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Halbwachs Critique

Running Head: Halbwachs Critique

Book Critique of: Maurice Halbwachs (1992). On Collective Memory, Chicago, IL: Chicago University Press.

Patrick James Christian Nova Southeastern University, Graduate School of Humanities & Social Science Department of Conflict Analysis & Resolution

History, Memory & Conflict Winter/Spring 2012

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Introduction This paper seeks to review the contribution of Maurice Halbwachs introduction of the idea of collective memory on the field of conflict analysis and resolution, especially at the psychological sociological levels of examination. The volume reviewed is a compilation of works by Halbwachs that was edited, translated and introduced by a contemporary, Professor Emeritus Lewis A Coser (1913-2003). Given the breadth of subject material covered by this compilation, my review focuses on the first five chapters of the social frameworks of memory, which includes sections on dreams, language, reconstruction of the past, localization of memory and the collective memory of the family. My use of Halbwachs as a primary source for analyzing family and community conflict stems from these chapters and has helped me lay the foundation for integrating Halbwachs work with that of Edmund Husserl, Georg Jellinek, Sigmund Freud, Carl Jung, Howard Stein and Jonathan Winson. The works of these theoreticians spans subjects from philosophy, sociology, psychology, anthropology and neurology. Collectively, they and other social and natural scientists construct a theoretical basis for the psychological underpinnings of sociological life in human communities. My purpose in showing the integrative possibilities of Halbwachs work is the essence of my critique. I believe that a theoreticians work is most valuable when it provides foundational structure to integrate and develop knowledge for human advancement. As a foundation of memory, Halbwachs theory of collective memory provided a link that served to connect Emile Durkheims ideas of the collectivity of creation with the collectivity of memory which we now find to be underlying explanations of how humans build group identity, establish cultural integration across generational lines and ultimately, ensure species survival. This may sound dramatic, but without the existence of collective creation and of collective memory that Halbwachs illuminated, group identity and the generational existential memory that exists within that identity would not be possible. And without the ability to collectivize and transmit the memory of our present existence to future remembrance and memorializing, we could never be induced to lay the foundations for future societies that we will never see, never experience (Christian, 2012). Maurice Halbwachs lived in a time of social continuity, where the society or collective created public discourse and group memory of a type and in a manner that was accepted and recorded in all its dogma and controversy. Where there was discord between disciplines of academia, ideologies of society or even political objectives of states, Halbwachs time was one of belief in the public-knowing of public life. Based on this belief, scholarly or public inquiries ended to protect the privacy of the individual, the family, or of the state. Intrusion into that privacy was thought to be of little value to the sanctity of history and memory. In short, private actions and public knowing was not thought to be of substantial separation as to materially affect the record of history and human society. I base this assertion on many of the dramatic revelations in the affairs of states and men over the past half century. The exposure of this gap
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between public knowing and private actions in the affairs of men and states began near the end of Maurices life. In fact, it can be argued that his death was directly a result of the public unknowing of the private actions of the Vichy Regime in wartime France and its collaboration with the German Nationalist Socialist State. Halbwachs, an Alsatian Christian married to a Jewish wife, died in Buchenwald Concentration camp shortly before the end of World War II. It may be a misuse of the word irony to apply it to his death just as the world community was about to learn of the tremendous gap between what it thought it knew about Germanys policies towards its multicultural citizenry and the reality that emerged. The changes that Maurice might have made to his theories had he lived to learn about collective memories that were never written about; never spoken into language, yet existed all the same in the amorphous phenomenological texture of collective human trauma, we will never know. It is enough to know however, that his initial foundations allowed us to move beyond restrictive boundaries that separated people into individual spheres of creative existence with memory delimited by the physical boundaries of our outward separate states of being. Maurice showed us that we are connected by larger possibilities than mere blood and inheritance and the collectivity of our memory hinted at the central importance of communal memory in the life cycle of human societies. The collectivization of creation, memory and identity Halbwachs began intellectual life in a world of academe where disciplines are separate spheres of knowledge possessed by guilds of knightly defenders. These knights of academe were armed with single disciplinary narratives reminiscent of epic poems laden with heroic figures of extraordinary complexity. The narratives they armed themselves with were used to explain humanity and its purpose in authoritatively uncompromising voices. The complexity with which these fortified guilds of academic disciplines explained the world required the continuous development of arcane language that sought to cloak the gaps between the bricks of their ideas with a protective mud coating. Halbwachs willingness to be influenced first by the philosopher Henri Bergson, and then by the father of Sociology mile Durkheim, defied this single discipline authority and created an acceptance of what he would later argue for as an interdisciplinary approach to understanding social science and the development of human life. Into this interdisciplinary approach to sociology, Maurice integrated subjects as diverse as geography, history, social morphology, religion, suicide, and social evolution to develop the foundation of the idea that humans use each other to organize the structure of their common phenomenological experiences on a daily basis. Using Durkheims formation of collective effervescence (1995), in which sacred events and objects serve as organizing forces to cohere and order society, Halbwachs overlaid his idea of the collectivization of memory. Together, Durkheim and Halbwachs theories posited that as people work in collaboration to create religion, art, language,

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or other sacred rituals imbued with the effervescence of constructed group esteem, they create memory of action, of relation, of interaction and of creation. The periods or space between collective effervescences is reserved for the construction of meaning in the structure of memory. In chapter 3, Halbwachs writes about the reconstruction of the past; the methods that societies use to revisit past events and the roles assigned to older members of the community to recollect and collectivize past events. This social role of community elders requires them to sort through documents, photos, images, and objects of creation as they write or articulate the communitys historical narrative. The reconstruction of the collective memory serves purposes both of esteem and nurturance as the process obligates people not just to reproduce in thought previous events of their lives, but also to touch them up, to shorten them, or to complete them so that, however convinced we are that our memories are exact, we give them a prestige that reality did not possess (Halbwachs, 1992, p. 51). The nurturance that reconstructed memory provides involves the revisiting of painful periods of the past that are now covered by obscuration and the scabbing of dulled memory. In reconstruction, separated by the psychic safety of time lapse and maturity, [t]hat faraway world where we remember that we suffered nevertheless exercises an incomprehensible attraction on the person who has survived it and who seems to think he has left there the best part of himself, which he tries to recapture (p. 49). The incomprehensible attraction that Halbwachs referred to is the endless need of the victim to revisit the phenomenological object of their trauma in order to repair the imbalance between texture and structure of suffering. Without this repair, the individual remains un-integrated with the collective in terms of memory and identity signaling alienation and shame of victimization. The allure of the sufferer to the object of trauma lies with the possibility of correcting the imbalance between the hidden story and that of the public record. It is the dissonance between the two records of memory collective and the un-integrated individual that creates the tension in the collective memory. The power of Halbwachs ideas of collective memory is in the very fact that they are not a given but rather a socially constructed notion (Coser, 1992, p. 22). Halbwachs stresses that individuals construct memory in a collective that draws strength from their integrated and collected memories. The individual strands of collective memory dont merely create group memory; they create the individual strands of identity. In some cases, they are the strands of identity where that identity cannot be expressed more easily in words or symbols. This is because we are what we remember ourselves to be. The collected traces of integrated (but separate) memory create feelings of individual identity that when shared in numbers creates feelings of group identity. This is the foundation for identity expression as culture. The feelings of an IrishQubcois identity can be traced back to the intertwining of parental stories of fathers life in Kerry, and mothers life in Montreal and the obstacles and subsequent resolution in mixing the most pleasant elements of both world views into an integrated whole. The subsequent
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expression of those intertwined identities by growing numbers of family members possessing that Irish-Qubcois identity in art, music, and mixed plaques of ethnic heraldry creates an emanation of family culture that memorializes their existence and their creation of a sacred collective effervescence. Identity isnt created from nothing, but rather from past events that have been turned into collective identity by comparison, by sharing, by negotiation, by construction. This is Halbwachs most elemental message; that in order to remember, there must be someone else to remember back or the process of Durkheims creation is absent. The creation of the sacred is inherently a collective phenomenon (Coser, 1992); one creator does not make for the sacred as there is no reflection back of a shared ethos or euphoria of accomplishment. The process of creation and the memory it constructs includes both the structure and the texture of the lived experience, which in its most basic form serves as the cloak of individual and group identity. This is the essence of the transmission of generational identity. We create future identity of those who succeed us with the construction of present memory today. Each generation reconstructs past memory to adapt it to present identity in an endless process of creating collective effervescence. The ethos of the sacred then, explains the strength of generational linkage and the pain of disruption of historical narrative. The structure of memory and the texture of dreams No real and complete memory every [sic] appears in our dreams as it appears in our waking state. (Halbwachs, 1992, p. 41) The state of knowledge concerning the psychological structures of phenomenological experience was still too new to have informed Halbwachs work. Edmund Husserls (2001) 1913 work on phenomenological reduction was just introduced and theories of the integrative function of dreams based on the work of Freud and Carl Jung were another half century in the making. So the fact that Halbwachs was even cognizant of the importance of dreams to memory and collectivization was still ground breaking for his time. The combination of the collectivity of memory (Halbwachs), the phenomenological reduction of lived experience to its components of structure and texture (Husserl) and the integrating function of experience in dream states (Winson, 1985) provides an ongoing trail of exploration in the field of memory formation, collectivization and transmission. As Halbwachs wrote, we dont remember in dreams, but we do relive the phenomenological texture that is un-integrated to the structure it is supposed to correspond to. Phenomenological texture and structure is concerned with what the participants perceive to be emanating from the reality they are part of and the meaning-intention or meaning fulfillment (Husserl, 2001, p. 167) of their cognition and emotion as expressed in language, thought or reason. Although separate activities, cognition and emotion interact as variable-orresult and can present themselves simultaneously (Eysenk & Keane, 2000). The cognitive processing of boredom for instance can be simultaneously mirrored by the emotional state of
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impatience and both represent human experience and a phenomenological representation of the objects that produced them. In his recounting of Chateaubriands account of time spent at his parents manor at Combourg, Halbwachs separates the structure and texture of Chateaubriands memories. The structure of Chateaubriands memory is the physical event, where the texture is the accompanying import felt or perceived by him during the event. The structure of Chateaubriands memories for example, details the silent comings and goings of his father [and]the appearance of the hall. The texture of Chateaubriands memories is of greater depth and import as Halbwachs writes: what interests us above all is Chateaubriand himself and the feelings of oppression, sadness, and boredom that arises in him from his contact with people and things (p. 60). Where the structure is both familiar but of little import, the texture of what Chateaubriand feels parallels, validates, and connects him to us in shared lived experience or what Halbwachs calls collectivized memory. Such is the texture of what is remembered, rather than the physical structure. Texture is created and remembered in volume that is far denser than structure. To illustrate further, a childs sibling is to be punished and the quality and quantity of what is remembered constitutes a distinct imbalance of the process of meaning and memory creation: the child hears the fathers footsteps climb the stairs from behind a closed door where she huddles imagining his expression, his anger, the strap dangling from his closed fist, the first violent burst of pain that her sibling would feel as the strap cut into soft skin; the outrush of tears mixed with saliva as moans turned to howls. From the scrap of structural memory; the clump of feet on stairs and the cries of a sibling, the child in the darkened room creates textural memory on top of structural memory that far exceeds what the child physically saw or heard. Like Maurices depiction of how Chateaubriand assembles feelings and ideations from different time periods into a single structural scene that is depicted in one evening, or one moment, the child in the example above assembles past structural knowledge about pain and anticipation of pain and punishment into a dense volume of texture which is overlaid onto brief moments of structure to be remembered intermixed to the point that dissembling elements of each become difficult if not impossible. Using another of Halbwachs examples, the moment of recreation of the [texture] and of the event itself-now judged from a distance-imposes itself on our mind with so much power that we cannot escape being inspired by it (p. 61). The texture in Halbwachs example was the moral nature of his parents, but the point is that he demonstrated an understanding of the phenomenological aspects of lived experience and their effect on memory, including that we are more interested in the texture than the structure. When Halbwachs remembers his brother, he remembers less the physical structure of his appearance or characteristics and more the emotional import of their relations and relationship. In his chapter on dreams and memory images, Halbwachs seems troubled by the disorganized bits and pieces of memory present in dreams that are too mutilated and mixed up with others to
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allow us to recognize them. There never appears in dreams an event accompanied by all its particularities, without a mixture of alien elements (p. 41). Ultimately, Maurice questions the role that dreams play in memory formation and collectivization. While I can only speculate, perhaps had Halbwachs possessed the knowledge that we now have on the subconscious physically and psychologically, would he have surmised that those alien elements consist of the texture of the event that is represented in the structure of the dream? What we do know is that the texture of the event creates a greater amount of input data/memory than the structure of the event, corresponding positively to the increase of suffering or pleasure of the event. To explain, an event that has a neutral import of suffering or pleasure has an amount of texture equal or less than the accompanying structure. So the task of organizing ones closet might take an hour of complex sorting of types, colors, or seasons of clothes, shoes and hats. The textual pleasure of accomplishment against the textual discomfort of time spent on required housekeeping may well be equal or less then the structural actions of moving and sorting the many items of apparel. In this case, there is a match in volume between texture and structure. A subsequent dream about the event might only serve to integrate the changed circumstances of the closet against an anticipated purchase of additional apparel or the ability to create new combinations of wear during the coming days. This fits with Winsons (1985) theories of the integrative ability of dreams to synthesize experiences past with present and anticipated future during unconscious states of cognition. But what if the texture of the event dramatically overshadowed the structure of the same event? In the earlier example of the punished child, footsteps and cries served to unleash a torrent of textual memory input for the child based on shared phenomenological ideation of pain, suffering, and survivor guilt. In this event, the texture would not fit within the given structure; the structure is stark and on its surface, does not warrant the depth of the import felt and remembered by the child. How does the child reintegrate this mismatched texture with structure? While there are many ways that the human mind accommodates disproportionate, unsynchronized, or unintegrated feelings and thoughts, one way it does so is through dream state, where the structure can be revisited and artificially extended to accommodate the trove of textual import until both structure and texture are fully integrated as a composite whole. The reality distortion in memory created by the extension of structure may well remain unintegrated into the group whole that the child belongs to until such time as additional members present their equally distorted memories of the giant strap wielded by the grim punisher. What is distorted in memory by dream state is the size of the strap; the grimness of the wielder; the ominous sound of footfalls on the steps and agony of the shared, guilt ridden pain that the memory holder did not actually feel. Halbwachs treads ever so close to such speculative questioning when writes that dreams are almost completely detached from the system of social representations, its images are nothing more than raw materials, capable of entering into all sorts of combinations (p. 42). Almost
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intuitively, Halbwachs understands that the dream is both a part of memory and yet, is inhibited by virtue of being based only upon itself (p. 42) mired as it is in the unconscious memory of a phenomenological object mismatched in unconscious integration of structure and texture. Such a would-be memory would necessarily be stuck in nocturnal life where consciousness is isolated and turned upon itself working to resolve the marked disparity between what (texture) occurred and how (structure) it occurred before it could be integrated and accepted into the collective whole. The language of structure and the memory of texture Perhaps the most striking failure of Halbwachs theory of collective memory involves the connection of collective memory with language. We write the structure of our memory into the historical record of our collective autobiographies, but the collectivization of memory requires the socialization and acceptance of the story by the collective. This requires the functioning and expression of language. To this, Halbwachs devotes nearly the entire chapter in discussion of the inability of people afflicted with Aphasia from stroke, injury or brain disease to communicatively integrate their memory into the collective. His principal approach is in comparing the disjointed nature of Aphasiacs of one level of function to people in dream states without the ability to participate in the collectivization of memory, turned as they are inward in communication and thought. Without going into the state of Aphasia research at the time of Halbwachs research, the possibilities of discussion in terms of language as it relates to the formation of collective memory are left largely unpacked. There is an area of analysis with regards to the connection between language and collective memory that has always existed, but only recently become possible to discuss within the current social milieu. This area of analysis concerns the loss of collective memory from the loss of language as a result of socially imposed silence. Halbwachs use of his entire chapter on language to discuss physical losses of language and its effect on participation in the formation of collective memory implies the absence of other causes, such as those in the sociological realm. It cannot be that sociological causes of loss of language would not be of interest to him as the entire construct of collective memory is a primary function of sociological life. The remaining possibility is the lack of experience with the phenomena of socially imposed silence and the resulting intention to curb or cancel segments of collective memory that are out of harmony with the power relationships of every sociological structure of human life. In the introduction, this paper made mention of the dichotomy between public knowing and private actions as an allegory to collective memory and private experience not yet integrated into the public collective consciousness. In Halbwachs time, areas of private knowledge were not thought to harbor vast reserves of hidden memory laden with potential large scale dissonance of public action and public acceptance. Men of war who plundered did so out of well defended ideologies that need not be hidden under cloaks of silence. Indeed, the socially accepted
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treatment of women, minorities, children, the poor and the disenfranchised were openly disclosed with moral and even scientific backing for the exclusion, enslavement, chastisement and control of the less than fully equal elements of society. Where there is no restriction, there is no need for secrecy or the cloak of silence. As Halbwachs found when he stormed into the Gestapo Headquarters in Lyon to demand justice for the barbaric treatment of his Jewish parentsin-law, the vastness of the collective lie that lay all around him in Vichy occupied France was a function of socially imposed silence that constructed memory based not upon collective effervescence but on the cancelation of language. Where individual accounts of memory diverge from the collective, those stories and memories tend to be annihilated in group memory; but the texture remains in the individual memories of those who experienced the unwanted accounts that diverged from the acceptance of the collective. When a people are ravaged by genocide, or when a single child is molested, if the phenomenological structure of suffering is denied, unwritten, silence imposed, both are left with only the amorphous texture in a state un-integrated to the physical event. They are in Halbwachs dream state; inwardly turned upon themselves seeking sensibility of feelings and emotions that are disconnected from the physical manifestation that created them. Neither the ravaged people nor the child can articulate the event because it never happened in the collective memory. The texture of shame, humiliation and rage remain in dream state until their eventual reintegration into the collective consciousness. Conclusion Implications and Applications to the Field of Emerging Culture Conflict One can only speculate what Halbwachs would have said about the collapse of collective memory in France in the wake of the collapse of the Vichy regime and the exposure of the truth of Nazi Germanys occupation and desiccation of French memory and identity. We can be certain however that his foundation of collective memory connected with the ideas of those who came before him and served to advance the cause of human grace and nobility even at the expense of his life. The applications of collective memory, its creation of sociocentric group identity and the foundational requirement for its transmission across time and space has provided us as interventionists in cultural conflict with the beginning of a map of narrative conflict resolution. While this map often runs dry upon the arrival on the fields of conflict, our continuation of the foundation started by Halbwachs and his contemporaries will help us advance the field of conflict analysis and resolution.

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