Thursday, 14 July 2016
Religion and Cultural Memory (tr. Rodney Livingstone),
Jan Assmann, Stanford University Press, 2006, page 29
How many memories are there? How many still exist in writing? And what can we do with them?
The stock of memories stored up in the medium of writing quickly transcends the horizons of a knowledge of the past that can be put to immediate use, and transforms the bonding memory through a cultural memory that operates on a much larger scale.
Ok, so if there are all these written (and presumably, shaped and edited) memories, where are they?
The palace library at Nineveh is the earliest example of a comprehensive cultural collection that aimed to assemble the entire knowledge of past and present, the most famous of which is the library of Alexandria. Cultural memory is complex, pluralistic and labyrinthine; it encompasses a quantity of bonding memories and group identities that differ in time and place and draws its dynamism from these tensions and contradictions.
So is this why each successive group of 'victors' destroys the writing and libraries of the people they defeat? Is this why the UK switched from the centuries old monetary system to the new decimal system in 1971 - so that memories of the past become unavailable and its values and symbols become inaccessible without (official, of course) interpretation? Ask people today, and they have almost no idea what a half-crown is and the value it used to have - a whole week's pocket money!