By Aristote; A. Jannone (ed.); E. Barbotin (trad.)
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The present state of literature on the Holocaust provides ample proof of this…one counts the cadavers or one tells the story of the victims’ (Ricoeur 1988:188). Memory not only illuminates, it illustrates; and part of this illustration is its use of images to strike us—in the sense of striking home the horror of evil and the charism of goodness. A key function of narrative memory is empathy. And empathy is not always escapism. It is, as Kant noted in his account of ‘representative thinking’, a way of identifying with as many fellow-humans as possible— actors and sufferers alike—in order to participate in a common moral sense (sensis communis).
Is it not rather a question here of a vague notion in relation to which we attempt to lump together the most heterogeneous of phenomena? The task I set out to accomplish at the outset was to delineate a sphere of collective memory situated between the two extremes of personal memory and group memory conceived in terms of a substantial entity. To my mind, this intermediary theory of memory comes to light if, for 40 THE POLITICS OF MEMORY the purposes of our interpretation, we pursue more closely an idea elicited at the outset: that of the ethos in the Aristotelian sense of the term.
Let me give some examples. We have seen recently, particularly in the United States, a widespread debate on the so-called ‘false memory syndrome’. This has been documented in a number of highly publicised books, such as Michael Yapko’s Suggestions of Abuse: True and False Memories of Childhood Sexual Trauma, Lenore Terr’s Unchained Memories: True Stories of Traumatic Memories, Lawrence Wright’s Remembering Satan and Mark Prendergast’s Victims of Memory. Even if none of these authors wish to contest the veracity of the ‘persistent’ memory of infantile sexual abuse, some of them cast serious doubt on the use of ‘suggestion’ and ‘trancework’ techniques in cases of ‘long-term recovered memory’.
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