- The Memory Effect: The Remediation of Memory in Literature and Film ed. by Russell J.A. Kilbourn and Eleanor Ty
The Memory Effect describes what happens when a rechargeable battery does not hold its charge as well as it once did. The effect on battery memory is loss of capacity. The collection edited by Russell J.A. Kilbourn and Eleanor Ty is about different effects: its essays promise to explore the growing connections between the idea of memory and the operations of memory within print texts, films, and television. “How do changing ideas of memory affect how we think about texts?,” the editors ask in their introduction, emphasizing the need for textual analysis of the operations of memory in at least two kinds of media. The answers include a sustained treatment of memory, and Henri Bergson’s “memory-image” as it appears in films, a consideration of remediation and the materialization of memory across a range of new and old media, and an exploration of the growing research area of memory studies and what it offers to scholars working in the humanities, media studies, and cultural studies who want to think through how memory is treated in cinematic and literary works. This is an ambitious task, and a very large collection, based in part on a 2011 conference at Wilfrid Laurier University called “Memory, Mediation, Remediation in Literature and Film.”
As someone who is interested in the study of trauma in life writing and cultural studies, and who wants learn more about memory studies, I’m an ideal audience for a collection like this. Kilbourn and Ty’s introduction to the collection is meant to provide background and context for memory studies in the humanities and a consideration of the concept of [End Page 373] remediation. Unfortunately, the introduction does not provide that much background about memory studies itself and focuses much more heavily on selected philosophers and theorists of memory (although Marcel Proust makes an appearance). The introduction often detours into film theory, and so it is not broad enough to cover “the brief history of memory” it promises. Although the introduction asserts that the study of memory is “irreducibly interdisciplinary,” the primary points of reference in the introduction are film theory and criticism, and not other approaches to memory found in literary, scientific, or cultural studies.
Most essays in the collection are grounded in film or video criticism, making it more useful to film studies scholars than to literary scholars. But the best essays here are worthwhile for any reader. The essay by Sabine Sielke on memory and seriality actually does much of the work I was looking for in the introduction, connecting the work of Gertrude Stein, memory studies, seriality, remediation, and the need for humanists to work through theories of cognition in memory studies. Kathy Berendt mounts a thorough and convincing critique of Marianna Hirsch’s widely used “postmemory” via theories of identity from the work of John Locke and W.G. Sebald. Other highlights include Sarah Henstra’s account of female mourning and collective memory after World War I, Marlene Kadar’s account of the ethics of researching difficult knowledges, Sheila Russell-Brown’s discussion of Roma victims of the Devouring. There are good essays on representation, memorials, and re-enactments in film, video, and television by Amresh Sinha, John McCullough, and Kate Warren.
There is much to like in these essays about the work of memory studies in film, television, and life writing, particularly when ethical concerns about who gets to remember, how memories are recorded, and how operations of memory are dramatized and critiqued are at the centre of these analyses. In that sense they move far beyond the territories of deconstruction and psychoanalysis discussed in the introduction, and into other areas of enquiry. The Memory Effect is at its best in these considerations of memory loss and of the ethics of what it means to try to make memory part of representational practices. Perhaps, then, The Memory Effect does address what...