Z e t e o
Reading, Looking, Listening, . . . Questioning

Memory Stor(i)es

Categories: Review

Memory Stor(i)es

By Stuart Johnson

Stories of actual real-world controversies over the nature of memory, with actual real-world consequences, sometimes life and death. But by the end, memory remains remarkably elusive—as elusive as le temps perdu.

A review of Alison Winter, Memory: Fragments of a Modern History (University of Chicago Press, 2012)

Image is of “Cairn” by the ceramicist Eric Knoche. Used with the permission of the artist.


The courtroom is a stage where memories become evidence, and the judge or jury is charged with evaluating the memories—deciding whether the memories (that is, testimony) are to be believed, whether they correspond to facts that would justify the remedy that a plaintiff or prosecutor seeks. The law has a powerful presence in the history of memory because it is a public institution where memory theories have been definitively tested and judged. Although one can argue issues of memory indefinitely, the court trying a case has a job to do, and it cannot wait for the ultimate resolution of the theoretical disputes. Winter uses court decisions relating to the testimony of experts on theories of memory to identify reference points for the institutional acceptance of different theories.

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