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PROSTHETIC

MEMORY

ZINA HUTTON
WHAT IS PROSTHETIC MEMORY

Alison Landsbergs view of prosthetic memory places it as a new form of public


cultural memory that is able to emerge at the point where a person (or people)
engage with a historical narrative in places like museums, memorials, or theaters
Its a form of second-hand memory that appears only capable of existing in specific
spaces and is made possible by mass culture and, Id argue pop culture as well.
Prosthetic memory was made possible by modernity but that it also made this new
form of memory a necessity
PROSTHETIC MEMORY PART TWO

Landsberg argues that the difference between


prosthetic memories and their precursors is that the
latter works by creating a common national
identity that was supposed to supersede
differences caused by class, race, etc.
In contrast, prosthetic memory is supposed to create
connection to the past without erasing
contemporary differences or constructing a
common original identity
Prosthetic memory is connected inextricably with the
idea of diaspora.
PROSTHETIC MEMORY PART THREE

Prosthetic memory in essence, revolves around the creation and sharing of memories
that, despite their lack of connection to lived experiences, remans integral to our
view of subjectivity.
Landsberg gives four reasons for why she calls these memories prosthetic
1. Theyre not natural and are formed from witnessing, not necessarily experiencing
2. The memories are worn on the body like a prosthetic limb
3. Landsbergs use of prosthetic serves to underscore their flexibility/interchangeability
4. Its a way to show how useful they are in shaping peoples thoughts of the world around
them
PROSTHETIC MEMORY AND THE OUTSIDER

In this book, Landsberg writes that


the memories forged in response to modernitys ruptures do not belong exclusively to a
particular group [] Through the technologies of mass culture it becomes possible for
these memories to be acquired by anyone, regardless of skin color, ethnic background, or
biology.

But, and this is a problem that Ive found with similar commentaries, having
access to prosthetic memories, to this public memory, does not automatically
make the memory and experiences yours. Even if theyre about your people.
BEFORE MASS CULTURE

Remembering pasts that they havent lived isnt a


new thing.
People watching performances of Shakespeares
plays particularly the ones focusing on long dead
monarchs perhaps would have provided a
rudimentary form of prosthetic memory.
Public and private museums around the world
Religious rituals served to create memories of the
Bible and its teachings
Landsberg references the modernization of biblical
stories in Middle Ages art
THE THREE CASES

In researching the formation of prosthetic memories, Landsbergs book looks at three


specific cases where prosthetic memories almost had to be created as memory
transmission was impossible:
European immigrants in the 1910s and 1920s
African Americans after slavery
Jewish and Roma people following the Holocaust
These three cases or situations all involve people being losing access to their history,
culture, and identity. The latter two involve the interrupted transmission of memories
due to a) enslavement and b) attempted genocide.
MOVIE THEATERS AND MASS CULTURE

Movie theaters essentially sparked the birth of prosthetic


memory.
[] the turn to mass culture to movies, experiential
museums, television shows, and so forth has made what
was once considered a groups private memory available to
a much broader public

Cinema had an integral role expanding the average


consumers access to places, narratives, experiences, and
identities that they otherwise wouldnt have access to
helped shaped the
Travel films, documentaries, historical fiction (a la Gone
With the Wind) all served as windows to experiences that
average folks couldnt have visualized before.
According to a study done by Herbert Blumer, the cinema dethrones lived
experience as the only type of experience enough to shape or construct
identity. Identity and memory couldnt be more tightly entwined.
People were able to place themselves into the shoes of the characters and
personalities that they watched in films, bouncing between genres.
One example is
PROSTHETIC MEMORY AND BLACK NARRATIVES
"A SUBTLETY, OR THE MARVELOUS SUGAR BABY"

Created by Kara Walker


Statue is made out of refined white
sugar
Was subject to racist sexualization by
people who came to the art exhibit (the
statue is topless to represent how the
Mammy figure was simultaneously
desexualized and hypersexualized).

THE DOORWAY VISUAL WAS THE HUGE SUGAR SPHINX AS FAR FROM THE DOOR AND
FRAMED BY GIRDERS BUT THE RELATION TO THAT SCULPTURE WAS PUT OFF BY THE
SMALLER SUGAR BABIES CLOSE TO THE ENTRANCE. CHILDREN MADE OF SUGAR AND
MOLASSES BURDENED WITH LARGE BASKETS AND HEAVY BAILS OF SUGAR CANE. SOME
OF THESE CHILDREN WITH OBVIOUS SIGNS OF MALNUTRITION, FAR TOO THIN WITH THE


DISTENDED ABDOMEN OF STARVATION IS WHAT ENGAGED VISITORS TO A
SUBTLETY. MANY OF THESE SCULPTURES ARE MELTING IN THE HEAT OF THE REFINERY,
SCREAMING DISPOSABLE CHILD LABOR. IF THAT VISUAL IS TOO SUBTLE, SOME ARE
PRONE AND BLEEDING MOLASSES WHILE OTHERS HAVE BEEN WRAPPED IN PLASTIC AND
DISPOSED OF IN CANS.

From Denise Oliver Velezs Sugar, slavery and subtlety


PROSTHETIC MEMORY, BLACKNESS, AND FILM
ALEX HALEY

Roots is honestly one of the best examples of


prosthetic memory and the relationship between it
and empathy.
More so, it gave African Americans the ability to
visualize the experiences that their ancestors most
likely had before, during, and after their
enslavement.
Alex Haley went searching for his roots because so
much of his own history had been denied him due
to slavery and as a result, was able to provide
Black people access to this prosthetic memory that
perhaps filled in gaps in their experiences.
ROOTS
KINDRED

Probably Octavia Butlers most famous


work
Deals with slavery from the point of
view of a modern character that I
sent backwards in time to the
antebellum south
Unflinching portrayal of slavery and
slave-owners
HISTORICAL FICTION AND PROSTHETIC MEMORY
HIDDEN FIGURES
GET OUT
This horror film provided an authentic look at a
specific kind of Black experience
CONCLUSIONS/QUESTIONS FOR FURTHER
DISCUSSION

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