Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Jose Saramago, Small Memories (2009)

Memory is fragile.  (See September 20, 2011 post).  Jose Saramago's honest account of his memories of some events in his life when he was small in Small Memories concedes as much.  "Sometimes I wonder," he writes, "if certain memories are really mine or if they're just someone else's memories of episodes in which I was merely an unwitting actor and which I found out about later when they were told to me by others who had been there, unless, of course, they, too, had only heard the story from someone else."  He refers to memory's "reconstructive powers," and the capacity for memory to be refreshed:  "Thanks to some documents I had assumed lost, bet which providentially turned up when I was searching for something else entirely, my disoriented memory has finally been able to fit together various disparate pieces of the puzzle and replace what was uncertain and doubtful with what was right and true."

"We often forget what we would like to remember, and yet certain images, words, flashes, illuminations repeatedly, obsessively return to us from the past at the slightst stimulus, and there's no explanation for that' we don't summon them up, they are simply there.  And it is for those memories that tell me that although, at the time, I was basing myself more on intuition than, of course, on any real knowledge of these facts. . ." 

This is not the first time that a post in this blog has connected Saramago's work with the subject of memory.  In The Notebook (September 28, 2010 post), the Nobelist created a memory bank in blog form.  In the posting on his final novel, Cain (December 20, 2011 post) I remarked, "I also believe storytelling evolved in part to preserve our memories of things past. (See August 15, 2011 post). And storytelling, whether historical or fictional or both, enables the construction of both personal and social/group identity."  And Saramago is a master at clutching collective memory --- history we call it --- and creating stories --- fiction we call it --- as in The Year of the Death of Ricardo Reiss (June 28, 2011 post) and Baltasar and Blimunda (January 1, 2013 post).

A series of postings in September 2010 revolved around the subject of memory (September 9, 2010 post) but more recently a posting observed: "Personal identity is a matter of autobiographical memory. This is our autobiographical self (see April 8, 2011 post). But our autobiographical memories are shared, and this facilitates social bonding and the building of relationships. It also influences our story-telling and the stories we tell each other, whether represented as fact or fiction. Cultures are built on the sharing of autobiographical memory, yet at the same time personal identity is strongly influenced by the culture that one personally experiences. While at the outset I said that personal identity owes its existence to cultural or group identity, the reverse is true as well.  Cultural identity ultimately owes its existence to the sharing of many personal identities. Autobiographical memories are merged and revised into a collective memory. But as we have seen in prior posts, memory is fluid, constantly changing and redeveloping in incremental ways. (See November 6, 2011 post)."

It is collective or shared memory that I believe is one subject that is missing from John Searle's accounting of the creation of a social world (see February 24, 2013 post).  Memory, observes Searle, is important for intentionality, and therefore collective memory should be just as important for collective intentionality.  That evokes the importance of culture in the creation of the human social world.  That is not lost on Saramago.

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