Time, Memory, and the Fragment:
The Emancipation of Re-Presentation

Mein Flügel ist zum Schwung bereit,
Ich kehrte gern zurück,
denn blieb ich auch lebendige Zeit,
ich hätte wenig Glück.
— Gerhard Scholem, “Gruß vom Angelus”

A Klee painting named “Angelus Novus” shows an angel looking as though he is about to move away from something he is fixedly contemplating.  His eyes are staring, his mouth is open, his wings are spread.  This is how one pictures the angel of history.  His face is turned toward the past.  Where we perceive a chain of events, he sees one single catastrophe which keeps piling wreckage upon wreckage and hurls it in front of his feet.  The angel would like to stay, awaken the dead, and make whole what has been smashed.  But a storm is blowing from Paradise; it has got caught in his wings with such violence that the angel can no longer close them.  This storm irresistibly propels him into the future to which his back is turned, while the pile of debris before him grows skyward.  This storm is what we call progress.

— Walter Benjamin,Thesis on the Philosophy of History


The possibility of representing the other has been a major point of concern within recent ethnographic and historiographic debates as the allochronic relationship of the historical or anthropological “artifact” and the re-presentation of the “artifact” inscribes the other within a purely empirical and epistemological framework, denying any voice or consciousness of the other and ultimately reifying the object of knowledge and thus, in a way, creating the other.  The problem arising from this aporetic relationship is the construct of power embedded within the very language of description which attempts to bifurcate the present from the past, memory from experience, recollection from perception through the representation of a static whole — a static representation which through language becomes the object of knowledge:  “Science adopted a model of language as a self-perfecting form of closed communication that achieved closure by making language itself the object of description…So, the language of science became the object of science, and what had begun as perception unmediated by concepts became conception unmediated by precepts” (Tyler, p. 200).  Indeed, due to the relationship that science shares with cultural representation, epistemological and empirical values form the basis of knowledge upon which synchronous experience (observation or the collection of historical artifact) is quite often allochronically distanced from any historical and individual consciousness and thus evidenced as “reality” through traditional anthropological rhetoric.

In Phenomenology and the Crisis of Philosophy,  Husserl rejects the discourse of natural science which ultimately “reif[ies] consciousness” (p. 103). Instead, Husserl offers his notion of Weltanschauung philosophy, whereby through the discourse of “phenomenological science” we can no longer speak of “things-in-themselves” (as Kant contends in his Critique of Pure Reason), since what things are can only be revealed in consciousness.  Thus, phenomenology opens up the world of cultural values and historical consciousness lending to a psychologically-based philosophical inquiry, or as Husserl states:

The greatest step our age has to make is to recognize that with the philosophical intuition in the correct sense, the phenomenological grasp of essences, a limitless field of work opens out, a science that without all indirectly symbolical and mathematical methods, without the apparatus of premises and conclusions, still attains a plenitude of the most rigorous and, for all further philosophy, decisive cognitions (p. 147).

Husserl prescribes that we step outside of the notion — or, as he states, the “superstition” — of purely scientific “facts” in order “to harmonize the disharmonies in our attitude to reality — to the reality of life, which has significance for us and in which we should have significance — into a rational even though unscientific, ‘world-and-life-view'” (pp. 141-147).  Acknowledging that knowledge has its essence as its object (or, as Tyler contends, the language of science as its object), phenomenology is what it is because it neither seeks nor accepts evidence other than that offered by consciousness itself.

In this way, what is necessary within contemporary discourse concerning the other is a “heterological” approach to knowledge whereby the traditional axis of representation and interpretation of the other based on empirically and epistemologically grounded  documentation, evidenced through the perpetual internalization of truths and the interment of fictions, becomes displaced by the consideration of the problem of time (in this case allochronism) which ultimately poses a threat to static representations of “reality” and hence, of the other.  As Husserl maintains that experience “prescribes” the meanings of things — that things attain meaning only through experience (consciousness) or experical connection — and that any “truths” excavated about the object of knowledge minus experience would necessarily embody “fictions” even though the process of legitimation is tightly woven within an epistemological fabric.  Fiction, as de Certeau points out, cannot simply be dismissed and put into its own “place” since, because of its “metaphoric” nature (unlike the “univocal” discourse of science), fiction naturally “moves into the domain of the other” (1986, p. 202).  De Certeau continues this logic stating that:

Knowledge is insecure when dealing with the problem of fiction; consequently, its effort consists in analysis (of a sort) that reduces or translates the elusive language of fiction into stable and easily combined elements.  From this point of view, fiction violates one of the rules of scientificity.  It is a witch whom knowledge must labor to hold and to identify through its exorcising.  It no longer bears the mark of the false, of the unreal, or of the artificial.  It is only a drifting meaning.  It is the siren from whom the historian must defend himself, like Ulysses tied to the mast (1986, p. 202).

Fiction, a discourse which “informs the real” is posited against science, a discourse which pretends to “speak the real” (de Certeau, 1986, p. 202); thus, fiction exists in a constant state of agitation, fragmentation, reconstruction, and redefinition in relation to science.  Consequently, de Certeau delineates historiography not to the realm of pure fiction or science, but instead to a domain where science and fiction meet as a field of “knowledge”, a synapse between the nerve endings of epistemology and consciousness whereby the “questions of time and tense regain central importance” (1986, p. 203).

Viewed in this way, one might say that anthropology is a discourse which utilizes scientific methodology in order to “objectively” render explicit as many productive, behavioral, and cognitive regularities as possible for a given society, and in turn to suggest how these regularities might arise out of specific conditions, while it simultaneously defends  these truths by “exorcising” the orbiting fictions which challenge its legitimacy.  Similarly, within other social sciences, current interpretation (and representation) of the other is epistemologically and allochronically distanced from the self  and taken out of its own time and all examination takes place within the sterile environment of science: the other is held up to light, examined, tested, proofed, returned to the petri dish, and conclusions about the specimen are entered into the log.  Thus, the information extracted from the other is automatically assumed to be an absolute truth  resulting from scientific praxis, not a possible truth  resulting from the interaction of the self and the other.

In as much as anthropology is concerned with representing the rituals of the other, it could be argued that current representational discourse among the social sciences in general is also a ritual in as much as the epistemological basis of knowledge maintains the steadfast, static bonds between science and truth, self and other, reality and fiction, sacred time and profane time, past and present:  “Rituals are given sanctification and rationalization in a culture by being referred to supposedly divine prototypes.  Rituals periodically reconfirm the sacredness of their origins and re-establish “sacred” (as opposed to “profane”) time for the community performing the rituals” (Eliade, p. 133).  The crisis that the social sciences face is manifested through discourse which submits a “given,” the “sacred,” which evidences every product or result of scientific method as “fact” thereby presupposing the questions of power and trust which, ipso facto, are also “given”.  Thus, through scientific practice, truths are embraced, fictions are dismissed, and the questions of power and trust remain elided in order to promote the illusion of transparent fidelity to “science”.

It is this problem of the “given,” the reverence to science and negation of consciousness, which maintains what I would call a false link or false logic between the temporal concepts of the “real” and the “possible” within the matrices of representation.  It seems to me that representation acts in the name of the “real” instead of in the name of the “possible,” thus serving to strengthen or legitimate the epistemological basis of “truth” at the expense of the reified other and more so, propounding the mechanism of “difference” and “creation” of an other oblivious to consciousness.  Therefore, representation maintains the empirical and epistemological basis of its own narrative, that is, representation co-opts the other in order to further the very truths with which it examines the other, ultimately reifying the other through allochronic distancing, collapsing the “real” and the “possible” into one malleable whole (also called the “real”), and making discourse, the “given,” the simultaneous subject and object of knowledge. Representation then, would seem to be virtually impossible given that allochronic discourse is, according to many, inevitable, and to others, a mode of making the other, not  of representing the other.


* * * * *


Husserl positions the Real outside the world and contends that it can only be realized through the Ego. Wesenform (eidetic study) examines the possibilities of the Ego thus freeing the “real world” whereby it takes on the meaning of one of various “possible worlds” and “non-worlds” thereby disavowing absolute transcendence over consciousness.  For Husserl then, the “real world” consists of the “thing-experiences,” possibilities that are not yet experienced, and the “thing-experienced” which does not negate an “empty logical possibility” but is none the less realised in a “system of experience.”  In this way, the Ego maintains the real through the dialectical relationship it shares with transcendence and temporality — the empirical motivation within the world must be able to be reached by experience inasmuch as the “world of things” has purely factual grounds only within the factual limits of experience.  The problem with Husserl’s conception of the Real however, is that it is, nonetheless, based on the sole acceptance of the “thing giveness” which lies in the essential nature of experience and also the thing in general.

In Matter and Memory, Bergson breaks down the monolith of time by criticizing any world vision purely based on absolute difference which does not acknowledge relative difference between duration and matter:

To conceive of durations of different tensions is perhaps both difficult and strange to our mind, because we have acquired the useful habit of substituting the true duration, lived by consciousness, a homogeneous and independent Time… And would not the whole of history be contained in a very short time for a consciousness at a higher degree of tensions than our own, which should watch the development of humanity while contracting it, so to speak, into the great phases of its evolution?  In short, then, to perceive consists in condensing enormous periods of an infinitely diluted existence into a few more differentiated moments of an intenser life, and in thus summing up a very long history.  To perceive means to immobilize (pp. 208).

For Bergson, there is difference between space and duration, matter and memory, and present and past; however, these dualities can only be discovered through experience, or as Bergson states, “perceived duration” (pp. 44-47).  Thus, the dichotomies of matter and memory and present and past rest very delicately upon the balance of experience which causes each half of the dichotomy to relate to the other: “There is therefore no longer any difference in kind between two tendencies, but a difference between the differences in kind that correspond to one tendency and the differences in degree that refer back to the other tendency…Therefore, between the two there are all the degrees of difference” (Deleuze, p. 93).  Yet, for Bergson the principle of duration maintains a fragile connection between life and consciousness, bringing the “degrees of difference” into the manifold of subjectivity, the realm of the real.

In formulating any notion of the real, the “given,” the epistemological and empirical foundation or reference, cannot in and of itself supply the absolute standard of rational statements concerning things, but depends on the synchronous interaction of — and dependence on — experience (consciousness) and time.   In Bergsonism, Deleuze states:

[W]e give ourselves a real that is ready-made, preformed, pre-existent to itself, and that will pass into existence according to an order of successive limitations.  Everything is already completely given:  all of the real in the image, in the pseudo-actuality of the possible.  Then the sleight of hand becomes obvious:  If the real is said to resemble the possible, is this not in fact because the real was expected to come about by its own means, to “project backward” a fictitious image of it, and to claim that it was possible at any time, before it happened? In fact, it is not the real that resembles the possible, it is the possible that resembles the real, because it has been abstracted from the real once made, arbitrarily extracted from the real like a sterile double  (p. 98).

Bergson posits this “abstraction of the real” as subjectivity — subjectivity which depends entirely upon the combination of effect between the recollection of time or the contraction of time. Duration is coextensive with memory inasmuch as consciousness is coextensive with life and subjectivity, therefore, would necessarily hinge on the passage of virtual memory into an actual state.   Bergson delineates “recollection-subjectivity” or “virtual memory” as the primary aspect of memory which is non-psychological or as Deleuze states “inactive” and “unconscious.”  In a Heidegerrian sense then, virtual memory is Being which comes into being-present through a leap (somewhat like a Kierkegaardian “leap of faith”) to “contraction-subjectivity,” experienced and psychological memory — an interpolation of the present and past.

Returning to the original problematic of allochronism as posed by Fabian, the problem of time could be stated through Bergsonism as the “difficulty in understanding the survival of the past in itself because we believe that the past is no longer, that it has ceased to be” (Deleuze, p. 54).  In other words, traditional historical and anthropological discourse utilizes virtual memory, the unconscious realm where epistemological values maintain the self/other distance in space and time, in order to obfuscate the experience of the other, and more so, the interaction of the self and other, ultimately positing truth outside of consciousness and simply delineating it to the realm of pure ontology.  Traditional forms of historiographic representation deny “contraction-subjectivity” and instead realy on the official history which could be allied with Bergson’s “recollection-subjectivity.”  The status of representating the other dialogicall, then, would seem to be threatened due the collapse of experience into the prefabricated realm of truth, the space of the already experienced, the already known: virtual memory or the unconscious.  The disentanglement of memory (past) and matter (perception, experience) would seem to be virtually impossible (pun intended) as matter reacts to memory and memory is the already perceived matter.  How then is representation possible if consciousness can only be experienced and the inscription of experience falls into the non-psychological, unconscious sphere of the “abstraction of the real”?  How can social science today make that “leap of faith”?

Bergson asserts that the interaction of memory and perception or experience complicates the physical act of experience because memory necessarily interjects an element of the “already known,” thus subtitling every experience as “new” even though it is an illusory original experience tainted by the already known, the pre-conceived, experience itself.  Thus, physical experience would add an extra dimension to the experience of perception whereby the physical or the concrete would exist within the realm of space and perception within the arena of time.  Space for Bergson is “not a ground on which real motion is posited; rather it is real motion that deposits space beneath itself” (Bergson, p. 217).  Together, space and time express “the double work of solidification and of division which we effect on the moving continuity of the real in order to obtain there a fulcrum for our action, in order to fix within it starting points for our operation, in short, to introduce into it real changes” (p. 211).  These “real changes” are in fact moments of actualization which Man creates through a continuous process of preparing matter into memory, forming what Bergson calls the élan vital, an open-ended Whole of experience.

The élan vital, as explained in The Two Sources of Morality and Religion, is freedom, the mode through which Man attains consciousness of self and how memory and action interact in forming consciousness without completely abandoning the transcendental spirit.  Memory and perception must act synchronously in order for consciousness to exist and for representation to be possible.  Yet, the act of representing is none the less dependent —in part — upon essence and is therefore necessarily formed by the synthetic elements of matter and memory.  How then, can one represent an other without what Bergson would posit as the necessary infusion of history (and what de Certeau would argue as epistemology)?  How can representation be liberated from the shackles of the already posited, the already inscribed truths, when the separation of time and space of an other consciousness is embroiled within memory and matter seemingly reacts to the narrative positioned by history?  My answer to these questions is simply the obvious:  that we cannot escape history, the preordained truths, the “offical party line” as Havel might say.  However, by acknowledging the impositions of the transcendental spirit we can acknowledge the élan vital through ethnological interactions, shared experience, if not in “good faith,” then at least in a better faith than previous monologic discourse has allowed.  The problem of representation thus becomes one of not only interpretation, but also of representation through language as the mimetic capability of language to represent experience and memory is perpetually challenged within not only the social sciences, but also the arts.

Indeed the intermingling, or rather dispute, between the “objective” and “subjective” within anthropological discourse is incredibly confusing, to say the least.  Perhaps Michelle Rosaldo says it best in her study of Ilongot headhunting practices:

When anthropologists discuss the “meaning” of things that people say and “mean,” they are, thus, always speaking in implicitly comparative terms because interpretation is of necessity constrained by understandings — themselves comparatively informed — of the significance of certain contexts.  Ilongot explanations of their world taught me how to see and hear, and at the same time they required that I “interpret” or “explain” their sense in terms of my assumptions about what mattered in Ilongot lives.  The business of deciding where to look and how to hear was thus a product of both what I heard in the field of a particular theoretical bent that taught me to see headhunting within the life cycles of men whose”selves” were shaped by a distinctive set of social processes.  In order, finally, to understand why killing could rise to celebrations of collective life, I had to understand its sense within lives ultimately constrained by the relational forms of Ilongot society (pp. 233-234).

Like Rosaldo, many anthropologists agree that the dialectical relationship of experience and the necessary imposition, if you will, of theory form a new meaning — a meaning based on the temporal interaction of two consciousnesses, two histories, two experiences, two different “meanings” coming together and dialogically forming a shared experience.  Yet, the authority of the anthropologist who flies back to the West, transcribes notes, writes the text and meets his/her publisher for drinks to discuss the cover photo of the book, must still be questioned in terms of “ultimate” subjectivity or objectivity.

Husserl makes clear the bond between the sensory and the causal as the causal forms the mythical bond between “objective” physical being and the “subjective” being which appears in immediate experience.  For Husserl the bond between absolute consciousness and the Physical Being can be untangled through language or “pure grammar” as written signs are “sensibly experienceable” whereby there exists the possibility of experienceable intersubjectivity between memory and action and between the reader and the text (p. 160-166).  Bergson, on the other hand, remains wary of language, asserting language is inadequate and that it “leaves many more things to be understood than it is able to express…between two consecutive verbal images there is a gulf which no amount of concrete representations can ever fill.  For images can never be anything but things, and thought is a movement” (p. 125).  In this way, it seems that Bergson attempts to delegitimate the mimetic quality of language by denying subjectivity, or rather intersubjectivity, between the reader and the text.  Indeed, any assumption of reader subjectivity would have to rely entirely on a relationship of trust, a contract of fidelity in which both the author and reader would have to experience the text as a phenomenological part and not an ontological whole.

In the Unspeakable, Tyler offers memory as that which bonds the past with the present pointing to difference in subjects instead of the reified objects:

Unlike images, the idea of sound does not implicate spatial representation, it implies instead, time, which is not a thing, has no dimensions, and cannot be perceived.  It is reasonable, then, that memory for speech is neither representation nor the conservation of an object.  We would do better to think of memory as the conservation of time rather than the conservation of an object.  We would no longer think of memory as if it were the recurrence of a thing known before, an object identical in two different times — past and nonpast.  Rather than differences in time confirming identity of object, differences in objects would only confirm differences in subjects, but no difference in time (p. 136).

Memory thus serves as the canvas upon which time is unfolded and the axis on which the past “coexists with each present” (Deleuze, p. 59) and through which perception actualizes consciousness.   In as much as language would attempt to solidify the identity of an object through its linguistic and epistemological inscription within space and time, memory would necessarily invoke a re-interpretation, and hence re-presentation, of the object within a separate, subjective sphere of understanding.  The continuum of time would therefore supplicate a never-ending sequence of interpretation whereby subjectivity forces any representation out of its static mold and into the fluid, boundless waters of dialogicity — a dialogic process whereby time and tense further the currents of perception, allowing memory and experience the heteroglossic capability of temporal subjectivity.  Representation, therefore, would be impossible as an ontological static whole, but would find its meaning through the constant challenging and shattering of “truth” and the restructuring of meaning within a temporal, conscious, and unbroken space of redefinition, reformation, and refragmentation.

Representation, as expressed through narration, would form part of what Hegel calls the “dialectic of recognition” whereby time presupposes an ambiguity of truth:

This dialectic process which consciousness executes on itself — on its knowledge as well as on its object — in the sense that out of it the new and true object arises, is precisely what is termed Experience…consequently, then, what is real per se  for consciousness is truth:  which, however, means that this is the essential reality, or the object which consciousness has (Hegel, p. 142).

This dialectic process of consciousness for Bergson is memory whereby consciousness is in a way empowered with the capacity for perception, action, experience based on necessity yet within the real of absolute freedom:  “Spirit borrows from matter the perceptions on which it feeds and restores them to matter in the form of movements which it has stamped with its own freedom” (p. 249).  The individual actualizes subjective freedom through the dialogic exercise of memory and experience which lends meaning the fluid advantages of time within the overwhelming pretense of static representation.  In other words, narration linguistically binds meaning, identity; yet within the context of another consciousness, another perception and memory, the ties of representation are broken and representation, for all intense purposes, loses its authority to represent.  If anything, representation, in this context, can only re-present.

For Lyotard, representation “announces the destruction” of the object, the destruction of experience:

Knowing everything, being able to do everything, having everything are horizons, and horizons are at an infinite distance.  It is this infinite which paradoxically presents itself read-made in established knowledge…The end of experience is doubtless the end of the subjective infinite, but, as a negative moment in the dialectics of research, it is the concretization of an anonymous infinite that ceaselessly organizes and disorganizes the world… (p. 123).

Thus, representation attempts that which is impossible: to represent the “unrepresentable” — that is, the “object of an Idea” (p. 126).  Kant’s notion of “negative” presentation would correspond to Lyotard’s as the very act of presentation puts an object into a relative, specific historical context from which the object is further re-presented through the very act of interpretation which places the object into yet another context, another subjective sphere, often at the expense of an other consciousness:

Where the concept of an object is given, the function of judgment, in its employment of that concept for cognition, consists in presentation (exhibitio), i.e. in placing beside the concept an intuition corresponding to it.  Here it may be that our own imagination is the agent employed, as in the case of art, where we realize a preconceived concept of an object which we set before ourselves as an end (p. 34).

Just as art presupposes a “preconceived concept,” so to do the social sciences in their continuum of the construction of the other.  The act of realizing a preconceived concept for Kant, would correlate to Lyotard’s notion of representation as the destruction of experience which posits any representation within a world of endless destruction and re-construction.

Instead of representation, Tyler posits evocation as the fragmentary discourse of postmodernism — a discourse which is free of the epistemological, experimental, allochronic and verifiable boundaries which representation entails because “ethnographic discourse is itself neither an object to be represented nor a representation of an object” (p. 207).  The project of evocation would necessarily be liberated from the responsibility of totalizing history or a culture through writing; more so, evocation would be released from the obligation of bringing “into presence what is absent” (p. 208).  Or, as Benjamin contends, the gift of the historiographer would be to wrestle out of the traditional duty of “posthumously” interpreting the past in the manner of uttering Hail Mary’s and Our Father’s with the given sequence of the rosary:

Historicism contents itself with establishing a causal connection between various moments in history.  But no fact that is a cause is for that very reason historical.  It became historical post-humously, as it were, through events that may be separated from it by thousands of years.  A historian who takes this as his point of departure stops telling the sequence of events like the beads of a rosary.  Instead, he grasps the constellation which his own era has formed with a definite earlier one.  Thus he establishes a conception of the present as the “time of the now” which is shot through with chips of Messianic time (p. 263).

Benjamin claims that the articulation of history should not be concerned with “the way it really was” (Ranke), but instead with memory as the subject of historicity.  Memory could be viewed as a fragmentary, yet subjective, part of a larger Whole which we perpetually attempt to name and tailor, matching memory with the official “story” — a history around which scientists frantically scatter:  finding parts, logics, and sequences that might actually match the picture on the top of the jigsaw puzzle box entitled: “The way it really was.”   Memory, therefore, often lays to the side of history in the traditional mode of history-telling, subdued in favor of a more complete story with a better narrative, characters, and ending.

Instead of this rigid re-telling of  a “real” or official history, Benjamin’s and Adorno’s notion of the fragment foreshadows the postmodern paradigm of representation whereby the fragment becomes the only possibility of entrusting memory and consciousness within language from the perspective of both the writer of the text and its various readers.  More specifically, Benjamin’s notion of the fragment manifests freedom of consciousness much in the same way as Bergson’s élan vital  in which consciousness exists within the space of matter and memory without abandoning the transcendental.  Tyler denotes the space between the fragments as consciousness which replaces the traditional mode of ethnographic “chronicling” and instead offers allegory as the narrative form of evocation:

We confirm in our ethnographies our consciousness of the fragmentary nature of the postmodern world, for nothing so well defines our world as the absence of a synthesizing allegory, or perhaps it is only a paralysis of choice brought on by our knowledge of the inexhaustible supply of such allegories that makes us refuse the moment of aesthetic totalization, the story of stories, the hypostatized whole…More important than these, though, is the idea that the transcendental transit, the holistic moment is neither textually determined nor the exclusive right of the author, being instead the functional interaction of text-author-reader (Tyler, pp. 209-209).

The postmodern text has the capacity to “evoke transcendence” without creating itself for a specific transcendental order but more so, the postmodern text refuses the self/other dichotomy and instead posits the self-other relationship within a nexus whereby time and memory regain central importance leading to the infinite possibilities of meaning, plurality of loci, and heteroglossia as temporally revealed through the inter-relationship of text-author-reader and language-self-other.  Better stated, Clifford writes:  “Allegory prompts us to say of any cultural description not ‘this represents, or symbolizes, that’ but rather, ‘this is a (morally charged) story about that’ ” (1986, p. 100).

The fragment then, exists as a segment of a future allegory or what Bergson would call “virtual memory,” which when put in the context of time and consciousness becomes “contraction-subjectiviy” — an experienced, psychological moment.  Evocation is demonstrated not in the act of re-telling a sequential history, placing fragments into a set mold, but through storytelling whereby the words of the story claim a specific place within the listener’s ear, the storyteller’s words flow from a relaxed body where boredom is “the dream bird that hatches the egg of experience” (Benjamin, p. 90), and the autochthonous rhythm of the narrative forms yet another memory between the storyteller and listener.  Storytelling could be viewed as an act “problematizing” and reconstructing the temporal, questioning the given, and relocalizing, recreating, memory withinin the trajectory where perception and experience perpetually intermingle, metamorphize,  shift, and redefine each other.  Or, as Marcus writes:

The return to an ethnographic present, but a very different ethnographic present from the one that largely ignored history in the classic functionalist anthropology of traditional, tribal society, is thus a challenge to the construction of the temporal setting for modernist ethnography.  This is a present that is defined not by historical narrative either, but by memory, its own distinctive narratives and traces.  This art of memory is synonymous with the fragmented process of identity formation in any locale — one whose distinctly social forms are difficult to grasp or even see ethnographically — and that thus sets another problematic to be explored in th production of modernist works (p. 317).

Indeed, memory maintains the fragment, time and space pasted on the grid of experience, which through time will achieve an ever-changing identity as the perpetual act of definition is a “disseminating phenomenon that has a life of its own beond the simple literal sense of inhering inparticular human agents at a particular site and time” (Tyler, pp. 320-326).  Memory is what prompted Stoller to spend a chapter discussing Djebo’s fukko hoy (a special sauceof the Sonhay) or, as he states:  “A tasteful ethnographic discourse that takes the notion of melange as its foundation would encourage writers to blend the ingredients of a world so that bad sauces might be transformed into delicious prose” (p. 32).  Story telling is like Derrida’s notion of le vomi :  it should “engage not the ‘objective’ senses of hearing and sight, nor even touch, which Kant describes as ‘mechanical,’ all three which involve perception of or at surfaces, but the ‘subjective’ or ‘chemical’ senses of taste and smell” (cited in Ulmer, p. 55).

Likewise, for Benjamin, storytelling does not pretend to depict or define experience, but instead brings the experience out of language and into the life — and hence the memory — of the storyteller and the listeners through the variety of retellings.  For the fragments which are repeated from each telling of the story are inconsequential in contrast to the temporal process as a whole — the process of destroying previous values, reconstructing new ones based on a new continuum of time, a different set of experiences, an other consciousness.   Benjamin’s notion of storytelling is the quintessential answer to the postmodern crisis of representation whereby the act of storytelling witnesses a “restoration in distortion” in which memory names the “retrospective omnipotence” of science and offers us “an infinite possibility of dealing with the given facts” (p. 41).  In other words, storytelling allows us, like Klee’s “Angelus Novus,” to view the wreckage of history in a different way every time we open our eyes to the circling winds which encompass and engage our memory instead of  merely attempting to make logical the fast-growing pile of debris, structuring our amnesia, in hopes that we might be able to turn around and see Paradise.


Works Cited

Adorno, Theodor W.  “A Portrait of Walter Benjamin.” Prisms.  Cambridge:  The MIT Press, 1990.

Auerbach, Erich.  Mimesis:  The Representation of Reality inWestern Literature.  Trans.  Willard R. Trask.  Princeton:  Princeton University Press, 1953.

Baudrillard, Jean.  “The Anorexic Ruins.”  Looking Back  on the End of the World.  Ed. Dietmar Kamper and Christoph Wulf.  Trans.  David Antal.  New York:  Semiotext(e), 1989.

Benjamin, Walter.  “The Storyteller.” Illuminations.  Trans.  Harry Zohn.  New York: Schocken Books, 1969.

—. “Thesis on the Philosophy of History.”  Illuminations.  Trans.  Harry Zohn.  New York: Schocken Books, 1969.

Bergson, Henri.  Duration and Simultaneity.  Trans.  Leon Jacobson.  New York:  Bobbs-Merrill Company, Inc., 1965.

—. Matter and Memory.  Trans.  Nancy Margaret Paul and W. Scott Palmer.  New York:  Zone Books, 1991.

—. The Two Sources of Morality and Religion.  Trans.  R. Ashley Audra and Cloudesly Brereton.  New York:  Henry Holt and Co., 1935.

Certeau, Michel de.  Heterologies:  Discourse on the Other.  Trans.  Brian Massumi.  Minneapolis:  University of Minnesota Press, 1986.

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