Jesus Against the Scribal Elite

Monday, January 21, 2013

Keith Explains the Two Schools of Social Memory - Le Donne

Here are a few paragraphs from Keith's Jesus' Literacy that I found particularly helpful recently. I hope that this helps to bring applications of Social Memory theory in Gospels research up to speed. I have seen a few publications of late that misunderstand or misrepresent the complexity of the discussion.



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-anthony

10 comments:

  1. Anthony, thanks for your recent reminders that memory-history is a complicated topic, and for your willingness to open up some of this complexity to non-experts.

    Is our (in)ability to do history really an argument for or against presentism? Can we say that our desire or seeming ability to do history is an argument in favor of every condition necessary to do history (or to do it well)? These are not rhetorical questions! If I think of ordinary memory, I can acknowledge that memory is functional – I can usually remember where I parked the car. I might argue by extension that historical memory is necessary for survival and that therefore it must also be good enough to allow us to function.

    If we acknowledge that memory is social, why do you think that the constraint of social memory pulls us towards continuity and not away from it? You mention in your book the problem of Jesus memory in Nazi Germany – isn’t that one (extreme) example of group conformity serving to erase continuity?

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    1. Thanks Larry. I think that I'll let some our other theorists chime in before I do.

      -anthony

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  2. Fascinating and helpful, Anthony. Thanks very much.

    I very much like the "stable stage" and "community" emphases of this excerpt's culmination, but I wonder - should the next historian coming along allow herself to admit only the non-intermittent elements (the "stable stage") as being reliable enough to include in her re-presentation? Or not?

    If she sticks with just the agreed upon info, then her analysis may be held hostage by any single dissenter. But if she accepts elements that are only common to some versions, then how to justify this?

    Schudson just said the sculptor is BOTH free AND constrained, but I'm suddenly feeling she is EITHER free OR constrained... unless, most likely, I'm missing something. (???)

    Maybe this is the logically summative question:

    What does memory theory have to add about *how* one deals with such "intermittent elements" that fall beyond the "stable stage" of collective/community memory?

    And please don't simply say "Read Jesus' Literacy". I am waiting eagerly for the paperback. XD

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  3. Okay, I think I get it now. Dinner much helps the brain.

    The sculptor/historian is constrained by the "stable stage" but free to use her own judgment beyond that. Right?

    Question still remains as to *how* though...

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  4. Bill, thanks for the questions. In short, memory theory, in my opinion, does not and cannot tell the historian how to make decisions about various pieces of historical evidence. No theory does that. It's not the job of theory to make decisions on behalf of the theorist. Memory theory simply establishes (1) how to handle sources (as acts of commemoration that involve BOTH past and present) and (2) that the historian must account for what mnemonic evidence remains from the past.

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  5. I am still trying to understand. So the theory does not made decisions, but it does advise the historian, yes? The theory does suggest that a "stable stage" is more reliable than the "intermittent details", doesn't it?

    If I understand you, now, it sounds like you're suggesting that even the gist of all social memories could actually be overturned by a historian's judgment, even though memory theory suggests that would be less advisable in most cases.

    Yes?

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    1. The theory doesn't necessarily advise the historian as much as offer some ground rules for how the game should be played. In light of your other question, it also has to be said that there really is no one "theory" of memory. Despite their overlaps, cognitive memory researchers are doing some things that are very different from cultural memory theorists like the Assmanns.

      Could a culture-wide memory be "overturned" by a historian's judgment? Yes. But that historian would also need to explain how it came about that an entire culture came to be under the convictions they were. Both accurate and inaccurate memories are products of particular historical processes.

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  6. This is all fascinating and fascinatinger. And you're quite the late owl! I do sympathize.

    Thanks deeply and sincerely for your continued engagement. Re-reading your replies here is continuing to help me understand. And I am greatly looking forward to your paperback's upcoming release.

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    1. No problem. Thanks for the excellent questions. BTW, I'm not really a night owl. I'm in London on GMT.

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