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Using data and theoretical material that you have read, discuss the role of the senses and performance in creating and transforming social memory.

Using data and theoretical material that you have read, discuss the role of the senses and performance in creating and transforming social memory.

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An essay for the 2011 Undergraduate Awards (Ireland) Competition by David Delaney. Originally submitted for MH101 at NUI Maynooth, with lecturer Dr Steve Coleman in the category of Social Studies
An essay for the 2011 Undergraduate Awards (Ireland) Competition by David Delaney. Originally submitted for MH101 at NUI Maynooth, with lecturer Dr Steve Coleman in the category of Social Studies

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Published by: Undergraduate Awards on Aug 31, 2012
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02/17/2014

 
Using data and theoretical material that you have read, discuss the role of the sensesand performance in creating and transforming social memory.
This essay will talk about the creation and transformation of memory with reference tothe research done by Seremetakis in Greece. For traditional Greeks there is an exchangeof ‘body parts’ through the senses. There is a role to be played by the senses in a literaland metaphorical way. From here the essay will talk about cultural memories or whatStoller calls embodying the memories, or indeed memories on the body. There is a major involvement of the senses in creating and transforming social memory. Comparisons will be made to the Yaqui people who also embody memories and use their senses to createand transform memory. Not only are the senses used in both the Songhay and Yaquitribes but they also incorporate performance into reiterating memory. This will be shownin the essay. Social memory is created by Scottish travelers in Reith’s article entitled‘Through the eye of the skull’ (2008), as they look to the past. For the travelers it is places that hold knowledge. The essay will then compare this notion to the westernapache people of New Mexico who say that ‘Wisdom Sits in Places’. Of course this is thetitle of the ethnography written by Keith Basso. Social memory for the western apache people is constructed by looking to the past and learning valuable lessons from it. Of course the senses and performance also play a part in this creation of social memory.Firstly I’m going to show how Seremetakis uses food and the senses to illustrate howmemory can be transformed from one person to another. Serematakis shows from her research in Greece how social memory is created and transported by a grandmother to the1
 
grandchild. The grandmother takes a piece of bread and washes it around her mouthmixing it with her saliva. She sometimes dips the bread in olive oil and repeas the samemotion in her mouth. While she is doing this she says ‘my eyes’ and ‘my heart’. This isher way of transforming the social memory from within her to within the baby “She callsthe child ‘my heart’ for the emotions in this awakening are as sensual as the senses areemotive” (1993:3). Not only does the grandmother say this but she also says ‘my eyes’“By naming the child’s gaze ‘my eyesthe grandma exchanges ‘body partsandestablishes vision as a social and sensory reciprocity” (1993:3). By motioning the foodaround her mouth, the grandmother is embedding the food with senses and memory.When passing it on to the child the grandmother is giving the former social memory. Thereader can see the role the senses play in creating and transforming social memory.The second point I would like to make is with reference to an article by Paul Stoller (1994). The article is entitled ‘Embodying Colonial Memories’. Stoller talks about theHauka spiritual embodiment, which is practiced by the Songhay culture. It is sometimesreferred to as a cultural resistance to French Colonialism (Stoller 1994:636). One of Stoller’s main points is that memory is located on the body. To ease one into a spiritualhabitation smells, sights and sounds are very important “the mix of sounds and smells brings the spirits” (Stoller 1994:634). The Songhay people embody officers and militaryindividuals. Stoller believes that when people engage in the possession they are a sentient body, or a body experiencing feeling in an unstructured way. Their senses are beingengaged in a way which is not linear or complete. Smells, sights and sounds lull theminto a state of sentient consciousness whereby when fully under the possession they act in2
 
ways that re-iterate a colonial memory. One could argue that this is in fact a socialmemory being usurped by the senses.Stoller labels some of the processes that occur in spirit possession in Songhay culture. Hetalks about inscription and incorporation (1994:639). The former for Stoller is the use of data which is in the form of cassettes, audio, visual and written to learn more abouthistory. According to Stoller, academia privilege inscription over incorporation, the latter  being a bodily experience of history involving the senses “Incorporating practices include body postures, gestures, facial expressions, body movements and table manners”(194:639). For Stoller then, the people of Songhay engage in incorporation. The memoryis on the body. It is in the movements, the expressions, and gestures. One rememberssomething via the body and this is clearly seen in the Hauka. Social memory is createdand transformed through the senses in the body.Stoller uses the term ‘counter-memory’ to define all that is woken through the movementof the body and the engagement of the senses in the spirit possession. Stoller quotesauthors of slave narratives when he talks about counter-narrative and explains it as whathappens when someone can feel history. Another example would be when someone istelling a story and you ‘feel’ the pain or ‘taste’ the blood. The counter-memories arestored in the bodies of Songhay people. They are then awakened vivaciously through themovement, posture and gesture of these bodies. The sense of smell, odor and tastesexemplify the counter-memories (Stoller 1994:641). It is clearly evident here that through3

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