restricted access Introduction: Memory and modernity
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Memory and modernity

This special issue emerged from a conference, Memory, Identity and New Fantasy Cultures, which took place at Kingston University in October 2010. This event was a response by the organisers to a sense in which memory was increasingly present as a theme in recent fantasy culture, including film, television and digital games. It seemed like contemporary popular culture was crowded with sf heroines and heroes serving as blank slates onto which memory and personality were imprinted, traumatised figures haunted by memories they cannot escape, and protagonists whose existential crises were founded on the uncertain relationship between memory and identity. For example, in the Doctor Who episode 'Human Nature' (26 May 2007), the Doctor (David Tennant), in order to hide from his nemesis, embeds the memories of his true self in a pocket watch, while he assumes the identity of an English schoolteacher. Or take Boomer (Grace Park) in Battlestar Galactica (US/UK 2003-9), whose knowledge of herself as a cylon was eradicated in the process of being installed as a sleeper agent. Or Dollhouse's (US 2009-10) Echo (Eliza Dushku), whose original identity is removed and stored on a hard drive, while she is inserted with new memories and personality each time she is hired out to a client.

This preoccupation with memory is not a new development. Writing in 1993, Scott Bukatman observes the extent to which sf film and literature are 'concerned with the status and commodification of memory' (248). Memory has been a central feature of sf cinema such as Blade Runner (Scott US/HK/UK 1982), Total Recall (Verhoeven US 1990) and Dark City (Proyas Australia/US 1998), raising questions concerning the philosophical relationship between selfhood, identity and memory. Contemporary sf film and television raises similar philosophical questions, reflecting as much a preoccupation with the erasure of memory as its potentially prosthetic nature. If memories are increasingly removable, retrievable and storable, digital, tag-able and Photoshopable, they also become more ephemeral and impermanent, detached from individual, cultural, analogue certainties. Since the Memory, Identity and New Fantasy Cultures conference was held, Black Mirror (UK 2011-13) explored the paranoia-inducing possibilities of technology allowing individuals to record, [End Page 319] replay and share visual memories in an episode entitled 'The Entire History of You' (18 Dec 2011); Warm Bodies (Levine US 2013) revealed that zombies eat their victims' brains in order to experience their memories; a remake of Total Recall (Wiseman US/Canada 2012) was released in cinemas, and - not without irony, we imagine - Arnold Schwarzenegger published an autobiography of the same name. Characters in recent memory sf are wrestling with the sense that their current identity is a fabrication, that they have lost connection with who they really are through having their natural memories removed and replaced, or that instantly accessible memory is itself an impediment to healthy, happy living.

Our concern with memory in recent sf resonates with the emergence of memory studies as a discipline. In the introduction to the newly founded Memory Studies journal Henry L. Roediger III and James V. Wertsch identify this as a multidisciplinary - if not interdisciplinary - field, incorporating history, literature, philosophy and education, as well as social science, architecture, law, communication studies, business and anthropology. Joanne Garde-Hansen writes of the 'explosion of memory-related research over the last half-century' (13), attributed, by various authors, to an increased urgency to preserve eyewitness histories of the twentieth century, the uncovering of narratives of childhood abuse, state investment in museums and memorials, the growth of movements based on memories of trauma and oppression, the emergence of trauma studies itself as a related field, a growth in the heritage industry, the popularity of nostalgia TV and genealogy documentaries, and the profusion of digital archiving platforms allowing individuals to store and share their own everyday experiences. For a scholar of screen sf, there are many engaging parallels in the literature of this developing discipline. Garde-Hansen herself cites Strange Days (Bigelow US 1995), Cold Lazarus (UK 1996) and The Matrix (Wachowski brothers US/Australia 1999) in her discussion of contemporary memory studies (21). She observes the extent to which...