred to the children of Holocaust survivors. Children of Holocaust survivors grow up witnessing the invasion of these extreme traces into their "normal" lives.  Abraham and Torok say that the phantom is transferred without words from parent to child; likewise, most children of survivors say that they always knew that their parents were survivors.  The children then exercise what Marianne Hirsch has termed "post-memory," a memory mediated by imagination rather than recollection.  This "post-memory" haunts the children in the same way that actual memory haunts their parents.  Their parents have flashback to cattle cars while they are in trains; children of Holocaust survivors often describe that being in a train provokes them to imagine themselves in cattle cars.  This paper then explores the way that this trauma of the blurring of the extreme and everyday affects the form of second generation Holocaust literature.

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SARS: Affect and Victims
I-Ju Ruby Chen, Comparative Literary and Cultural Studies, SUNY Stony Brook University

Keywords: SARS, Emotion theory, Affect, Id, Media, Punishment


In early spring 2006, SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) sweeping across continents took thousands of lives within two months.  Few of the most dangerous regions including Hong Kong, Singapore, and Taiwan were forced to be quarantined under the pressure of the fierce virus transmitted in no time.   This paper will focus on the SARS incident in Taipei where the disease broke out and haunted the enclosed city in curious and various forms.  The horror SARS caused was stranger than fiction—it devoured corporal bodies and undermined economical and psychological ones.   How does the curious invisible virus floating in the air transform into and circulate via highly visible images and audible verbal information?  In a city that was threatened and used by "information," every one, including one's dearest and neighbor could be a living zombie behind masks.   This paper will apply affect (emotion) theory to unfold the power of mass media that played as a two-edged sword in the game of the death and fear.  SARS brought Taipei to a situation similar to a laboratory where emotions and moral issues were enlarged and examined in both personal and collective spheres.   During this period of time, the affect of information and emotion was moving faster than words—reinterpreted and distorted at times.   With the increasing casualty, people of the enclosed city seek zealously after the criminal of their fear.   While every walking person in the marooned space (Taipei) was deemed as a potential criminal of the fear (subject of punishment), every one is victimized at the same time (subject of criminality).  The virus broke down the final barrier of life and death, rival and friend, visibility and invisibility.  Eventually everyone returned to the Self, id, for survival.  SARS story finally became one of the most dreadful fables of the century.  

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Against Memory: Acts of Remembering in Jamaica Kincaid's My Brother
Marta Bladek, English,The Graduate Center, CUNY

Keywords: autobiographical memory, acts of remembering, gender and memory, postcolonial,
affective relationships


In My Brother, an elegiac memoir describing the circumstances surrounding the AIDS-related death of her youngest brother Devon, Jamaica Kincaid returns to Antigua after having been absent for two decades. Journeying back and forth between Vermont and Antigua in the years that follow, Kincaid relives and confronts the memories that define her deeply ambivalent and unsettlingly intense attachment to both her family and the place she comes from. My reading of
Kincaid’s autobiographical narrative will suggest that the text foregrounds and engages the difference between memory and acts of remembering.

As she relentlessly and vividly recalls painful incidents from her childhood and adolescence, she remembers these moments of shame and helplessness in order to assert the distance that separates her past and her present. At the same time as it reveals her continuing vulnerability to and preoccupation with events that took place years ago, Kincaid’s investment in remembering is motivated by her desire to transform the memories of subjugation and defeat into acts of
self-assertion. In other words, Kincaid remembers in order to be able to act against memory. Kincaid’s acts against memory, then, reveal that memory can simultaneously play a foundational and a transformational role.

My discussion will center on specific passages in the text that highlight the way in which Kincaid presents, interprets, and uses specific memories to tell her life story. In particular, I will examine what memory and acts of remembering reveal about Kincaid’s relationship with her mother and her brother Devon, her attachment to her home island and her first language, as well as her present status as a celebrated and accomplished writer. Consequently, I will propose that Kincaid’s memory and the acts of remembering in which she engages negotiate her affective familial relationships, both perpetuate and disrupt her gendered and racialized subject position
in a postcolonial context, and probe the limits and potentialities of self-invention.  

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