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Tuesday, 23 June 2020

“Remembrance of things past is not necessarily the remembrance of things as they were.” ― Marcel Proust

I'm really interested in memory and the way it works. The recollecting and retelling of the memory actually alters the memory - we smooth out the bits we want to and focus on others until it is more a story than a true detail of events.

I recently learnt of the Collective Imaginary in a course, and they gave the example of how if you ask people to visualise the Civil Rights movement, they will see images of the march on Washington, hoses and protests, Martin Luther King and so on. But ask them to see the Suffragette movement and they draw a blank, even though HALF the population won the right to vote, it spanned decades and it was photographed so there are images. It was big but slips by with little context in our visual memory. Some images are fed to us as iconic and some are not. In the course I did on Gender and Intersectionality on Edx with the University of Iceland, they said 'History is written by the victorious and the powerful; in most cases, men. Women, people of other genders, the weak, the vulnerable, the uneducated*, those without access to the corridors of power -these people are rarely included in the ways in which history is recorded, disseminated, or remembered' and I think that is probably what was in play here. Our historical memory (of events we weren't present at) are curated for us in a narrative that someone shaped as 'important history'.

I wrote of my own surprise at the difference in Collective Imaginary here and here, long before I knew what it was. This week I had another real life example of the fluidity of memory and how we can alter things without realising it. We are watching the Godfather of Harlem at the moment and I keep commenting how the actor playing Malcolm X looks EXACTLY like him. It's uncanny. Last night I decided to google the actor to see what else he'd been in. I discovered he also played Malcolm X in Selma and the penny dropped. I wasn't remembering what the real Malcolm X looked like, I was remembering the last time I saw Malcolm X depicted! I was actually remembering this actor as Malcolm X five years ago...

For the record, he does look a lot like the real Malcolm X too, but not as identical as I thought!

And so it goes with all memories, we shape our narrative, whether we want to or not.

“Memory is a few lines snipped from a larger story that we are privileged to tuck away between the pages of our minds.”
― Craig D. Lounsbrough

Have you caught your memory playing tricks on you?

*Note uneducated doesn't mean stupid but if you can't write your story down, it's very hard to get it preserved.

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15 comments:

  1. Our memory is shaped by our perspectives at the time the events happened, too. e.g. When people revisit their childhood home, they usually find things smaller or less intimidating. At age 6, we may see a slope as a big challenge. At age 25, not so much. #MLSTL

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  2. Absolutely. I think we tend to look back with rose-coloured tints when faced with something we don't want to face too - even if the past that looks so rosy now was something we hadn't wanted to face back then. I'm reading Julia Baird's Phosphoressence at the moment and she tals about how we only see the "outcomes' of civil rights mvements - the marches, the placards, but we don't see the years and years of behind the scenes graft.

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  3. Oh yes... I definitely 'misremember' things but am really conscious that our perceptions really flavour the way we see things (in the moment) let alone when we remember them later.

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  4. memory is fascinating. I liked your example of the suffragettes. I can imagine the long dresses and sashes, but not any particular face. I also think of memory when I talk with my siblings. We might all remember an incident from our childhood, but we all remember different things or conflict in our memories of how things happened. our memories are not always as reliable as we think!

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  5. I wrote a post on this in relation to our own memories a few years ago and how we can experience the same event but remember it differently - another blogger said "our memories are coloured by our experiences and are subject to being interpreted differently by the people who were present at the time" and this was such a revelation to me - I guess it flows over into our whole world view - very interesting to ponder upon isn't it?

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    1. While looking up the Proust quote, there was another one about how a family event is remembered differently by every person there...it's an interesting reminder (and also explains a lot of family disputes and issues!)

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  6. An excellent heading quote, Lydia. I am part of a family of four siblings and we can each have different versions of the same incident. You are right, how memory is a fascinating subject. Another good word “curated.” A very thought-provoking post and a reminder to do our own research and take ‘documented’ memories with a grain of salt. Thank you for an interesting post. #MLSTL and shared SM

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  7. Hi Lydia I was only talking about the subject of memory yesterday when I ran with a friend. She is reading a book which suggests our memory changes each time we remember something. I often wonder with some of my memories if they happened exactly as I remember or have I just developed a story line that suited me? Love the quote and thank you for writing about such an interesting topic and sharing at #MLSTL x

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    1. Yes, there's this nice quote which I can't find about how we shape our memories to suit ourselves and each time we remember something, the 'reality' of it erodes a little like a stone in a river...

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  8. There are things from when we are growing up that I literally can't remember but my sister and parents tell me about it... These are not bad memories that the brain may choose to block, but fun happy times that I have just forgotten so strange #KCACOLS

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    1. It's funny how that happens...but in families it happens a lot.

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  9. I used to write everything down as a child in diaries. I love reading them back over now. 35 years on! It's funny what we remember and what we forget.

    Thanks so much for linking up at #KCACOLS. Hope you come back again next time!

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  10. Nearly all of my early childhood I don't remember at all. I do think it's my brain's way of saving me from bad memories - unfortunately, my early childhood isn't worth remembering.
    To be fair, my memory in general is pretty poor ��
    Thanks for linking with #KCACOLS.

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  11. This topic is fascinating isn't it! I find it so interesting to understand our mind and memories. This happened to me a lot and a vivid example was when I went back home to Peru with my girls and I wanted to show them my old neighbourhood, the house that we lived, my old school, etc. Everything looked so different as how I had them in my memory for years. So weird isn't it but the sentiment was still there. The lovely feeling of remembering places where I had a lovely childhood. Thanks for sharing your thoughts with us at #kcacols :-) xx

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    1. Now that's a whole thing - when you go back and realise all the sizes are wrong (because you were little these huge things were actually quite small)

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