Narratives of Forgetting and the Forgetting of Narratives - ICMS Kalamazoo 2016

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Rutgers Program in Medieval Studies

Working forward from Mary Carruthers' foundational work on the construction of memory structures, this panel seeks to understand medieval priorities of what to remember and what to forget. Its central goal is to explore the ways in which people created, consumed, and destroyed memories in order to communicate information and ideas. It responds to recent work on the manipulation of memories of the past, which was often involved in defining nationhood and group identity.

Constance Bouchard's recent book on "Memory and Forgetting in France," for example, reassesses the study of political motivations for medieval historical and hagiographical writing; she examines how those in control of narrative creation maneuvered representations of events and key figures to justify conditions in the present. For Bouchard, deciding which memories to maintain, alter, or neglect is an active process.

We seek entries specific to the intentional or unintentional loss of memories as one tool for shaping narratives of the past and thus images of the present. These narratives include those captured in text but also in artwork, architecture, and music. What evidence do we have of the "forgetting of narratives," those points at which information or memories are lost through neglect or the passing of time—or through deliberate erasure, effacement, and revision intended to exclude or occlude?

On the other hand, how can we understand "narratives of forgetting," sources which document the need to forget or the dangers of forgetting? This might take the form of romance narratives in which a hero forgets important counsel; chronicles in which a king or other character is said to have forgotten tenets which he by rights ought to stand for; or instances of damnatio memoriae in which an erasure stands legible so that it can remind onlookers to forget. What techniques did composers use to eliminate memories, but also to memorialize loss and communicate absence? What did such loss mean to medieval people?