By Marita Sturken, 1997
Questions by Henry Jenkins, 09/15/2001

"All memories are 'created' in tandem with forgetting: to remeber everything would amount to being overwhelmed by memory. Forgetting is a necessary component in the construction of memory. Yet the forgetting of the past in a culture is often highly organized and strategic. Milan Kundera has said, 'Forgetting is a form of death ever present within life...But forgetting is also the great problem of politics. When a big power wants to deprive a small country of its national consciousness it uses the method of organized forgetting... a nation which loses awareness of its pat gradually loses itself.' Though Kundera speaks of the 'organized forgetting' propagated, for instance, by an occupying state, cultures can also participate in a 'strategic' forgetting of painful events that may be too dangerious to keep in active memory. At the same time, all cultural memory and all history are forged in a context in which details, voices and impassions of the past are forgotten. The writing of a historical narrative necessarily involves the elimination of certain elements. Hence, the narrative of the Vietnam War as told in the United States foregrounds the painful experience of the American Vietnam veteran in such a way that the Vietnamese people, both civilians and veterans, are forgotten...

No object is more equated with memory than the camera image, in particular the photograph. Memory appears to reside within the photographic image, to tell its story in response to our gaze...Yet memory does not reside in a photograph, or in any camera image, so much as it is produced by it. The camera image is a technology of memory, a mechanism through which one can construct the past and situate it in the present. Images have the capacity to create, interfere with, and trouble the memories we hold as individuals and as a nation. They can lend shape to histories and personal stories, often providing the material evidence on which claims of truth are based, yet they also posses the capacity to capture the unattainable."

- Marita Sturken, Tangled Memories: The Vietnam War, The Aids Epidemic, and The Politics of Remembering (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1997)

Questions to Consider

  • Millions of images have flashed past the television camera since these tragic events. Yet, increasingly, our memories of the events start to coalesce around a smaller number of images. Which images recur most often in our depiction of these events? Why have these images been singled out for special emphasis and attention? What do those photographs help us to remember? Why has the process of memory become so important to people in the aftermath of this tragedy?
  • Can you think of other kinds of images it might be appropriate to remember from this event? How would a different set of images allow us to remember different things?
  • Are there aspects of this event which do not exist in photographs at all? Are those aspects less likely to remain in our memories? What could be done to make those aspects of the event more memorable?
  • Consider the photographs of loved ones which people carried through the streets of Manhattan in the wake of the tower's collapse. What functions do those images serve? Often, the news cameras interviewing such people veered away from showing those personal photographs directly. Why might they have made this choice? How might this run counter to the goals the people had in trying to display those images?
  • Some of the most memorable images from this event deal with individual people's emotional responses to what occurred. Yet, many would argue that such photographs intrude on people's privacy and can be insensitive to what the person is feeling at that moment. How can we reconcile these two claims about those images? Is it possible to create memorable images of these highly emotional events without invading on privacy or destroying people's dignity? Can you point towards images which you think have achieved these goals?
  • How would you go about selecting images to comemorate these events? What images would you include? What would you exclude? How would you decide on what aspects of these events are important to remember?

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