Who makes the canon?
Today, I find myself struggling to come up with a topic. There is so much to talk about! What’s on my mind right now though is when I am actually going to start writing blogs based on what I do. I guess that day might be today :)
What do you think of when I say, “Memory?”
Memory is deeply personal. There are the memories I’ve been sharing here on my blog about my life and how I developed narratives and social scripts. Having a memory, some philosophers argue, creates the core of you. What makes you unique to other people is your lived experience, and you know that you experienced it because of your memories. It is seen as the foundation to your identity and shared experiences with other people. However, memory is also bigger than the self.
Memory is also collective.
There are two types of memory, and one is much more glamorous than the other. I look at the less shiny, less popular one.
One of the types of memory is the one that passes on all of our cultural knowledge. This is the canon. It is the core of information that makes up whatever you thought of when I wrote “The Canon.” It is preserved in books and art and poetry. It also passes on religious teachings. It is called cultural memory. This is the most interesting one because it looks at all of the things that make up our zeitgeist and are passed down through generations as some form of art and education. The problem with the canon is that it is created by a few voices throughout history. What I look at is the memory that hopes to become cultural memory one day.
I research communicative memory, or everyday memory. Communicative memory became of interest to me because we have a way to collectively preserve it in digital spaces. This memory types is comprised of mores, slang, jargon, and events as well as theories about today. Pop culture lives here. The 24 hour news cycle lives here. Social movements live here. Communicative memory is the opposite of cultural memory.
Where cultural memory passes down things that no one alive has directly experienced, communicative memory looks at what living people are doing and saying. Cultural memory looks at preserving traditions while communicative memory tries to combine them or create new ones. When cultural memory looks at specific and compartmental types of knowledge tied to a place, communicative memory is expressed transnationally, beyond borders.
What makes communicative memory so interesting to me?
It is dynamic and changing, and we never had the means to store it in such depth before. It could never be as easily accessed before. We get to see, in real time, what movements and platforms make it to cultural memory as long as companies do not purge their servers of this valuable information.
This is, like, the first time in history that everyone (with access to a digital platform) can participate in shaping what may possibly make history. Usually, recording historical events was left to the ruling class. Or the victors. Rarely outside of their own regions did knowledge of customs, events, or reactions to events get recorded.
This is abstract, but some of my go-to examples relate to the Presidents of the US. We don’t know all of the presidents. We only know the ones that did big things. Some of them were cool, and some were not. Some created social programs, some got us into and out of wars, and some maintained the status quo. While I can’t tell you who Grover Cleveland is or what he did, I would put money on the idea that there were stakes for people, both for and against him, at the time of his election.
When I think about how America will be remembered during 2020, I often think back to when I visited several countries in 2006. When I was in South Korea, we were asked how the US elected Bush in 2004. I can imagine now how the rest of the world looked on as we voted Trump into office in 2016. I wonder how COVID will be remembered in 100 years when we barely remembered the flu of 1918 that lasted two years because peoplecouldnetgettheirshittogetherenoughtojuststayinsideandletit pass. Yeah. We’re there now. We’ll probably be there again.
What I love the most about communicative memory is two-fold, and both relate to representation. First, many voices get to present many perspectives on the same subjects, and they all (pretty much) equally matter. There are a few exceptions, but for the most part, there is a space for everyone to contribute and engage in any degree to the discourse that matters most to them. This is what academia is all about- contributing to discourse in a meaningful way. I love that people get to do that now, even if it is fleeting or if they feel their perspectives don’t matter.
I also love that communicative memory gives people the opportunity to be remembered without passing on genetics. We all want to matter, and now that we are preserving communicative memory, we all do. It’s so fun!