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Narrative, Myth and Cultural Memory - SO621
Whither the Child? Causes and Consequences of Low Fertility. The Problem of Post-Racialism. Conservatives vs. Wildcats: A Sociology of Financial Conflict. Beyond Liquidity. The Collective Memory Reader. Moral Time. The Behavior of Law, special edition. The Making of English National Identity. Stories of Change: Narrative and Social Movements. The Classless Society. The Death of Character.
Identity and Social Change. Crosscurrents: West Indian Immigrants and Race. Public and Private in Thought and Practice. Engendering Wealth and Well-Being. The Social Structure of Right and Wrong. Utopias and the Millennium. The Sociology of Public Issues. Sociological Justice. Evangelicalism: The Coming Generation.
Utopia and Anti-Utopia in Modern Times. Berger and the Vision of Interpretive Sociology. Maternity Policies and Working Women. We remain an oral society, and the ways in which we pattern our social memory continue to reflect, albeit in altered forms, the same practices and thought processes of preliterate cultures. Writing may absolve us of the need to learn complex mnemotechniques; it does not absolve us of the need to speak. Crossan makes a related point about Kelber's tendency to prefer Parry's 'no original' in oral performance which Crossan calls 'performatory multiformity' over a stable core structure in tradition which Crossan calls a 'traditional matrix'.
For Crossan , there has to be some core of structural stability in the oral tradition:. Call that structuralist stability, if you wish. There is an irony in all such critiques: the scholar most responsible for bringing 'orality' into view in Marcan studies, in contrast to the usual 'scribal' approach to Mark, is deeply appreciated, but is also challenged for overstating his case. The basic critique has been that orality and scribality overlap and that the written Marcan gospel was actually performed orally.
Memory of a text is involved. Kelber responds to his critics by clarifying and qualifying, but not denying, his position Introduction, a, On the one hand, he maintains a version of his earlier position, saying that 'Jesus' oral proclamation mutated into the scribal medium' a.
He also speaks of a writer's 'scribally enforced distance from hearers, which may enhance both the desire and the ability to break with tradition, to canonize an alternate viewpoint, and thereby implement a form of forgetfulness' a He objects that the 'great divide' criticism misses his nuances. He has claimed only that the oral phase was ' predominantly oral'; he has always recognised that Mark used both written and oral sources and he has never meant that writing puts an end to orality.
On the other hand, he admits that the gospels might have been dictated and performed orally. He allows that there were parallels between the oral tradent and the written manuscript copyist, both of whom constructed the text for the present Epp ; Parker He is sympathetic with scribalism's attempt to bring the past in line with the present Most importantly, he softens his tendency to separate oral culture from written culture.
In a recent statement, he says:. In whatever form the oral-textual dynamics are specifically conceptualised, the premise of oral-textual interfacing enjoys the full support of current orality-literacy studies and large parts of rabbinic scholarship. In his conclusion to the work, he reaffirms the distance between the oral and written gospel, that is, Jesus' spoken parabolic Word which proclaims the Kingdom of God is not the same as the references to the Kingdom of God expressed in a written gospel about Jesus' life and death.
Yet, he also claims that Jesus' spoken parable:. Both gospel and oral parables transcend their respective narratives by pointing to the Kingdom of God. The evangelist enacts the parabolic dynamic of Jesus' language much as the Platonic dialogues represent the Socratic form of philosophical of reasoning. The gospel as written parable may thus be understood as Jesus' Word bequeathed to Mark.
Most important for the current article, Kelber's more recent restatements about oral tradition are buttressed with social memory studies Kelber , a, b, , , According to Kelber, 'Bultmann's model is burdened with significant problems stemming from a lack of understanding of orality, gospel narrativity, and, last but not least, memory ' [Author's emphasis]. In this regard, Kelber leans towards moderate constructionism: 'Memory retains not the past as such but in a sense creates a new past that speaks to the needs of the present' Discussing important contributions in this field Carruthers ; Coleman ; Yates , Kelber highlights especially the work of cultural memory theorists Jan and Aleida Assmann who say that tradition should be seen as ' empowered by remembering ' Thus, the Marcan author:.
In the end, I venture the suggestion that the gospel composition is unthinkable without the notion of cultural memory, which serves ultimately not the preservation of remembrances per se but the preservation of the group, its social identity and self-image Mark avails himself of a rich cultural memory for the purpose of securing the Christian identity for a postwar generation. I have highlighted the work of Kelber, who extends his studies of orality and scribality with the help of cultural memory and performance theory. I would be remiss not to mention, in this connection, a social memory theorist who, having become acquainted with New Testament studies under the influence of Kirk and Thatcher , has expressed negative reactions to strong constructionism, whether of Bultmann or Halbwachs.
Barry Schwartz argues that Halbwachs' orientation to collective memory is of no help to gospel critics. He notes that, like Bultmann, Halbwachs reduces the infancy and miracle stories to 'extreme instances of construction' and 'distortion' a, 50, cf. Biblical scholarship, like social memory scholarship and the sociology of knowledge, frequently despairs over its ability to know events as they actually were and finds its triumphant moments in clever reinterpretations or the debunking of what was once believed to be true.
Schwartz also states: 'no assumption, in my view, has done more to undermine the foundation of social memory scholarship or hinder its application to biblical studies' a Schwartz wants social memory studies to be positively productive. His own approach is to focus on symbolic forms, such as words, images, institutions and behaviours, in the manner of cultural anthropologist Clifford Geertz's finely tuned 'thick description', which stresses the ethnologist's attempt to cipher the subtleties in cultural contexts.
Geertz asks, for example, when is an eye twitch an uncontrolled physical twitch? A wink? A faked wink? A burlesque faked wink? A rehearsed burlesque fake wink? Geertz For Schwartz, Gerhardsson 'correctly assumes that Jesus' followers were determined to get his message right' a Schwartz has a very important point to make, for which he is commended by sociologist Louis Coser , 30 , but I am uncertain what he means when he says that 'Jesus' followers were determined to get his message right'. If he means that the ancient oral tradents wanted to preserve the precise wording of the Jesus' tradition, he goes too far.
As Kelber and Jaffee have indicated, research on rabbinic literature has advanced into the realm of orality and memory theory and as Schwartz, one of the premier scholars in memory theory knows, some degree of constructionism is involved in the present's recollection of the past. Yet, Schwartz is right that Bultmann's construction lacks what eventually came to the fore, due consideration of memory. This point is aptly made by Kelber. Jeffrey Olick's way of putting the memory issue is softer and more nuanced:. Olick a [Author's emphasis]. A brief summary is in order.
A number of collective memory theorists see correlations between individual memory and collective memory. That is an important observation not only because in groups it is individuals who remember, but because both individual and collective memory are to some extent constructionist, a major theme of this article.
On the individual side, modern research in neurology and psychology suggests that individuals do not recall actual persons and events, but only previous memories of them, forming a 'cascade of memories'. This transformation is constructionism. Similarly, from Halbwach's perspective, collective memory is constructed. It is formed and perpetuated in groups; it is selective, usually related to images and places, does not recall the real past the goal of historical reconstruction , but rather constructs the past for the present, thus 'distorting' the past.
Such collective memory emerges from and perpetuates, social identity, usually in the form of a narrative with a positive ending and is reinforced by commemoration. Halbwachs' perspective has influenced many academic fields, but he has also been criticised for his de structive con structionist stance, which is claimed to be a sort of cynical debunking of memory's positive activity. Yet, collective memory can be seen in positive vein as a broad range of mnemonic products and practices, consisting of 'a fluid negotiation between the desires of the present and the legacies of the past'.
Turning to the gospels, Bultmann's influential Form Criticism tends to see oral tradition as an evolution from smaller to larger forms, which leads some to attempt to remove later, secondary accretions in order to arrive at an approximate original form and others to search for Jesus' actual words. Werner Kelber challenges the holding of such a view in several ways. Kelber's innovation had to face the objection that he had created an unwarranted 'great divide' between oral and writing cultures.
In responding to such criticism, Kelber found support in the Parry and Lord theory of oral performance, that is, the principle that every performance produces an original, if not the original: there is no primal original.
Bultmann had said very little about memory before then, leading Kelber to find support in social memory studies and particularly in Jan and Aleida Assmann's view of cultural memory. The current study highlights the importance of constructionism. Bultmann's evolutionary constructionism in gospel studies may presently be dissipating, as Kelber contends, but constructionism in a more moderate form is still present in the field of memory and performance theory.
I wish to consider the theory in terms of two other contexts, the social sciences and philosophy. The first context is related to the social scientific criticism of the Bible. In the social sciences, outside observers often develop 'etic' or observers' models that are based on both distant and close comparisons, which are informed by abstract social theories that focus on social cooperation, social conflict and social interaction. Perhaps the best-known example of general theory is that of Peter Berger's and Thomas Luckmann's 'social construction of reality' which, in its simplest terms, says that the realities which people tend to take for granted as 'objective' are, in fact, socially constructed and maintained.
Take ethnicity as an example. The most influential ethnicity theory since the midth century is found in Frederik Barth's Ethnic Groups and Boundaries: The Social Organization of Cultural Difference , which I have often used to interpret ethnicity in the ancient Mediterranean world and in the New Testament Duling , , a, a, b, However, such markers are neither natural, fixed and unchangeable, as people often think they are, nor do they 'produce' ethnic identity.
In This Article
Indeed, members of an ethnic group can change over time. The key is 'the social organization of cultural difference s ,' the subtitle of his book. In relation to the present study, it needs to be observed that the construction of ethnicity and of social memory go hand in hand, which Le Goff calls 'ethnic memory' There is a second, larger context. Barth eventually claimed that his ethnic constructionism had anticipated post-modernism Barth's later opinion of his own work is not surprising.
As Ian Hacking's philosophical analysis of the 'culture wars' and 'science wars' in his The Construction of What? Although I myself would hesitate to place anyone within Hacking's spectrum, surely Schwartz would see the constructionism of Bultmann and Halbwachs on the strong side and he himself as being positioned somewhere towards the middle. Jeffrey Olick's mediating position also seems to be closer to the middle.
The attempt by some performance theorists to find a balance between 'fixity and flexibility', 'continuity and discontinuity', or 'stability and diversity' in performance theory also seems to be an attempt to locate a middle ground. In this light, I have attempted to give constructionism a fair hearing. Indeed, I have been much influenced by Bultmann in the past and, in my book titled Jesus Christ Through History , viewed the quests as a series of culturally constructed images Duling I have also incorporated Frederik Barth's theory of ethnic constructionism into my models of ethnicity.
Yet, I have not gone the whole way with the sort of constructionism which is suggested by the 'literary turn' and by post-modernism in biblical studies. Rather, I have tried to retain some room for what might be called the 'realism' of past social contexts and the 'reality' of 'ethnic features'. In this regard, I once cited Georg Iggers' Historiography in the twentieth century: from scientific objectivity to the Postmodern challenge ; Duling Iggers admires, yet also offers warnings about, certain Romantic undercurrents in 'the literary turn' and post-modernism.
In Matthean studies, I have developed a similar position, based in part on the work of Warren Carter Carter , , , who attempts to correlate 'authorial audience' with 'real audience' Duling Similarly, I have leaned towards constructionism in memory theory in the current article, but have restrained myself in this respect, insofar as I have occasionally referred to a memory core that gives memory some stability within fluidity.
I have hinted at such a memory core in interpreting Petrov's perspective on performance, in relation to Crossan's quest for stability, in relation to Olick's middle ground and in my attempts to balance diversity with stability. Perhaps, in terms of Hacking's spectrum, then, I would be a '4' and positioned at the constructionism end of the spectrum, although not at '5', which is its strongest form.
Finally, a personal note again. A Festschrift such as this is a memory site. It is a memorial that honours by perpetuating and preserving. It also has a social context. Our memories are, no doubt, constructions, but they are also something more. Albright, W.
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Kraft, Basil Blackwell, Oxford. Memory and history', History and Anthropology 12, Note: Prof. Dr Dennis C. Professor Duling participates as research associate of Prof. Dr Andries G. All the contents of this journal, except where otherwise noted, is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution License. Services on Demand Article. English pdf Article in xml format Article references How to cite this article Automatic translation. Access statistics. Cited by Google Similars in Google.
Introduction 'Like memory, tradition is refracted through the contemporary social realities of the communities in which it is enacted, such that it comes in important respects to reflect, even to signify those realities' Kirk Memory, mnemotechnique, cognitive psychology, neurology and the memory wars My main interest in this study is collective memory, although some collective memory theorists have cautioned against devaluing individual memory Assmann, J.
Baddeley Neurologists usually agree with the above opinion. Campbell However, prominent psychologist and memory researcher Daniel Schacter writes, ' Collective memory, social memory, cultural memory The 'father of collective memory' is generally acknowledged to be Maurice Halbwachs ; cf. Jeffrey Olick , who still prefers the expression 'collective memory', defines it broadly, allowing room for individual memory: Collective memory is merely a broad, sensitising umbrella, and not a precise operational definition. Olick b In summary, Halbwachs' legacy is found in a number of different fields and is consistently constructionist.