SUMMARY:Against the figuration of collective memory in opposition to history, as it occurs in the work of Maurice Halbwachs and Pierre Nora, among others, Paul Ricoeur theorizes the indissoluble links between the two in his Memory, History, Forgetting. For Ricoeur, history is inevitably structured through memory in the form of "testimony." As he explains, "[W]e have nothing better than testimony, in the final analysis, to assure ourselves that something did happen in the past" (147). The question of who is doing the remembering is as vital as what is being remembered in the process of historical representation. To memory and history Ricoeur adds the phenomenon of forgetting. "[I]t is the past," he states, "in its twofold mnemonic and historical dimension, that is lost in forgetting" (284). However, for Ricoeur, paradoxically, "forgetting is not only the enemy of memory and of history....[T]here also exists a reserve of forgetting, which can be a source for memory and for history" (284).
The aim of this interdisciplinary panel is twofold. First, we will establish overlooked links between collective memory, the construction of history (whether national, regional, official, or marginal), and the problematic of forgetting within the context of several Arab Gulf states. Second, we will explore the critical effects collective forgetting has had and continues to have upon the present. By tracing fragments of memory (as unacknowledged or forgotten testimony)--in the form of urban landscape, postcards, legacies of slavery, etc.--it becomes possible to reassess and reshape the monolithic narratives of nationhood, identity, and tradition currently dominating the nation-states in question. Our purpose is not simply to offer up alternative historical narratives to be considered alongside those already in place but, rather, to interrogate how acts of forgetting become constitutive components of those very narratives.
Performing such "acts of memory" can expose how the past is appropriated in the present and toward what end (Mieke Bal, "Introduction," Acts of Memory vii). Generating a new collective sense of commonly effaced traces of the past may enable the emergence not only of an alternative version of history but, more significantly perhaps, an alternative conception of the future. In communities often overwhelmed by orthodoxies of being and understanding, such unexpected openings provide ethical alternatives not to be ignored.