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  • Introduction:The Postcolonial Memoirs as a Work of Memory
  • Ali Mirsepassi (bio)

The postcolonial memoirs present, by way of two essays and a discussion, a contemporary portrait of the self and globalization in its geographic and historical dimensions, which is the work of memory. In this context, the portrait of the self is a remapping of a paradigm shift, in our contemporary moment of globalization, along sociocultural and historical lines. Paul Ricoeur has identified two forms of memory. The first appears passively and with the equivocal atmosphere of an affect, while the second is the object that results from a conscious search and is thus a type of work. He writes that "remembering is not only welcoming, receiving an image from the past, it is also searching for it, 'doing' something."1 The importance of this work is to be understood in the context where "multiple forms of abuse expose the fundamental vulnerability of memory which results from the relation between the absence of the thing remembered and its presence in the mode of representation" (58). It is in this sense that in her essay Leila Ahmed chooses her selections to answer the questions posed by interested people, for example, about being a woman in Islam, asking, yet from the outset assuming that they know. She writes: "My memories do not fit with such a picture. I simply do not think that the message I got from the women of Zatoun was that we, the girls, and they, the women, were inferior. But what, then, was the message of Zatoun? I don't think it was a simple one." Also, because memory is conventionally conceived as operating "in the wake of the imagination," it is similarly envisioned as being "located at the lowest rung of the ladder of modes of knowledge" (5). The work of memory, therefore, must at once oppose the "traditional devaluing of memory" tacit in the conventional modernist framework of "objectivity" and also seek the "intersection of the problematics of memory and of identity, collective as well as personal" (6, 80). The two essays presented here provide points and counterpoints between a set of very different experiences of self and migration, showing that these experiences nevertheless speak very critically to and about each other. The invitation to read these stories is also an invitation to inscribe our own identities within a more realistic framework of living together, beyond the solipsism that still too often prevails as the philosophical conception of the modern subject.

The essays and discussion presented here provide a compelling case for Ricoeur's insight that "to remember, we need others." We find that "the first memories encountered along [End Page 75] this path [of the work of memory] are shared memories, common memories" (121). This work makes us "travel from group to group, from framework to framework, in both a spatial and temporal sense" (122). It is "in the personal act of recollection that the mark of the social [is] initially sought and then found" (123). This has important implications for our understanding of identity and self. It undoes at once the "notion of the same, implicit in the notion of the identical" (81). This conception of the self, as in the Historical Subject, is linked to "stories of founding events, of glory and humiliation, [which] feed the discourse of flattery or of fear" and often constitute "official history" that is "publicly learned and celebrated" (85). The work of memory undoes any such monolithic conception of the self, for it is "essentially along the path of recollection and recognition . . . that we encounter the memory of others" (120). Ricoeur writes that "it is in the problematic of identity that we have to seek the cause of the fragility of memory (subject to abuses of memory and forgetting)" (81). It is only "on the basis of a subtle analysis of the individual experience of belonging to a group, and through the instruction received from others, that individual memory takes possession of itself" (120). We may thus go beyond the "amnesia characteristic of social action," in which we repeat monolithically inherited patterns of "memory" that obstruct our view of the past and prevent either healing within ourselves...


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pp. 75-78
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