On Cultural Amnesia Critical Theory and Contemporary Discourses of Forgetting


Bramall, Rebecca 2007. On Cultural Amnesia Critical Theory and Contemporary Discourses of Forgetting. Thesis University of East London
AuthorsBramall, Rebecca

This thesis examines contemporary discourses of forgetting, and in particular the
notion of `cultural amnesia'. I take as the object of my research the mobilization of
amnesia in the humanities and social sciences during the last two decades, arguing
that this concept does not have a consistent relation to cultural phenomena but
rather names a perceived loss, absence or deficiency, and sometimes excess or
surfeit, in knowledge and the articulation of knowledge. I explore what is at stake in
these rulings of cultural and social deficiency, the values and frameworks that are
invoked to authorize them, and the specific fact of their being set out in terms of
My method of historicizing the emergence of the concept of amnesia as a preferred
means of figuring cultural deficiency is to trace in contemporary discourses of
forgetting certain legacies of Critical Theory of the Frankfurt School. I submit that
Theodor W. Adorno's thought is construed by theorists working on the subject of
memory as a significant antecedent for contemporary debates; specifically, he is
regarded as having anticipated late twentieth-century anxieties about amnesia. I
attend to such characterizations both by offering a fresh consideration of the
function of memory-related concepts in Critical Theory and by questioning what is at
stake in contemporary claims of a relationship to - as well as in frequent disavowals
of - aspects of this current of thought.
The chapters that follow examine: the discursive functions of the concept of
amnesia in cultural and social theory; the relationship between the concepts of
reification and forgetting; the processes through which the postwar period became
recognized as a period of amnesia for the Holocaust; the place of the concept of
amnesia in Fredric Jameson's thesis on postmodernism and in today's recollection
of his contribution; and the return of the notion of `the forgotten' in the turn to ethics
in poststructuralist literary theory.

Keywordscultural amnesia; forgetting; memory; social theory
Web address (URL)http://hdl.handle.net/10552/1286
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Deposited11 May 2011
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