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From Medieval Mnemonics to a Social Construction of Memory - page 10 / 23





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complements ideas about the healthiness of forgetting; the eternal return might hinder people who remembered all historical moments from enjoying the newness of life in the unhistorical present.

Born 173 years after Leibniz’s death and 45 years after Nietzsche’s birth, Henri Bergson was a French metaphysician who defined the place of metaphysi- cal knowledge against the looming hegemony of scientific rationality develop- ing in the early 1900s. Bergson posited individual memory as a living reality of the past that manifests itself in character and gives us awareness to guide our actions. Bergson’s conception offered an epistemology of change linked to the individual’s awareness and reflexivity. In the posthumously published book Creative Evolution, Bergson (1944) wrote, “This creation of self by itself is the more complete, the more one reasons on what one does” (p. 9) As such, scien- tific or mechanical explanations of change could not, Bergson argued, account for how our personality, “which is being built up each instant with its accumu- lated experience, changes without ceasing” (p. 9). Bergson wrote, “Awareness itself is a function of the possibility of choice, it is, in fact, sense of choice” (p. xiii). According to Bergson, choice and change came from within individu- als themselves based on awareness of, and reflection on, past choices. Bergson’s theory incorporates a conceptualization of agency as human choice based on memory and reflection of one’s past and differs radically from Leibniz’s theory of God or dynamism as the source of predetermined action.

In The Creative Mind, Bergson (1946) posited memory as a living reality of matter (material artifacts) and the “felt” past; the dead deposit or remnant trace of past actions or choices (p. xiii). Bergson hinted at a social construction of memory based in use value when he wrote,

In a word our present falls back into the past when we cease to attribute to it an immediate interest. What holds good for the present of individuals holds also for the present of nations: an event belongs to the past and enters into history when it is no longer of any direct interest to the politics of the day and can be neglected with- out the affairs of the country being affected by it. As long as its action makes itself felt, it adheres to the life of a nation and remains present to it. (p. 179)

Bergson argued that human action is dependent on the individual’s past experi- ences. His arguments against Cartesian notions about time and action, as well as his use-value criterion for social remembering, are indicated in the following passage:

The brain serves to bring about this choice: it actualizes the useful memories; it keeps in the lower strata of the consciousness those which are of no use. One could say as much for perception. The auxiliary of action, it isolates that part of reality a whole that interests us; it shows us less the things themselves than the use we make of them. (p. 162)

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