Transforming Memories in Contemporary Women’s Rewriting
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Transforming Memories in Contemporary Women's Rewriting. Palgrave: Macmillan, Plate's elegantly written book focuses on contemporary women's rewritings from the s onwards as complex interventions in cultural memory that seek to "re-member the past differently" 3 even though they no longer partake of a movement intent on social change. Alert to contemporary culture's obsession with and commoditization of the past, Plate sees rewriting as "one of our culture's central technologies of memory" 5 through which the past is revisited and revised to shape identity in the present as well as project new futures.
Plate's argument is firmly grounded in a wide range of texts—English, European, and North American—and contexts—from feminism, postmodernism, and postcolonialism, to the canon wars of the s and s, consumer culture, "liquid modernity" Zygmunt Bauman's term for the moment of neoliberal capitalism , and last but not least, the new memory discourses as theorized by Andreas Huyssen and Pierre Nora. Not only does the book make important distinctions like this—and, relatedly, between women's rewritings of the s referred to as "feminist revision" and contemporary rewritings called "mythical retellings" —but it also highlights some interesting paradoxes that inform the practice of rewriting and its relationship to cultural memory.
The latter emerges as "a dynamic process of amnesia and anamnesis, of forgetting, recovery, and reconstruction" For one thing, as Plate points out in the introduction and elaborates in the last chapter, if "feminist re-vision" is driven by suspicion, aiming to demythologize what it rewrites, to undo the hegemonic and authoritative version of History and his story , contemporary women's rewritings tap into myth's "radical potential for open-endedness" At the same time, however, Plate [End Page ] devotes the first two chapters to showing that the success of women's rewriting in the literary marketplace indicates that it has been co-opted by capitalism, therefore losing much of its subversive edge and critical effectiveness.
The second chapter further explores the role women's rewriting has played in "the production of the past as presence" a phrase she borrows from the German philologist Hans-Ulrich Gumbrecht through its manufacturing of narratives about the past that become caught in an ever-renewing cycle of newness and the dynamics of consumer culture Next, Plate calls attention to the paradox suggested by the metaphor of writing as stealing—"stealing" as integral to the creative process yet also immoral and punishable by law 68 —in order to examine the issues of property and legitimacy raised by women's rewriting.
Focusing on two recent cases of alleged plagiarism, Pia Pera's Lo Diary and Alice Randall's The Wind Done Gone , she argues that the reception of these texts as "derivative" and of their authors as literary upstarts reveals the contending forces economic, artistic, political, and ideological that shape cultural memory Yet another paradox of re writing is captured in Yet, the question needs to be posed whether the term rewriting is really an adequate one to discuss images.
There are, indeed, many related terms. For instance, refracting, recycling, remediating, reframing, reformulating, reiterating, retrofitting, retrojecting, revi- sioning, …—with each of these terms having its own connotations, which imply different views on the subject and carry different sets of instructions. This feature of adaptation makes it particularly interesting for a discussion of rewriting as a concept for cultural memory studies: it puts change at the heart of the procedure, as well as interaction with the environment, making context a significant component of its analysis. Media neutral, the concept of adaptation means not some after-life: adaptation is life itself.
As such, it raises the question of agency, asking who does the adaptation, as well as the question of performativity; asking, in the words of art historian W. Writing in the late s, Goody and Watt express an optimistic, even positivistic trust in writing. Goody and Watt conclude that the perception of the past is determined by the way knowledge about this past is stored and transmitted. In an oral culture, the memory and conceptualization of the past are influenced by concerns of the present: there is no body of control in the form of written records Of course, printed writing is subject to destruction and deterioration like any material culture.
Also, printed transmission itself is characterized by fluidity. In addition, Goody and Watt seem to overlook some important instruments producing oblivion in a literate age. Ways of recording the past on paper are not especially trustworthy, as selection is integral to writing at every level, from that of the word to that of the text as a whole cf.
Jakobson Moreover, as many have pointed out, the archive is an instrument of power. In colonial contexts, one will recall, it served to recognize the history and humanity of some people while obliterating that of others, remembering and forgetting in powerful and troubling ways e. Stoler Whereas writing evokes stability and trust, rewriting implies—indeed embodies—change. The act of repetition, of writing again, inscribes time and difference in the text, making change and transformation its central characteristics. Rose ideology of writing-as-stability and constitutes a technology of memory more typical of oral culture than of a literate one.
Whereas the commitment of memories to writing is a solid strategy that objectifies them by arresting their movement in time and across space, rewriting re-mobilizes them, bringing them back into circulation while mobilizing them for specific intents and purposes. Knowledge is, paradoxically, easily accessible, but also easily avoided.
The medieval situation deviates from this schematic opposition, particularly since reading—and, by extension, writing, as indicated by the writing of a letter, which was generally read aloud in company—is in this period a highly collective activity, taking part in a community see also Rehberg Sedo Bauman The medieval situation, with its mix of orality and literacy, seems to offer evidence for the assumption that rewriting is a technology astride the two cultures, partaking of both orality adapting transmitted beliefs and concepts of the past to present needs and literacy.
This implies that rewriting is, in fact, not to be viewed in terms of writing—as writing again, re-writing—but on its own terms and as something altogether different. As an act of cultural memory, rewriting asks scholars to account for agency and intentionality.
For if, as we argued above, to re-write is to re-collect and to re-call, then its analysis requires we consider rewriting both in its technological and in its intentional dimension. Although this involuntary memory differs from the conscious effort to remember, it is clear that rewriting may serve the purposes of both voluntary and involuntary memory.
In other words, it may be happening perchance, the outcome of certain procedures or practices. Yet it may also be performed willfully and purposely cf. Conclusion In this article, we have asked whether rewriting might be a useful concept for the study of cultural memory, inquiring how it can contribute to cultural memory studies through our exploration of it across historical periods and memory cultures. As we have argued, rewriting is a productive concept for understanding cultural memory as an act of transfer, for it invites recognition of its technological dimensions as well as of its intentional ones, acknowledging the role of agency and that of the social and media frameworks in which cultural remembrance takes place.
The Catastrophic Imperative: Subjectivity, Time and Memory in Contemporary Thought
Rewriting is intimately connected to writing as a technology of the word, yet differs fundamentally from it in terms of ideology, with writing inviting trust on the basis of its supposed stability, and rewriting functioning as an instrument of continuity through movement and change—through de-stability and the fluidity of circulation and reproduction. As such, rewriting reveals writing in general and historiography in particular to be instruments of fluid transmission across historical periods and not the stable objectified language stored for posterity that inscription—from the carved stone to printed writing to visual images—was long taken to be.
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Transforming Memories in Contemporary Women's Rewriting
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