Essay on Narrative Memories, Life History, And Identity

Essay on Narrative Memories, Life History, And Identity

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The past as lived, and the past as told are interconnected, yet unique entities. Huyssen (1995) argues that “the past is not simply there in memory, but it must be articulated to become memory” (Huyssen 1995:03). This is supported by the previous discussion of narrative memory formation in which experiential data needs to be processed, given narrative patterns, and transformed into that which can be verbalized and incorporated into the individual’s memories, life history, and identity. In doing so, we engage our past twice, as actors in the moment and as narrators who revive the past and give it shape for the present. However, this process of articulation is not an isolated action. It depends on social conventions to be articulated and thus requires both a narrator and an audience, even when the narrator is serving both roles.
Social Act of Storytelling
We all tell stories of the past, whether formed by our personal experiences or constructed from knowledge gained second-hand. Trouillot argues that this social process of narrating history makes us all amateur historians, learning more of our training and knowledge from likewise amateur historians than from the more recognized academic channels (Trouillot 1995:20). This is not to devalue the importance of professional historians who are trained to uncover, evaluate, and report on the evidence of the past. Rather, Trouillot observes that the ongoing practice of social narration of the past begins almost as soon as the narrated event ends and may continue for a long while before a professional historian can even begin the process of their investigation.
The construction and delivery of narrative memory is a social process. Though we often think of our life narratives as sole...


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... shared sense of “we” in that “we” speak this language; “we” tell these kinds of stories; “we” know what that gesture means’ and “we” know that that euphemistic phrase really means instead of simply what the definitions indicate. These views on the social nature of narrative, particularly the emphasis on shared knowledge to construct a symbolic “space” of narration, binding narrator and audience together in shared understanding of the symbols used, are espoused by some of the leaders in the anthropological study of storytelling, including Geertz (1973; 1983), Hymes (1981; 1996), Bauman (1986), and Goffman (1981). As Tonkin (1992) asserts, this collapses the academic distinction between oral narrative as performance and written narration as object by acknowledging that they are both social action yet use different mediums to communicate, each with their limitations.

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