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Memory as a dynamic process

By David Meghnagi*

Memory is a dynamic process in which data are continuously remodeled on the basis of what is learnt afterwards. A testimony given immediately or soon after a traumatic event reflects the experience of the moment. Who speaks years later, does so also in light of what they have learnt since, reconstructing a cognitive unity which might not have been there at the time the event took place. Processing the past does not happen in a void. It is the result of a constant interaction with the outside world and the inside world, in an attempt to make sense of the past and imagine a possible future. It is necessary to distinguish between the individual memory of an event and its collective memory. The first belongs to personal history. It is made of personal experiences which may either be repressed or painfully thought over and revised within a process that does never happen in a void. With collective memory, wider processes on a social, cultural and political level are at play. Learning how these two aspects interact with each other is a great challenge for scholars. The dialectic among memory, testimony and research is complex: they are different fields strictly connected and taking strength off each other. Testimony compels historians to further explore events that culture and politics may have an interest in removing. At the same time, rhythms and times with which testimony enters the public eye is not independent from the historical process in which individuals’ lives are involved. For its part, research and knowledge development contribute in remodelling the process through which a society remembers. The way in which a society remembers the past does not concern just the past. It also concerns the present and the future. When past events, be they ancient or recent, appear unencumbered from the memory a society keeps of them, they cease to be “meaningful” within the history of said society.

Translated by Silvia Bozzo and revised by Antonella Losavio, students at the Advanced School for Interpreters and Translators of the University of Trieste, interns at the newspaper office of the Union of the Italian Jewish Communities.