Memory has become a key cultural and political concern today. We repeatedly hear that the past has imprescriptible rights and that we must become militants of memory. Remembering is advocated as a moral imperative, while forgetting has become politically and ethically conservative. The new technologies have contributed to the spread of a new notion of memory that goes beyond the autobiographical to encompass broader processes of community and generational mnemonic transmission, as well as new ways of conceiving the relationship between history and memories. This notion of memory puts the emphasis on human rights, minority and gender issues, and the reevaluation of the national and the international past. It relates to processes of democratization and to the expansion and strengthening of the public sphere of civil society; also, to monumentalization, institutionalization and commemorative ritual.
The celebration of the instant and the present that defines Postmodernism seemed to have weakened the might of the past. However, amnesia has coexisted with an unprecedented obsession for museumization and preservationism in the last decades, which can be observed in many areas, from the political to the cultural. For its part, the Postmodern aesthetic has playfully reclaimed the connection with tradition. The past has been transformed into a commodity and, as a result, into an object of criticism. But memory also contains within itself the possibility to experience something different or, in other words, it offers an alternative option to a capitalist culture that is fundamentally amnesiac in its frenetic pace of production. The world today is witnessing a range of uses, including political instrumentalization, of the past. The heirs of the Holocaust have claimed the importance of memory so as not to forget the horror. They have been joined by the European countries that suffered from Fascism and by the post-dictatorships of Latin America. The political use of memory is nothing new, as can be seen in the manipulation of the past carried out by the totalitarianisms of the 20th century, and even in the history of Spain: the first governments of the democratic era defended the oblivion of the Civil War as a strategy for the consolidation of the young democracy. The conflicts in the international arena since September 11th, the relevance achieved by the figures of the victim and the witness, and a greater knowledge of the workings of the post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), have all contributed to the creation of a new culture of memory, which frequently busies itself with the metaphor of the specter.
In the academic world, fundamental insights have developed mostly in some areas of social work as well as in new fields of knowledge, such as the theory of trauma and the spectral literary criticism. The interdisciplinary nature of Memory Studies mirrors the growing interest that exists on the relationship between yesterday and today, that is, how the past shapes the present and the later, in turn, is shaped by perceptions about the former. Experts on Memory Studies* have contributed to our understanding of important issues such as the collective mnemonic imagination, official —monuments and public commemorations— and non-official representations of the past, the role of oral history and personal stories, the influence of the media on the formation of historical consciousness, the relevance of the writing of history for emerging nationalities and social conflicts, and the relationship between history and memory. The use of oral sources in academic disciplines has become to be accepted as a valid mode of epistemological reconstruction, which shows the strong change in perspective that has taken place in recent years. Furthermore, memory stands as an existential path towards a sense of authenticity, as well as an experience of the individual and the communal, that was thought to be lost within the paradigm that currently prevails in the Humanities, which focuses on the identity of the subject not as natural and given but as constructed, contingent and conventional. Building on the discredit of the metanarratives that articulated a hegemonic idea of the self in Modernity, memory has come to be conceived as the key to our personal and social identity. Also, it has come to be understood as the kernel that defines who we are. The death of the subject claimed by structuralisms since the sixties has been followed, thanks to memory, by the rebirth of the individual in the last decades. This is, consequently, the clearest example of the turn towards subjectivity that defines our contemporary world, a turn whose latest manifestation is the post-truth trend, or conviction on the inalienable right of the self to construct its own reality and truth.
* Among others, Maurice Halbwachs, Pierre Nora, Geoffrey Hartman, Dominick LaCapra, Avishai Margalit, Paul Ricoeur, Dori Laub, Cathy Caruth, Shoshana Felman, Reyes Mate, Alon Confino, Avery Gordon, Marianne Hirsch, Barbara Misztal.
Carmen Moreno-Nuño, Haciendo memoria: confluencias entre la historia, la cultura y la memoria en la España del siglo XXI. Madrid: Vervuert/Iberoamericana. 2019.
Carmen Moreno-Nuño, Las huellas de la Guerra Civil: Mito y Trauma en la narrativa de la España democrática Madrid: Libertarias, 2006.
Armed Resistance: Cultural Representations of the Anti-Francoist Guerrilla. Antonio Gómez López-Quiñones and Carmen Moreno-Nuño eds. Hispanic Issues On Line/HIOL. Minneapolis: Minnesota UP, October, 2012.